Kashmir’s Mlecch Era


Abortive takeover bids did not prevent the Muslim influences from impacting the Kashmir society. Long before Kashmir’s transition to Islam, the new faith existed and thrived even during the Hindu rule, says Sara Wani

Manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an calligraphed in 1237 AD on a 25 feet long and 2.5-inch wide scroll paper. Believed to be gifted by Shiekh Hamza Makhdoom (RA) to Khawaja Miram Bazaz, great grandfather of Majid and Ashraf Qazi, who displayed it in an exhibition in Srinagar.

Mohammed bin Qasim packed home never to return and Ghaznavids’ left as if vowing never to set foot on mountains guarding Kashmir like a wall. Kashmir kingdom was apparently insulated against the changes that swept proper India. Delhi Muslim kings and Turkish Sultans remained too preoccupied with power consolidation to make any advance toward Kashmir.

But for the ideas and influences, high Himalayas were no impregnable. Then, political boundaries did not stop trade, refugees and even fortune hunters. Kashmir knew of Islam much earlier than the two failed conquests.

In his Shah Hamdan of Kashmir, Kashmir’s former Director of Archives, Archeology, Research and Museums, Prof Fida Mohammad Khan Husnain has referred to a legend that then Kashmir ruler Veenditya’s emissaries had trekked through Bahrain and met the prophet of Islam. “This information is further collaborated in a Persian manuscript entitled Anwar-i-Kashmir, where it is informed that the Holy Prophet did depute Abu Hazifa Yamani in about 8 AH (after Hijra) with letters to the Chinese emperor but the above emissary got held up in Kashmir due to a heavy snowfall,” Husnain wrote. “Veenditya, the Raja of Kashmir treated them well.”

While the author offers no detail about the veracity of the manuscript and its writer, he claims that Caliph Umar ibn Khitab had deputed a delegation of five persons to Kashmir in about 21 AH. He offers no reference to substantiate the claim. Extensive research failed to trace the king in Rajatarangini. At that point of time when Islam was getting established in the deserts of Arabia, Kashmir was witnessing the transfer of power from Baladitya, the last Gonanda king, to Karkotas whoso rule begun with Durlabhavardhana (627-649). Even the Thang dynasty records in China suggest that the first Muslim delegation comprising 15 Arabs was led by Said Ibn Abi Waqqas. Thabit ibn Qays accompanied him. Dispatched by Caliph Usman, it met Chinese Emperor Yung-Wei in 651.

But the existence of Muslims in Kashmir is well documented after the fall of Sindh. Chachnama author Alafi bin Hamıd al-Kufı, states that Muhammad Alaf, an Arab mercenary who had served Sindh ruler Dahır (712 A D), sought refuge in Kashmir. The then Kashmir ruler Candrapıda, received him well and bestowed on him the territory of Shakalbar. G M Sufi, the author of Kashir: Being A History of Kashmir has quoted Sir Alexander Cunningham locating Shakalbar somewhere around the salt range saying the territory was then under the control of Kashmir king.

After Alafı’s death, his estate was inherited by one Jahm, who, according to al-Kufı, “built many mosques there”.

Writing in the UNESCO publication History of Civilizations of Central Asia (IV), N A Baloch has quoted al-Bırunı recording that Muhammad bin al-Qasim bin Munabbih who took Multan “belonged to the house of Jahm bin Sama al-Shami, who had allegedly settled in Kashmir as far back as 712–14 and whose descendants had reportedly continued to flourish there.”

Baloch says though Kashmir was ruled, from the eighth century onwards, by the local, independent, originally non-Muslim dynasties, the region had “increasing political contacts with the Muslim rulers of Sind and Khurasan.” Kashmir and Kashgar, then, would be the two main trading states through Gilgit.


Arabic and Sharda inscription on the grave of Seda Khan, next to Ziarat of Bahauddin Sahib, who died in a battle in the reign of Mummad Shah (1484-1537).

