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Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora in Himachal Pradesh - An Overview

By Upender Ambardar

Himachal Pradesh, covering over 55,673 sq-kilometres and situated south of Jammu and Kashmir is a mountainous state. Besides being full of natural splendour is also rich in religious and cultural traditions. The native people are simple, honest, deeply religious and God-fearing. The local rituals, traditions, customs and beliefs are intricately woven into the texture of their social and cultural life.

Topographically, Himachal Pradesh comprises of the lush-green region of Dalhousie-Chamba-Barmaur, the serene segment of Dharmashalla-Kangra-Mandi belt nestling in the picturesque Dhauladhar hills, Kullu-Manali area, known as the Valley of Gods, Kinnaur--the abode of Lord Shiva Kinnar-Kailash, the Buddhist influence dominated portion of Lahaul-Spiti besides Shimla proper and its adjoining hills.

The state rich in green vales and bracing climate offers the nearest approximation to the unforgettable memories and pleasures of our 'lost' paradise of Kashmir. Perhaps, due to this, hundreds of miles away from the land of their birth, a substantial number of Kashmiri Pandits have come to adopt Himachal Pradesh as their second home and hearth.

Kashmiri Pandits are mostly concentrated at Shimla known as the queen of hills, Solan, with it's adjoining localities of Chamba-ghat, Kot-nalla and Saproon, Kangra, Mandi, Palampur and Dharamshalla, besides a few families of our community to be spotted at Bilaspur proper, Nahan, Nurpur, Sundernagar and Poantasahib. Apart from it, Dera-Gopalpora, Baijnath and Kot-Khai have a Kashmiri Pandit family each. Most of them have come-out from Kashmir between 1947 to 1950's for better avenues in employment and economic opportunities.

A majority of them have rendered their services in the education sector and by-dint of their hard labour and worth, rose to occupy the prestigious posts of Head-masters and Principals of the various Govt. Schools and Colleges.

Late Sh. Nand Lal Kachroo, hailing from Baramulla (Kashmir) was the first to start and head the first Govt. B.Ed. College of the state at Solan. The second generation Kashmiri Pandits are well-qualified, being professors, doctors, engineers and scientists, besides a few among them having their own business and a small fraction being orchadists. A few Kashmiri Pandits have also seen distinguished career as I.P.S., I.A.S. and State Civil Service Officers. Mr Arvind Koul was the Chief Secretary of the state until last year. Mr MK Kaw has rendered his services as Secretary, Finance and Education in Himachal Pradesh. A few members of our community have either served or are still serving as scientists and professors at the Potato Research Centre, Shimla, Dr. Y.S. Parmar Forestry and Horticulture University and Nouni (Solan), Agriculture University, Palampur and Himachal Pradesh University located at Summer Hill, Shimla. Indira Gandhi Medical College Hospital, Shimla has also on its rolls a few doctors of our community. A few Kashmiri Pandit doctors have also well established private clinics of their own like that of Dr Bali (hailing from Baramulla) at Sunder-Nagar and Dr. Upender Koul (Swati Clinic at the Mall, Solan). A lone family of our community, namely Dr. B.L. Dhar residing at Chamba-Ghat (Solan) is a principal scientist and Head of the Mushroom Research Centre located at Chamba-Ghat. A few of our community members are also found in other professions like that of Banks, Post Office, AG's office and the state departments.

Palampur has more than a dozen families of our community, having settled here after 1990 and mainly comprise of doctors, research scientists and professors. The notable among the distinguished galaxy of Palampur being Dr RK Ogra, Dr Bimal Misri, Dr VK Koul, Dr MK Mattoo, Dr TK Bhat, Dr. DP Bhat, Dr Surender Bhan and Sh. Kulbushan Raina, who is working as Divisional Manager in an Insurance Company. Likewise, Dr Ravinder Raina of Kot-Nala (Solan) is a scientist in the Forest Products Deptt. at Nouni University, Dr VK Mattoo and his wife Dr Neelam Mattoo are professors at HP University and Dr Lokesh Koul, Professor Emeritus has also served as Chairman and Dean of Student's relations at HP University, Shimla. Dr SN Peshin (Scientist) and Professor ON Dulloo (Retd. College Vice-Principal) of Solan have also contributed in their respective fields. Sh. B.N. Koul, a resident of Solan is a retired Chief Engineer of Himachal Pradesh PWD.

