by Dr. B. N. Sharga
History tells us that the migration of the
Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley is not a new phenomenon. It has been
going on for the last so many centuries uninterrupted for one reason or the
other. The large scale migration of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir
Valley to the other parts of the country was mainly due to religious
persecution, but at times economic factors also played a major role in coaxing
the ambitious Kashmiri Pandits with a sense of adventure to migrate from the
Valley, their original birth place, to elsewhere for better future economic
prospects just to earn a big fortune for them so that their family members could
lead a princely life with all the available comforts at their command.
In 1322 A.D. Zulkadr Khan of Turkistan invaded Kashmir with full fury perhaps
with the intention to finish its pristine glory forever and in the process he
killed thousands of Kashmiri Pandits, the original inhabitants of that place.
He also converted a very large number of them at the point of sword to his
faith. Not satisfied with his atrocities and other brutalities it is said that
while returning back to his country even took about fifty thousand Kashmiri
Pandits as slaves just to extract very hard labour from them in Turkistan. It
is altogether a different story that all of them perished in a snow storm on the
way while crossing the difficult Himalayan terrain at Bata Ganjan.
Then we also know full well that at one point of time during the rule of
Sikander Butshikan in Kashmir between 1389 and 1413 A.D. Only eleven families of
the Kashmiri Pandits remained in the Valley when his Prime Minister Malik
Saif-ud-Din who was himself a convert (Suha Bhatt) unleashed a reign of terror
on the innocent Kashmiri Pandits, but even then he was not able to wipe out this
community completely from the mother planet although he succeeded in dividing
the community for the first time into two distinct groups known as Malmasi and
It is also historical fact that a very large number of Kashmiri Pandits
migrated from the Kashmir Valley during the Afghan rule (1753-1819 A.D.)
especially in the period of Lal Khan Kattak, Faqir Ullah and Jabbar Khan to
avoid religious persecution and other barbaric acts against them. We should
also keep in mind that prior to this a big migration of Kashmiri Pandits from
the Valley also took place during the rule of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb
(1658-1707) when Iftikhar Khan (1671-1675 AD) who was appointed as a Subedar of
Kashmir by the Mughal emperor started mass killings of the Kashmiri Pandits and
their forceful conversion on a very large scale. Here we should also not forget
that the conditions prevailing at that time were much worse than what they are
now as both the means of transport and communications were not developed at all
in the difficult terrain of Himalayas at that time and the migrants used to walk
on foot under the cover of darkness through thick forests at night to escape
detection and to avoid the wrath of the barbaric fundamentalist forces.
These Kashmiri Pandit migrants who came out from the Valley in 18th and 19th
centuries under most difficult conditions with no support from any quarter had a
vision. They assessed their position in the new dispensation thoroughly and to
keep their flock together evolved a system of living together in a group as a
community just to maintain close links between them to strengthen their
community bonds and to keep their distinct identity intact. As they were mainly
service class people they preferred to live in big cities of Northern India
where naturally the chances of getting a good job were definitely more than in
small towns. They also gave top priority to the education of their children so
that their bright future could be ensured. That is how Kashmiri Mohallas in
different names came into existence in cities like Lahore, Delhi, Jaipur,
Jodhpur, Agra, Kanpur, Faizabad, Allahabad and Lucknow with a considerable
population of Kashmiri Pandit migrants.
Kashmiri Mohalla of Lucknow came into existence between 1775 and 1780 A.D.,
when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula shifted his seat of government from Faizabad to Lucknow
in 1775 A.D. The generosity of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula and affluence during his rule
attracted many Kashmiri Pandits from different parts of the country and even
from Kashmir itself to come to Lucknow and they settled down in Kashmiri Mohalla
for better future prospects. It used to have a population of about 500 Kashmiri
Pandit families due to which it soon became a very strong nerve centre for the
social, cultural, educational and political activities of Kashmiri Pandit
T'hey very well visualised the hardships and other difficulties which they
had to face in the completely new surroundings and environment. So to overcome
that and at the same time to preserve their rich cultural heritage and their
customs, traditions and rituals they devised ways and means to maintain their
separate distinct ethnic identity far away from the land of their birth instead
of being lost in the vast sea of humanity. They achieved this by observing
strict discipline, but at the same time moving with the times by adopting
certain modifications in their way of life.
