Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

Mediaeval Kashmir Historiography

K.N. Pandit*


The Calendar

What is the precise historical time to reckon as the beginning of mediaeval period? Scholars have hotly debated the subject. Western historians say that modern age dawned (in the west) with the advent of industrial revolution around A. D. 1688. Others believe that Renaissance of the early 16th century ushered in a new era, since it marked the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the enlightenment.

   But Muslim historians do not accept any of these formulations. According to them the period of enlightenment began when the Prophet brought a new faith and along with that a different approach to material and spiritual life. The Muslim calendar begins from Muharram 1, A.H. 1 corresponding to 16 July 622 A.D., and the day on which Prophet Muhammad left Mecca and proceeded to Medina on the invitation of seventy-five inhabitants of Yathrib. His departure is known as hijrat, an Arabic word meaning “migration”. Hence the Muslim hijri calendar, and Muslim historians have used only this calendar.

      The Muslim Calendar is a religious calendar, and based on movement in the position of Moon. It is related that while reciting the khutba, or Sermon at his Farewell Pilgrimage, Prophet Muhammad said: “A year is twelve months, as at the time of Creation.”1 The Qur’an says: “Verily twelve months is the number of the months with God, according to God’s Book, ever since the day when He created Heaven and Earth.” 2

     Muslim historians of mediaeval and even of later mediaeval times have invariably used the hijra lunar calendar for recording events in their works. However, Iranian historians of later period have used hijri (solar) calendar, and this means variation in dates. Iranians/Shia’s call it hijri shamsi while the Sunnis call their calendar hijri qamari.



Muslim Historiography

      Muslim contribution to the science of historiography is appreciable in terms of quality as well as quantity. Credit goes to the depth and vastness of Arabic language, which generally facilitated writing with elegance and without too many ambiguities. Moreover, early Arab conquests opened a vast new world for Arabs, warriors, traders, and adventurers. The new world had much to offer to the historians: not only the flora and fauna of the conquered countries but also their life style, and social structure.  There was at hand a rich fund for comparative study. Fortunately, the Arab historians have left to us some significant material that deals with pre-Islamic civilizations, too, be it of the Aryan or the Semitic or the Mongolian race. Had they not done so, we would have been deprived of considerable portion of ancient history of the people in the East.3

     The Saracens had a fairly developed sense of history. Supported by a language that contained rich vocabulary and powerful syntax, and also taking cue from the powerful Qur’anic text, early Arab historians evinced great interest in the events of their day.

     In the beginning, Arab historians liked writing biographies (siyar) or what may now be called biographical histories. But when gradually their conquered lands took political shape and structure, and Islamic society moved towards cohesion of sorts, having spread over vast regions of Asia Minor, Mesopotamia , Iran , and Central Asia , Arab historians found new material and new subject matter to deal with. Civilization, society, agriculture, trade, architecture, arts, economy, land settlement, science of warfare, administration, inter-group relations etc. were some of the new themes in which they evinced keen interest.  In the Prolegomena to his great work, Ibn Khaldun has adequately dealt with this subject.4 

      Arab invaders finally overthrew the Sassanian Empire of Persia ( Iran ) around A.D. 652.  With this the Zoroastrian faith — the faith of the Sassanian Iran — gave way to Islam, the new faith brought by the invaders from Arabia . Thus began a long process of replacing a grand old civilization of Achaemenian and Sassanian era,—5 the civilization of fire-worshippers —— to the youthful Islamic civilization of very recent origin.  Among other things, the Arabs brought with them their language and literary traditions to the newly conquered lands among which Iran was a very fertile ground for Arabic traditions to flourish, of course, notwithstanding numerous anti-Arab movements, some of them very violent, that shaped in Islamic Iran during the early days of the Umayyid and Abbasid caliphates.6

    Pre-Islamic Iran may boast of having produced some works of history.7 But the fact is that most of these works, which escaped the onslaught of time, are about the doxological and mythical lore of ancient Iran . Only scant historical content of cohesive nature is deducible from these works, which, in no wise, are comparable to the post-Islamic works, which have a fairly deep and wide-ranging subject matter. Nevertheless, we are thankful to the Parsi ecclesiasts (dasturs) of Bombay , who have painstakingly preserved to us the remnants of their liturgical fund.8

     When Arab domination of Iran became pervasive, Arabic language made deep inroads into Iranian life and culture. Arab Governors in Iran , supported by local warlords and satraps, lavishly patronized promulgation of Arabic language and culture in Iran , and Central Asia in particular, owing to ethnic diversity in these regions. Poets, writers, intellectuals and men of letters needed court patronage to flourish, and since Arabic was now the language of culture, they vied with one another in claiming superior linguistic and rhetorical skills in that language. This was true in the case of almost all genres of literature, including historiography. Thus a model was set before the Iranian historiographers, which would, in due course of time, extend to such lands in the east as came under Islamic Iranian sphere of influence. Kashmir was one such region.

    In the beginning, Iranian historiographers employed a simple and plain style of Farsi prose for the simple reason that they wrote for ordinary readers. Bal’ami’s Farsi translation of Tarikh-i-Baihaqi is an example of this style.

