The forced exodus of Hindus out of Kashmir by the followers of Islam through the centuries has a long and tragic history.
In this three-part series of essays, we shall be giving an overview of the seven exoduses of Hindus out of the Kashmir valley between the 15th and the 20th century. This trend commenced with the establishment of Islamic rule in the valley.
Several Buddhists and Hindu dynasties ruled Kashmir, an important centre of the ancient Indic civilization until the transition to Islam started in the 14th century. Rajatarangini (1) is an important historical chronicle written by Kalhana in Sanskrit verse in 1148 CE. It covers events of the early history of Kashmir, right from the first known king of Kashmir, Gonanda I, who came to the throne in circa 2449 BCE.
Historian Sandeep Balakrishna writes, that by the tenth century there were many attempts at a total Islamic conquest of Kashmir. In the mid 8th century, the Arab raider Junaid was defeated by Lalitaditya Muktapida, and later, Hisham ibn’ Amar al-Taghlibi failed too. Ghazni raided Kashmir in 1002 CE (2) and was defeated by Sangaramaraja of Kashmir but he managed to capture Udayana that was under a Buddhist king and settled the Swati and Dalazek tribes there. Tribal people on the border of Kashmir converted to Islam and many of these tribes came into the valley to propagate Islam. In the 14th century, a Mongol, Dulcha (Zulqadar Khan) invaded Kashmir and according to Baharistan-i-Shahi (3), Kashmiris died like “Insects in fire” during this invasion.
Traders, preachers, Muslims who were being persecuted in Persia by Taimur, and some from other regions were welcomed and given refuge by the Hindu rulers, Suhadeva and Ramachandra. Bulbul Shah, a prominent Sufi, was believed to have come from Turkestan. Rinchen, a so-called Buddhist, also came to settle in Kashmir.
Even though Rinchen (1320-1323 CE) was employed by the Hindu king Ramachandra, he treacherously murdered Ramachandra and took the throne. Under the influence of Bulbul Shah and Shahmir, he converted to Islam along with 10,000 Brahmins. This resulted in the emergence of a Muslim ruling class for the first time. What followed, was a reign of terror on the Hindus who did not convert.
After Rinchen, Shahmir established Islamic rule under the name Sultan Shamasudin (The Light of Religion). Royal patronage given to Islamic missionaries made Kashmir ripe for proselytizing.
Shihab-ud-Din (1354-1373 CE) succeeded Shahmir. There was an intense and quick Islamization of Kashmir in his time. A small rebellion by the Brahmins was crushed. Temples were destroyed in Srinagar and the ancient Sun Temple at Bijbehara was damaged. Anything that was not relevant to Islam was to be destroyed.
After Shihab-ud-Din, Qutub-ud-Din came to the throne. During his reign, Sufi Syed Shah Hamadani and later, his son, came from Persia to settle in Kashmir with a large number of people of their tribe. Unlike the nature of governance under Dharmic kings, the Islamic system of governance demanded a different treatment of non-Muslim subjects. The Sufis, who had a strong influence in the Sultans, emphasized the importance of converting all subjects to Islam and enforcing Sharia or Islamic law.
When Sufi Syed Hamadani came to Kashmir from Persia, he was shocked to see the Sultans submerged in local Kashmiri Hindu culture and un-Islamic ways. He tried to revive orthodoxy and gifted his book Zakhirat-ul-Mulk to Sultan Qutub-ud-Din (1373-1389 CE). In addition to noble ideas, this discourse on political ethics and government rules also described the 21 most demeaning conditions that are recommended to be enforced upon non-Muslim subjects by Muslim rulers. Not allowing Hindus to repair temples or construct new temples, build houses in the neighbourhood of Muslims, ride a harnessed horse, wear rings with diamonds, or exhibit idolatrous images, were a few of the suggestions (4).
At this point, attempts were made to enforce Islam with great strength. The first thing done by the Sufi Saint was to build his khanquah after demolishing a small temple, as mentioned in the Baharistan-i-Shahi. Syed Shah Hamadani is credited for the establishment of Islamic society in the valley.
