BY JAVED BEIGH
Today marks the holy Hindu festival of “Hairath”, the day that Kashmir’s Hindu Pundit minority celebrates the marriage of Lord Shiva with Lady Parvati. It is part of what is known as “Shiv Ratri” in Hindi and Punjabi speaking regions of North India & Pakistan. This is the most important religious festival of Kashmir valley along with two Eid festivals.
Hairath is however not just any other Hindu festival, it is in fact the only Koshur religious festival, which is not celebrated anywhere else in India. While being a part of wider “Shiv Ratri” celebrations of Punjabi and Hindi speaking Hindus, Hairath is absolutely different in the manner in which it is marked by Koshur Pundit community which bears almost no resemblance to how it is celebrated in North India including Kashi or Varanasi, the city of Lord Shiva. And hidden inside this cultural nuance lies the distinct identity of Kashmiri Pundits, which makes them united in cultural unison with majority Kashmiri Muslim community, with whom they share genetic relation of blood.
Today, when the chasm of religious division has widened to almost unbridgeable levels between Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims, it will be difficult to sell this proposition that Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims are blood brothers united by genes and culture, language and history. Kashmiri Muslims today are increasingly defining “Kashmiri” identity to mean only Kashmiri Muslims. In fact, within Kashmir valley, the term “Kashmiri” is now taken to include only Koshur speaking Muslims and no one even bothers to include Koshur Pundits any more in advocating a composite definition of being a Kashmiri. Therefore, one is either a “Kashmiri” or “Pundit”. Similarly, Koshur Pundits living in different parts of India have now so much gotten detached from their cultural and linguistic roots in Kashmir valley that Hindi language and North Indian Hindu culture is fast replacing or jostling with traditional and ancient Koshur Brahmin traditions. It is a cultural loss that none of these communities are able to fathom appreciably.
To begin with, the term “Hindu” and “Hinduism” are alien to Kashmir valley. The Koshur Pundits were never known as “Hindus” in Kashmir valley neither among Koshur Muslims nor among Koshur Pundits themselves. “Batta”, a supposed derivative of a common Hindu Brahmin sagely name of “Bhatt” is the term, which was (and is) used for Hindus of Kashmir valley. Incidentally “Bhatt” is also the surname of a large number of Kashmiri Muslims in Kashmir valley and Pakistani Punjabi Muslims, whose forefathers had migrated from Kashmir to Pakistani Punjab during Dogra regime in 19th century to escape poverty and chronic droughts. While, I am not a sociologist but my estimate is that nearly 70% of Kashmiri Muslims are actually Brahmin converts as can be seen from the common Brahmin surnames that Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims share between them including Bhatts, Mattoos, Pundith, Raina etc. If combined ancestry of Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims are taken into consideration, then Kashmir is perhaps the most Brahminical enclave in entire South Asia having even much more percentage of population deriving its ancestry from Brahmin caste, much higher than that even in Himachal Pradesh, Uttara Khand and Nepal.
This distinct cultural identity of Kashmiri Pundit community is also extended to the fact that there is no such thing as Kashmiri Hinduism. Kashmir has Shaivism, a distinct religious philosophy derived from the life of Lord Shiva and his family. While there is a Shaivite sect even in South India, Kashmiri Shaivism is distinct in its advocation of Tantric philosophy that even helped in shaping up Buddhist traditions in neighboring Ladakh and Tibet. Kashmir valley’s long and uninterrupted tryst with Shaivite and later Buddhist traditions made it an important destination for Shaivite, Tantric, Sanskrit and Buddhist studies.
It is really unfortunate that there is not much tangible remains left of Kashmir’s glorious Shaivite and Buddhist past except for few temple ruins. The presence of small and microscopic Kashmiri Pundit community nevertheless remained a significant living connection of Kashmir valley with its ancient past. The exodus of Kashmiri Pundit community was a serious human as well as cultural blow to the identity of being a “Koshur”, which today stands tattered.
Today, the younger generation of Kashmiri Pundits living in exile are almost completely Hindized both linguistically and to great extent even culturally with far and less interest in their Koshur roots any longer. The younger generation of Kashmiri Muslims has little or almost no memory of what actually a Kashmiri Pundit means. He or she tends to look Hindu community from the lens of Hindu security forces stationed in Kashmir valley and events of religious politics in mainland India. He or she can’t even imagine that a Kashmiri can be / is also a Hindu. There is in fact intellectual attempt to link Kashmiri Muslims with Turks and Afghans and other Central and Middle Eastern Muslim communities with whom Kashmiri Muslim only share a loose connection of similar faith but no cultural and linguistic similarity that Kashmiri Muslims shares with Kashmiri Pundits. The events of politics and religion have so much wounded and battered the syncretic bonds of cultural harmony between Pundits and Muslims that the shared bond of language, culture and blood seems like a distant dream of the past. It is really unfortunate that things had to reach this point. Yet, we must strive and never give up hope to once again revive the spirit of much maligned tradition of “Kashmiriyat” that brought both Koshur Pundits and Muslims together and made them indistinguishable to the world to the extent that one Mughal Emperor during his visits to Kashmir valley was said to have remarked that while one can differentiate between a Mughal and a Hindustani but one cannot distinguish between a Kashmiri Pundit and Kashmiri Muslim. Let us strive to bring those glorious days back when our dear Kashmiri Pundit community could once again celebrate the marriage of Lord Shiva with Lady Parvati in Kashmir valley amongst the sacred chants of Hairath Pooza. Hairath Mubarak to all.
Javed Beigh is a Senior Political Leader of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Front. He Can be reached @Javedbeigh across Social Media Platforms. Views are his personal.