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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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The Story of an ‘Infidel’

by T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'

I am a Kashmiri Pandit and my faith is ‘Sanatana Dharma’, the eternal law. I have been living in this land, Kashmir for so many millennia. In spite of the fact that lofty mountains kissing the sky surround the valley, I had regular and sustained contact with the people of the neighbouring areas and also interaction with the inhabitants of the far off places. I have been culturally close to rest of the country, which has been a living example of unity in diversity. The Vedas, the Upanishads and the Epics have been sacred to my people as to the people living elsewhere in the country. When the Buddhist thought developed in this sub-continent my area could not remain unaffected. The result was that my land produced a number of scholars preaching this doctrine, contributed significantly to the rise of the ‘Mahayana’ branch of this theology and was instrumental in its spread to far off places including Tibet, China, Japan and Cambodia. Around the 8th century the scholars and sages of this place conceived a unique non-dualistic philosophy, which in due course influenced the life of a common man here. This philosophy prevailed and grew even though many other ideologies, disciplines and ways of worship originated from here, notably ‘Vaishnav-agamas’ and ‘Shaiv-agamas’. 

It was in the 14th century that Islam came to Kashmir and this brought a number of Sufis to this place from Middle East because of the persecution there. They were attracted to the philosophy prevailing here and the result was that an attractive and popular ‘Rishi cult’ came into existence that suited the Muslims and Hindus alike. These Hindu Rishis and Muslim Sufis preached a life of piety, purity, contentment, love and firm belief in God, attainable by love, devotion and penance. I am a Hindu by faith but I love, respect and adore all these sages and Sufis in equal measure. I believe in the existence of God and worship Him in my own way. I go to the temple and pray in front of an idol as a symbol that helps me in concentration and contemplation. I know that truth is not in these symbols but in the universe but I also believe that if through these symbols I am able to see the truth it will only strengthen my faith. I offer prayers to various deities like the Sun, whom I call ‘Devatas’, or the shining ones, knowing fully well that they are only the visible forces of God, who is unborn, beginning-less, eternal, formless un-paralleled unique supreme entity – a Universal Consciousness, Being and Bliss. I put oblations in the fire to purify the atmosphere polluted by my fellow beings and me. I follow certain rituals, which helps me manifest the divinity in me. I celebrate the death anniversaries of my ancestors and offer oblations to them, only to remind myself of the debt I owe to them, which needs to be paid back by perpetuating the nobility shown by them in thought, word and deed. The intention behind all these activities of mine is to go from exoteric to esoteric, from mundane to spiritual, from gross to subtle and from a part to the whole. 

Unfortunately I was branded an infidel, a ‘Kafir’, hated, persecuted troubled and discriminated against. Infidel means one who has no belief in a faith, an unbeliever. That is not the case with me. I am a firm believer in my faith. In my view religion deals with two aspects of our existence, one our relationship with the Divine and two our relationship with fellow beings. I believe in God and also in multiple ways of attaining Him. I respect all faiths as valid and relevant and am a staunch advocate of universal brotherhood, peace, non-violence and co-operation. ‘Kafir’ is an Arabic word, which means one who hides truth as opposed to ‘Mumin’, one who disseminates truth. I give supreme importance to Truth, both at mundane and spiritual levels. I am no votary of falsehood. My scriptures advise me, Satyam vada na-nritam – speak the truth and not untruth’, ‘Satyam-eva jayate – Truth alone triumphs’, ‘Setuns-tara, satyena asatyam – cross the ocean of falsehood by truth’ and so on. This being so it is unfair to brand me a ‘Kafir’. There can be three reasons why I am branded as such. Either these people, who call me so do not know the correct meaning of the term ‘Kafir’ and are ignorant about the basic tenets of my faith, or by ‘Kafir’ they mean all those who do not follow their faith. Or they know all these facts fully well but call me a ‘Kafir’ deliberately as a matter of some political expediency and part of a bigger global game plan. Let me make it clear to them that if they believe in one God as the Supreme Divine, so do I. If they believe in worshipping Him, so do I. If their faith preaches piety and purity, so does my faith. There may be some differences in perception, rituals and attitudes but that does not mean I stand for falsehood and untruth and can, therefore, be labeled as a ‘Kafir’. I do not subscribe to the doctrine of exclusiveness of faith for the Vedas proclaim, ‘Ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti – Truth is one and the wise describe it in many ways’. Had I stated that my faith alone is valid, I would have been a fundamentalist. Had I subscribed to a view that my faith alone being valid, persons holding different views and belonging to different faiths have no right to exist on this planet, I would have been an extremist. I am neither. I respect all faiths as valid and relevant for different people at different times and at different stages of spiritual quest. 

