Kashmir also known as Cashmere, os located in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent. Historically the term Kashmir was used to refer to the valley lying between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range. Kashmiri is a term used to refer to the people or goods from this region.
Today Kashmir refers to a much larger area that includes the regions of Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh. Kashmir State also incorporates the Pakistani administered parts of Poonch, Muzafarabad, Jammu, Gilgit and Baltistan regions. The main "Valley of Kashmir" is a low-lying fertile region surrounded by magnificent mountains and fed by many rivers. It is renowned for its natura] beauty and quaint lifestyle.
Jammu Kashmir Di Sikh Twarikh By Jasbir Singh Sarna
Sikh History of Jammu & Kashmir A Review by Gurcharan Singh
Jammu Kashmir Di Sikh Twarikh
By Jasbir Singh Sarna
Published by Sant and Singh Publishers, Baramula, Kashmir,
First Edition 1997; Pages : 272; Price : 200/-
This small book of 272 pages is packed with encyclopaedic information on Sikh history of Jammu and Kashmir, right from Guru Nanak's time to the present day. Also given are some facts and figures on many matters connected with the community, such as gurdwaras, deras (preaching centres), languages, population, occupations, political parties and their struggles.
Guru Nanak passed through Jammu and Kashmir during his udasi towards Mansarovar and Kailash and, on his return, stayed at various places which are now marked with many gurdwaras such as Pathar Sahib, Mattan, Avantipur, Bandipur, etc. At Mattan, he made Pandit Brahm Das his first Sikh out of a learned but arrogant pandit, who always carried with him camel loads of books to impress others. He learnt the lesson of humility and the true path.
The Sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind was the next Guru to visit Kashmir, when, after his release from Gwalior Fort, he accompanied Emperor Jahangir, then friendly to the Guru. He stopped over at Mirpur Kain, Samani and many other villages. Biru Datt, Mula and Bhai Jhanda are the well-known devotees who became Sikhs. He travelled further through many places. At Srinagar, he visited the elderly mother of his devout Sikh, Sewadas Bhaghau, and accepted her handwoven apparel. He stayed for quite some time at Shalimar Gardens, close to Jahangir's camp, where, it is said, queen Nur Jehan came to pay her respect. He returned to Punjab via Baramula. There are many gurdwaras in the memory of his visit.
Guru Har Rai also, after his long tours of Malwa and Majha, made a short trip to Kashmir. The author has given details of the places visited and the names of devout Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh also visited some places in Jammu where the devout princes conducted him with love and reverence.
Apart from personal visits of the Gurus, masands or preachers were sent to Kashmir for spreading the Gurus' message. Among them, Bhai Pheru, Bhai Madho Sodhi, Bhai Garhia and Bhai Makhan Shah Lubana are better known.
The historic incident of a delegation of Kashmiri pandits, led by Pandit Kirpa Ram, visiting Anandpur with appeal to the Ninth Guru, is well-known. On their request, and to uphold freedom of worship and human dignity, Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life. As a result, many Kashmiris joined the Tenth Guru's army and laid down their lives in Chamkaur and other battles.
Baba Banda Singh Bahadur belonged to Jammu area. After he was initiated and sent to Punjab to punish the tyrants, he carried out the Guru's command with great vigour and speed, and at one time, swept most of Eastern Punjab. He operated mostly with headquarters in foothills of Jammu area.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered Jammu in 1800 CE and Kashmir in 1819, and between 1819-1846 there were nine Governors. The most respected among them were Hari Singh Nalwa and Mihan Singh, who brought prosperity and security to the populace, earlier oppressed by the Afghans. In the Sikh raj, agriculture and crafts developed, and gurdwaras, temples and mosques were well-provided with estates for their up-keep. The treachery of the Dogra brothers Dhian Singh, Suchet Singh and Gulab Singh in the later Sikh period, started the downfall of Khalsa Raj. Ranjit Singh himself fell prey to Brahminical rituals, wine and women, which set the trend of decadence.
Some sketchy events are described under Chapter 13, Challenges and Creative Eight Centuries (Strictly speaking, Sikh history starting with Guru Nanak is about five centuries old). In brief, it may be said that the gurdwaras were neglected due to the Brahminical influence on the Sikh culture in general, and any objection thereto was suppressed. Effects of the Gurdwara Movements in 1920s were also felt in Kashmir. Around 1931, struggle against the autocratic rajas started, and in 1939, Sikhs joined the National Conference. By 1946, the struggle was at its peak side by side with the independence movement of India. Then, events of 1947 took over the scene, and the country was divided into India and Pakistan, with Kashmir undecided.
