According to scriptures, sometime in the 9th century the great sage Adi Shankaracharya visited Kashmir for the first time. It is said that a young girl from the nearest village was sent to welcome him and take care of his daily needs. The sage expressed his inability to light a fire to cook his food on. The girl countered his request by saying that if he was such a great sage this shouldn’t be such a big deal. She picked up two sticks from the ground, recited a mantra and ignited a fire. The saint was dumbfounded. He got into a discourse on spiritual matters with the girl, which seemed to have lasted seventeen days. The girl emerged the winner. Shankaracharya was overwhelmed by the cultural and spiritual advancement of the state and stayed there for years, meeting sages, philosophers and advanced souls imbibing everything they had to offer.
Kashmir, before Shankaracharya visited it, was a high seat of Buddhism. The first ever Buddhist congregation was held in Kashmir centuries ago. Kashmir has attracted all sort of religious people, travellers, poets and wanderers for a long time. The natural beauty, sweet water of the springs and rivers, the simple people and their hospitality always welcomed whoever visited this state. The weather complemented the flora and fauna of the place. The mountains nestled this beautiful valley and gave it the boon of abundance. But with abundance comes responsibility. The valley had everything going for it. Somewhere the winds of grace and bliss took a turn and the state suffered from too much bounty.
I was born in Kashmir, not the one everyone identifies it as these days, but one which had a lot to offer. Women’s education or rights were a part of the culture. The dowry system was not prevalent at all as it was in other parts of India. The school I went to was established in 1880 and it was a part of a boys’ school. Whatever the boys of the school could achieve, the girls were encouraged to achieve too. Co-curricular activities were an essential part of personality building. In my grandmother’s time (and even before hers), home tuition or knowledge of scriptures was deemed important.
Women had key roles to play in family establishments. They mostly preferred to stay home, but as times changed, more and more women started to work outside the domain of their homes. Incomes doubled. Trade and tourism started flourishing. Kashmir had hospitals, a university, a regional engineering college, a medical college, degree colleges for boys and girls, a B.Ed. college and very good schools – even when in the rest of the country education was struggling to take shape. Industry—wooden or papiermache handicrafts, shawls, carpets, fruits and dry fruits – name it and the state had it.
But with bountiful resources came a life of ease and an invitation to sloth, greed and politics. The youth had easy money and not much to do. The environment of the valley was such that everything closed by evening. Nothing to satisfy a full belly. No curiosity, no struggle so no strife. When the youth of a place becomes restless, the result is either a revolution or destruction.
As time passed the seeds of unrest and unhappiness were sown in this pious, spiritual, abundant place. The state which was so advanced went back a hundred years. The thriving towns and villages looked like ghost towns. A huge indigenous population of the state was missing. The mighty lakes died of negligence and dirty politics. The majestic pine trees, their sweet smell, the grassy meadows, the wild flowers had given in to unruly construction and greed.
A few years ago we had taken a friend along with us to Kashmir. On top of the Shankaracharya temple, built by Adi Shankaracharya during his stay in Kashmir, I was trying to explain to my friend how beautiful the lake looked from above. The cherry trees surrounding the base of the Shankaracharya hill looked ravishing when in bloom. Suddenly he stopped me midway and asked from where he could see Dal lake properly.
I looked at him and then towards the lake. He was right: most of the lake was missing. It had dried up. Where once stood cherry trees, there were tin roofs. My voice lost its vivacity. My description sounded made up and a figment of my imagination. It was so difficult to explain to him what was and what is left of the most beautiful place in our country. Sadness creeps into my heart to see this wonderful place being destroyed not for want of means of survival, but for having been given too much by the universe.
But I am an optimist and have pinned my hope on the present youth.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the felt clutches of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horrors of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How changed with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
The scars of the past years of trouble are still raw and if the present generation of young people understand their responsibility and how the previous generation were part of ruining this paradise, they can heal it and regain their legacy which would otherwise be lost for ever. This generation has to alienate themselves from political agendas and work towards the progress of the state. Overrule religious bigotry and bring back peace to the valley.
The missing jewels have to be placed back in the wilted crown of our country. My faith in my people will not let me down and the present generation will not warp its own future, but will re-establish the “Rishwar”(abode of rishis )which was Kashmir.