A Hundred Years After

Published / by Jehangir

In an earlier post, I referenced ‘Ancient Monuments of Kashmir‘ by Ram Chandra Kak, the former Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (and erstwhile Superintendent of Archaeology) to confirm the provenance of the inscription:

Agar Firdaus bar roy-e zamin ast,
hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast.

While going through his earlier book ‘Photographs of Kashmir Monuments and Antiquities’ published in 1921, I realised that some of the views looked quite familiar. Sure enough, amongst the photographs I have taken during my wanderings in Kashmir, a few were taken while standing at the exact same spot as Ram Chandra Kak’s photographer must have done a hundred years ago.

Here is a selection for your viewing pleasure:

Kashmir in 1921 vs 2021

Kashmir in 1921 vs 2021

Kashmir in 1921 vs 2021

Kashmir in 1921 vs 2021

Kashmir in 1921 vs 2021

Historical Monuments of Srinagar

Published / by Jehangir

Kashmirnetwork.com presents a 2021 calendar featuring digital art from the Kashmir ReImaginedseries depicting visit-worthy monuments of Srinagar built during successive historical periods of Kashmir.

Monuments in Kashmir may be broadly divided into the ancient stone monuments of the Buddhist-Hindu period, the wooden architecture of the Sultans of Kashmir and the resurgence of stone during the heyday of the Mughals.

The most prominent stone monument, visible from anywhere in Srinagar, is the Shankracharya Temple on the Takht-e-Suleiman hill.


Shankracharya Temple

Initially the Sultans of Kashmir built a few unique monuments – the tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother with its predominant use of brickwork, domed roofs and tile-studded walls, and the tomb of Madin Sahib exhibiting coloured tile-work representing ‘Al Kaus’ or Sagittarius depicted as a leopard-human figure shooting an arrow at its own dragon-headed tail.

The classic monuments of the Sultanate era, however, are predominantly wooden – inspired mainly by the architecture of Central Asia. The Khanqah-e-Moula is the archetypal example of the style. Other notable monuments are the Jama Masjid, the Aali Masjid and the Jama Masjid at Pampore.


The tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother at Zaina Kadal


Reconstruction of the tile-work at Madin Sahib. Highly unusual for the Indian subcontinent, the tiled figure of Sagittarius is a common horoscopic motif in medieval Persian architecture. Curiously, most observers fail to realise that the tiles were originally mounted on the inner walls of the tomb.


Khanqah-e-Moula

The Mughals brought to Kashmir the perfection of their garden-building and stone-working skills. Mughal craftsmen worked the local limestone to a degree comparable to marble, most notably at the ‘Black Pavilion’ at Shalimar. Shalimar, Nishat and Cheshma Shahi are a series of exquisite gardens laid out by the Great Mughals on the foothills of the Zabarvan Hills overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Limestone pillars at Shalimar

Other remarkable Mughal monuments include the Pathar Masjid built by Empress Nur Jahan, and the ruined Mosque on the Hari Parbat and spiritual retreat at Pari Mahal built by Dara Shikoh for his Sufi guide Akhund Mullah Shah.

The Hari Parbat fort may be the only noteworthy contribution of the Afghan rulers while nothing quite memorable was constructed in Kashmir during the Dogra rule. (In Jammu, they did build the exquisite Amar Mahal).

In Srinagar, beyond these three styles, monuments of archaeological interest are the menhirs at Burzhama (the remnants of a stonehenge from prehistory) and the the ruins of the ancient Buddhist stupa at Harwan which exhibit uniquely painstaking styles of using pebbles as the basic material for construction. The latter is also notable for its extensive use of embossed terracotta tiles.

The immensely important neolithic site of Burzhama is currently being ‘vandalised’ (for want of a better term) as an improptu cricket stadium while the Harwan site fortunately seems to have escaped encroachment due to its relative inaccessibility.


Present-day Burzhama


Reconstruction showing a pit dwelling and a dolmen with menhirs at Burzhama


Present-day Harwan


Schematic reconstruction of the apsidal stupa at Harwan

As for the native houses, let us quote from the ‘Jehangirnama‘:
The buildings of Kashmir are all of wood; they make them two, three or four-storied, and covering the roofs with earth, they plant bulbs of the chaughashi tulip, which blooms year after year in the spring season, and is exceedingly beautiful

You can download the calendar here:

Hope you enjoy a healthy 2021 !

