Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

Beginnings of Kashmir Language and Literature

S. S. Toshkhani*     

    Tracing the course of evolution of the Kashmiri language from its earliest phase to the time it is supposed to have acquired a distinct identity of its own as a modern language is a task in which one has to contend with several constraining factors, including the tendency among some scholars to let lack of actual study of its structural framework and linguistic realities, not to speak of political and religious biases, colour their arbitrary conclusions.  Perhaps this is the reason why the question of its origin and affiliation is still not regarded as settled even though several new studies offering fresh perspectives on it have come up in face of certain bizarre theorization.  In fact, the whole issue has been clouded by deliberately unleashed storms of controversy in which non-academic interests have taken an upper hand. 

     With outlandish views based on “chance resemblances of sounds” of some “stray vocables” belonging to totally unrelated word stocks and making hardly any sense semantically still pouring in to prove that Kashmiri has descended, for instance, from languages like Hebrew or even those spoken in Nagaland, there is nothing else one can do than refer to the linguistic and historical contexts in which the language has actually developed.  This is the approach that we intend to adopt in this rather synoptic study of the subject presented in what we regard to be relevant perspectives. 

     At the outset we would like to assert that the Kashmiri language is intimately related to Indian traditions of literature and culture, art and thought, despite all attempts that have been made from time to time to de-link it from these moorings.  At least that was the situation prevailing when it was evolving about a millennium back from the regional Prakrit and Apabhramsha forms peculiar to Kashmir .  Viewed in the Indian linguistic context, therefore, Kashmiri can be described as a unique language. It is synthetic like the Old Indo-Aryan itself and analytic like other modern languages of the Indic stock like Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Marathi, Bengali and Gujarati with which it shares several structural affinities, having at the same time peculiarities of its own some of which are yet to be fully explored.  Linguistically, its importance can hardly be overlooked because, as Siddheshwar Verma has observed, it reveals linguistic strata of various ages – “Vedic, Buddhist Sanskrit, Pali, Kharoshthi Prakrit etc.” Earlier George Bühler had expressed the view that Kashmiri was of greatest importance in the study of a comparative grammar of Indo-Aryan languages for preserving old word forms and also revealing how new forms took shape from old bases.  George Grierson too endorses the same point when he says that a study of the Kashmiri language is “an essential preliminary to any enquiry regarding the “mutual relations of the modern Aryan vernaculars in India” – a view that Ralph Turner’s monumental work A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages further appears to confirm.

      Kashmiri, or Kashur, as its native speakers numbering over 31 lakhs according to the 1981 census call it, is spoken mainly in the region extending from Uri to Matrigam in the north, Verinag to the Pir Panchal ranges in the south, Zojila to Kashtwar in the east and Shopian in the west, covering an area of about 10,000 sq. miles.  Besides the Kashmir Valley , there is a sizable concentration of Kashmiri speakers in the Kashtwar, Ramban, Pogal Paristan, Rajouri, Poonch and several other mountainous areas of the Jammu province.  Some enclaves of Kashmiri speaking people exist in Pakistan-occupied area also, but these are mainly of Kashmiris who have migrated from the Indian side as the so-called Kashmiris of the area do not have Kashmiri but dialects of Punjabi as their native tongue.  Today a large chunk of its speakers numbering about 3.5 lakhs has been displaced from their original linguistic habitat and are relocated in Jammu , Delhi and other places in India . A small number of Kashmiris live in diaspora in parts of Europe and United States as well.

     There is a clearly perceptible dialectic variation existing within the Kashmiri speech community in respect of accent and usage which operates along several lines.  The dialect spoken in the south and southeastern region of the Valley, known as marâzi (marâz < Skt. madvarâjya) has certain marked differences with kamarâzi, the dialect spoken in the north and northwestern region known as kamrâz (< Skt. kramarâjya) while the Kashmiri spoken in Srinagar and the sub-urban areas around it is regarded as the standard language.  However, the three varieties are basically identical in structural and morphological patterns and their respective speakers do not have any problem in understanding each other.  There is also a slight distinction between the speech of the urban variety and that of the rural variety.  The recognized area-wise dialects outside the Valley, however, are Kashtwari, Pogali, Siraji and Rambani.  Of these Kashtwari, spoken in Kashtwar (officially written as Kishtwar for apparently no reason), located along the upper Chenab river southeast of the Kashmir Valley , alone has the basic characteristics of a full-fledged dialect. Untouched by outer influences for a long period, it preserves many old and archaic elements of Kashmiri and could therefore reveal many a secret of its development. This could be said about Pogali, Siraji and Rambani also but they are dialects spoken in areas of contact or transition and are equally influenced by Dogri also. 

     Grierson had made a distinction between the varieties of Kashmiri spoken by Hindus and Muslims of the valley as well designating them as Hindu Kashmiri and Muslim Kashmiri respectively on the basis of predominance of words of Sanskrit or Persian borrowing.  Subsequently scholars rejected this division though accepting the variations between the use of the language by the two communities in respect of accent and usage.  The dichotomy, however, does exist though not necessarily on the basis of Sanskritization or Persianization alone, in both pronunciation as well as vocabulary, with some usages restricted to Muslims alone and some to Hindus of Kashmir, Kashmiri Hindus having their own expressions for greeting, addressing, blessing, condoling, praying, abusing and also their own slang words quite different from those of Kashmiri Muslims. For instance, in the Kashmiri Hindu variety we have: ‘pońy’ (water), sirî’ (sun), pâp (sin), prân (soul), nethúr’(marriage), svarg’ (heaven) ,  namaskâr’ (greeting) , gumú’ (sweat), zOn’ (person), mahrâ’(sir) , sOpun’ (dream), krűd (anger), shokravâr’ (Friday), neńi’(meat), gandun’ (betrothal), pvany’ (good deed), rűn’ (husband), múthúr’ (urine), päjâmú’ (trousers), darúm’ (religion), ‘sandyâ’ (evening) etc. The corresponding words in the Kashmiri Muslim variety are: ‘âb’, ‘akhtâb’, ‘gonâh’ ‘rűh’, ‘khândar’, ‘janath’, ‘salâm’, ‘ärak’, ‘naphar’, ‘haz’, ‘khâb’, ‘gosú’, ‘jumâh’, ‘nâtú’, ‘nishäńy’, ‘savâb’, ‘khândâr’ ‘idrâr’, ‘yezâr’, ‘dîn’, ‘khoftan’ etc. There are quite a number of differences in pronunciation also of which it is not possible to give details here for lack of space.


     Before we proceed to analyze the evidence available with us of the actual historical development of the language in the shape of its extant literary corpus belonging to different periods of time, it would be useful to examine the question of its roots and affinity in some detail.  It needs, however, to be noted that pre-modern Kashmir was for centuries a part of the “Sanskrit metropolis”, to use the words of Sheldon Pollock, and the space occupied by it was so significant that it was able to determine the intellectual and cultural climate in the whole country by contributing in fields as varied as literary expression, theory of language, philosophy, aesthetics, grammar, logic, historiography, theology and so on.  The Sanskrit intellectual of Kashmir was as fascinated as by the power and prestige of the trans-regional Sanskrit with its reach extending from “Kashmir and Purushapura (Peshawar), in the foothills of the western Himalayas eastward to Champa (central Vietnam), Prambanam on the plains of coastal Java, and even beyond in the further islands of today’s Indonesia, from the Kathmandu Valley in the north to the southernmost reaches of peninsular India and even periodically Sri Lanka”, to quote Sheldon again, as any of his counterparts elsewhere in the country.  To participate in Sanskrit literary culture was to participate in a vast world and so it was no surprise that the geo-cultural space in Kashmir was entirely dominated by that language.