Dr. Farooq Peer writes,
“The Valley of Kashmir is indebted to the great saint for cleaning it from idol worship and blessing it with the gift of Islam.”(5)
The First Exodus
Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413 CE), also known as Butshikan or iconoclast, was deeply influenced by Sufi Syed Hamadani. He attempted to establish Sharia with the help of Sufi Syed Ali Hamadani’s son, Sufi Mir Mohammad (Amir Sayyid Muhammad) and Saif-ud-Din (a newly converted Brahmin). The Muslim historian Hasan describes this period as an orgy of cruelty, violence and terror let loose on the Brahmins.
“The credit of wiping out the vestiges of infidelity and heresy from the mirror of the conscience of the dwellers of these lands,” goes to the holy Sufi saint Sayyid Muhammad, notes Baharistan-i-Shahi (6).
Hindu festivals, rituals, processions and music were banned. Even application of tilaks was not allowed. Jizya tax was levied and an institute called Sheikh-o-Islam was made to ensure that Islam is followed strictly. Srivara, a historian of Kashmir, records, referring to the destruction of literature, “Sikander burnt all books the same wise as fire burns hay” (7). Traditional arts that did not find any place in the Islamic scheme of things were ruined. Grand ancient mandirs and viharas, and murtis of the finest possible workmanship were destroyed. The riches were used to build mosques and khanqahs. The temple of Martand, which was of great significance to the Hindu civilization, was destroyed by digging deep into its foundations, removing the foundational stones, filling the gaping wounds with logs of wood and finally putting it to flames (8). Prior to this, huge hammers were used for one full year only to break and vandalize its fine sculptures. While many scholars have argued that the iconoclasm indulged in by Sikandar is exaggerated, detailed archaeological records are given by the ASI (9). Jonaraja, the Kashmiri historian (15th century) has also elaborated on the subject. Abul Fazl writes that the Sultan was a rigid follower of religion and a bigot, and he overthrew the temples and persecuted the people who were not of his faith (10). Firishta adds that all the temples were pulled down and idols of gold and silver were melted down (11).
Hindus were given a choice between converting, exile or getting killed. They fled to neighbouring regions of Kishtawar and Bhadrawah via Simthan pass and also to various provinces of India via Batote (known as Bata-wath, the path of the Bhattas or Kashmiri Hindus). Kashmiri Pandits numbering over one lakh were drowned in the lake and were burned at a spot in the vicinity of Rainawari in Srinagar. It is known as Bhatta Mazaar (the graveyard of Kashmiri Pandits) (12). Hindu women were raped and sold. Avoiding brutalities, many committed suicide by jumping into rivers or wells (13).
Drawing a graphic picture of the miseries and traumatic experiences of the exodus, Jonaraja writes,
“Crowds of Hindus ran away in different directions through by-passes; their social life was totally disrupted, their life became miserable with hunger and fatigue; many died in scorching heat; many got emaciated due to under-nourishment; many lived on alms in villages enroute to the provinces in India; some disguised as Muslims roamed about the country searching their distressed families; their means of livelihood were snatched from them to prevent their education and break their morale; the Hindus lolled out their tongues like dogs searching dog’s morsel at every door”(14).
Sultan Sikandar “was constantly busy in annihilating the infidels and destroyed most of the temples…,” records Haidar Malik Chadurah (15).
The above resulted in the first exodus of Kashmiri Hindus out of the valley.
The Second Exodus
Sultan Ali Shah (1413-1420) continued the practices of his father and, in fact, intensified the same, along with Suha Bhatta. He did not like the fact that the Brahmins would move out of Kashmir and thrive in other lands. Hence, he posted watch guards that stopped people from moving out unless they had passports. Many Hindus committed suicide and the remaining managed to escape, in what was the second exodus. This exodus has several historical records including those of renowned Muslim historians – Hassan, Fauq and Nizam-ud-Din. Many died during their escape due to the forces of nature and the harsh conditions of the wild. Those who managed to reach other places had to beg for survival. In the meanwhile, in Kashmir, more ancient artworks, literature, manuscripts, etc. were destroyed by the ruler. Despite paying jizya, Brahmins could not pray in temples, apply tilak or carry out religious rituals and ceremonies.