     However, this did not last long. When Khurasan, the eastern part of the Caliphate, assumed more and more autonomy from Baghdad , and people had left behind severe constraints caused by the dismemberment of old Iranian monarchy, local satraps and warlords established their sway and carved out principalities and satrapies for themselves. Writers, poets, historians and intellectuals flocked to the courts of these satraps, where they received frugal patronage from the Amir. This led to the growth of rivalry among court historians and intellectuals who now, in a bid to make a show of their linguistic accomplishments in Arabic so as to win the favour of their patrons, adopted an ornate style. Thus began an age of bombast and hyperbole in prose works of Farsi in Iran .  This passed on to historiographers in Kashmir through the conduit of Islamic missionaries who started moving into the valley in the early decades of the 14th century and then continued it for the next three hundred years. Being missionaries, they had to have a very good command over the Arabic language and thorough knowledge of the Quran, hadith and known works of theological science.


Beginning of mediaeval historiography

        When did Muslims in Kashmir begin to write history? This question cannot be answered precisely because of the loss of at least three early Farsi histories as can be gleaned from later historical record. We are told that one Mulla Naderi, living at the court of Sultan Zainu’l-‘Abidin, A.D. 1450, was a court historian and had written the history of his patron. This work is no more extant. Likewise, the Farsi translation of Rajatarangini made during the reign of Zainu’l-‘Abidin, too, is lost to us. Of more known histories of mediaeval Kashmir, we may list Tarikh-i-Kashmir by Sayyid Ali (A.D. 1579), Tarikh-i-Kashmir, Mull Husain Naderi (A.D. 1580), Tadhkiatu’l-‘Arifin, Mulla Ali Raina (A.D. 1587), Tabaqat-i-Akbari, Nizamu’d-Din (A.D. 1592), Tarikh-i- Narayan Kaul Ajiz, Tohfatul Ahbab, Muhammad Ali Kashmiri (c. A.D. 1560), Tarikh-i-Rashidi, Mirza Haider Dughlat (A.D. 1592) and Baharistani-Shahi, by Muhammad Ali (A.D. 1622) Among histories of later period we may include Tarikh-i- Kabir of Miskeen (A.D.       ), Waqa’at-e-Kshmir by Dedamari (A.D.       ) and Tarikh-i-Kashmir by Pir Ghulam Hasan Khuihami (A.D. 1890)   

    Official Islam came to Kashmir in A.D. 1339, corresponding to A.H. 740, when Shah Mir, a fugitive chieftain driven out from his native place in present Waziristan region of Pakistan , captured the throne of the Hindu kingdom of Kashmir through an act of treachery against the ruling queen. Soon after that, Muslim missionaries from Iran , Khurasan9 and Ma’wara’-an Nahr 10 made a beeline for Kashmir . When the Shahmiri dynasty of rulers established its sway over the vast Kingdom of Kashmir whose boundaries extended to Gandhara (Kandahar) in the west and to the banks of Stadru (Sutlej) to the south,11 it realised that the nascent Muslim state could survive only when it received politically important support of local feudal nobility, which exercised immense influence over the people. It was, therefore, necessary to convert feudal chiefs, their lieutenants and the higher echelons of Kashmir nobility to the new faith.  The energetic and zealous Muslim missionaries from proselytised Iran , Iraq and Khurasan found to their surprise a great and religiously pleasant job awaiting them in the landlocked Kingdom of Kashmir . In the process, there was widespread destruction of vibrant symbols of Hindu civilization, like what happened in Iran when the Arabs overran the Sassanian Empire and decimated the last Zoroastrian stronghold in A.D 652.


line, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is built on one common ground – anti-India mentality. It articulates the sentiment of people alienated from India . However, they are not entirely homogenous. Some APHC leaders spread hatred and believe in the two nation theory, while some are apparently secular and discourage violence.


National Conference:


It is worth noting that there has been very little resentment among Kashmiri Muslims on what Pakistan has done with Kargil Muslims in 1999. Even in National Conference, except Dr Farooq Abdullah, the reaction has been subdued. Why? What is the political view and goal of the party vis a vis the rest of India ?

     About the events in 1947 many believe that if Pakistan would not have attacked, Kashmir would not have become part of India . Even though Sheikh Abdullah, at least for the time being, was more inclined towards India than Pakistan . May be because of his relations with Nehru and Gandhi.  “But it was Sheikh Abdullah who himself told me that had there been friendship between him and Maharaja Hari Singh there was no need to accede to India and ‘Independence’ of the state would have been a reality.”11  Thus even if Sheikh was inclined towards India , the Kashmiri people’s real support towards India came when Pakistan attacked Kashmir . Moral and political justification for accession of Kashmir with India was in fact provided by Pakistan .

