Rishism – Culture of Simplicity

KASHMIRI CULTURE Kashmiri Culture
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by Dr Abdul Ahad


Did Rishism grow up in medieval Kashmir parallel to Mawalism and Mullaism? Did it emerge as a challenge to these isms and their love for material progress through the route of religion? Was it really an antidote to their dissonant chorus of noises, pronouncements, brawling and vitriol? Or was it a silent spiritual intervention in their catholic, commanding demeanor, domineering character and exploitative manner that had rendered Kashmiris into peewee serfs of the medieval State with no outlet to give vent to their pent-up angst? Or was it a movement for reassertion of the original teachings of Islam and its Mamalat-principles?

These are some serious questions whose answers are crucial not only to the understanding of the most vital aspects of medieval Kashmir and its tryst with Islam but also to those of its facets that show us how Kashmir identity strived to negotiate the daunting zigzags and unyielding complexities stemming from the binary of these constructsp (Rishims and Mullaism ), representing two streams of contrasting but accommodating cultures: one representing simplicity and spirituality and the other hot-pursuit of wealth and prosperity.

To fathom adequately the subtleties of these thought processes together with their nature of differences and mutual accommodative capacities and assimilating capabilities, it is necessary to acquaint ourselves with the historical meliue that led to their cheek to cheek flowering in medieval Kashmir; and systematic diffusion over its vales and dales to shape the indigenous attitudinal patterns accordingly. Such an exercise will also help to place these templates in their proper perspective and appreciate the essence and significance of the Culture of Simple-living and the Culture of Conspicuous-consumption that characterize Kashmirian society like other societies since the days of yore.

Islam made its way into Kashmir through an intermediary propagating channel to transform its socio-economic system, and give it a novel apparatus of Sultanate. It reached through non-Arab, secondary source, called Mawalis (in the Arabic lexicon, denoting neo-Muslims) instead of the original, primary source, the Arabs. It ushered in the region an era of great changes that came to be distinctly marked by those traditions, beliefs, customs, transactions and institutions which for Islam had become logically unavoidable, and socio-politically absolutely necessary to imbibe/ assimilate/adopt from different cultures it had come into contact in the course of its dessimination westwards from the Arabian Desert.

During its intercourse with Central Asian regions, it showed considerable flexibility in enduring the legacy of a powerful and complex Agrarian culture. Accordingly, under the most compelling circumstances, it agreed to shed its outer layer of desert culture to respond effectively to the complications associated with the life and times (Muamalat-e-zendagi) of Central Asia that were totally different to that obtained in the place of its birth. The Civilizational encounter between the two was indeed very significant. It inspired them to base and develop their mutual relationship amicably on the principles of give and take. This posture of cultural reciprocity facilitated dialogue between the two, enabling them to understand each other’s point of view and have insight into their experiences and institutions that reflected subsequently and perfectly in successful restructuring of their respective Muamalat strategies to suit their new demands and that of the Sultanate. While Central Asia fervidly cooperated with Islam to incorporate its splendid principles in its socio-economic and religious system. Islam agreed with utmost earnestness to cater exclusively to its agrarian needs, providing, thus, what was required to aresolve recurrent conflicts arising among: (i) the villagers over the distribution of irrigation waters and other land related issues, and (ii) between the handicraftsmen and their Karkhanadars over the latter’s tendency to transcend their limits. It was indeed Islam’s one more triumph in reconciling opposite views in a series of its historical examples of conflict-resolutions; the foremost being the one that occurred between Muslims and Jews in Medina during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh).

A civilization solely based on agriculture was more complex than that of the Arabs which had essentially grown amidst the sand dunes of Arabian Peninsula with its main thrust on trade, commerce and markets. Its elaborate agrarian system was thriving with inherent fertility of the lands of Mawara-i-nahr and abundance of waters flowing through Darya-e-Amu (Oxus River), Darya-e- Zarafshan, Darya-e-Syr and their tributaries. Initially its complexity baffled the Arabs, confusing them immensely with the enormity of conflicts emanating from uneven distribution of irrigation waters, unmanned access to pastures for grazing animals, and unsettled land system and unorganized revenue collection.