By living together in Kashmiri Mohalla they had the advantage of organising
caste activities and other social congregations regularly that strengthened the
caste solidarity among them which helped them to a considerable extent in
maintaining caste exclusiveness among the Diasporas by firstly facilitating
adherence to established caste practices like endogamy within the community and
second by immediately bringing to light any violation of customary caste usages.
For example the displaced Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmiri Mohalla, Lucknow until
the late 19th century used to celebrate an annual caste festival with great
devotion and fervour known as.Rishi Pir Ka Jag to honour a Kashmiri Pandit Saint
of the 17th century in Bhola Nath Ki Baghia. Then regular community gatherings
used to take place in Ganju Walon Ka Shadikhana to deliberate on crucial matters
pertaining to the community welfare. In such meetings the elders used to guide
the youth of the Biradari on all aspects of life to become responsible citizens
of the society and to make the community a strong well knit unit.
Kashmiri Mohalla also used to have quite a good number of Kashmiri Gurus, who
used to perform all the religious ceremonies as per Kashmiri traditions. Raj
Guru Pandit Raj Nath Ruggu was the last of this clan. He used to bring out a
Kashmiri Panchang every year on 'Navreh' for the community. But now their
descendants have left their ancestral profession and joined other jobs. They do
not like to be addressed like that at all any more as they consider themselves
to be well reformed moving with the times. Now the community depends on local
Pandits to perform the religious ceremonies.
What Kashyap Bandhu did in Kashmir to bring about radical reforms in the
community in 20th
century was done by leading Diasporants in Kashmiri Mohalla in Lucknow in 19th
century itself. Firstly to suit the local environment they changed their dress
code. Instead of wearing the traditional 'phiren', the Kashmiri Pandit men
started wearing Achkan, Chooridar Pyjama and a black pump shoe with a cap on
their head. The Kashmiri Pandit ladies started wearing Sarees but in a
different style than what the local women folk used to do to keep their distinct
identity intact. As Purdah system was in vogue so they also used to keep a
shawl over their shoulders to cover their body. The Diasporants completely
discarded the social evils like dowry prevalent in the community at that time
and took other steps to bring reforms in the Biradari to meet new challenges in
All along the Nawabi period, emphasis was given on leaming Urdu and Persian
languages to secure good jobs in the court. Kashmiri Pandits like Laxmi Narain
Kaul Sharga, Data Ram, Kimma Kaul Bakshi, Prem Nath Muttoo, Daya Shanker Kaul 'Naseem',
Raja Dilaram Kaul, ancestors of Dr. Uday Shanker Kochak, Lalta Prasad Batpori,
Harihar Nath Mubai etc. occupied important positions in the Oudh court. Then
Urdu poets like Ratan Nath Dar 'Sarshar' and Brij Narain Chakbast made
outstanding contributions in the field of Urdu literature.
Pandit Sheo Narain Bahar took the lead in bringing about social reforms in
the community. He started Mursala-e-Kashmir a caste journal from Kashmiri
Mohalla to guide Kashmiri Pandit boys of the locality to become good citizens by
his thought provoking articles. He was ably assisted in his work by Tribhuwan
Nath Sapru 'Hijr' and Brij Narain Chakbast.
When a Kashmiri Pandit aged 40 years married a K.P. girl of the locality half
his age 'Hijr' wrote sarcastically in his typical style disapproving such an
alliance in the following lines to educate others:
Madan lab lab ne
'Jo sutti pe daya ki
Zara harkat to dekho, is behaya ki
Baras chalees ka tha nausha,
Umr barah thi us be khata ki'
When La Martiniere School was established in Lucknow in 1845 the Kashmiri
Pandit boys felt the importance of European education for better future
prospects and about 6 boys residing in Kashmiri Mohalla joined this
institution. Their zeal for western education can be imagined by the fact that
they used to cover a distance of about 10 kilometres daily on foot in quest for
Bishan Narain Dar was the first Kashmiri Pandit youth of Kashmiri Mohalla who
went to England in 1884 breaking caste barriers.
