There is no part of India that receives more attention in the worid than Kashmir, and yet, there is perhaps no part more shrouded in the mists of ignorance both within India and outside it. Few know this is the land where Buddhism flowered under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka of eternal fame; the land where the two major sects of Buddhism, the Mahayona and Hinayana, literally the Great Wheel and the Lesser Wheel, emerged from the fourth Buddhist Council convened by the Kushan King Kanishka, and the land from where Buddhist monks made their way to Central Asia, China, Tibet and beyond, spreading the dhamma of their great teacher and sharing India's cultural riches with the world, asking nothing in return.
From the fifth to the twelfth centuries, Hindu Shaivism, the worship of the lord Shiva, blended harmoniously with Buddhism to create a uniquely syncretic culture in Kashmir, as the two were integrated ever more closely through the centuries. In the coming centuries, Islam permeated into the Kashmir valley through the tireless efforts and inexhaustible zeal of Sufi saints. And yet, despite the diversity of religion and thought, or perhaps because of it, there was little of the intolerance and fanatic zealotry present today throughout the world, and brought to Kashmir by its hostile and envious neighbour to the west. On the contrary, the Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist communities lived peacefully cheek by jowl, interacting with each other freely without rancor. Nowhere is this harmony more personified than in the lives of the Hindu Shaivite saint Lai Ded and her Muslim disciple, Sheikh Nur-ud- din; together the duo blended the best of Hinduism with Islam, influencing the entire subcontinent a^nd giving rise to an ethos of acceptance and equality - the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the legacy of this beautiful land.
Under the great 15th century monarch of Kashmir, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, fondly called Bud Shah (Great King) by his subjects and Bhatt Shah (Pandit's King) by the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, Kashmiriyat was infused into the state's policy, as the Islamic monarch reconstructed Hindu temples and organised Hindu festivals, ushering in an unprecedented era of religious tolerance and good governance in Kashmir. This was extended to nearly the entire Indian subcontinent in the next century under the great Mughal Emperor Akbar, who abolished discriminatory taxes like jizya that distinguished between his subjects on the basis of religion, and ensured to all his subjects the freedom of faith. That this was the same era when the concept of secularism was alien to Europe, where it was not uncommon for men and women to be put to death if they questioned their faith, makes it all the more remarkable.
This is not to ignore the subsequent hardships of the Kashmiris under the last of the major Mughal emperors, Aurangzeb, and the Afghans and Sikhs who later attempted to establish control over Kashmir. With the creation of modern India and the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, this harmony was further disrupted as the Pakistani state aimed to support an armed insurgency in Kashmir, brainwashing its youth to undertake subversive terrorist activities, in the unrealistic hope of 'liberating' Kashmir and establishing an Islamic state under these Mujahideen, as a part of its policy of 'bleeding India by a thousand cuts'.
Yet, despite all such efforts, the vast majority of Kashmiris refuse to succumb. As Mahatma Gandhi himself observed during the tumultuous partition of the subcontinent, when men were murdered and women raped simply because of their faith, nowhere was the difference between Hindu and Muslim less than in Kashmir, where one language and one culture united all Kashmiris. Today, with burgeoning local political shoots and a strong and committed national leadership, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the welfare of Kashmiris, there is every hope that the legacy of pluralism, tolerance and Kashmiriyat—the hallmark of Kashmir, so exquisitely crafted over centuries, will once more find expression in Kashmir.
BDST: 2103 HRS, AUG 04, 2020