Nauroz is the festival of renewal. It is about the return of spring after four harsh months of winter. It is about a pregnant earth readying to break forth in fresh vegetation. It is about hope and a fresh beginning. But in the context of Kashmir, it is also about a sense of profound loss. No, it is not that we don’t celebrate Nauroz anymore. We do. But from a Valley-wide cultural celebration its observance has more or less shrunk to one Muslim sect. There is a telling symbolism wrought in this sectarian identification of this otherwise inclusive cultural event and its consequent exclusion from the Valley’s mainstream cultural life. It doesn’t only represent the retreat of a festival but also the decline of a culture: the Central Asian culture we otherwise draw our identity from. And each year on Nauroz, this sad reality is tellingly brought home.
As few people will deny, the Kashmiri culture has traditionally had little resemblance with the life in South Asia, a fact that also explains in part our struggle to get along politically with the rest of India. The reason for this is that Islam was spread to Kashmir by the saints from Central Asia. They brought together with them the artisans and craftsmen and more signficantly a way of life that decisively recast the socio-cultural life of Kashmir into Central Asian image. So much so that Kashmir came to be called as the Irani-i-Sagheer. Most prominent of these saints were Sayed Sharafudin alias Bulbul Shah, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, more prominently called Shah-i-Hamdan and Hazrat Mir Hussain Samnani.
In fact, this great religious influx which continued through fifteenth and seventeenth centuries from the state’s North-Western frontier completely altered the Valley’s religio-social landscape. Such all-encompassing was this transformation that over the course of a century every village had its own patron saint, whose consecrated tombs now serve as small local pilgrimage sites and often an occasion for religious fairs. Moreover, these shrines also helped socially institutionalise Islam and run its roots deep into the psyche of the people. But, of course, without engendering any social conflict in the process. So unobtrusive and socially accommodative was this spiritual takeover that there is hardly any historical record of the religious violence in Valley up until the last century. Even the strife that followed the onset of separatist struggle in 1989, was not at the social level but an incidental offshoot of the separatist militancy and a consequent brutal reprisal from the state.
But since 1947 as the roads to Iran and the other Central Asian countries got blocked, and Kashmir got trapped into the conflict between India and Pakistan, our cultural moorings rooted into the way of life introduced by the Central Asian saints are struggling to hold on. One important indication of this is the disappearance of Persian language from our midst. And without our being conscious of it, the new language and a new culture is stepping into the vacated space. And perhaps no other occasion makes us as conscious of this loss as the festival Nauroz.
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