After his return from England to Kashmiri Mohalla around 1888 he started
giving fiery speeches and took a plunge into the freedom movement of the country
and became very close to the national leaders of that time. Subsequently he
became the President of Indian National Congress in 1911 in its 27th Plenary
session held in Calcutta.
Prior to this Shambhu Nath Pandit became the first Indian judge of the
Calcutta High Court in 1863 and inspired many diasporants towards modern
Suraj Narain Bahadur who was a sub-judge felt the importance of girls
education and in 1904 he started a girls school at his residence in Kashmiri
Mohalla exclusively for Kashmiri Pandit girls. He employed European Lady
teachers to teach these girls. Now this school has become a full fledged
intermediate college and imparts education to about two thousand girls belonging
to all the communities.
Brij Narain Chakbast in the beginning of the 20th century established a
library and formed Kashmiri Youngmen Association to guide the Kashmiri Pandit
youth and to channelise their energies in a constructive manner in order to
reform the community. This Association was inaugurated in 1906 by Dr. (Sir) Tej
Bahadur Sapru who also felt a need for such reforms in the community to face the
new challenges of life. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru extended full support to him in
his noble mission. Chakbast used to invite leading luminaries like Gopal
Krishan Gokhale, Swami Daya Nand Saraswati to deliver lectures on topics of
social relevance. Motilal Nehru also used to come regularly to debate over
community affairs. He used to stay at the residence of Janki Nath Chak who was
very close to him. Chakbast also used to write forceful articles on reforms in
the community in Kashmir Darpan regularly.
Brij Kishan Gurtu who was an advocate by profession and a staunch follower of
Arya Samaj did a lot of work to simplify the marriage ceremonies and other
rituals by curtailing vulgar display of kvealth. Jagat Narain Mulla did a lot
of work to make (liasporants refined so that they may be able to perform their
social obligations and commitments in a better way with broader outlook. His
towering personality was a source of inspiration for many. Prithvi Nath Chak
brought educational reforms and founded P.P.N. College in Kanpur around 1908.
Then Kashmiri Pandit ladies like Mrs. Uma Nehru, Mrs. Rameshwari Nehru, Mrs.
Ladle Prasad Kitchlu and Mrs. T. N. Raina launched a movement to bring about
reforms in the cumbersome marriage ceremonies and other rituals by cutting short
the expenditure on them under the banner of Hindu Marriage League.
Pran Nath Pandit who did his M.A. from Sanskrit College Calcutta in 1874 and
subsequently B. L. from the Calcutta University and wrote a number of books on
Hindu Law, performed the marriage of a widow himself acting as a Purohit as he
had a command over Sanskrit language, and also had a deep knowledge about
performing religious ceremonies. There is a road in Calcutta after him known as
Pran Nath street.
But inspite of all this advancement upto the first quarter of the 20th
century, the Kashmiri Pandits used to take meals prepared by Kashmiri Pandit
cooks only. Even the Kashmiri Pandit boys studying in the universities and
staying in hostels used to cook their meals themselves. The free entry of other
caste groups into a Kashmiri Pandit household was also not allowed.
In modem context whether the approach adopted by Diasporants for their
survival was right or wrong is a debatable point. But one thing is clear that
somehow they succeeded in maintaining their separate distinct ethnic identity
for over 200 years inspite of heavy odds against them. Can we take a lesson
from our past history? Future leads the willing and drags the unwilling. The
society will always be in danger when those who have never learned to obey have
been given the right to command. Moreover, tolerance beyond the point of
absurdity is not a virtue but cowardice.
I conclude with the following Urdu couplet of Allama lqbal who was himself a
descendant of a Kashmiri Pandit.
"Kuchh baat hai ki hasti mittee nahin hamari
Sadivon raha hai dushman, daur-e-zamana hamara"