Mr PN Kher, father of the popular cine actor Sh. Anupam Kher is a prominent and well-known personality of Shimla, still deeply rooted in Kashmiri culture and traditions. Baijnath, having cool embracing climate is a quiet town on the Kangra-Baijnath road and known as Shiv-Dham is famous for its Shiva temples, especially Baijnath (one of the names of Lord Shiva being Vaidyanath).

Baijnath has a single Kashmiri family of Kouls residing here.

The head of this family, Sh. Makhan Lal Koul (B.Sc., B.Ed, M.A), originally resident of Sathu Barbarshah, Srinagar migrated to Himachal Pradesh in 1950. He joined the State Education Department, served in various capacities and retired as Principal from the Govt. High School, Deol. His wife Smt. Gouri Raina Koul (B.A., B.Ed) has also served as a teacher at Govt. School, Baijnath. Their son Dr. Jatinder Koul (M.B.B.S. M.D) is a medical officer at Govt. Hospital, Baijnath and is presently doing specialisation in Cardiology at Delhi. His wife Dr. Sudesh Koul (M.B.B.S. M.S.) is serving as a Gynecologist at Govt. Hospital, Baijnath. One of their daughters, Dr. Jyoti, having a doctorate in Chemistry is serving as a lecturer in S.D. College,  Palampur. Another daughter Mrs. Renu Koul, being M.Sc. and M.Phil. in Physics is Head of the Physics Deptt. in S.D. College, Bajnath. One more daughter Mrs. Indu Koul is M.Sc. & M.Phil in Chemistry and is a lecturer at the S.D. College, Baijnath, since 1985. She is married to Sh. Sailash Raina, an engineer in Prasar Bharati.

A single Kashmiri Pandit family of Hakhoos, having own pharmaceutical business, is settled at Paprola, adjacent to Baijnath.

One more Kashmiri Pandit family of Sh. Suresh Raina is settled at the village Sungal on the Baijnath-Paprola road. He is dealing in scientific equipment business.

About six kilometres from Baijnath on the Sakdi-Gadyara-Longoo road is a small village called by the name of Rainabadi (mutilated pronunciation of Rainawari locality of Srinagar), which houses about half a dozen Raina families. They claim that their ancestors had migrated from Kashmir during the Muslim rule. All these Raina families are non-Kashmiri speaking and are completely absorbed in the local social set-up. Except for their Kashmiri surname of 'Raina', no trace of Kashmiri linkage is evident among them. Apart from being in business, they are in the army or are serving as 'purohits'.

All the three Kashmiri Pandit families of Baijnath, Paprola and Sungal are Kashmiri speaking and observe all the Kashmiri festivals and rituals. Our hats off to them for having retained Kashmiri traditions, values and way of life even after being hundreds of miles away from Kashmir.

They even now nostalgically recall and remember their Kashmiri Association and those blissful reminiscences still haunt them.

Dharmashalla city has a substantial number of Kashmiri Pandit families, both pre and post 1990 settlers, some of them having settled here after Anantnag riots. A few among them have distinguished themselves as educationists. Prof. Koul, a retd. College Principal is now permanently settled at Depo Bazar, Dharmashalla. A non-Kashmiri speaking old Kashmiri, Mr. Anil Raina, whose ancestors seem to have come-out from Kashmir during Muslim-rule, is working at the Museum of Kangra Art, Dharmashalla.

A few kilometres away from Dharamshalla is Yole Cantt, which has about half a dozen Kashmiri Pandit families permanently settled here. A few among them like Raina's and Marhata's are doing well in business. A K.P. family of Raina's, originally hailing from Shangus village in district Anantnag has a well established Provisions’ store shop in the heart of Yole Cantt. Having migrated from their village Shangus more than three decades back, very little of the community's cultural or traditional traits are now visible in them.

Mandi and Kangra districts have an appreciable number of Kashmiri Pandit families, being both pre and post-1990 settlers. Many among them have their own business establishments ranging from garments, hard-ware, provision-stores and medical shops.