To overcome these recurring problems, an elaborate bureaucratic apparatus, and strong police force were built up by mutual counseling and consent. And to help the State prevent conflicts among various contenders, communities, groups, villages and regions, and defend the country against invaders, a large, well-trained and well-equipped military was maintained. Arrangements were also put in place bilaterally for the systematic water distribution and realization of revenue and other taxes imposed on trade and commerce. To bring industrial and commercial morality into the manufacturing units and marketing outlets, some effective steps were taken to reorganize the Karkhana system. Efforts were also made to organize mosques and Khankahs and charity houses in the regions. For imparting education to students a whole network of madrassas was established under the department of ilmiya. Opportunities for widening the scope of social justice and social mobility in the society were also stipulated.

This was the picture that Cental Asian Empire came to present after Islam settled permanently in the heart of its class-based Agrarian structure. Sultan was at the apex of the Society. He was zel-e-Illahi who was assisted by wazirs, nobles, courtiers, governors, commanders, bureaucrats and ulmas in ruling the country and discharging various duties, and enforcing Sharia laws throughout the empire.

Thus, it becomes abundantly clear that the prolonged contact between these mighty civilizations and among their multiple cultural patterns was a unique event in the history of Asiatic regions. It resulted in coalescing of cultures and modifying ways of life of the people living there. It was indeed a healthy cultural configuration and historic experience of great significance that integrated them meaningfully with a value system of immense consequences.

Lying in close proximity to these territories, Kashmir remained increasingly besieged with their noise, chaos and commotion. It was, therefore, overwhelmed by their historic transition. It underwent a profound change through acculturation that made its people an inalienable part of the unfolding phenomenon of Islamic Civilization. With the active cooperation and under the guidance of Central Asian traders, artisans and missionaries, Kashmir came to inhale the fresh air of transformation to embark on a new mission of spiritual and material advancement. A multiple resizing of concerns, concepts and perspectives took place within the bounds of a wonderful assortment of Central Asian options for social engineering, identity formation and image building.

In this cycle of historic change, Bulbul Shah, Taj-ud-Din Simnani, Mir Hussan Simnani, Mir Ali Hamdani and Mir Muhammad Hamdani played a pivotal role. But in the glaxy of missionaries, Mir Ali Hamadani stood at the top like a shining star in the sky. He outshined them all in his comprehensive understanding of human nature, world affairs, scholarship, jurisprudence, economics and other attainments . His popularity soared markedly for his being a harbinger of eventful changes in Kashmir which made him to be addressed respectfully as Shah-e-Hamdan, Amir-e-Kabir etc. He helped the nascent Kashmir monarchy in many ways. He achieved peace between Sultan Qutub-ud-Din of Kashmir and Sultan Feroze Shah of Delhi which was ofcourse the need of the hour as the Sultanate was in its critical phase of evolution when it couldn’t afford to become entangled in skirmishes and wars with the powerful Delhi Sultanate. His Zakhirat-ul-Muluk, a treatise on politics and social relationships was acclaimed as a divine guidance for building up a vibrant Kashmir Sultanate with a sound leadership and efficient and effective bureaucracy to oversee the works of public utility, arts and crafts, education, law and order and spirituality.

 

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Kashmir continued this magnum opus by enlarging and promoting the role of its Sultanate which in the process created a distinct class of powerful people who gained considerable ascendancy over the natives in every sphere of life. They deviated from their mission, abandoned the path of Shah-e-Hamdan and gave up completely: filling Kashmir’s ideological vaccuum; cultivating its spirituality; enriching its value system; augmenting its cultural stockpile; ensuring the welfare of the poor; and dispensing justice to the public. Instead they resorted to satiating their own lust for power and riches and pursuing their personal interests in open violation of the following Quranic verdict:

“Who amasses wealth, counting it over, thinking that his wealth will make him live forever. By no means! He shall surely be cast into the crushing torment. Would that you understood what that crushing torment is like. It is Fire kindled by God. Reaching right into the hearts of men, it closes in on them from every side in towering columns”.

Such a growing acquistiveness and consumption was bound to create an ugly environment in which-as a contemporary Chronicler, Srivara says-:

” accepting bribes was considered a virtue, oppressing the subjects was regarded wisdom, and addiction to women were reckoned happiness”.