     This participation in communicative as well as ideational spheres led to stunning results right from the Sanskrit texts produced and translated to disseminate Sarvastivada and Mahayana doctrines to the creation of a whole literary corpus begining with the first ever extant literary drama in the language ‘Pâdatâdatikam’ by Shamilak to the incisive and penetrating satire of Kshemendra to the intensely lyrical poetry and a masterpiece of court narrative of Bilhana to the vast sweep  historical narrative by Kalhana.  The profound and sophisticated philosophic writings on Kashmir Shaivism culminating in Abinavagupta’s brilliant exegetical works and the systemization of various schools of Indian aesthetical thought providing brilliant insights into the nature of the relationship between the aesthetic object and the aesthetic emotion, the very word sâhitya being the coinage of a Kashmiri aesthete, Kuntaka, and excellent collections of tales in the form of Somadeva’s Kathâsaritsâgara are further examples of the stamp of Kashmiri genius on manifestations of Sanskrit culture. 

    Though absolute historical documentation of the crystallization of Kashmiri as the local tongue is not possible, we have the polyglot Kshemendra’s evidence that it co-existed with Sanskrit for quite some time as a communicative as well as an expressive medium of the people of the region before it finally came to its own.  He exhorts the upcoming Sanskrit poets of his time to study bhâshâ kâvya or poetry written in the regional dialect alongside of Prakrit and Apabhramsha.  The reference to Prakrit and Apabhramsha by Kshemendra does not, obviously, pertain to the regional but standardized trans-regional forms of these languages with which had come to be literalized throughout the country like Sanskrit itself.  Soon after him we find Bilhana too referring with admiration to the fluency achieved by ladies of his native place in writing poetry in Prakrit and Apabhramsha which they wielded with as much ease as their janma-bhâshâ or mother tongue meaning thereby Kashmiri of course.  But an example of spoken Kashmiri we find in Kalhana’s famous Sanskrit chronicle the Râjataranginî (1148-49) in the form of the sentence “Rangassa Hçlu dinnâ”, the speaker belonging to the lowest rung of the society — a Domba singer insisting that “the village Helu should be given to Ranga”, that is himself.  This is a curious piece of linguistic evidence, but important.

     Later on, we see Shitikantha in the 13th century describing the regional language as used by him in his work ‘Mahânaya Prakâsha’ (Illumination of the System of Highest Meaning) as “sarvagochara dçsha bhâshâ or “the regional dialect understood by all”. Obviously what he meant by it was the colloquial language in vogue in Kashmir at that time.  This is a very important statement and we shall discuss the implications of the term “desha bhâshâ” in detail a little later.  Here we would just like to point out that the nomenclature “Kashmiri” as such was used for the first time by Amir Khusru in his Nűh-i-Siphir (circa 1300).  He placed the word alongside Lahori and Sindhi as one of the prominent languages spoken in India during his time.

      We may not be sure when the “historical dynamic of vernacularism” began in Kashmir and led to the individuation of Kashmiri as a language that localized cultural space, but it is not altogether impossible to arrive at a broad picture of its lineage after studying its cognitive and conceptive elements.  The effort, however, raises complicated issues of ideological and political standpoints and also of degrees of scholastic sincerity and competence.  If one does away with such baggage it will not be difficult to see that Kashmiri is an ancient Indo-Aryan language that has descended from the Vedic speech or “one of the dialects of which the classical Sanskrit was formed”, as Bühler had pointed out long back.  There is every possibility that a Vedic speech community may have migrated to the Valley in the pre-historic period when the legendary Saraswati River changed its course and finally vanished.  Besides the strong and persistent tradition among Kashmiri Pandits of being Sarswat Brahmans, the presence in Kashmiri of a large number of lexical items and morphological and phonological elements that can be traced to Vedic sources either directly or through intermediary Prakrit-Apabhramsha transformative processes.  These include many words most commonly used in everyday speech.  For example, we have the Kashmiri word ‘yOdvay ’meaning ‘if’, ‘what if’, ‘yet’, ‘still’, ‘nevertheless’. This appears to be almost identical to the Vedic ‘yaduvay’, the corresponding word for it in Sanskrit and Hindi being ‘yadi’ (‘yOd’ in Kashmiri as well).  Similarly, we have the word ‘ada’ in Kashmiri meaning ‘so’, ‘then’, ‘thereupon’, ‘yes’, which can be hardly distinguished from the Vedic ‘addhâ’.  Again the Vedic ‘sanna’ appears as ‘sOn’ in Kashmiri having an identical meaning – ‘deep’. Or take the Kashmiri word ‘basta’ which comes straight from Vedic ‘bastâjin’ meaning ‘goatskin’, ‘bellows’.  It is from the Vedic root ‘taksh’ that the Kashmiri word ‘tachh’ ( to scratch, to peel, to plane, to scrape)  and its derivative ‘chhân’ (carpenter) come, Skt. ‘ksh’ invariably changing to ‘chh’ in Kashmiri, as in laksha > lachh, vaksha > vachh, paksha > pachh, drâkshâ > dachh, akshi > achhi and so on.  Several Kashmiri words have evolved from the Vedic through intermediary Prakrit-Pali words.  For instance, Ksh. ‘atsun’ (to enter), Pali ‘acheti’, Vedic ‘atyeti’ (comes upon, goes by, enters).  Similarly Vedic ‘prastar’, from which the Hindi word ‘patthar’ (stone) is derived, changes through the Pkt. intermediary ‘pattharo’ to ‘pathar’ (on the floor), and ‘pOthur’(the floor) in Kashmiri.  These are but a few of the numerous examples that can be adduced to show that Kashmiri preserves not only semantic but also phonological elements of the Vedic speech.

    Phonological aspects of the tendency in Kashmiri to retain most archaic word forms that can be traced only to the Old Indic speech have been analysed at some length by Siddheshwar Verma.  It will be interesting to see how Verma provides evidence of  Kashmiri showing contact with old layers of Old Indic vocabulary.  One such word that Verma examines is ‘krâl’, the Kashmiri word for potter. While all other Modern Indo-Aryan languages except Nepali and Sinhalese, he points out, have words for it derived from the Sanskrit ‘kumbhakâra’, Kashmiri alone preserves the phonetic remnants of the Vedic ‘kulâl’, an older word.  Again, the Kashmiri word ‘tOmul’ (rice), he says, retains the initial‘t’ of  Skt. “tandulam’, while in other Indo-Aryan languages it changes to ‘ch’, as in Hindi ‘châwal’, Bengali and Oriya ‘châul’, Sindhi ‘châur’, Nepali ‘châmal’ and so on.  Retention of the original ‘ri’ in Kashmiri ‘pritsh’ < Skt. ‘prichha’ (to ask), and of ‘r’ in ‘prang’ < Skt. ‘paryank’ ( a bed) are other notable examples he gives.

      It is on the basis of such massive evidence that eminent linguistics like Jules Bloch, Turner, Morgenstierne, Emeneau, Siddeshwar Verma and several other scholars have pointed to the probability of Kashmiri having a Vedic origin, arriving at their conclusions after intensive research on actual facts of the language. Prof. S. K. Toshkhani goes even further to some pre-Vedic developments preserved by Kashmiri in words like ‘sOst’ and ‘rOst’ which later become ‘sahit’ and ‘rahit’.  Prof. Toshkhani also identifies some linguistic similarities between Kashmiri and Lithuanian to show that Kashmiri might have started its evolutionary journey even much earlier than assumed.  George A. Grierson, on the other hand, held views on the vexatious question of the lineage and affinity of the language which created a situation not at all congruous with linguistic facts and therefore led to a confusion that has still not cleared despite his theory having been rejected as obsolete and untenable by present day scholars.  Disregarding the evidence that establishes its Indo-Aryan character, Grierson chose to classify Kashmiri as a mixed language having as its basis a language of the Dardic group of the Pishacha family allied to Shina and occupying a position “ intermediate between the Sanskritic languages of India proper and the Iranian languages farther to their west”.  Considering Dardic languages to have developed from the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European, he uses the cover term Paishachi to group them under one category.  He shrugs off the predominance of Indo-Aryan vocabulary in Kashmiri by attributing it to a powerful influence of Indian culture and literature for over two thousand years. He insists that some of the commonest words, which it is not possible to have been borrowed, have their cognate forms in Shina, which he presents a representative Dardic language.

