Kashmiri Pandits: 30 Years in exile; striving to rediscover my roots!

By Uphaar Kotru

Since time immemorial, we have been taught that at the end there is victory of light over darkness, good over evil, truth over falsehood. After all, this is the essence of all of our ancient scriptures, be it Bhagwat Geeta, Ramayana or Mahabharata. In that case, isn’t it ironic that we are in current state of affairs, where we have lost our homeland, our temples desecrated, our history distorted, our script extinct, our philosophy forgotten? It creates a doubt in me – am I truly on the right side? Just about when you start to become unsure, events like Ayodhya verdict happen, and it gives you hope that that it may take 500 years but eventually, TRUTH WINS!

This year marks 30 years of our exodus from our homeland, Kashmir. Even after 30 years, the situation is far from conducive for our community to re-settle. The restoration of what got destroyed may go well beyond our lifetime, so the biggest battle ahead of us is how can we retain our roots, while living away from our homeland. We are the last generation of this 5000+ years old civilization, who has a living memory of our homeland; our kids and the generations after them would never feel the same about Kashmir as us.

So, how do we pass on our legacy, while we continue to remain scattered all over the globe? How can we keep reminding ourselves, who we truly are, and stay connected with our roots? How can we not forget our history, our heroes, our philosophy, our temples, our literature, our language, our songs, our legends, our rituals! How can we preserve our culture?

Sadly, I feel, we have been on the losing side of this battle for quite some time now. As a kid growing up in Kashmir, I remember often being bullied by local Muslim kids as they called us “daal batta” implying “powerless”… then we migrated to Jammu post our ethnic cleaning, we were ridiculed as cowards for running away from Kashmir without putting up a fight…. I had accepted the fact that Kashmiri Hindus don’t have “bravery” in their genes! Nobody ever told me the story of my brave ancestor Lalitaditya, a king from Kashmir, who was one of the most iconic rulers from Indian subcontinent, whose conquests expanded the boundaries of his kingdom from present day Afghanistan on the west to Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh on the east… and all the way to Deccan in south. Not only was he an outstanding warrior, he was also great builder, he commissioned many temples including the now ruined Martand Sun temple, as well many towns, including his capital, Parihaspura, nowadays commonly called by locals as “Kani Shahar” meaning city of stones due to ruins all over. The point, I am trying to make is we barely know our own history!

While growing up in Kashmir, I always had the impression that everything in Kashmir has more in common with middle-eastern Islamic world and less with rest of India. E.g., Kashmiri language which sounded so different than rest of Indian languages or that we were taught how to read and write Arabic script, and official language of our state being Urdu. Sanskrit was an alien language for me. Contrary to my understanding, Kashmir for a significant period in history was in fact the hub for Sanskrit and has produced some of the greatest scholars whose works have profoundly influenced the world. 

Many of these ancient Sanskrit scholars are believed to be either born in Kashmir region or lived there for significant part of their life – Charak, founder of Ayurveda, Panini, one of the greatest grammarian ever born on this planet, Vishnu Sharma author of Panchtantra, Patanjali, credited for modern yoga, Bharat Muni, author of Natyashastra which influenced theater, dance, music in India, which also happens to be original source for Bharatanatyam.

Come to medieval times, Vasugupta author of “Shiv Sutras”, Abhinavgupta, author of Tantraloka, these are defining works in Kashmir Shaivism which took the vedanta philosophy to new level, Ānandavardhana author of Dhvanyaloka, text on theory of poetics, Dridhabala who revived the charak’s original text on Ayurveda and significantly extended it, Kalhana, the great historian who wrote Rajtarangini. And, the list goes on.

Kashmiri language which was developed in medieval times has same roots as Sanskrit, and the script originally used to write Kashmiri, Sharada has same roots as Devanagari. It may surprise you that Gurumukhi, script in use to write Punjabi is derived from Sharada.

It is amazing feeling to know that Kashmir has influenced the world so immensely. At the same time, it gives me goose bumps to realize that we are the last link between our glorious past and unknown future. Will we be able to preserve and continue this illustrious legacy of Kashmir or will be forget who we truly are?

This poem – Main Kaun Hun? – is an attempt to express this ongoing journey of rediscovering my own roots!

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