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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

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Why is there need to save our religious traditions?

Piyaray Lal Raina

Religious traditions include all the customs and beliefs that are received from generation to generation through literature, or by word of mouth. Some of these traditions shape their origin in the philosophical thought that has been the endeavor of several generations and yet some may have their roots in the event in the hoary past which has no bearing now. No one, however brilliant, or well informed, can come to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or intuitions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. The sanity of the group lies in the continuity of its traditions. To break sharply with the past is to court madness that may follow the shock of sudden blows or mutation.” - Will and Ariel Durant (Lessons of History)

Unlike western societies most of the Hindu traditions are linked with our religious beliefs. Thus, it is important to understand our religious philosophy and how our Kashmiri traditions are  different from the rest of the country. 

Our Religious Philosophy

Right from Vedic times Sanatana Dharma developed along two broad traditions known as Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The main outlines of these traditions are:

1)  Both recognize Supreme Being as transcendental. While in   Shaivism  It is known as  Parmshiva  Vaishnavites recognize It as Brahman (not to be confused with Brahma) Manifestation  as per Shaivism takes place through the immanent aspect of Parmshiva called Shiv-Shakti  where Shiv is passive witness to all that takes place under His orders  but Shakti is the active principle involved in the manifestation process.   Shakti has been given the feminine form of Durga (with her many other forms).  Vaishnavism also recognizes that manifestation takes place through the immanent aspect of Brahman called Ishvara or Hiranyagarbha (male form)

2)  As per Shaivism,  Durga in Her various forms takes care of the lives of humans(jivas) whereas  in Vaishnavism  trio  of gods-Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahash)have been  recognized for creation of jives (Brahma), maintenance of life(Vishnu) and  dissolution of life at the end of life cycles called epochs (Mahesh is  also known as Shiva or Shanker)

To take care of jivas on this planet Lord Vishnu takes birth as Avatar from time to time. Lord Rama, Lord Krishna are the two Avatars among the nine who have taken birth so far.

3) Both traditions agree that jivas are held in bondage in this world (samsara) due to their ignorance about their true relationship with Supreme Being  caused by divine illusion (Maya) which is the cause of repeated births in this samsara.  To get out of this cycle of misery one has to work for salvation (moksha).  While Vaishnavites focus on carrying out rituals and offering prayers to Lord Vishnu and His Avatars, Shivites offer their ritualistic worship and prayers to Shiv–Shakti

Broadly speaking Shaivism is practiced in Kashmir, Bengal and South Indian States. Vaishnavism is the dominant faith in rest of India.

Our Unique traditions

 As a result of our religious faith, geographical location and long history of about 5000 years our (Kashmiri) traditions have uniqueness. A few examples are given below:

1)   Our family deities (Isht devas)  are various forms of Durga (Ragnya, Sharika and Jwala ji) The Isht devtas of Vaishnavites are Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and other regional deities

2)      Our recitations which we carry out on most of the occasions are mainly dedicated to our Isht devi and Her other forms. Most of these recitations are of local origin and are not recited by non- Kashmiri Hindus. (e.g. Bhavaninamashasra, Indrakshi, Panchastavi, Leele rbda etc  ; Ganash Stuti -Hemja stum). Shiv Stuti like Shivmahimnapar which is universal has a local touch. We have 35 shlokas whereas out side Kashmir there are only 32 sholokas.  And even among 32 we have 2 different sholakasd. The only prayer for Vishnu prevalent among Kashmiris i.e. Jai Narayan is also of local origin not recited by non- Kashmiris.  Vaishnavites carry out recitations from Ramayana (e.g. Sunder kand, Hanuman Chalisa), Bhagwat  and Devi stuties  from Sunder Lahri of Adi  Shankera

3)       We start our pujas with doop dip puja which forms the pradhan bhagha (first step of any puja). This is our local tradition. Again Prepun which is extensively used by us at the time of offering bhoga (Prasad) is purely a Kashmiri tradition. Again we celebrate our  birthday with a  puja dedicated to our 8 rishisNon-Kashmiri Hindus do not have any birthday puja as a tradition.  

4)      On  Shivratri we offer extensive prayers to Lord  Shiv  -Shakti along with   Vatuknath Bhairwa (the highest being  next to Shiva- Shakti) for days together.  The Vaishnavite do not follow this tradition. Vaishnavite   Bhairva is a malicious being who if ignored can create obstacles in their worship.

5)       We celebrate Janam Ashtami as Zarm Satam,   one  day before Vaishnavites celebrate it as Lord Ksishnas birthday. Same is the case with Shivratri

6)       Celebrations like Kawpunim  Khicri Amavas, are our historical links with the past.  We enjoy preparations made on these occasions.

