Persian Legacy in Kashmir Struggles for Revival


Badam Wa’er in old Srinagar would boom with visitors on Nauroz in the bygone era

Abol Fazal

Concerned at the alarming decline of Persian influence in Kashmir, a group of Kashmiri intellectuals have launched a campaign to restore the old glory of Persian heritage in Kashmir. In its campaign to revive the tradition of Nauroz celebrations, the group began an awareness drive on the eve of the festival, through internet highlighting the significance of Nauroz. “Kashmir belongs more to Central Asia than to South Asia, owing to its glorious ties with the region in terms of culture, traditions, religion etc”, ‘Thinking Kashmir’ said in the email campaign.

“To be honest with you, when I arrived in Kashmir, I immediately recognized the kind of kindred relationship with the Central Asian Countries. There are cultural features and characteristics in Kashmir that remind me very much of countries we’ve traditionally regarded as the Central Asian countries,” it quoted Professor Gregory Gleason, who teaches political Science at University of New Mexico in the US saying upon his arrival in Srinagar.

However the sad fact, the group lamented, is that the rich Persian influence in Kashmir is on decline. And it is where the significance of Nauroz, an annual celebration across Central Asia, has increased manifold in Kashmir. Iranian influence on Kashmir has been so strong that at one time Kashmir was known as Iran-e-Sagheer or little Iran. Though the Iran-Kashmir interaction dates back to pre-Islamic times, it was the arrival of the great Iranian Saint, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, the founder of Islam in Kashmir, which had a profound impact on every sphere of life here.

Kashmir remained a favoured destination for Iranians, and tombs of missionaries from Persia, dotting every nook and corner of the vale, remain sites of reverence for Kashmiris even today. From Iran came not only religion, but arts, crafts, cuisine, literature and festivals too.

Rich Persian literature in all the fields, like astronomy, astrology, medicine, engineering and even in industrial knowhow is all written by Kashmiri Persian writers. These texts remain untouched without translation for people of today to know about their rich literary history.

Ravages of time relegated the Persian influence to Kashmir’s history books, with traces of it only now found on mausoleums and tombs of great saints. Nauroz, perhaps, remains the only festival rooted in Iranian culture that is still being celebrated in Kashmir, remarked Abu Fazl, a writer and journalist.

Persian scholars and teachers say the successive governments in the state knew that if Kashmiris learn Persian and have access to the wealth of their Persian literature, they will know their rich literary and cultural history, and then strongly assert their identity and question the powers that try to suppress their history.

The need to return to Kashmir’s rich literary history in Persian, in order to seek answers about Kashmir’s present and future, is echoed by many others scholars. “Azaadi is a Persian word. This is something for which we must own responsibility. We first learn of azaadi as azaadi in Firdausi and Rumi. We must search for azaadi, our own Kashmiri future, in our abandoned pasts…and the only paths left for us to our pasts are Persian, Kashmiri, Arabic and Sanskrit,” says Abir Bashir Bazaz,a doctoral student in Asian Literatures, Cultures and Media at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, US. He is working on his dissertation on the intellectual history of mysticism in Kashmir. “


The year in Iran, like in Kashmir, consists of four seasons.

In terms of each season there had been different feasts which, through disregarding the leap year, did not have fixed positions and they differed from year to year. One of these was first of Farvardin (March 21) or Nauroz which has been the great day on which nature would come alive (this meaning was suggested through the word Nauroz).

Nauroz is a very magnificent celebration and Iranians believe that many great events have taken place on this special day. It was the day on which the universe came into being and God created Adam. The first sunrise fell on earth on this day. Nauroz coincides with the spring equinox when day and night are of equal duration.

It is believed that observing certain traditions on that day keeps one away from disasters.”

Among these traditions was growing barley which surely serves to be the origin of growing foodgrains.

One practice is the tradition of house-cleaning at the time of approaching Nauroz, as the day heralds the end of long winter, the season of misery, and the beginning of spring, the season of joy and abundance.

While the traditions associated with the festival are fast eroding due to constant attempts by powerful vested interests to remove the traces of Persian influence from Kashmir Nauroz still retains an aura of festivity in several areas of Kashmir.

There has been tradition of house cleaning ahead of Nauroz as this also brings to an end the long and harsh Kashmir winter. On this day people don new clothes, visit relatives and friends present each other with gifts and compete in hospitality and the art of cooking.

The main dish of the day, which women cook a night before Nauroz, is duck with turnip besides fish with lotus roots. On Nauroz eve, pious families would lay a table-spread for Ali (sufra-e-shah) in the belief that the holy Imam visits the household at an appointed hour (tehvil), and leaves his blessings and marks of his visit on the objects laid out for him.

Special interest would be paid to observing the tehvil, or the exact moment the sun enters the new constellation, by setting up a gravitational experiment. Some would determine the time by noting the collision between two round objects, like walnuts, floating in a basin full of water.

In earlier times Kashmiri women would gather in the evenings preceding Nauroz to sing Roff (folk songs in chorus) signalling the arrival of spring.  The practice has largely been now restricted to rural Kashmir. Here, the mood is more festive as Nauroz, heralded by the first rays of the morning sun of spring, is the making of the first furrow.

People don new clothing, visit relatives and pay obeisance at the shrines belonging to saints who traveled all the way from Hamadan, Kerman, Khorasan and virtually from every corner of Iran to Kashmir in early days of Islam here. In 1360 came Syed Ali Hamadani, accompanied by 700 disciples among them many artisans and craftsmen. He not only brought with him the message of Islam but transformed the socio-economic condition of Kashmiris virtually turning Kashmir into little Iran.

It was however Syed Sharfudin Ardabeli popularly known here as Bulbul Shah who was the first Iranian to leave a deep impact on the life here. For centuries later on ties between Kashmir and Iran remained strong in as much as the Kashmiri ethos bore a deep impression of Iranian culture till not long ago. Persian influence has been deep on the history, architecture, literature and almost on every other aspect of life here. Most of the classics in history, literature, poetry and medicine (Tibb) and of even most of the official records have been written by Kashmiri scholars in Persian. While the Persian influence is vanishing fast with Farsi architecture in ruins and rich Persian literature gathering dust on the state archives department there are no moves either by the Indian or Iranian cultural authorities based in India to revive the rich Persian heritage which is fast fading into oblivion.

Painting a bleak picture, an eminent Kashmiri scholar, Dr Nazir Mushtaq said turning a blind eye to the slow death of Persian heritage here amounted to ‘criminal negligence’ and future generations will pay a heavy price for it. Herald as it does a natural regeneration and renewal, Nauroz may yet be the means of reviving the rich Persian legacy that has given so much to Kashmir in the past. –


Allameh Majlesi in his book called ” Zad al Ma’ad”, had mentioned the narrative of Mo’alla Ibn-e Khonays that Imam Ja’far Sadiq had sworn by Ka’ba on the excellence of Nauroz. He had also interpreted this feast and explained its importance:

“In this feast, God the Almighty had asked the ghosts of the servants (like a last day) to consider God as the unique creator and never consider any counterpart for him.

This is the first day of sunrise, the blowing of winds and growing of the plants. On this day Gabriel had granted the holy Prophet (pbuh) with divine revelations and his mission started on this day as well, and again it was this day when he smashed the idols of the pagans.

The piece was earlier published in 2009.

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