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The Presence of Persia in Kashmir: Cultural Linkages

Allama Iqbal refers to Kashmir as Iran-E-Sagheeer or Little Iran. In Iqbal’s perspective, he views Kashmir as Little Iran. There exist myriad reasons why he and many others have drawn parallels between Iran and Kashmir, even when there exist such literary works and academics, standing in total dismissal of Kashmir’s link with Central Asia and Persia.

In his work, “The impact of Islam on Kashmir in the Sultanate period (1320-1586)”, the author Mohammad Ishaq Khan, states that it was around the Sultanate period (1320-1586), that scores of immigrants from Central Asia and Persia entered Kashmir, due to various reasons and objectives, varying according to time and place. He also points towards the fact that the establishment of the Muslim Sultanate caused a number of devout Sufis from these regions to migrate to Kashmir along with their followers (Khan, 1986).

When one mentions the movement of Sufis and Dervishes from Central Asia and Persia towards the valley, there are a few unmatchable names with regard to the persona they embody. S.L Shali in his book, “Kashmir- History and Archaeology Through the Ages”, claims that Kashmir’s contacts with Persia and Central Asia initiated with the arrival of the famous Muslim “da’i” (missionary), Sayyid Sharaf al-Din Bulbul Shah around 1315 from Hamadan (Shali, 1993).

Sayyid Sharaf al-Din Bulbul Shah, a Sufi of the Suharwardi order is known to have aided and facilitated the conversion of Rinchana. Rinchana, as mentioned in Rajatarangini was the son of a Ladakhi chief, Lhachen dNgos-grub, who ruled Ladakh from 1290 to 1320. The instability in the political circumstances in Ladakh pushed Rinchana to Kashmir along with his followers. The political instability in the Valley, caused by the Mongol invasion, afforded him an opportunity to occupy the throne of Kashmir by the end of 1320 (Khan, 1986).

If we carefully decode the impetus of Iran’s Sayyid Sharaf al-Din’s venture into a foreign land through the difficult and inhospitable mountainous terrain to propagate Islam, one can gauge that he belonged to the institutional phase of Sufism characterized by pir-murid relationship and that he deemed Kashmir as a fertile land for the propagation of Islam (Wani, 2004).

As stated by Muhammad Saleem Beig, Sultan Sikander, who reigned over the valley in late 14th century (1393-1419 AD) can be credited with the construction of the new Jama Masjid under the supervision of Mir Sayyed Mohammed Hamdani, the son of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, popularly known as Shah-e-Hamadan. The new Jama Masjid was constructed on the pattern of the traditional courtyard plan with four Aiwans surrounding a central open courtyard. The four Aiwan plan which was introduced in the Islamic world in 11th century and is associated with the Seljuks, had by now become the most prominent and widespread form of the Jama mosques in Iran. Thereafter it remained as an essential feature of what may be defined as the “Iranian mosque”, a form that did not remain confined to the land of its origin alone, but became an accepted model for areas as widespread and diverse as Transoxiana and India (Beig, 2013).

According to Beig, Iran has made a deep mark on the cultural, demographic and political landscape through a certain amount of interactions which is visible in the old, vernacular houses, arts and crafts, and traditional shrines in Kashmir. Beig states that the historical narrative on Iranian influence has yet to do justice with its great impact and influence (Beig, 2013).

Persia began developing a more strengthened grip over Kashmir, with every new Persian leader that rose to the peaks of power in the Sultanate in Kashmir. The rise of Zain-ul-Abideen to the throne of the Sultanate marked a new era in the history of Persian presence in Kashmir, specifically towards the promotion of arts and crafts (Kachroo, 2011). The architecture of this period follows two distinctly different traditions, a continuation of the indigenous system of wooden and masonry construction best exemplified by the mosque of Madni and a more “Iranian style” of masonry construction with domes and arches as seen at the Dumath (Pourjafar, 2011). While continuing to patronize the local building traditions, the Sultan made a conscious endeavour to promote a sense of cultural unity with the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Persian world. This resulted in the creation of buildings constructed to vie with the architectural monuments created, theoretically in any part of the Islamic land but essentially to the immediate west of Kashmir, especially Central Asia with its deep Iranian cultural imprints. The art of Kar-i-Kalamadan (Papier Machie), paper making, Khatamband, Pinjrakari, etc. all trace their origin to the Persian world. Even today, we find old, vernacular houses and traditional shrines which retain these architectural features, the dalan-from a similar element in the Iranian architecture known as Talar, the Varussi form the Persian word “Urussi” all point to the land of their origin (Beig, 2013).