A heinous wholesale corruption permeated Kashmir to devastate its forces of production. It led to oppression and exploitation which in turn bred abhorrence and aversion. Aversion inspired resistance which found its outlet in Rishims that was profoundly articulated by Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani (Nund Rishi), the popular Saint and a public intellectual par excellence. With his rational mind, humanistic outlook and poetic disposition, he awakened people’s consciousness, and created in them a sense of social responsibility, honesty, simplicity, compassion and collectivity. Also he inculcated in them feelings of love, brotherhood and that of repugnance for those who indulged in corruption and conspicuous consumption, and mistreated others on the basis of caste, occupation and religion; laying, thereby, the foundation of a Parallel Rational Culture whose essence is amply borne out by these words:

” Avarice makes you blind,
Money makes you a merchant;
Worldly needs force you
Toil from dawn to dusk,
While you close your eyes
From the treasures of wisdom”.

Through his poetry, he warned the upholders of Property Culture, and seekers of life’s riches and luxuries by misusing their position and skills that:

“You seek knowledge
for life’s comforts
And envy one another
And take pride
In being superior.
But in the hereafter
Salvation lies in store
For one in a million”.

He actually and explicitly enunciated a Parallel Culture of Rationality, Simplicity, Spirituality and Honesty to replace the ever growing Culture of Acquisition, Deciet and Discrimination represented by the royalty, elite and beaurucracy.

Pushing rapidly through the crowd, Rishi Culture embarked upon cutting at the roots of those who had been enrolled from among the locals as desciples by the emigrants to create for themselves a support system to strengthen their hold on the alien terrain. Creating a class of their own, these acolytes were called Pirs/Mullas whose households had been inundated by the Culture of Acquisition. They had assumed such an importance as religious preachers in the society that it had become essential for Kashmiris to:

pay them obeisance; seek their mercy and intervention in diseases and ailments; feed them occasionally on Khatam-e-Sharif ; offer them hadiya for taweez and ritual acts of bellowing breath for eradication of disease and expulsion of evil from the body of the sick. They had, thus, added one more spoke to the unstoppable wheel of exploitation and coercion. In their sudden paroxysm of superiority complexe, arrogance and greed, they would often rebuke people for no fault of theirs. Noorani exposed their hypocrisy, and lashed, scolded and reproved them with harsh criticism:

“Your rosary is like a snake, You bend it only on seeing your disciples. You have eaten six plates of food, one after another,
If you are the Pir, then who are the robbers”.

By reasserting the teachings of Islam, he endeavoured to cultivate in them a sense of rectitude to keep them from cheating on people.

Likewise, the Rishi saint did not close his rationale eyes to the acrimonious atmosphere created by the individual seeking and cruelty of Suhabhatta (a neo-Muslim and Regent and Prime Minister of Sultan Skindar) against his former co-religionists. He raised his voice against his viciousness and rancour.

Noorani’s personal intervention in the Prime Minister’s discriminatory policy, persecution and impiety against Hindus and their gods, goddesses and temples elicited a wicked response from Suhabhatta. He imprisoned the Rishi saint.

However, the two cultures did not always get embroiled in conflicts and feuds. They would rather unite behind benevolent Kings like Zain-ul-Abidin to fight together against the evil. Such Sultans were conscious enough to realize adequately the necessity and efficacy of both these Cultures for social engineering of their societies. They manifested in abundance the traits of Rational Culture whose zest for social good was always reignited on the return of the apostles to the society to enlighten its members after having themselves withdrawn from it for their personal enlightenment. So greatly was Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin influenced by their Culture that he left no stone unturned in making the best times possible in Kashmir under the collective wisdom of Rishi saints including Lal Ded, and, thereby, becoming the Badshah. Not bearing the hegemonic character, acquisitiveness and notoriety of emigrants, he and Sultan Hassan Shah wasted no time in turning them out of the Valley, making it virtually a Resh Waer in whose praise Abul Fazal wrote:

“Kashmir is a sacred land. Here Rishis, Sufis and men of piety worship the Almighty and spend their life in seclusion”

Emperor Jehangir described it as: ‘the paradise on earth of which priests have prophesied and poets sung’.

However, the weak successors of Badshah brought the emigrants back and consequently they swooped over Kashmir, according to a contemporary Chronicler, Srivara: “in legions like the aquatic birds quite famished repairing to a lak.” They were ultimately subdued by the natives in the battle of Zaldagar.(Counter Currents)

(Dr Abdul Ahad is author and historian)

 

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