According to Wilfred Cantwell Smith ‘nowadays religion is spoken of as the human search for God. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, rejects this view. God takes the initiative. Humanity’s business is not a quest but a response’. Comparing the scriptures of different religions, Huston Smith has observed, ‘Koran, unlike the Upanishads, is not explicitly metaphysical. It does not ground its theology in dramatic narratives as the Indian epics do, nor is God revealed in Human form as in the Bhagavad Gita. Old and new testaments are directly historical and indirectly doctrinal. Koran is directly doctrinal and indirectly historical’. These observations may point to some basic differences between the content of my faith and their religion, yet I cannot be called a ‘Kafir’ for I do not hide truth but the very aim of my life is quest for truth. And then does not the holy Koran say unequivocally, ‘Lakum dinka wa li ad Din – to you your religion, to me mine’. Besides, God neither belongs exclusively to any group nor needs defence from anyone. He is unaffected even if someone questions His very existence. How then is it justified to treat me a ‘Kafir’ and deny me the right to exist when I am a believer in God, seeker of Truth and respectful to all faiths?  

I embrace persons of all faiths and respect them. I have accepted even heterodox philosophies of Buddhists and Jains and have held both Gautama Buddha and Vardhaman Mahavira in high esteem and reverence. I have equal regard for Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. I have been taught to treat the entire world as one family, ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakam’. I am in the habit of praying for the welfare of all, ‘Sarve bhavantu sukhinah’. I beg of the Divine to fill my mind with noble resolves, ‘Tanme manah shiva sankalpam-astu’. I always desire peace on earth, in the sky and in the elements, ‘Om dhyou shantih, antarikhshagun shantih, prithivi shantih, aapah shantih…’. It is, therefore, unfortunate and unjustified that I am referred to as a ‘Kafir’. If at all I am to be faulted it should be for my reluctance to thrust my faith and views on others. I have never believed in coercion, conversion or confrontation. I made my land an abode for every one to live in peace and harmony in the true Vedic sense, ‘Yatra vishvam bhavati eke needam – a situation where the entire world becomes a nest giving shelter to all’. My doors have always remained open for people of all faiths. I have welcomed everyone and given equal treatment to all. Tagore has beautifully expressed this fact in these lines: ‘Hethaya arjo hethaya anarjo hethaya dravida cheen, eka deha halo leen – whether it was Aryan or non-Aryan, Dravidian or a Chinese, all became one in this land’. My Lal Ded has said, ‘Shiv chhui thali thali rozan, mozan Bhatta ta Musalman – Shiva pervades everything and, therefore, do not discriminate between a Pandit and a Muslim’. She gave the essence of our faith when she said, ‘Asi aesi tai asi aasav asi dore kaeri patavath – we only were in the past and we only shall be in the future. It is we only who have been coming and going from time immemorial’. My Gita tells me, ‘Vidya vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini, shuni chaiva shvapake cha panditah samadarshinah – men of knowledge view all alike, a Brahmin endowed with learning and demeanour, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste eating dog meat’. 

Firm believer in the Divine dispensation as I am, I am convinced that very soon people of all faiths shall not only respect each other’s view point but also hold all faiths valid and relevant. They will learn to co-exist with fellow humans and contribute their mite in creating an atmosphere of love, harmony and brotherhood. There will be no ethnic cleansing of the type Jews faced or my own community was prey to only a decade back. They will realize that if peace and tranquility is ensured, the result will be prosperity and progress. They will accept the love preached by Christ, surrender unto God prescribed by Prophet Mohammed, non-violence taught by Mahavira, good conduct enjoined upon by Buddha, God-remembrance underscored by Guru Nanak, self-less service praised by the saints and sages and the world-view established by Sanatana Dharma. No body will then dare call anyone else an infidel or a ‘Kafir’ and I, the unfortunate Kashmiri Pandit, forcibly evicted from my home, may find congenial atmosphere to return to my roots to the land of Vasugupta, Abhinavgupta, Lal Ded, Nunda Reshi, Roop Bhawani, Reshi Peer, Paramananda, Shams Faqir, Ahad Zargar, Swami Laxman Joo, Bhagavaan Gopi Nath and a galaxy of other saints and savants, who have guided and shaped my life over the centuries.   

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles

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