     NC is reluctant to share power with non-Kashmiri people in the state. Regional autonomy to Ladakh and Jammu was promised in 1952, then in 1968 and many times since then. In 1968 the draft presented by Balraj Puri was not only accepted by Sheikh Abdullah but the entire Kashmiri Muslim leadership including Jamat-i-Islami, Awami Action Committee, Political Conference of G M Karra and others. But, later he was told that Sheikh Abdulla’s commitment was not a binding on Kashmiris! (Apparently there is no end of clever tactics in the armory of Islamic politics, anywhere in the world.) By the same logic people of India are not committed to uphold promises made by Nehru to Kashmiris. But that privilege cannot be given to the people of India . So the Kashmiri Muslims believe and the NC keep demanding more and more autonomy, especially at election times.

    The reality is more complicated. Autonomy for whom, for what purpose? For a Kashmiri Hindu Pandit, even though by now just a few hundred are left in the valley, the biggest question is whether he can survive physically in  Kashmir and have a dignified life. For him survival is the first question and Independence and accession are secondary ones. When he is not safe in the presence of the Indian security forces how can he feel safe when they would be absent. On the other hand, for people of Jammu the issue is whether they will get their due share in the state administration and economy.


Western interests:


It is no exaggeration that the Kashmir problem is largely a creation of the Anglo-Saxon powers. It was the skulduggery of the UK , the US and the UN that allowed Pakistan to retain one-third of the territory it had so deliberately invaded, plundered and ravaged in October 1947. It was the British secretary of state for commonwealth relations Noel-Baker who, even disregarding some of his own government’s directions, misled the Security Council to accept Pakistan’s demands and the outright rejection of India’s views.12 Later the Americans wooed Shekh Abdullah and in all probability conspired to create an independent territory in J&K, which they could use for their geo-political strategic advantage. It is difficult to say whether they have given up that desire. 

     Sometimes Pakistani leaders, including those in government say, which was widely reported, that Pakistan was ready to modify its stand. That Pakistan supports a district wise plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir , which by implication meant that Bhudhist and Hindu areas have to be separated. Along with this development, proposals for the division of the state more or less on communal lines started to be voiced from the US like ‘autonomy within, India ’, ‘Sovereignty without International personality’, etc etc.




In 1996, militancy had been almost totally wiped out. If Farooq Abdullah had been sincere and fulfilled the election promises he had made, matters would not have come to such a pass. Militancy can be controlled, but without good political and administrative ledership, long term peace and stability is difficult to achieve. Even the Army emphasize this. Farooq Abdullah or Mufti Muhammad can give no excuse for not fulfilling election promises.

      At the moment there are two wars that India is fighting in Kashmir- first, the proxy war by Pakistan and second, the war for the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. Many believe that winning completely the second war will make the war against the first much easier for India to fight.

       However, the issue of autonomy vs regional autonomy would remain in focus. After the recent agitation over the facilities for Sri Amarnath yatra undertaken yearly by the Hindus from all over India , this has to the main issue to address. Regional tensions, which are inherent in the present unitary and centralised constitution of the state, can be seen at the root of most of the complications in the Kashmir problem. For, in their protest against domination by the Kashmir-based leadership, people in Jammu and Ladakh tend to seek sympathy from New Delhi or seek erosion of autonomy of the state so that the power of the state government to dominate over them is curtailed. The people in Kashmir treat these moves as a threat to their identity and to defend their privileged position seek support from across the border.

      That leaves two options for the leaders of Kashmir valley. Either to seek a separate destiny for the region, along with the Muslim majority areas of Jammu and Ladakh. Or concede the urge for identity and empowerment of the peoples of Jammu and Ladakh by adopting a federal constitutional set-up for the state.

    Finally, a future scenario and the best hope. To quote Farooq Abdullah: “Can you imagine, India is one billion people, and we’re a tourist state. Out of that billion, even if one million people come a year, many of our problems will be over. At least, children will not have to find government jobs. They will run small dhaabas, taxis, tea-shops, small hotels. That’s good enough for me.”13 Interview to Varsha Bhosle, rediff.com, 2 Sept. 1999. 

      Indeed, good enough for everyone. If only Abdullah could be always sincere with that.



1. Speech in the J&K Assemby, 16 July 2002

2.  Interview to Varsha Bhosle,  rediff.com, 2 Sept. 1999

3. The Times of India , New Delhi , 8  July 2000

4. Balraj Puri, in Kashmir Sentinel, 16-31 June 1999.

5. The Asian Age, Mumbai, 19 June 2000

6. The Asian Age , Mumbai, 27 November 2000

7. Data supplied by Prof. Hari Om, Jammu University . Quoted by Arvind Lavakare in ‘The Woes of Jammu and Laddakh ’ at the rediff.com, 17 July 2002 

8. The poll was conducted by MORI (Market & Opinion Research International) inside Jammu and Kashmir in April 2002. It is the largest independently-owned market research company in the United Kingdom , run by a British  parliamentarian having a pro-Pakistan tilt.

9. The Tribune, Chandigarh ,7 August, 2000

10. Jagmohan, My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir (New Delhi, 1992), p. 149

11. Balraj Puri in an interview to Kashmir Sentinel , 16-31 June 1999.

12. Described in detail by C Dasgupta, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir , 1947-48. This reference from India Today , New Delhi , 28 Jan. 2002 .

13. Interview to Varsha Bhosle, rediff.com, 2 Sept. 1999.

Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati