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Kashmir: Paradise Lost

Understanding the Kashmir Conflict

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It is hard to imagine that Kashmir, one of the most beautiful places on earth, inhabited by a peaceful populace, can become the bone of contention between two countries. There is no doubt that Kashmir became a "disputed territory" only because self-aggrandizing politicians tried to divide the region on the basis of religion. In fact, the main reason behind of the constant strife between India & Pakistan is more political than religious.

Kashmir: A Quick Glance

Kashmir, a 222,236 sq km region in the northwestern Indian subcontinent, is surrounded by China in the northeast, the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab in the south, by Pakistan in the west, and by Afghanistan in the northwest. The region has been dubbed "disputed territory" between India and Pakistan since the partition of India in 1947. The southern and southeastern parts of the region make up the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, while the northern and western parts are controlled by Pakistan. A border called the Line of Control (agreed to in 1972) divides the two parts. The eastern area of Kashmir comprising the northeastern part of the region (Aksai Chin) came under the control of China since 1962. The predominant religion in the Jammu area is Hinduism in the east and Islam in the west. Islam is also the main religion in the Kashmir valley and the Pakistan-controlled parts.

Kashmir: A Shared Haven for Hindus & Muslims

It may seem that the history and geography of Kashmir and the religious affiliations of its people present an ideal recipe for bitterness and animosity. But it is not so. The Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir have lived in harmony since the 13th century when Islam emerged as a major religion in Kashmir. The Rishi tradition of Kashmiri Hindus and Sufi-Islamic way of life of Kashmiri Muslims not only co-existed, they complemented each other and also created a unique ethnicity in which Hindus and Muslims visited the same shrines and venerated the same saints.

In order to understand the Kashmir crisis, let's take a quick look at the history of the region.

A Brief History of Kashmir

The splendor and salubriousness of the Kashmir valley is legendary! In the words of the greatest of the Sanskrit poets Kalidas, Kashmir is "more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness." Kashmir's greatest historian Kalhan called it the "best place in the Himalayas" - "a country where the sun shines mildly…" The 19th century British historian Sir Walter Lawrence wrote about it: "The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness."

How Kashmir Got Its Name

Legends have it that Rishi Kashyapa, the saint of antiquity, reclaimed the land of the Kashmir valley from a vast lake, known as "Satisar", after goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva. In ancient times, this land was called "Kashyapamar" (after Kashyapa) that later became Kashmir. The ancient Greeks called it "Kasperia," and the Chinese pilgrim Hiun-Tsang who visited the valley in the 7th century AD, called it "Kashimilo."

Kashmir: A Major Hub of Hindu & Buddhist Culture

The earliest recorded history of Kashmir by Kalhan begins at the time of the Mahabharata war. In the 3rd century BC, emperor Ashoka introduced Buddhism in the valley. Kashmir became a major hub of Hindu culture by the 9th century AD. It was the birthplace of the Hindu sect called Kashmiri 'Shaivism', and a haven for the greatest Sanskrit scholars.

Kashmir under Muslim Invaders

Several Hindu sovereigns ruled the land until 1346, the year of the advent of Muslim invaders. During this time, a multitude of Hindu shrines were destroyed, and Hindus were forced to embrace Islam. The Mughals ruled Kashmir from 1587 to 1752 - a period of peace and order. This was followed by a dark period (1752-1819), when Afghan despots ruled Kashmir. The Muslim period, which lasted for about 500 years, came to an end with the annexation of Kashmir to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab in 1819.

Kashmir under Hindu Kings

The Kashmir region, in its present form, became a part of the Hindu Dogra kingdom at the end of the First Sikh War in 1846, when, by the treaties of Lahore and Amritsar, Maharaja Gulab Singh, the Dogra ruler of Jammu, was made the ruler of Kashmir "to the eastward of the River Indus and westward of the River Ravi." The Dogra rulers - Maharaja Gulab Singh (1846 to 1857), Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857 to 1885), Maharaja Pratap Singh (1885 to 1925), and Maharaja Hari Singh (1925 to 1950) - laid the foundations of the modern Jammu & Kashmir state. This princely state lacked a definite boundary until the 1880s, when the British delimited boundaries in negotiations with Afghanistan and Russia. The crisis in Kashmir began immediately after the British rule ended.

Next Page: The Origin of Kashmir Conflict

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