Disclaimer: You are encouraged to share this calendar but please note that all rights to these images are retained by Dr Bakshi Jehangir. Commercial usage of these images is strictly forbidden.

Only Kashmir, the Rest is Worthless

Published / by Jehangir

I received an interesting email a couple of weeks ago. Romesh Bhattacharji wanted to confirm the existence of the inscription ‘agar firdaus bar ru-e zamin ast’ in the ‘Black pavilion’ of Shalimar Bagh.

Black pavilion of Shalimar

Agar Firdaus bar roy-e zamin ast,
hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast.

If there is a paradise on earth,
it is here, it is here, it is here.

Every child in Kashmir can recite this verse attributed to Hazrat Amir Khusrau (1253-1325). The mystical poet lived during the Delhi Sultanate period and is considered one of India’s greatest Persian-language poets even today. His poetry must have been quite popular during the hey-day of the Mughals as it is inscribed on many monuments in the Indian subcontinent including the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort.

The confusion about the existence of the inscription ‘agar firdaus bar ru-e zamin ast’ in Shalimar Bagh may be due to lazy research by self-styled historians like Rana Safvi. According to her article shilling her book:

This led me to research the verse, including spending a good few hours searching the Black Pavilion in Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, Kashmir as there is a common perception that the original verse was inscribed in the Black Pavilion built during the early part of Emperor Jahangir’s reign (1569-1627) on the top terrace of Shalimar Bagh. Emperor Jahangir was a connoisseur of beauty so it was entirely possible that he should have it inscribed.

However, I hunted high and low and could not find it – either physically present on the Black or any other pavilion of the Shalimar gardens, or any reference to it in any book on the gardens‘.

Unfortunately for Ms Safvi (and her tourist-blog methods) the earliest travellers who travelled to Kashmir like François Bernier in 1664-1665 have confirmed the existence of the inscription in Shalimar.

Bernier Kashmir Book

Voyages de F. Bernier (angevin) contenant la description des Etats du Grand Mogol, de l’Indoustan, du royaume de Kachemire (David-Paul Maret ed., Amsterdam, 1699)

Bernier Kashmir Book

From Bernier’s description of the Black Pavilion (translated by Constable as the summer-house):
‘The whole of the interior is painted and gilt, and on the walls of all the chambers are inscribed certain sentences, written in large and beautiful Persian characters.’

The post-script confirms that ‘Among others, the celebrated legend, If there be an Elysium on earth, it is this, it is this.’

Probably the term ‘Elysium‘ in place of ‘Paradise‘ in the translation of Bernier‘s book confounded the ‘historian’. The lapse cannot be excused because Ms Safvi is quite emphatic that she could not find ‘any reference to it in any book on the gardens.’ Maybe she only consulted coffee-table books written by ‘researchers’ like herself.

Ram Chandra Kak, the former Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (and erstwhile Superintendent of Archaeology) has provided the conventional translation in his ‘Ancient Monuments of Kashmir‘ :

agar firdaus bar ru-e zamin ust, hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ust.
(If there be a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this).

Kak Kashmir BookKak Kashmir Book

Ancient Monuments of Kashmir, Ram Chandra Kak (India Society, London, 1933)

Kak also explains why Ms Rana could not locate the inscription:

‘The large stone doors now no longer exist; the domes have given place to a common shingle roof; the gilding and paint and the inscription on the walls are now covered or replaced by a coat of whitewash; the view of the lake is cut off by an ugly stone wall; but in spite of these disastrous changes, the garden still preserves its singular charm.’

The Post-Mughal Pre-Independence history of Kashmir is a sad saga of exploitation and degradation and the wonders of Shalimar also seem to have suffered some degree of abasement including the loss of the inscriptions that once graced the interiors of the Black Pavilion.

Jehangir in Kashmir
Emperor Jehangir hunting with hawks in Kashmir.
Courtesy: British Museum
.

The Mughal Emperors must have found the sublime verse just perfect to describe Kashmir. On his deathbed Jehangir was asked what he wanted.
‘Only Kashmir, the rest is worthless.’

Jehangir, if you excuse the terrible pun, was dead right. Who are we to disagree?

P.S: Straight from the Tuzk-i-Jahangiri:
Kashmir is a garden of eternal spring, or an iron fort to a palace of kings – a delightful flower-bed, and a heart-expanding heritage for dervishes. Its pleasant meads and enchanting cascades are beyond all description. There are running streams and fountains beyond count. Wherever the eye reaches, there are verdure and running water‘.