Only Kashmir, the Rest is Worthless

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 Fran├žois 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.’

My namesake, 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‘.