      Grierson’s views are largely confined to the realm of hypothesis, as Prof. P. N. Pushp has pointed out, and fly in the face of actual facts of the language. His insistence on identifying Kashmiri with Paishachi and, therefore, with Iranian makes little linguistic sense and can certainly not be held as valid.  Scholars are absolutely not sure about the identifying features of Paishachi and certainly not in agreement about its exact geographical area.  Writes Sheldon Pollock: “Linguists have identified this (Paishachi) as anything from an eastern Middle-Indic close to Pali to Munda language of inhabitants of Vindhya Mountains , traditional commentators understand it to be the language of the semi-divine attendants of Shiva, the pramathas or ganas.”  Describing Paishachi as “the joker in the deck of South Asian discourses on languages”, Sheldon Pollock refers to its “having an exclusively legendary status, since it is associated with a single lost text, the Brihatkathâ (The Great Tale), which seems to have existed less as an actual text than as a conceptual category … …” For answering any queries about Paishachi, in fact, we have to depend completely on what Vararuchi, Hemachandra and other Prakrit grammarians have to say about the basic features of the language and its varieties while citing some stray examples from its long forgotten compositions.  What we gather from them boils down to some phonological and morphological features with which Kashmiri has practically nothing to do.  One of these, for instance, is hardening of soft consonants as compared to Sanskrit, or de-aspiration of the third and fourth voiced aspirated stops.  In Kashmiri we have hardly any instance of this except in some rare cases of borrowings from Persian. Thus ‘g’ seldom changes to ‘k’ in Kashmiri – there being absolutely no possibility of ‘nagar’ changing to ‘nakar’ or ‘gagan’ becoming ‘gakan’ (examples chosen by the Prakrit grammarians to illustrate their point), nor of ‘guru’ becoming ‘kuru’.  To the contrary, the ‘g’ remains strong and unchanged in initial, medial or terminal positions.  Again ‘gh’ looses its aspiration and becomes ‘g’ but in no case ‘kh’ as is said to happen in Paishachi.  Also, ‘d’ at the end of a word does not change to ‘t’ as in Paishachi, but is retained.   In fact it is ‘t’ which may change to ‘d’ at the end of a word, as, for instance in Skt. ‘anta’ < Ksh ‘and’. The consonant is, however, generally retained in Kashmiri in the initial and medial positions and changes to ‘th’ in the final position (rakta >rath, shata >shath, prati >prath and so on).  Of Skt. ‘r’ changing to ‘l’ (“ralayor abhedah”), a phenomenon occurring frequently even before the Prakrits were evolved, there are very few examples in Kashmiri; the tendency to retain it being generally quite strong. For example: ‘rajju’ > ‘raz’, ‘raksha’ > ‘rachh’, ‘bhrânti’ > ‘brânth’, ‘taranam’ > ‘tarun’, ‘sűtra’ > ‘súthúr’, ‘műtra’ > ‘múthúr’ etc.

       Morphologically too Kashmiri does not share any features attributed to Paishachi as given by Prakrit grammarians.   Stems ending in ‘a’, for instance, does not have a ‘âto’ or ‘âtu’ ending in the ablative. Nor is the past participle marked by ‘tűn’ or    thűn’< Sanskrit ‘tvâ’. Instead, it takes the form ‘it’ or ‘itha’:  Skt. ‘kritvâ’ > Ksh. ‘kárith’, Skt. ‘mritvâ’ > Ksh. ‘márith’, Skt. ‘nutvâ’ > ‘namayitvâ’ > Ksh. ‘námith’ and so on. 

Coming to Dardic languages proper, Grierson’s obsession with linking Kashmiri with the Shina-Khowar group as a special branch of Indo-Iranian and clubbing them together under the Kafir group can hardly stand linguistic scrutiny. It only shows to what absurd lengths he goes to banish Kashmiri and the Dardic languages from Indo-Aryan fold.  Responding to his views, Suniti Kumar Chatterji appears to almost echo him when he says that “the Kashmiri language “is the result of a very large overlaying of a Dardic base with Indo-Aryan elements”, though he hastens to add that “the Indo-Aryan Prakrit and Apabhramsha from Midland and Northern Punjab profoundly modified the Dardic bases of Kashmiri”.  But neither Grierson nor Chatterji have been able to show what this Dardic base precisely is nor have they produced any evidence of what this “over-layering” that is supposed to have taken place consists of. Grierson does of course talk of some of the “commonest words –the words that are retained longest in any language, howsoever mixed, and seldom borrowed” as well as the numerals, phonetic system, accidence, syntax and prosody of Kashmiri being such as prove its affinity with Shina, but the examples he furnishes only serve to show how superficial and suspicious his knowledge of all these aspects are.  The Shina words he lists as having cognate forms in Kashmiri are almost all of Sanskrit origin and it is this connection that binds the two languages together to the extent they both draw upon Sanskrit or Old Indo-Aryan for their vocabulary, Iranian having nothing whatsoever to do with it.

     Grierson’s classification of Kashmiri has been outright rejected by later scholars like Morgenstierne and Emeneau who maintain that the so-called Dardic languages are in fact Indo-Aryan and not Iranian, though they have not passed through the Mid-Indic stage of development. Morgenstierne finds Grierson’s attempt to club Dardic and Kafiri languages into one single group as unacceptable. “I am unable to accept these views”, he writes. “The Dardic languages, in contradistinction to the Kafir group, are of pure IA (Indo-Aryan) origin go back to a form of speech closely resembling Vedic.”  The term, according to him, denotes “a bundle of aberrant IA hill languages” which escaped contact with the Indo-Aryans of Madhyadesha (midland). Emeneau endorses his views but adds that these languages did not pass through the MIA  (Middle Indo-Aryan) development represented by the records. Prof. B. B. Kachru quotes Fussman and strand as holding the view that Dardic “is a geographic expression referring primarily to the regional location of these languages without any connotation of shared linguistic features; thus it is not used in any phylogenetic sense”.  Fussman, points out Kachru, says that “the denomination ‘Dardic language’ should not strictly speaking be applied to Kashmiri”. It is indeed strange that despite having been discarded by modern day scholarship in light of latest field research and textual comparison, Grierson’s views are still uncritically accepted and repeated in academic spheres.  Kachru quotes Masica as saying about Grierson’s view on Dardic languages that it is “now definitely obsolete and incorrect also in details, but unfortunately often still given in works of reference”. 

      What then is the status of Kashmiri within the fold of modern Indo-Aryan languages? Does it make any linguistic sense to totally deny it its place alongside languages like Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi or Gujarati just because it differs with them in a few respects on account of some of its peculiar characteristics? Is not the Sanskrit connection enough to regard it as their sister language, particularly when like them it too has passed the Prakrit and Apabhramsha stages to acquire its present form? Perhaps the mess created by Grierson and the band of self-supposed scholars which is motivated by political considerations to delink it from its moorings by trying to erase memories of its Sanskrit origin has done harm enough. But the fact that most common words used in day to day expression in Kashmiri even today are of Sanskrit derivation can not be denied despite all the attempts that are being made to mutate it beyond recognition.  These are words related to parts of body, names of closest kin, objects of daily use, physical states, animals and birds, food items, minerals and so on and can be easily shown to have been etymologically derived from Sanskrit.

      The affinity between Kashmiri and modern Indo-Aryan languages is not limited to items of vocabulary alone but is quite pervasive to provide it its structural matrix also. Coming to accidence or morphological features, we find that Kashmiri reveals itself to be of sure Sanskrit parentage.  Declensions of Kashmiri nouns clearly shows how new cases have developed from old Sanskrit bases.  For instance, the instrumental in masculine singulars takes the case-ending – an, which is a remnant of Skt. – çna or ena, as in Ksh. tsűran < Skt. chorçna. The dative marker –as or –is is obviously the same as Pali – assa, which in turn is a derivative of Skt. – asya though it is used with the genitive: Ksh. tsűras, Pali chorassa, Skt. chorasya.  The locative singular takes the ending - i or – e: Ksh. vati, Skt. pathi; Ksh. gari. Skt. grihe. The ablative masculine singular ends in – a or – i, a remnant of Skt – at as in Ksh. tsűri, Skt. chorat.  For agentive masculine plurals the affix used is – av which appears to have evolved from the Vedic – çbhih: Ksh. tsűrav, Skt. chorçbhih.  In the accusative/ dative pl. the case-ending - an can be traced to Skt. –ânâm: Ksh. tsűran, Skt. chorânâm.  Likewise feminine singular nouns take the affixes –yi or –i in accusative/ dative/ agentive case which can be said to have been derived from the Sanskrit case endings –im, yâ, -yâh: Kash. Dîviy, Skt. dçvîm / dçvyâ / dçvyâh.

   Like other modern Indo-Aryan languages Kashmiri forms a new genitive by adding post-positions to the dative and agentive cases. These are hund or sund used eith masculine singular and húnz and súnz used with feminine singular nouns and pronouns in case of animate beings, the plural forms being húndy or súndy and húnzú and sinzi repectively.  Punjabi uses handâ / hundâ and sandâ and Sindhi sandâ.  According to Beames sandâ is the Punjabi form of the Prakrit santah, with the s changing to h.  the genitive also takes the postpositions –un and –iny in masculine and feminine nouns denting living beings;  the plural forms are –iny and –ni.  With inanimate objects – uk and   ich are used in singular –iky and –chi in plural.  These correspond to Hindi , ke, kî, while in Gujarati we have no (bâp no ghar = father’s house). The feminine forms of the Kashmiri genitive remind one of the corresponding Marathi forms chyân, che, chi etc.

      Kashmiri pronouns preserve many old forms which occur in Sanskrit but are not found in Prakrit.  For example the personal third person pronouns su (he) and sva (she) are quite akin to Sanskrit sah and and their plural forms tim (they masc.) and timú (they fem.).  The Kashmiri first person pronoun or bO (I) is a remarkably new form which has probably come from Skt. bhavat, according to Bühler, being originally a present participle of bhű (to be).  All other forms of this pronoun have developed from Skt. root asmad, as in case of Punjabi and some other modern Indo-Aryan languages: Ksh. ásy, Punj. Assî, Kash. interrogative pronoun kus (who), and its plural kam as also their various forms are closely related to Skt. kah, and kas. The demonstrative pronoun yi (this) has its origin in the Skt. root idam while the relative pronouns yus and yim come from Skt. yah, yo and ye

    Verbal forms in Kashmiri follow Sanskrit in being derived from the root of the verb, especially in the past tense.  As Bühler has pointed out, “it is impossible to explain them by Kashmiri”. In this context Bühler cites dçshun (to see) and dyun (to give) as examples. From these we get the forms dyüth (saw) and dyut (was given) which are derived from dittho (Modern Kashmiri dyűth) < Skt. drishtitah, and ditto (Mod. Ksh. dyut) < Skt. dattah. . This process is visible in the formation of all basic tenses – past, present and future. Various forms of the Kashmiri auxiliary verb chhu and âs, which are derived from the Skt. roots kshi and as, and occur in several other Indian languages as well, are formed by remnants of personal pronouns to the stem.  The simple future tense is formed by adding the suffix –i to the nominative base in the third person, a remnant of the Skt. suffix –shyati: Ksh. kari (he / she will do), Skt. karishyati, Ksh. mari (he / she shall die), Skt. marishyati.   Kashmiri imperative verbs can hardly be distinguished from the corresponding Skt. forms.  For example we have Ksh. gatsh, Skt. gachha (go), Ksh. lekh, Skt. likha (write, cf. Hindi likh), Ksh. an, Skt. ânaya, Ksh. dav, Skt. dhâva, Ksh. kar, Skt. kuru (do, cf. Hindi kar), Ksh. van, Skt.varnaya (say, tell) and so on. 

       Verbal nouns are formed in Kashmiri by adding the suffix –un to the verb, which can be easily traced to Skt. -nam and is similar to Hindi –nâ. Examples:  Ksh. tarun, Skt. taranam, Hindi taranâ (to cross), Ksh. marun, Skt. maranam, Hindi maranâ (to die), Ksh. vavun, Skt. vapanam, Hindi bonâ (to sow), Ksh. pihun, Skt. peshanam, Hindi pîsanâ (to grind), Ksh. khanun, Skt. khananam, Hindi khodanâ (to dig) and so on.

      Kashmiri conjunctive participle – ith preserves elements of the old Sanskrit form –tvâ.  Thus we have, Ksh. kárith, Skt. kritvâ (having done), Ksh. námith, Skt. namitvâ (nutvâ) (having bowed), Ksh. lîkhith, Skt. likhitvâ (having written), Ksh. dîshith, Skt. drishtvâ (having seen) and so on.                           

     Kashmiri adverbs too point to their Sanskrit origins quite clearly. These include adverbs of time:  Ksh. yli, Skt. yarhi (when), Ksh. tli, Skt. tarhi (then), Ksh. yOtâm, Skt. yâvat (until, till such time),  Ksh.yuthuy, Skt yathâpi (as soon as), Ksh. tyuthuy, Skt. tathâpi (just then, at that very moment), Ksh. suli, Skt. sakâle (early), Ksh. kar, Skt. karhi when, at what time), Ksh. az, Skt. adya (today), Ksh. râth, Skt. râtrau (yesterday) and so on; adverbs of place: Ksh. yti, Skt. yatra (here, wherever), Ksh. tati, Skt. tatra (there), Ksh. ati, Skt.atra (at that place, from that place), Ksh. kati, Skt. kutra (where),  Ksh. yOt, Skt. itah (to this place, to any place), Ksh. tOt, Skt. tatah, tatra (to that place), Ksh. kOt, Skt. kutah, kutra (to which place); adverbs of manner:  Ksh.yithú, Skt. yathâ (in which manner, thus), Ksh.  kithú, Skt. katham (how, in what manner) and so on.

     This brief discussion, which could have been extended but for want of space, may help us to have a broad idea of the structural matrix which has shaped the Kashmiri language which like other modern Indo-Aryan languages seems to have emerged from a Prakrit-Apabhramsha sub-stratum around the 10th century. The actual processes that led to its development as the regional voice of Kashmir ’s literary culture can be known only when the language is historically studied in its entire socio-political perspective. There is little doubt that it may have remained confined to the realm of orality for a long period before it was committed to the written form but one cannot achieve absolute “temporal precision”, to borrow Sheldon’s phrase, regarding this historic moment.  Perhaps it needed a new cultural stimulus for coming out of obscurity and morphing into a literary language, and this seems to have been offered by what is today known as Kashmir Shaivism.  For sure, it was the Krama school of this philosophical system that played the important role of encouraging literary expression in the local dialect as the earliest extant works providing evidence of written Kashmiri,  the ‘Chhumma Sampradâya’ and the ‘Mahânaya Prakâsha’ are directly related to it. One cannot, however, be sure about beginnings, for quite a number of texts in Kashmir have either disappeared without a trace or have been destroyed.  Kshemendra’s exhortation to aspiring poets to study ‘bhâshâ kâvya’ is a clear indication that literary production in Kashmiri may have been a much earlier event. 