The second exodus was followed by the rule of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1420-1470 CE). His reign was known for its tolerant nature. He was influenced by the saints Lalleshwari and Nund Rishi, and his own stepmother Shobha Devi – a Hindu princess from Jammu (16). The Sultan reversed the cruel policies of the previous rulers and allowed Hindus to thrive in all ways. He was a patron of arts and literature and he undertook a lot of development work in the valley – from construction to education. Kashmir is known to have flourished under his rule. The great historian Jonraja was the court historian of Zain-ul-Abidin. However, this period of peace was not to last beyond his rule as it was followed by his cruel son Hyder Shah.
Continued in Part 2
- Rajatarangini (“River of Kings”) is a historical chronicle of early India, written in Sanskrit verse by Kalhana in 1148 CE. It covers the entire span of history in Kashmir from the earliest times to the date of its composition and is considered to be the best and most authentic work of its time.
- Sandeep Balakrishna, “Invaders and Infidels- From Sindh to Delhi: The 500-Year Journey of Islamic Invasions”, Book 1, Bloomsbury India, New Delhi, Printed by Thomas Press India Ltd, 2021, ISBN-HB:978-93-90077-20-5
- Pundit KN (1991) “A Chronicle of Medieval Kashmir, (Translation)”, Firma KLM Pvt Ltd, Calcutta (This authoritative seventeenth-century Persian chronicle, entitled Baharistan-i-Shahi, was written anonymously. It has been translated by Prof. KN Pundit under the title, A Chronicle of Medieval Kashmir.)
- Parmu R.K. (Dr.), “A history of Muslim Rule in Kashmir, 1320-1819”, P 11
- Farooq Peer (Secretary J&K Board of School Education), “Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (RA) The Inventor of Islam in Kashmir”, The Kashmir Horizon, 2018
- Pundit KN
- Srivara, Zaina Rajtarangini, St 75.
- Hasan, Tarikh-i-Kashmir, A 17thcentury Persian chronicle.
- Annual Report, ASI, 1915-16,1918:56
- Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazlm Vol. II, p .387
- Tarikhi-Firishta. Firishta, Vol. IV, pp. 464 65.
- K.L.Bhan, “Paradise Lost – Seven Exoduses of Kashmiri Pandits,” Kashmiri News Network, First Edition, April 2003
- Mohan Lal Koul, “Kashmir: Past and Present – Unravelling the Mystique”, Kashmir News Network, First Edition, August 2002
- Jonaraja, Kings of Kashmir, Sts 662, 663, 664, 665, 666, 668, 669ab,669cd. Jonaraja was a Sanskrit poet and a court historian of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, who supplemented Kalhana’s Rajatarangini to cover post-Kalhana era from 12-14 century.
- Chadurah HM (1991) “Tarikh-i-Kashmir”, ed. & trans. Razia Bano, New Delhi, p. 55
- Jonaraja, Rajatarangini, English translation by JC Dutt, 1989, Vol III, St.44.
- Colonel Tej K. Tikoo (Ph.D.) –Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus (Revised Edition),Lancer Publishers & Distributors, Printed at Thomas Press, New Delhi, 2020, ISBN-10: 1-935501-34-8
- Darakhshan Abdullah, Supervisor – Dr. Abul Majid Mattoo, “Religious Policy of the Sultans of Kashmir (1320-1586 A.D.), Thesis submitted to The University of Kashmir for the Award of Doctorate Degree in History, Post Graduate Department of History, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, November 1991, Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh Muslim University, T5239
- A.Khan, “Islamic Jihad – A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery”, Felibri.com, USA, Free PDF
- Meenakshi Jain, “Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Episodes from Indian History”, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2009, ISBN: 978-81-7305-619-2, ch. 3.