Chamba proper and Nurpur towns have exclusively a few non-Kashmiri speaking old Kashmiri Pandit families. Except for their Kashmiri surnames (mostly Raina, Koul, Dhar) still retained, they are almost completely and fully absorbed in the local social set-up and atmosphere. These forgotten members of our community have long-ago been separated from us by the unfortunate viccssitudes of time and happenings. They claim to have come-out from Kashmir hundreds of years back during the tyrannical Muslim regimes. In Chamba proper, there are about five families of Himachalis mostly with the surname of Sharma, who are called as 'Shun-Pharan'. These five 'Shun-Pharan' families claim to have Kashmiri lineage, the only remembrance of it being that they had migrated from Kashmir during the Mughal King Aurangzebs' rule.

A prominent member of one of these ‘Shun-Pharan’ families of Chamba, namely Sh. Vinay Sharma with whom I had a chance encounter is incidentally married in an old Kashmiri family of Koul's of Nurpur. His wife Dr. Reeta Koul (Sharma) is a curator at the National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi. The old Kashmiris of Chamba town include Sh. Satish Raina, Sh. Ishwar Raina, working in the state P.W.D. and the family of late Sh. Vasudev Pandit. In Chamba town, a few families are still referred to as 'Kashmiris' in their neighbourhood, though they are settled here for more than a century. A few old Kashmiri families residing at Nurpur, include Sh. Ashok Koul, ex-Manager Grindlay's Bank, whose home is at Lambi-Gali, Nurpur.

There are many references about Kashmir in the local beliefs. The folk-songs of Barmaur a tribal area of Chamba mention Lord Shiva having made Mani-Mahesh of Barmaur as his abode after having come-out from Kashmir. Even the local deity of upper Shimla region, known as 'Mahasu', is said to have 'Kashmir connection' (to be elaborated later-on).

In addition to it, the local deity of some of the villages in Rajgarh area of Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh, known by the name of 'Shargul' is said to owe his birth to 'rudra-patt' recital and 'havan' performed by a virtuous and a highly learned Kashmiri Brahman priest Pandit Desh Nath Koul of Jogilankar Rainawari, Srinagar. Pandit Desh Nath Koul, remembered in Rajgarh villages as Deshu Pandit is said to have performed the oblations of ''yagya'  at his Jogilankar residence around 12th century in-order to give a heir to the throne of the local king called Bhukdu. The said King is believed to have personally visited Pt. Desh Nath Koul's Srinagar residence and is said to have trekked the long distance in about three month's time.

In certain areas of Mandi, those afflicted with doubts and uncertainties in life and who are eager to known answers to their problems, approach a few available local Brahmans. The learned Brahmans before answering their queries, first of all offer their salutations to 'Sharda-Mandla' i.e. Kashmir on opening the very first page of their Jyotish related book called 'Sancha', locally.

The said 'Jyotish knowledge' is said to have travelled to this area from Kashmir itself in ancient times. Even Sharda, the ancient script of Kashmir seems to have been quite popular and wide-spread in Mandi and Kangra belt in the tenth century A.D. I personally could spot a Sharda inscriptions on a stone-slab in the Baijnath (Shiva) temple of Baijnath town.

In-addition to it, the Kangra school of painting owes much to the excellence of the artists of the families belonging to 'Raina' surname. These families are residents of Sumloti and Ludwada (Gagal) villages of Kangra district, the prominent among them being Sh. Chandu Lal Raina, Satprakash Raina and Sarandass Raina. Though they are now Himachalis, yet in every respect they seem to be the 'lost' members of our own community.

My interactions with my community members, now scattered at different places in Himachal Pradesh, makes me to feel that there is a pang in every heart and a regret for the happy days that no longer exist.

They long for their homes and the 'paradise' lost and relive the sorrows of their absence from home by recollecting and recapturing time and again those happy and blissful moments about the  days of the past.

The present essay is merely overview of the Kashmiri Pandits’ diaspora in Himachal Pradesh. A more comprehensive account, area-wise, will follow in the subsequent issues.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 
 

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