     The ‘Chumma Sampradâya’ is an unpublished text though an exercise for publishing it was started by the Research and Publication Department of Jammu & Kashmir in the sixties of the last century and was aborted later for reasons not known.  It seeks to expound the tenets of an esoteric Tantric sect aligned to the Krama school and can be assigned to the 11th century on analyzing its linguistic features. It is a text not entirely written in Kashmiri but has only thirty odd verses in that language, which complement the seventy-four verses written in Sanskrit.  But though mediated by Sanskrit and not exactly literary in content, these verses announce the inauguration of a departure that was to be of great significance in the literary history of the Kashmiri language.  Dr. Navjivan Rastogi, who identifies Chhummâ with the Sâhasa sub-school of Krama Tantrism , suggests that “Chhummâs probably mean the physiological centres of spirituality”, though he concedes that the exact meaning of the word chhummâ is “somewhat obscure”.  Identifying the word ‘chhummâ’ with chhummakâ which occurs in Kshemaraja’s commentary on the Svacchanda Tantra, Dr. Rastogi says that the chhummakâ, perhaps, “stood for the most relevant and useful aspect of  a certain mystic or occult rite”.  The esoteric symbolism of the work speaks in an enigmatic language with its emphasis on “apűja pűjâ” (non-worshiping worship), “adrishta darshana” (unseen vision) and “akrama-kramu” (non-sequential sequence). More than its cultic or theological value, however, the importance of this text lies in the evidence it offers of the state of Kashmiri language in its earliest stage of development from the regional Prakrit-Apabhramsha.  We give below two verses from the work exemplifying the predominance of Apabhramsha elements in its language: 

                    Bhâva svabhavç saba avinashî

                  Svapna sabhavana vi upanna /

                 Te aj niravidhi agama prakâshî

               Idassa dishti kâla vipachhanna //


                Vigalani shunńya âshunńya svarűpç

                      Vividha padârthu sâthu kavalçt /

                          Âshayu chitti sadâ  nîrűpâ

                     Vicchî vijjű virtha praghatçt //

     The u-endings of the words show that Prakrit influence is stil there while the four-lined structure of the metre indicates that it might be an earlier form of the popular Kashmiri metrical form Vâk.  The nascent features of early Kashmiri that appear in the Chhumma Sampradâya take a more pronounced and distinct form in the language of later works like the Mahânaya Prakâsha, Bânâsura Kathâ and Sukha-Dukha Charit, as we will  see a little while from now. 

       If Chhumma Sampradâya represents the earliest form of literarization of Kashmiri as an emerging regional dialect coming out of the cosmopolitan shadow of Sanskrit, Mahânaya Prakâsha documents the next stage when it had crossed the Prakrit-Apabhramsha threshold to step into a new world of vernacular expressiveness as a distinct linguistic entity.  It was written at a time when the sun of Sanskrit literary and intellectual culture in Kashmir had not yet set and could still inspire creativity and contemplation though the regional dialect had also begun to assert itself as result of the encouragement that it received from Krama Shaivism. The system is said have been born in Uttarpîtha or Kashmir itself with Shivananda as its first preceptor, Mahânaya Prakâsha (The Illumination of the Great System or the System of the Great Meaning), as its name suggests, being a later day treatise on the Krama doctrine  with Sanskrit playing the complimentary role of commentating on the concepts.  The work can be safely dated to the 13th century, as P. N. Pushp and Suniti Kumar Chatterji have done, but Grierson pushes it to the late 15th century confusing its author Shitikantha with another Shitikantha, the author of the ‘Bâlbodhinî Nyâsa’, a commentary on Jagaddhara Bhatt’s grammatical work ‘Bâlabodhinî’.


    The Mahânaya Prakâsha expounds the doctrine of mahârtha or mahanaya with its core concept being the identity of the individual self with the cosmic self in its dynamic aspect or Shakti.   Combining metaphysics with mysticism, the work is inclined towards the Shâkta principle, perceiving the ultimate reality as feminine and seeking intuitive realization of one’s unity with it based on the Shâktopâya or refinement of one’s thought processes.    This realization, according to the Krama system, is to experience pure and undifferentiated universal consciousness or samvid through “spiritual progression”.  Identical with the Goddess, Mahârtha or the Absolute Sense unfolds itself gradually through the four forms of speech: parâ (transcendental, undifferentiated), pashyantî (visioning), madhyamâ (interjacent) and vaikharî (displayed) word. The pure universal consciousness manifests itself in five chakras or cycles of energy symbolizing states of “individualized consciousness” with the deities Vâmeshî, Khecharî, Bhűcharî, Samhahârabhakshinî and Raudreshwarî or Vyoma-vâmeshswarî presiding over them, who have to be propitiated through esoteric practices of jńâna siddhi, mantrasiddhi and melâpasiddhi.   Shitikantha talks of the pańchavâha or five flows, five aughas or traditions, which are the paraugha, divyaugha, mahaugha, siddaugha and mânavaugha and gives an exposition of the other key concepts of mahârtha in Mahânayaprakâsha of which we are not in a position to discuss the details here. He begins with an obeisance to the one, great, lean Goddess Mangalâ Devî who resides in all souls and “eats” or destroys time under the divyaugha:

                       Devat akka kishî paru râji

                Jaga ghasmaru bhairu bhakshçt /

                      Nant shatta gâska nçrâji

                 Shamavâńî âshaya takshet //

    But what is of greatest significance to us than deciphering and decoding the esoteric symbolism of what Shitikantha says about the gradual revelation of the Great Meaning to him is his claim that this nuti or praise of the goddess is in desha-bhâshâ or the regional language understood by all: “athochitaruchitâm nutim sarvagocharayâ desha bhâshayâ”. Raising Kashmiri to the status of literary language for the first time, this statement marks a break from the past and ushers in a new era of vernacular transformation in Kashmir .  Later in the 15th century, we find Avatara Bhatta using the term “deshya” to describe his language. According to Dr. Tagare, the terms ‘deshya’, deshî and ‘deshabhâshâ’ generally imply the spoken language of a particular province or region. Sheldon Pollock calls them the “languages of the Place”.  Jaina Prakrit works, like ‘Kuvalayamâla Kahâ’ and ‘Lilâvaî Kahâ’, are replete with references to “atthârasa desha bhasha” or eighteen regional languages spoken throughout India . In his ‘Bhâvaprakâsha’ Sharadâtanaya talks in the 12th century of the eighteen languages “by which the various people of sixty-four regions of Bhâratvarsha communicate with each other”, Kashmir being one amongst them. Udyotana Suri describes in his work Kuvalayamâlâ that his hero hears people speaking sixteen different deshabhâshâs in the marketplace of Vijayapur (Bijapur) and provides excerpts from each of them including the language spoken in Kashmir .

    George Grierson has written a detailed and valuable paper on the language of Mahânayaprakâsha in which he concedes that its verses “show clearly the lines of connection between the Indo-Aryan side of Kashmiri and Sanskrit” and says that “they throw light on the various forms in Modern Kashmiri that, but for the Mahânayaprakâsha, would be inexplicable.” But at the same time he attributes the predominance of Indo-Aryan vocabulary in the work to its author’s being a Sanskrit scholar.  The fact is that the work clearly brings out the lines along which the Kashmiri language developed from the regional Prakrit-Apabhramsha.  Let us consider this verse from the work which talks of individuation of the universal consciousness:

                Yasu yasu jantus samvid yasu yasu

                     Nîla pîta sukha dukha sarűp /

                    Udayisdatta samâńî samarasa

                    Kamakampan tas tas anurűp //

      In this verse one can clearly recognize the Kashmiri pronouns yasu yasu (yas yas) < Skt. yasya > Pali – Prakrit yassa (= whoever, whichever, whomever), tas tas < Skt. tasya > Pali-Prakrit tassa (to him/her, to that person), the genitive marker –as being just suffixed to the word jantu (a living being) also. The phonetic and morphological elements in Mahânayaprakâsha can be found in a more developed form in Bânâsurkathâ and Sukha Dukha Charit to which we shall soon refer.