Relegated for their beauty world over, the splendor of gardens in Kashmir can also be traced back to the Iranian style of architecture. Motifs on Kashmiri clothing and textiles also exhibit their bent towards a particular cultural and historical background. The varieties in craft and designs in Kashmiri art is the outcome of its cultural and ethnic diversity.

After the invasion of Persian missionaries, Kashmiri artisans started to make shawls, carpets, papier-mâché and metal and wood wares. The designs, patterns and motifs draw their style and inspiration from Flora and nature and are modified according to the fashion and external influence (Pourjafar, 2011). The floral patterns varying in color and size can be seen in the embroidery of Kashmiri textile products we glance at the ancient finished garments and textiles of Kashmir, it can easily be found that the designs and patterns were similar to Persian textile products and mostly Lilly, Lotus, Tulip, Saffron, Iris, Grapes branches; Pomegranate, Maple and Almond motifs were the prominent symbols in textile designing of Kashmir especially in embroidery and craft products (Wahab, 2019).

The Persio-Islamic culture transmitted in area of Kashmir in form of Persian Language, Literature, Sufism, Arts and architecture and the advancement of technology of that time. After the occupation of Ghaznavids on the north and west of Kashmir, the culture wedded with Persian culture became pronounced.

As stated by Pourjafar, the Hindu rajas encouraged the Muslim missionaries to come in Kashmir which started the influx of Persian culture in Kashmir (Pourjafar, 2011). The Iranian scholars, poets, writers and craftsmen brought Persian language, crafts, arts, designs and even vegetation with them. The influx of Persians in the region caused more cultural exposure in Kashmir. The Shawl industry established during the Sultanate period produced fine quality products. This impressive work of Sultans in art and crafts and the international trade made Kashmir the “mini- Samarkand”.

Persian language also flourished in Kashmir during the Sultanate period which assimilated with the Kashmiri language in such a way that some words used in textile designing are either Persian or originated in Persia. The craftsmen skills and artisans were so genuine that they attracted the foreigners to visit Kashmir  (Wahab, 2019). The depiction of Lotus flower, Chinar tree, Paisley, Pomegranate and grapes can be found in most of the miniature paintings executed by the contemporary miniaturists. The culture of Kashmir is the amalgamation of different cultures (Wahab, 2019).

Among all cultures, Kashmir is highly influenced by Persian culture. The brilliant designs that are part of Kashmiri textile are result of immigrants and the craftsmen from Persia. Built aside this narrative based on facts and findings about the ground reality of people, culture, architecture and habits of Kashmir, is another narrative which finds its roots in the work of academics like Shonaleeka Kaul. In one of her interviews with Arti Singh Tikoo, Kaul mentions Kalhana’s Rajatarangini as an evidence that she uses to affirm and assert that Kashmir had multiple and multifaceted links with Indian states. She further goes on to refer to Kashmir as “she”, trying to link Kashmir to the larger picture of “Bharat Mata”.

By Tarushi Aswani (MA Global Studies)

Works Cited:

Beig, M. S. (2013, March 23). A Lasting Influence. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from Kashmir Life: https://kashmirlife.net/a-lasting-influence-26721/

Kachroo, J. (2011). From The Pages of History. Mumbai: Milchar, a Kashmiri Pandit Association (KPA).

Khan, M. (1986). The impact of Islam on Kashmir in the Sultanate period (1320-1586). The Indian Economic & Social History Review (23/2), 187–205.

Pourjafar, H. O. (2011). Investigating the effects of Persian architecture principals on traditional buildings and landscapes in Kashmir. Historic Preservation.

Shali, S. (1993). Kashmir: History and Archaeology Through the Ages. South Asia Books.

Wahab, Z. U. (2019). The Persian Influence on the Textile Design of Kashmir. Specialty Journal of Humanities and Cultural Science, 1-7.

Wani, M. A. (2004). Islam in Kashmir: Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century.

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