Gaznavids’ returned home from Rajouri as winters set in and failed to wrest Kashmir from Sangramaraja in 1021. “It is, however, possible that some of Mahmud’s soldiers, finding it difficult to cross the mountains towards the plains of India, stayed behind and settled in Kashmir,” historian Abdul Qayoom Rafiqui writes in the UNESCO publication. “It is after these Turkish invasions that Kalhana refers, for the first time, to the presence of Turuskas (Muslim) in Kashmir when describing the reign of Harsa (1089–1111).”

Venetian adventurer Marco Polo is still a widely reliable traveller of that era. He visited Kashmir in 1260. His description of an “idolatrous” Kashmir, then ruled by Laksmanadeva (1273-86) – an “incompetent” ruler “consistently harassed by the Turks and his turbulent nobles”, is brief but interesting.

“They have an astonishing acquaintance with the devilries of enchantment; insomuch that they make their idols to speak,” Polo records in his Travels of Marco Polo. “They can also by their sorceries bring on changes of weather and produce darkness, and do a number of things so extraordinary that no one without seeing them would believe them.”

While terming Kashmir as the “very original source from which Idolatry has spread abroad”, Polo has made the predominant faith clear. But he has made two other observations.

“There are in this country Eremites (after the fashion of those parts), who dwell in seclusion and practise great abstinence in eating and drinking. They observe strict chastity and keep from all sins forbidden in their law so that they are regarded by their own folk as very holy persons. They live to a very great age,” goes the first one.

“The people of the province do not kill animals nor spill blood; so if they want to eat meat they get the Saracens who dwell among them to play the butcher,” is the other observation. Saracen is a generic term for Muslims that Christian writers widely used in Europe.

Pieces of evidence suggesting Muslim presence in the thirteenth century were further corroborated in August 2012 by Qazi brothers – Ashraf and Majid, originally from Khawaja Bazaar. At an exhibition, they displayed full text of the Qur’an calligraphed in 1237 AD on a 25 ft x 2.5-inch scroll paper. “It is part of our heirloom and we had forgotten it on our attic in our old house under the shingled rooftop and nobody touched the two boxes for nearly 150 years,” Ashraf said. “Once we discovered and opened the box, we discovered the treasure.” The rare manuscript, calligraphed by Fatahullah Kashmiri was gifted by Sheikh Hamzah Makhdoom to Khawaja Miram Bazaz, the great grandfather of the Qazis. It carries a certificate of authenticity and transfer with 35 Ulema as witness. Historians did not expect Muslims to be living in Kashmir, then.

Focusing on the ‘court’, Rajatarangini, Kashmir’s oldest historical chronicle skips mentioning social changes in detail. But the first major mention of a social change is during the reign of Lohara dynasty king Harsa (1089-1101). The king says Kalhana, “introduced into the country more elaborate fashions in dress and ornaments and made his courtiers imitate his own taste for extravagance in personal attire.” The ‘new dress code’, an apparent ‘Western Disturbance’ was explained by M A Stein as the “Mohammedan influence”.

This observation is indicative of a social impact though not a religious transformation. But the Kashmir court was never immune to foreign influence. Even Lalitaditya’s had a Turk minister Cankuna. Stein says he was from Badakhshan or its immediately adjoining tracts on the upper Oxus. Besides, Lalitaditya, “as overlord of India”, according to Maharajas’ of India, by Annmorrow Shrishti was “already recruiting regiments from Central Asia.”

Vajraditiya-Bappiyaka, Lalitaditya’s son who ruled Kashmir for seven years, says Kalhana “sold many men to and introduced in the country many Mleccha practice”.