     Chumma Sampradâya and Mahânayaprakâsha may offer the first specimens of written Kashmiri, the first heart-beats of poetry in the language can be heard in the great Shaivite poetess of the 14th century, Lal Ded or Lalleshwari in the real sense of the word.  Born at a time when Kashmir was in the throes of an unprecedented upheaval with collision between two belief systems and value systems threatening to tear its entire social fabric apart, Lal Ded played a momentous role by ensuring stability and saving indigenous cultural structures from collapsing.  This she achieved by presenting the essence of Kashmir Shaiva philosophy to the common masses in their own colloquial language. Her choice of Kashmiri as the vehicle for expressing her thoughts was perhaps the greatest cultural statement she made with full awareness as an act of will. It was not an act that ruptured tradition but renewed it by transferring cultural power to a language that could bring about a transformation.  The impact on the Kashmiri psyche was deep and comforting with people finding a great spiritual succour and moral strength in her utterings. Her choice of vâk, earlier used by Shitikantha, to express the outpourings of her heart also struck a chord with the ordinary people who found the four-line aphoristic and cryptic metrical form very easy to adapt to the ear and remember. But it was no random choice for the term vâk reflected the entire philosophy of logos of Kashmir Shaivism according to which language can be a liberating force if it mirrors the reality of life as a manifestation of universal consciousness.  Lal Ded used the vâk form with such perfection that it acquired a serene dignity and subtlety of tone, a captivating rhythm of thought and a direct appeal which no one has been able to appropriate.  It is difficult to say whether the vâk is based on the Rigvedic metre, the Sanskrit Shloka or Prakrit-Apabhramsha metres like âryâ or gâhâ, but one thing is certain and that is Lal Ded contributed to it the best of her poetic genius.

      It is the fusion of the poet and the saint in Lalleshwari that accounts for her tremendous appeal among the Kashmiri people, an appeal that remains undiminished despite the passage of nearly seven centuries since she uttered her verses.  It is because of the deep mystical insights and spiritual vision that she presents in her poetry, her profound awareness of the human condition and her Shaivite worldview which perceives reality as one, un-divisible consciousness vibrating in every atom of the universe, that Lal Ded is regarded as a great spiritual giant and an unsurpassed Kashmiri poet. 

     Lal Ded translated her existential anguish into soul-stirring poetry, her verses being a record of her sufferings and struggles. She gave up worldly life in protest against the callousness she suffered at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law and became an itinerant mystic wandering from village to village and keeping her audiences in thrall by reciting her verses telling of her restless quest for Shiva, the pangs of separation that tormented her mind and her intense desire for absorption in the absolute. Perhaps her most poignant verses that may have moved the heart of her audience as they do today are those that speak of her loneliness, her uncertainty and self-doubt and at the same time seek to establish a personal emotional relationship and identity with the ineffable:

                Âmi pana sődaras nâvi chhas lamân

                     Kati bozi day myon m ti dî târ /

                    Âmyan tâkyan pony zan shramân

                Zuv chhum bramân gara gatsha hâ //


[With a rope of loose spun thread am I tossing my boat upon the sea                         Would that God heard my prayer and brought me safe across                    Like water in cups of unbaked clay I run to waste

                     Would God I were to reach my home!

                                                                   — Translation:  Prof. J. L. Kaul]


                         Lal bO drâyas lolarç

                tshârân lűstum dyan kyaho râth

                   Vuchhum pándith panani gare

                Suy m rOtum nechhtúr tú sâth


                       [I, Lalla, set out with burning longing

                And seeking searching passed the day and night

                       Till lo! I saw to my own house belonging

                The Pandit, and seized my luck and star of light

                                                                               Trs. Nila Cram Cook]

     There are many verses in which Lal Ded refers to her attainment of spiritual enlightenment and beatification. For her self-realization was a real experience about which she has no doubt or uncertainty.  And what is more, these verses reveal   a tremendous sense of self-confidence and assurance which she exudes while telling us about her mystical illumination:

                       Samsâras âyas tapasî

                Bodha prakâsh lObum sahaj


                [Into this universe of birth I came

                By yoga gained the self-revealing light.

                                                                                     Trs. Nila Cram Cook]

                      Lal bO tsâyas svamana bâga baras

                Vuchhum Shivas Shakath mîlith tú vâh /

                    Tati m lay karúm amrit saras

                 Zinday maras tú karyam kyâh //


                [I, Lalla entered the door of my mind’s garden

                And saw Shiva and Shakti united there, Oh joy!

                   There I immersed myself in the lake of nectar

                      And died even while I was still alive

                        What will death now do unto me?]

    Lal Ded’s language appears to be surprisingly close to modern Kashmiri.  Obviously, this could not have been the language in which they were originally composed. What that language could have been, we have no means to ascertain today, as they were not penned down at the time they were composed. They were passed through oral transmission from generation to generation till Rajanaka Bhaskaracharya recorded about sixty of them with his Sanskrit translation in the 17th century.  It was in 1914 that George Grierson and Lionel Barnett recorded with the help of Pandit Mukund ram Shastri about 140 vâks of Lalleshwari from a Brahmin Dharamdas Darvesh of Gush village in Baramulla.  Dharamdas recited these vâks before Grierson as part of his family tradition and Grierson and Barnet later published these with English translation.  The reciter did not change any unintelligible word but presented them as they had come down to him traditionally. It is obvious that in the intervening centuries, the text must have changed imperceptibly, with each generation which received them adding its own linguistic encrustations and the accretions finally adding up to whole mass of interpolations. Whatever the case may be we have no choice but to accept the verses as they have been passed on over the centuries except where there are glaring discrepancies.  The only way to arrive at an authentic text would be to edit the present text in light of the works written before or after them, a much desirable but almost impossible task.

      However, even in the form these vâks are available to us, we find a large number of Sanskrit-like and Sanskrit derived words in them, some of them quite archaic now, Some examples: gagan, bhűtal, pavan, sakal, sahaj, kusum, turag, desh, klîsh( (klesha), tsyath ( <citta), jnân, svaman, lay, bhân (< bhânuh), műdh, dyân (dhyân), mukur, zanúm (janma), âhâr, lűb (lobha), bhava-ruj, artsun (archana), akshar, rasâyan, brahmând, varun, salil, lavan, pashya,  vâk, mânas, kul, akul, shűnya, rajan (rajanî), sham, dam, vag (valgâ), ambar, posh (pushpa), mrig, shrigâl, laz (lajjâ), jńâna-mârg, pat, pitha, vottam (uttama), durlabh varna, nâbhisthân-as, tsîtan (chetan), atsîtan (achetan), ashvâvar, geh (grih), svalabh (sulabha), prân, keasarî, anna-s, châmar, rath, simhâsan, âhlâd, trin, dvîsh (dvesh), cahhatra, paryanka, zal (jala), pad, hridi (hridaye). shank (shankâ), kâran, vatsun (vachan), shishir-is and so on.