From September, 1947 onwards, Pakistan encouraged tribals to invade Kashmir. They came in hordes, and until the Indian Army was moved to check them, they devastated, looted and burned all the villages and towns on their way. They subjected the non-Muslim population to untold atrocities; murders, rapes and abductions. Many young girls committed mass suicide by jumping into rivers or by being killed by their own menfolk to save their honour. Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Baramula, Uri, Poonch and many other towns suffered badly. It is estimated that more than 18,000 Sikhs died, and as many as 14,000 had to move as refugees towards the Indian side of Kashmir.
Even after Dogra Raja Hari Singh left, and the control of Jammu and Kashmir Government came into the hands of the National Conference under Sheikh Abdulla, the conditions of the Sikhs did not improve. Scattered all over the state, with poor economic conditions they have often been discriminated against. It was only after 1958 that their situation somewhat improved.
In 1984, they strongly protested against Operation Blue Star. The Indian security forces, however opened fired on them, killing about three dozens Sikhs. Later in Jammu, they have become a target of the Hindu majority population on many religious occasions.
They also suffered during the operations of the security forces, whenever they took a stand on human right violations.
There are many deras which were connected with the preachers of Sikhism including descendants of Baba Banda Singh. Most important among these are Nangali Sahib Poonch, Dera Gufa Muzaffrabad and Dera Banda Singh Bahadur Riasi. Their founders were saintly persons of highest devotion. Later, however, some influence of Brahminism crept in, leading to deviation from the Sikh tradition. The author has given lot of details about mahants, who have had considerable influence on the Sikh sangat. In a separate chapter, details of historic gurdwaras with some illustrations have also been given.
In different districts, their population varies from 0.44% to 7.74%, largest concentration being in Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri. 1985/86 unofficial figures indicate a total Sikh population of 1,77,725. Sikhs came mostly as hardy peasants, but later joined as soldiers in the Kashmiri governments under Afghan, then Khalsa raj and later under Dogra rajas. Their careers and lives suffered considerable ups and downs, the most memorable time being the Khalsa raj under the illustrious Governor Hari Singh Nalwa.
Punjabi language is spoken in Jammu and Kashmir by a substantial portion of the population. It is one of the three major languages along with Kashmiri and Pahari, if various akin dialects such as Dogri, Pothohari, Gagri and Lehndi are considered together. Old Literature goes back to the fifteenth century. After 1947, poetry, influenced by the holocaust of Partition of India, came to its own, and short stories and novels made their beginning in the late seventies. This is all due to the individual efforts of various literary groups practically without official patronage.
On the political, religious and social front, many Sikh organisations have been functioning in Jammu and Kashmir, the oldest being the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Poonch, set up in 1890 and its sister organisations for educating Sikh women. The Sikh Sahayak Sabha Baramula was set up in the twenties, and reorganised in seventies for helping widows and orphans. The Guru Nanak Asharam Hostel, was set up by famous Akali Kaur Singh in 1928 for educational needs of young Sikhs. The Riasti Akali Dal was set up in 1950s for improving the lot of the 1947 refugees who were badly neglected and discriminated against. Akali Dal also supported the movement of Punjabi Suba. Sikh Students Federation was active with their campus conventions. A Gurdwara Board was set up in 1975-76 under an Act for Management of Sikh Gurdwaras. Kashmiri Sikhs were in constant touch with their Punjabi counterparts in these affairs. In this chapter, although aims of various organisations have been mentioned along with the names of their leaders, the exact content of their contributions to the Sikh society or State in general needs further elaboration.
The author, in the last chapter, has given a detailed account of many historical personalities right from the Guru-period to the present-day, who have provided leadership to the community in various fields, and given their lineage and successors. Also, there is a list of martyrs of the 1947 event.
A few more comments are offered. A map of Jammu and Kashmir showing important places connected with the Gurus' travels and other incidents of Sikh history would have been very useful. For chronological appreciation of events after Chapter 6 (Tours of Sikh Preachers), the sequence of events needs resetting. Further, the general information given in Chapters 7 to 10 could better fit with Chapter 14 to 18 which also carry similar information.
It is sad that on account of the isolated location of Jammu and Kashmir, its history and struggle of the Sikh community is not very well known. The author has tried to compress information of many volumes into a small booklet, and has, of necessity, been brief. The reader sometimes finds it difficult to assess the relative importance, and the contribution or effect of these events, persons or places in the overall context. Even at the cost of repetition, it must be said that the work is verily encyclopaedic and, therefore, admirable.