Apparently, Mlecchs were to Hindu scholarship what Saracens were to European writers. A Sanskrit word, Mleccha means “alien in language and manners, uncouth, inferior”. Their presence was felt throughout the reign of Korkotas’, the dynasty that reigned Kashmir between 663 – 855 AD, coinciding with the period when Arab armies were being dispatched to the length and breadth of the world. Even the Bhavaishya Purana, one of the 18 Puranas of ancient Vedic literature dealing with the future, anticipates the rise of the prophet of Islam as “the Acharay of Mlecchas”, a desert resident who would be the embodiment of divine qualities. Some Kashmir historians see Ali Kadal as the Mleccha Mar that Rajatarangini refers to.

Husnain is correct in saying that Islam was brought to Kashmir by non-Muslim Rajas. While Karkota king Vajraditya (761– 767) introduced Mleccha practices, Lohara dynasty king Harsa not only employed Turuska commanders but made temple spoliation a state policy. He confiscated idols possessing the valuable metals, they were made of.

 A Hindu iconoclast, Harsa was an interesting character. Initially prudent, courageous and lover of art and music, Sufi feels “his mind was rather demented”. Kalhana see him as “a jumble of contraries”, who was bankrupted by extravagances. To manage his kitty, Kalhana says he would loot the temple treasures, especially the metallic idols. An exploitative taxman, he would even levy night soil! Even though famines, bandits and plagues attacked Kashmir, Harsa never exempted his subjects from taxes. Eventually, his nephews led a rebellion, putting his palace afire, roasting his queens alive and slaying his successors. He was perhaps the only Kashmir king who head was sliced after being hunted down and left to be cremated by a wood-dealer “as a naked pauper”.

Stein has explained Harsa differently. “As Kalhana is particular to specify the new metal statues of gods throughout Kashmir which escaped Harsa’s clutches, we cannot doubt the extent and thoroughness of Harsa’s iconoclasm,” Stein writes. “Can the latter have been instigated or encouraged somehow by the steady advance of Mohammadanism in the territories? Kalhana when relating to these shameful confiscations gives to Harsa the epithet Turuska i.e; Mohammadan, and later makes reference to Turuska captains being employed in his army and enjoying his favour”.

Having little faith in his people and his soldiery, Harsa had raised a new model for his army. Comprising mostly Ekangas, the royal bodyguards and the Tantrins, the reformed trouble-makers, each group of hundred soldiers was placed under a Muslim commander, thus making it impossible for soldiers to run away or hatch plots. This was the beginning of Muslim influence in Kashmiri politics. After Harsa, Bhiksacara (1120-21) is understood to have raised a Muslim cavalry for his personal guard, a task they eventually failed in.

Harsa, however, was one of the series of puppet kings who misruled Kashmir for nearly 500 years after Lalitaditya (724-60) when court rivalry would change kings in Kashmir like turbans. In between came Avantivarman (855-883) who tried to put the house in order. Putting foreign conquests at the halt, he devoted his attention to his state focusing on development, welfare, and delivery of services. As his son succeeded him, things were back to square one with class-wars and internecine battles triggering the political instability and reducing the kingdom to its old territorial confines.

By the time Jayasimha (1128-1155) took over, Muslim mercenaries had gained so much popularity that the king and his army chief, according to Kalhana, would go “into the camp with Yavanas (Muslims).”

The gradual decay of the state and the society had led to such deterioration, according to Rajatarangini that when Sahadeva (1300-1 to 1319-20 AD) took over, Kashmir had reduced to a kingdom of “drunkards, gamblers and profligate women”. So when Mongol king Karmasena’s commander Dulcha (Zulchu) invaded Kashmir in 1320, the king fled to Kishtwar. Nobody resisted 70,000-strong invaders, who devastated Kashmir for eight months, selling men to Tartar traders, setting afire dwellings and standing crops. But the entire army perished over Devsar Mountains in south Kashmir while fleeing Kashmir winters with thousands of men and women slaves.

Dulcha destruction literally marked the end of a long chaotic Hindu rule. That changed Kashmir forever.

(This is the second in a four-part series on the advent of Islam in Kashmir. Read the first part Islam’s Kashmir Story.)


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