      Lal Ded was followed by her junior contemporary Sheikh Nur-ud-Din (1376-1438), popularly known as Nunda Rishi who is revered by Kashmiri Muslims for having founded the Muslim Rishi order in Kashmir.  His verses known as shruks (Skt. shloka), are regarded by Kashmiri Muslims as “Kashmiri Koran”. They are pithy sayings, generally didactic in content and exhortative in tone, with stress on self-discipline, moral values, purity of conduct according to Islamic teachings, abstention from worldly pleasures, contentment, frugal eating habits, faith in one God, prayer and piety and cultivation.  Sheikh Nur-ud-Din’s shruks also remind man of the inevitability of death and the transience of the world and therefore the need for surrender before God’s will and seeking His grace.  Emphasis on vegetarianism by the   Sheikh and the Muslim Rishi order established by him led Dawood Mishqati, the writer of the hagiographical work Asrâr-ul-abrâr, to say that the Rishis “followed the ways of the Brahmans and Buddhists.  However, Sheikh Nur-ud-Din is said to have followed a more ortodox path after his meeting with Syed Mohammad Hamadani, the preacher son of Syed Ali Hamadani who is revered by Kashmiri Muslims for having played a leading role in spreading Islam in Kashmir .

       Sheikh Nur-ud-Din does not forget to acknowledge his indebtedness to Lal Ded for having deeply influenced him during his formative years. In fact quite a number of Lal Ded’s verses have been attributed to Sheikh Nur-ud-Din , which has created  a great confusion about the authorship of as many as 35 verses which are found in the collections of both. The main reason for this is that there is no properly edited critical text of his verses.  The Nurnamas and Rishinamas which have recorded them have been compiled more than two hundred years after him leading to numerous interpolations and errors.  Here are two of the most quoted and illustrative shruks of the Sheikh:

                     Kîvály kor nçrakh panthänî

                Trävith shury-mury tú gih bâr

                     Yim kas bâr ladakh pâpänî

                        Bâr khodâyâ pâp nivâr

                [To what destination are you wending your lonely way

                              Renouncing family, hearth and home?

                Whom will you burden with your load of sins?

                          Great God, absolve me of my sins]


                Kunyaryay bozakh kun no rozakh

                     Ámy kuniran kotâh  dyut jalâv

                        Aqúl tú fikir tor kOt sozakh

              Kámy mâli chyath hyok su dáriyâv


                [If you know the One, you will cease to be

                The One whose light pervades everything

             Reason and wisdom will be of no avail there

                There is no one who can drink up that river]

    There are a number of Sheikh Nur-ud-Din’s shruks which run into one another rand have been regarded for that reason by some as vatsan or short lyrics while some claim that he was the first to write gahzals also. One does not know what to make of such claims for the Sheikh except to point out that he was illiterate and unexposed to Persian. As for his vocabulary, it consists predominantly of Sanskrit and Sanskrit derived words, which perhaps points to the actual linguistic situation of his times. Some of these words are surprisingly old and some of them have become archaic now.  A few examples should suffice: kîval (keval), niz (nij), subhâv (svabhâva), ambi (ambâ-), gambîr (gambhir), dâs, duhit (duhitâ), prakrath (prakritih), samsâr, svargas (svarga-), kosam (kusum, bavasnde  (bhavasindhu-), sOndarî (sundarî), shunitav (shrunu-), khag, vnat ((vinatî), (vinatî), duji (dvij), shîl, vishva, hetu, ahankâr, krűd, kâm, lűb (lobha) muh (moha), mîn, amrit, guru, avtâr, bhakti, turag, lavan, vopakâr (upakâr), dishâ, ang, shîsh, nayan, svazan (sujanâh). Sadbhâv and so on.

    It is a rather strange coincidence that in the 15th century, when Kashmir was passing through a very crucial phase in its political history, the literary culture of its language was showing evidence of a creative upsurge. Breaking its silence of centuries, the Kashmiri language appeared to be restless for experimenting with new forms and genres of expressiveness even as its people were finding themselves catapulted to a totally different cultural world speaking the cultural idiom of distant lands. Though ethnicity remained by and large the same, the Valley witnessed a tragic fading out of lights in which it had earlier seen its identity assume its distinctive features and its values and ideals take shape.  Yet with a slight stabilizing of the political situation under Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1420-1470) there was  hope that perhaps efforts could be made towards forging a new indigenous Kashmiri personality.  And the Kashmiri speech which was waiting to assert its creative capabilities could prove to be valid ground on which this personality could be forged.  Shriavara, the court chronicler of the Sultan, mentions in his Jaina Rajatarangini the names of a number of writers who had produced literary works in the Kashmiri even though most of them were of a panegyric nature. These included Zaina Prakâsh by Yodha Bhatt, Zaina Charit by Nottha Som and Zaina Vilâs by Bhattâvatâra or Avtar Bhatta. All these are unfortunately lost but ironically a poetic work by Avtar Bhatta titled Banâsur Kathâ which Shrivara did not mention at all has survived and has proved to be of great linguistic and literary value.  

    Banâsur Kathâ by Avtar Bhatta is a narrative poem of haunting beauty based on the story of Usha and Aniruddha as given in the Harivamsha Purâna – a fact revealed by the author himself.  He has also disclosed in the colophon of the work that he belonged to the Srigalpuri (modern Shalpur) village of the Lahar (modern Lar) parganâ (sub-division) of Kashmir valley.  More importantly, he has given us the exact date of its composition – the sixteenth year of Zain-ul-Abidin’s reign, which comes to 1446 CE. This adds to its historical significance as for the first time we have a dated work of early Kashmiri literature penned down at a definite point in time. The poet also follows the convention of praising the ruler of the times namely Zain-ul-Abidin and his preceptor Salhan Acahrya. Though this does not give us much information about the poet’s life to allow us to have his biographical profile, the work presents a powerful image of his talents as a poet.  Avtar Bhatta calls his work a “kâvya pabandh” or an epic poem and says that he is presenting a “charming narrative”. Bânâsur Katha is replete with passages of love and descriptions of war with its lilting cadences and acoustic values created by the soft music and melody of words along with excellence in narration making it a masterpiece of early Kashmiri literature.  The poet seems to revel in presenting the psychology and physiology of erotic love and displays at places a sense of beauty that reminds one of poets like Jayadeva and Vidyapati.  Avtar Bhatta appears to be particularly at his best in describing physical charms of the feminine body especially the ravishing beauty of the heroine Usha as can be seen in these mellifluous lines:

                     Sâ Usha amar nipçndas dullabha

                Varakâmin vadanâ zan shashi pabha

                                 Lata zan kshâvun pikç

                    Pushkara gav adâ nirçt kshani akç

[The enchanting Usha who was difficult for even the king of gods to obtain

                Her face beautiful as the radiant moon

He (Aniruddha) enjoyed her charms as the cuckoo bird enjoys a flowering creeper

                And then went away in a moment. (V.60)]

      While the poet excels in describing female loveliness and the erotic sentiment, his depiction of the valour and courage shown by heroic men in trying circumstances is equally impressive. With the passion of love inflaming his heart the hero Aniruddha’s valiant behaviour and sense of masculine pride has been described with great poetic subtlety when he is shown preferring to face Usha’s bodyguards boldly and unarmed rather than hide himself in her parlour:

                Dhik-dhik myânes Yadava jammas

                       Vanati atsâ majja kachân

                Yuddha karâ namet svakammas

                     Ushç athachhOn iha thân


                        [Shame upon my Yadava birth

                If I hide behind your beautiful tresses O lady!

                     I will rather fight here bowing to my fate

                           Without a weapon in my hands]

     Avatar Bhatta displays the consummate skill of a fully aware artist in his descriptions an character delineation. He creates a parallel world through his passages of beautiful description engaging us in absorbing details even as the story advances through interesting twists and turns towards   the denouement.  He portrays human emotions and states of mind with great sensitivity creating dramatic situations wherever necessary and showing innovative skills in handling various episodes from the original story given in the Harivamsha Purana.  His poetic brilliance flashes forth not just in describing the supersensuous physical charms of the heroine Usha or the exploits and masculine graces of the hero Aniruddha, but also in depicting Banasur’s valorous belligerency and the sagacity of his minister Kumbhanda besides underlining Krishna’s role in upholding the cosmic order. 

