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Kashmiri has an interesting linguistic history. Like the other North Indian languages, it branched off from the Indo-Aryan Sanskrit, but had another ancestor before that- the Shina languages of the Indo-Iranian family. But when mighty Sanskrit came, Shina was thickly overlaid. From about the 14th century, medieval Persian too started creeping into Kashmiri. With such foreign influences, the Kashmiri language boasts of peculiarities like certain vowel and consonant sounds which no other Indian language has. Kishtawari is the most popular dialect of Kashmiri.

The literary history of Kashmiri, beginning from 12th century AD, is equally interesting. Poetry is the key word, with writers experimenting with different forms of it in all ages. Anyway, contrary to what happened in other literatures (or rather what has been recorded of them), the first great Kashmiri writer was a woman. She was everybody’s favourite- Lal Dad or Granny Lal. Her sensitivity and mysticism in the verses "Vaakh" appealed to the Hindus, Muslims, scholars and peasants alike. Other works of this formative phase (till about 1555 AD), though not as brilliant as Lal Dad’s, are Shrukhs of Sheikh Noor-ud-din, Mahanay Prakash of Shiti Kantha, Banasura Katha of Bhatavatar and Sukhadukhacharitam of Ganaka Prashasta.

Love-poetry flourished in the next few centuries. Along with the mystical and esoteric verses perfected by Habib Ullah Navshohri (1555-1617) and Rupa Bhawani (1625-1720), a new kind of love poetry developed. This was the beautiful lol-lyric, sung mostly by women. Habba Khatoon (1551-1606) and Aarnimal (late 18th century) were the ruling ladies of this genre of mellifluous verses.

Although a garden jasmine I,
in the very prime of bloom,
yet waste I as the snow in June.
Come in the garden, Love,
Come and enjoy the jasmine bloom;
It blooms for you.
Habba Khatoon

Persian literature became quite an influence on Kashmiri in the late 18th century. And Kashmiri littérateurs like Mahmud Gani and Waliullah Motoo (both mid-19th century) took to translations from Persian and writing masnavis (couplets expressing one emotion) and ghazals (romantic poetry set to music) in a big way. The legendary love tales of Laila and Majnu, Shirin and Farhad, Sohrab and Rustum, and many more were brought in which, a hundred years later, also became excellent fodder for hit films.

Lila-poetry was another innovation where the poet sang like a lover-devotee of the Creator’s exuberance. Paramanand (1791-1885) excelled in this, while others like Prakash Ram, Maqbul Shah, Lachman Raina, Rasul Mir and Shams Faqir dealt with other forms of poetry. The Kashmiris are a singing people; songs and ghazals have always been a part of their literary culture. The cult of the maikhana (liquor house) and sharaab (wine) in ghazals, popular in Urdu poetry too, was created in the 1890s and 1900s. The first few decades of the 20th century saw a prolific writing of mystical and secular poetry, ghazals, masnavis and geets (songs).

Prose appeared pretty late in Kashmiri, only in the beginning of this century. But there’s really not much good Kashmiri prose, except for a few translations. It was also the time of great socio-political movements all over the country, which had their impact on modern poets like Ghulam Ahmed Mahjoor (1885-1952), Zinda Kaul and Abdul Ahad Azad. Dramas are a recent entry in Kashmiri, with only a few noteworthy like Somnath Zutshi’s Mo’dur Mas and Viji Vaav, and some from the Machaama series of Pushkar Bhan.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.