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Kashmir's Contested Pasts (Narratives, Sacred Geographies and The Historical Imagination

Item Code: NAR855
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Chitralekha Zutshi
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780199481347
Pages: 378
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 320 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This is an extended chronicle of the historical imaginations in Kashmir. It explores the conversation between the ideas of Kashmir and the ideas of history taking place within Kashmir‘s multilingual historical tradition. Contrary to the notion that Indian subcontinent did not produce histories in the pre-colonial period, the book uncovers the production, circulation, and consumption of a vibrant regional tradition of historical composition its textual, oral, and performance forms, the late sixteenth century to the present.

History and history-writing, as the book illustrates, were defined in multiple ways-as tradition, facts, memories, stories, common sense, and spiritual practice. Analysing the deep linkages among Sanskrit, Persian, and Kashmiri narratives, this book contends that these traditions drew on and influenced each other to define Kashmir as a sacred landscape and polity. Within this interconnected narrative tradition, Kashmir was, and continues to be, imagined as far more than simply an unsettled territory or a tourist paradise.

Offering a historically grounded reflection on the memories, narrative practices, and institutional contexts that have informed imaginings of Kashmir and its past, this book depicts how Kashmir’s history and its territory seem especially embattled in its present political culture. It thus places the contemporary debates over territory, identity, and sovereignty in a much longer historical context.

About the Author

Chitralakha zutshi teaches history at the college of Williamsburg, Virginia. She specializes in modern South Asia, with particular interest in the relationship among religious identities, nationalism, and historical thought and practice. This is her second book.


In the beginning there was a lake called Satisar. It was named after the goddess Sati, who lived on the mountain peak Harmukh with her husband, Lord Shiva, and took boat rides on the lake, and promenaded on its shores. In the lake lived the demon, Jalodhbhava (born of water), who had been granted a boon after years of penance by Lord Brahma that he would be invincible in water. As a result, Jalodhbhava was ruth-less in consuming the humans who lived in the area, thus clearing it of all, save the gods, other deities, and the Nagas. One day, while on pilgrimage to these parts, Sage Kashyap came upon the beautiful but uninhabited Landscape. Realizing that human habitation was not possible until Jalodhbhava was removed, he prayed to Lord Brahma to vanquish him. As the gods amassed around the lake to kill the demon, Jalodhbhava disappeared into the lake and thwarted their sustained efforts. Ultimately, one of the gods pierced a hole in the surrounding mountain to allow the water to be drained, so that Jalodhbhava could be exposed and slain. The Land that emerged as a result came to be called Kashmir, the verdant valley nestled amidst the mountain ranges, becoming home to humans and deities alike.

Thus goes the story, variations and continuations, of the origin of Kashmir, as told in its Sanskrit texts, Persian narratives, and Kashmiri oral tradition these tropes about the origin of the Land, and Later its people, connect Kashmir’s multilingual tradition of historical composition across the centuries, even as a sacred space-a paradise on earth. The objective reality of Kashmir’s geography as a valley lush with meadows, surrounded by high and low mountain peaks, criss-crossed by rivers, and dotted with springs and lakes, was given subjective shape in the imaginings of its writers, storytellers, itinerant holy men, and ordinary men and women as they grappled with the spiritual and political task of recounting its- and their own-shared past.

This book explores the long, vibrant, and textured historical tradi tion in Kashmir and the ways in which it narrated the idea of Kashmir in tandem with the ideas of history and history, writing. It follows the production, circulation, and consumption of these two ideas in a variety of narrative practices, such as tazkiras, tarikhs, stories, poetry, and plays, from the late sixteenth century to the present. In contemporary discourse, Kashmir is unthinkingly described as either an embattled territory or a tourist paradise, without any sense of the indigenous articulations of attachment to the land as place. These articulations have been, and continue to be, enacted through interplay of multiple languages, genres, oral traditions, textual practices, and performances within what I refer to as the Kashmiri narrative public. This book thus historicizes both the idea of Kashmir as a paradise on earth and Kashmir as a political territory, by drawing attention to a wide range of definitions in between-which were rendered coherent at different points in its historical tradition.

Successive chapters unravel the intertextual articulation of these ideas in Sanskrit, Persian, Kashmiri, and some Urdu narratives, through a discussion of the recurrent tropes of divine origin and settlement, as well as natural tropes evocative of a sacred Landscape and geography.

Descriptions of each feature of each feature of Kashmir’s landscape, especially its water bodies, became arenas for the incessant rehearsal of its origins in mythical time, as well as a record of transformation in historical time as result of human action. ‘Had Alexander the Great taken a drink from the waters of Kashmir ‘s springs’, remarked Birbal Kachru self-confidently in his nineteenth-century Tarikh-I Kashmir, ‘he would surely have gained immortality’.2 The book thus points out that place-making and evocation of landscape were critical aspects of historical practice, and of organizing temporality and spatiality in Kashmir ‘s narrative tradition.3 History, in the textual and oral traditions, was enacted on local spaces that were nonetheless embedded within a much larger divine landscape, of which Kashmir was a microcosm. Temporality, likewise, could be specific and universal at once, historical, mythical, and everyday time co-existed comfortably within particular narratives and the tradition as a whole.

At the same time, the chapters locate these ideas within particular political, institutional, and intellectual contexts, such as the Sufi shrine, Islamic universalism, Mughal statecraft, regional identities, nationalism, and everyday life, to name a few.4 Not only did the narratives discussed in this book spiritual and political entity, but they also created spaces within it for political and spiritual groups and a variety of ideological agendas depending on the context. By laying claim to defining the contours of Kashmir and its past, these historical narratives served as a critical means of negotiating the relationship between Kashmir and a variety of imperial entities, including the Mughals, Afghans, and Dogras. In the case of the Mughals in particular-who are firmly entrenched in the contemporary scholarly and popular imagination as the first imperialists in Kashmir-the narratives illustrate the multifaceted nature of the literary and political associations between the Mughal Empire and Kashmir that cannot be captured by outright denunciation or acceptance of the empire on the part of Kashmir ‘s inhabitants.

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