    Avatar Bhatta’s poetic ingenuity also shows itself in making a sensitive use of the short lyric to give expression to human feelings and moods. He chooses dramatic moments in the narrative to punctuate descriptive passages with beautiful and melodious lyrics, the first to be written in Kashmiri much before Habba Khatun appeared on the scene. There are several enthralling pieces expressing tender feelings of love and longing in Banâsur Kathâ like “Kar iyá so piya m nikto  ( When will my Love come near me?) and “Piyâ ma gatsh mâranay” (Oh, don’t go Love, they may kill you!) which present the poet as the pioneer of vatsun or the Kashmiri short lyric.

     Another aspect of Bânâsur Kathâ that arouses great interest is the use of Sanskrit syllabic metres like Mandâkrântâ, Mâlinî, Sragdharâ, Tanumadhyâ, Narkatakâ, Vasantatilakam, Mattamayűrî, Shârdűlavikrîditam, Vaitâlî, Drutavilambita, Pushpitâgra etc. There are also some what appear to be original Kashmiri metres based perhaps on the Sanskrit metrical pattern, like Thaddo, Phuro, Dukatikâ and Kadokdyâ. We find these metres used again in the Sukha-Dukha Charit in late 15th century— and that is the last we see of them.  These metres must have been quite popular and in vogue for a long time in Kashmiri poetry before Avtar Bhatta’s time, but we do not have any documentary evidence of those available today. Interestingly, this gives a lie to Grierson’s argument that Kashmiri metrical system follows the Persian tradition.  Unfortunately, this is a field completely ignored by Kashmiri scholars.

     But it is from the linguistic point of view that the study of Banâsur Kathâ is most rewarding as together with the Sukha-Dukha Charit it throws a flood of light on the state of the Kashmiri language in the 15th century.  The two works also help us to trace earlier forms of a number of Kashmiri words including the auxiliary verb. We will deal with this aspect after we come to the Sukha-Dukha Charit, but it will be pertinent to refer a few linguistic peculiarities of the work here.  For instance, various forms of the Kashmiri auxiliary verb are, kshi, ksho, kshçm, kshiyiy etc., while in present day Kashmiri variations of  chhi are used, as Sanskrit ksh changes to chh in Kashmiri. This suggests that the auxiliary verb forms in Kashmiri have developed from the Skt. root kshi (‘to be’).

     The language of Bânâsur Kathâ is predominantly of Sanskrit origin with hardly two or three words of Persian, showing that in spite of having been declared the court language Persian had not been able to make much headway as yet in literary language or language of common parlance.  However, there are several words of which the etymology is not clear. There is also another category of words which have become totally obsolete today though their etymology does not pose much of a problem. For example, we words like yâkhçt (=like this, as, just as, as if), tâkhçt (=like that, thus, so), kâkhet / kangat (= how, in what manner), javç (=quickly, speedily).  Another linguistic feature of interest is the use of several word forms to denote the same meaning. For instance, a host of words have been used to convey the sense of “he/she says”, like: vadi, nigadis, dappi, vâchi, vanno and giri.

     Coming to Sukha-Dukha Charit, it is not exactly a poetic work though written in verse.  Written by Ganak Prashast, nothing about whom is known except that he composed it during the time of Sultan Hasan Shah’s rule in Kashmir (1475-1485) to whom he has addressed a eulogy in the beginning.  The author’s name Ganak Prashast being most likely a pseudonym, Sukha-Dukha Charit is written in the form of an “advice to a friend” to conduct his affairs with caution lest he is deluded by pleasures of life and becomes a profligate.  The advice includes spheres like jyotish (astrology), gârud (detoxification of snake poison), vaidak (treatment of common diseases) and kâma shâstra (the art of sexual love), the work being divided accordingly into four segments.   The “friend” is advised to keep the nature of the world and the vanities of life in view and to avoid pitfalls.  Though not poetry in the strict sense of the word, as we have pointed out, the work is structured as a kâvya, and displays some purple patches of imagination and a sense of verbal music.  The poet frequently indulges in verbal artistry, embellishing his lines with alliteration, pun and other figures of speech.

      The importance of Sukha-Dukha Charit lies manly in documenting the state of the Kashmiri as it was spoken in the later part of the 15th century. In spite of some poetic flourishes it is mainly about mundane life and provides us with a good vocabulary current those days so far as names of articles of daily use, common medicines, parts of body etc. many of which are used even today in a slightly changed form. What is interesting is that we find Ganak Prashast using the same Sanskrit metres in this work that Avtar Bhatta has employed in Bânâsur Kathâ, adding one more, dvi-phuro (double phuro), to the list. A feel of the language of the work can be had from the following two examples: 

                Ksho shâstra ghanç kâtç ko mâ bujji

                       Vaidak gârud jyotish buddh

                            Sâr  sâr gâhçnas pajji

                    Hansa yâkhçt jalo majjâ duddh

                [The shâstras are very profound, who can explain them?

There is the science of medicine, the treatment of snake poison, astrology

                We should try to grasp their essence

                As the swan separates milk from water.]

                Him zan tâpç vigalos pâpç kukaram chittâ

          [Remembering my bad deeds and sins, I have melted like snow                                   in the sun]

       As we have said, the Chhumma Sampradâya, Mahânaya Prakâsha, Bânâsur Kathâ and Sukha-Dukha Charit present a coherent and authentic picture of the the gradual development of the Kashmiri language from the Middle Indo-Aryan stages of Prakrit and Apabhramsha through which other modern Indo-Aryan languages have also passed.  The tendencies that we find in a nascent state in the thirty odd Chumma Sampradaya verses take a more developed and distinct form in the Mahânaya Prakâsha (MP), Bânâsur Kathâ (BK) and Sukha- Dukha Charit (SDC). While the language of MP is obviously older, both BK and SDC show the Kashmiri language emerging as a modern Indo-Aryan language.  Most of the phonological changes take place much in the same way as in Prakrit and Apabhramsha with many of these changes having crystallized to forms which are used in modern Kashmiri. Thus MP, BK and SDC share the tendency of elision of  independent consonants ch, t, d and p (but interestingly not k) and introduction of the glide y or v; elision of initial a and ri changing to a, i and u ( though at places it remains intact); elision of r and the doubling of the consonants as result of the elisions besides the following changes: -th >-d, -m, -pt > -t,- n+- m >- m, -dy > -jj, dhy >jj and so on. All the three MP, BK and SDC follow Prakrit-Apabhramsha in elision of one member of a conjunct consonant and doubling of the remaining one. This, however, does not happen in modern Kashmiri. But compensatory elongation of the vowel does not occur in the three works as in modern Kashmiri. An interesting feature that needs to be noted is that several words occur in MP, BK, and SDC that are found in Hindi and some other north Indian languages but not in present day Kashmiri. For instance we have: jalo (Hindi jalâ), pado (Hindi padâ), chados (Hindi charhâ), piyâ and gaudç (Hindi ghodç).

     It is unfortunate that no work has been done on these early works of Kashmiri in spite of the important light they throw on the historical development as well as structural matrix of the language. Though the present writer has made an intensive and systematic study of these texts, there is much that still needs to be done.  The manuscripts of Banâsur Kathâ were discovered by Bühler from Jaipur more than a century ago and are lying on the shelves of the Mss. library of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune. But where is the scholarship to work on them?  Meanwhile Kashmiri has been so over laden with Perso-Arabic vocables that its linguistic identity has undergone a near total mutation. What was a daughter of Sanskrit today looks like a dialect of Persian and Arabic. No, it is not a matter of diglossia as some scholars would have us believe, but a deliberate attempt at destroying its links with Indian linguistic and literary history.




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