7)       Yagnopavit Samaskara   though universal among Hindus has developed a local tradition which involves not only extensive ritualistic puja carried over several days but also heavy expenditure. It is a small time function among   Vaishnavites usually carried out  for  group of boys at  teenage or along with marriage of boy. 

8)       Our death rituals (Antyeshti) are very elaborate which involves extensive rituals on the day of death and again on 10, 11 and 12 day after death. Even Social customs associated with death are lengthy.

9)       We do not celebrate Divali, or Holi with the same enthusiasm as is being done by Vaishnavites. It is not a Shivite tradition.

10) Even in the recitation of Bhagwadgita  which is universal we have our way of recitation on occasions like Yagnopavit and death rituals

These are some of the differences which mark uniqueness of our traditions.

Post migration dilemma

The loss of interest in our religious traditions started while we all lived happily in Kashmir,  which was partly due to lack of real knowledge behind our traditions  and partly due to the fact that we had left performance of our religious rituals to our priest class without ever bothering to understand  the rationale behind their performance. 

Post migration we got scattered into various Diasporas all over India mostly in Vaishnavite lands. Our priests had already started   getting their children trained into various lucrative professions. After migration the existing ones settled mostly around Jammu. Thus, most of our diasporas who had settled at places like   Delhi, Gurgaon,  Noida, Faridabad, Pune, Bombay,  Bangalore, Chandigarh,  Dehradun and other places are left without the services of  priests.   Since our traditions are unique to us the local priests are not able to perform our rituals to our satisfaction. Hence, when need arises on occasions such as marriage  or yagnopavit ceremony   or the cremation of a  dear one, we search all corners to find a Kashmiri priest who, as a matter of supply and demand,  raises his fees to unaffordable levels for a common man   The community needs to find out a way to preserve out traditions

.Action Plan 

 1)  We have to bring awareness among our community members, especially the younger generation, about our religious philosophy and our traditions. Although we have many scholars in our community yet they have not paid enough attention to writing about our religious traditions. A lot has been written about Kashmir Shaivism but it is not part of our religious traditions. Kashmir Shaivism is a philosophic concept of our relationship with god and does not guide us in the performance of these traditions. Our priests have produced a few booklets about performance of rituals but they lack background knowledge.

2) Karmkanda, which is a guide book for performance of our rituals, needs to be updated from time to time, keeping in view the needs of   the   group of people who follow it. It is regional in nature  . Our Karmkanda was written centuries back which not available now. Our present priests have preserved parts of relevant portions for carrying out our Samaskaras. In the present age one does not have time and patience to carry out long and unintelligible rituals, especially when even the priests are not available. We have to rewrite our karmkanda, as is being done by other Hindu communities, and make it brief.

3) Our seniors have to take out some time off to learn how to carry out our less important rituals. We may avail of the services of trained priests for carrying out major religious functions such as vivah,yagnopavityagnya  antyeshti  but pujas like birthday,  Shivratri  Punn,  bhumipujan greh pravesh are simple  and can be performed by seniors ea,  or at one house if available,  and learn to carry out recitations like Bhawaninamashasra, Indrakshi, Panchastavi ,  Shivmahimnapar  and other stuties.  It could be like a kitty party with the service of prashad as eatables.

4) We need to train priests preferably from our own community. To attract people we must provide for their training, residence in the locality where they serve and adequate assured income to meet their financial needs. This can be done by regular contributions from the community who avail of their services. We had this tradition in our villages when they were paid a part of the harvested crop along with other service providers like barbers carpenters etc.  Our priests were part of family who were consulted not only for carrying out rituals but acted as family astrologers as well.

5) We should try to create Mrityuo Samgri Bhandars (materials needed for cremation of dead person)  in the localities where we live. It was our tradition back home in Kashmir and has been preserved  in some localities in Jammu and even outside J&K state.  A death in a home brings lot of grief and tension.  A little help from community members is a great encouragement. The cost of these materials is   meager but inconvenience in finding them, especially in our new surroundings, is great.

6) Setting up of community centers. There are reserved places in many new developments for   construction of temples which act as community centers. The land offered is at cheap rates.  Funding for payment of land and building can be met with donations from residents of locality, especially from those who are well off.


* The author is a great devotee of Karuna Mai Maa - a Kashmiri saint who has established an Ashram at Sohna Gurgaon where all Kashmiri religious practices are followed. He has written a voluminous book on Kashmiri traditions entitled “Socio- Cultural and Religious Traditions of Kashmiri Pandits published in USA. He is President of   Samarpan Public Charitable Trust (Regd) which is dedicated to bringing awareness of KP traditions among youth, rewriting of Karmkanda and setting up of centers for learning of KP religious traditions. He lives in Gurgaon and USA and can be approached through mail (pl_raina @ yahoo.com or phone 9868402999 in India.

Kashmiri Writers P.L. Raina

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