The strategic influence and historical imprints of Baramulla have been pivotal in the evolution of Kashmir. However, there has been a paradigm shift right from the blockade of the Jhelum Valley Trade Route.
By Muskan Yousuf
BEFORE opening the partition floodgates in the valley, Baramulla—as nonagenarian Aziz Mir remembers in his old town home—was a thriving town on the banks of Jhelum. As the entry point of pre-47 Kashmir, the place was dotted with inns, intrigues and inquisitiveness.
Some eight eventful decades later, the town has entered into the local lexicon as some northern town whose thoroughfare merely runs up to the line of control.
“Before the arrival of uprooted people and armed tribals, and before the son of the soil would derail the invading march, Baramulla was a cauldron of cultural exchange,” says Mir, who retired as a government teacher three decades ago. “The town was second to none due to its distinction of being the gateway of Kashmir. But in that bloodcurdling fall, the status changed and it became a garrison town because of its proximity with new frontier.”
Today, as Baramulla has been lulled by the reiterations of its past glory, many term this verbal glorification a reason behind its stagnation.
“Baramulla town was the noted prime town of Jammu and Kashmir in old days,” Khaliq Parvez, a celebrated chronicler and former trade leader, prudently reminisces about his hometown.
“Since Baramulla leveraged trade to far-off places like Peshawar, Punjab, Karachi, Lahore and even Central Asia, it alone was a good enough reason for many dignitaries and staunch traders to settle down here.”
In his feted treatise, Jila Watan, Khaliq Parvez mentions that back in time, Baramulla has been the host for one of the biggest mushaira of South Asia solicited by veteran poets.
Behind its prominent past and popularity, many reckon, was the multicultural image of Baramulla. Knowing its viability and sustainable potential, people of all faiths populated the place. As a mini-reshver (valley of saints) in the macro-mystic abode, Baramulla have hosted people like Syed Janbaz Wali and Guru Har Gobind Singh.
Syed Janbaz Wali was the third Sufi saint from Iran to visit Kashmir in sequence after Shah Hamdan and is said to be the descendant of the Prophet’s lineage. Franciscan missionaries of Mary are also said to have visited Baramulla—housing among other things a temple dedicated to Shiva.
Apart from showing syncretic shades, Baramulla was the first town to advance on modern lines. During Maharaja Pratap Singh’s time, a hydel power plant was set up in Boniyar, Baramulla. It was the second advanced hydel power plant in South Asia.
To bring back its glory, some frail attempts were made in recent times. Muzzafar Hussain Baig, former deputy chief minister, came up with a forum like ‘Greater Baramulla’ to push the place on the maps of development. However, before any outcome, political changes spiralled, and Kashmir plunged into the dragged-discord. In the shade of strife, not many attempts could takeoff to rebrand Baramulla for its unique legacy and cultural connection.
But as long as the Jhelum valley cart route—connecting the valley with rest of the world—was thriving, Baramulla was the stopover and assembling point for traders and travellers. The place opened the doors to the resourceful sites of Kashmir. Apart from trading, some of the footfall was also driven by its strategic importance.
In his research paper—Kashmir and Swat during Neolithic times—published by Ancient Asia journal, Mumtaz Yatoo produces substantive facts for Baramulla to be a place of strategic importance and integration and interaction.
“The geographical position of Baramulla at the crossroads of communication is important,” notes Yatoo in the concluding remarks, “allowing it to act as a hub between the northern regions of Pakistan and Central Asia on the North Western side, and the rest of Kashmir on South Eastern side.”
Notably, this significance stems from the history itself. As the inhabitation took off in the valley, Baramulla became its natural entry point. Raja Bhimsina (2306 B.C.) was the one to set up the township. After it was well established for living, it became a popular halt station for travellers from Central Asia, China, and some parts of Europe. While these travellers would spend some of their leisure time in town, it spurred trading along with cultural and religious exchange.
This exchange has been of such great significance that vestiges of several Buddhist monasteries have been excavated, of late. These excavations suggest that the primitive civilisations of Kashmir largely inhabited Kanispura, making Baramulla the centre of trade since those times, with Harappan society and others.
Later, Baramulla was at the crossroads of the fabled Silk Route. Traders from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Russia and some parts of Europe enhanced their trade to farther areas after exploring the place. The tools, pottery artefacts, schist disks, ceramics and other primitive objects discovered at archaeological sites in Baramulla closely resemble the ones found in Swat Valley – Pakistan, and regions of China and South Asia.
In fact, as the halt station of various Mughal rulers, Baramulla brimmed with art and culture, for all these rulers would spend their vacations with artistic indulgences.
Such revelations suggest the intensity of cultural exchange and trade propelled by Baramulla and enabled the development of other districts and subdistricts while being a conduit of connection.
But the town lost its cultural lineage and limelight in the fall of 1947. “Many fled the town to save their lives,” Aziz Mir, the living witness, recalls. “After Partition, Baramulla was never the same again. The place lost its image in the strategical restructuring of the valley.”
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