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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXII (1998-1999)

THE VALLEY OF KASHMIR - RACES AND TRIBES (MAIN)

Walter R. Lawrence

Excerpt: 'THE VALLEY OF KASHMIR' by Walter R. Lawrence

(Editor's Note: The population numbers quotes herein are not current and no longer accurate).

It is a generally accepted fact that up to about the beginning of the fourteenth century the population of the valley was Hindu, and that about the middle and end of the century the mass of the people was converted to Islam, through the efforts of Shah-i-Hamadan and his followers and the violent bigotry and persecution of king Sikandar the Iconoclast. Tradition affirms that the persecution of the Hindus was so keen that only eleven families of Hindus remained in the valley. Their descendants are known by the name of Malmas, as distinguished from the fugitives and the Hindus of the Deccan, who came to Kashmir later on and are known as the Banamas. Some historians, however, state the Malmas Hindus to be the descendants of Kashaf, the saviour of the valley, and that the Banamas Brahmans were foreigners, who came from other countries. The Hindus who now live in Kashmir are, with a few exceptions, of the Brahman caste, and though tradition points to the fact that the Levite Brahmans were a powerful and numerous body, exerting great influence over the country and its rulers, there is frequent mention of the fighting class, and it is obvious that a large majority of the old Hindus must have been agricultural Jats of the Vaisya division. There are now no traces of the Jats among the Hindus of Kashmir. But there are still Khattris in Srinagar, known as Bohras and engaged in trade, who are cut off from communion with the Khattris of the Panjab, and there are certain Musalman tribes who trace their origin to Khattri ancestors.

BRAHMANS

The Brahmans of Kashmir, commonly known as Pandits, are 60,316 in number, of whom 28,695 live in Srinagar and the towns. The rest are scattered about in the villages and are for the most part engaged in agriculture. The Pandits divide themselves into three classes in Kashmir: the astrologer class (Jotish), the priest class (Guru or Bachabat), and the working class (Karkun). The priest class do not intermarry with either of the other classes, partly because they are regarded as divine and cut off from mankind, and partly because the laity abhor their practice of accepting the apparel of deceased Hindus. But the Jotish and Karkun Pandits intermarry. The Jotish Pandits are learned in the Shastras and expound them to the Hindus, and they draw up the calendars in which prophecies are made as to the events of the coming year. The priest class perform the rites and ceremonies of the Hindu religion. The vast majority of the Pandits belong to the Karkun class and have usually made their livelihood in the employment of the State. But as State employment became harder to obtain and the numbers of the Pandits increased, the Brahmans of Kashmir sought other occupations, and many of them are in business, while others work as cooks, bakers, confectioners, and tailors. Briefly, it may be said that a Pandit may follow any trade or occupation except those of the cobbler, potter, corn-friar, porter, boatman, carpenter, mason, or fruit-seller. Pandits have been known to adopt the profession of acting and music, and a Pandit now in my employment was once a cavalry soldier in the army of His Highness the Maharana of Oodeypore. In 1894 many pandits were working as daily labourers on the river embankments. As time goes on these intelligent and quick-witted people will no doubt take to new occupations. But at present the Karkun Pandit regards the pen as his natural destiny, and though many have taken to agriculture and many more are looking to land as a means of employment and subsistence, they would infinitely prefer to spend their lives as clerks in some office. The Pandits of the villages consider it no degradation to follow the plough and to carry manure; but the city Pandit, who has not severed himself from the literary atmosphere of the capital, is inclined to look down upon the Brahman agriculturist, and though he will take a wife from the villages he will not, if a man of any position, permit his daughter to marry into a village family. At the present time no Pandit serving out of Srinagar would dream of taking his wife and family with him. In Kashmir, as in other countries, a man's occupation is the chief test of his social position, and it is quite possible that as agriculture becomes more profitable and popular, and as life in the city becomes harder and meaner, posterity may see the position reversed, and the Brahman of the village declining to give his daughter in marriage to the Srinagar Pandit. The future of the city Pandits is a matter of some anxiety. They have not the keen trading instinct of the natives of the Panjab, and may neglect the chances of commerce which easier communications with India should now offer. They are extremely conservative and short-sighted, and cannot believe that the old system, under which every adult Pandit had a finger in the collection of revenue, has passed away. They are deeply attached to their country, and though Kashmiri Pandits have risen to distinction in India, the large number of unemployed Brahmans of Srinagar will not seek service in the Panjab while it is possible to eke out a bare subsistence in the valley. Every city Pandit is sedulous for the education of his children, and in Srinagar this, thanks to the free schools of the State and the church of England Mission, can be easily acquired. I have had over 500 Pandits trained in mensuration, and the men who have taught them state that they are much quicker than the Panjabis. Their weak point is arithmetic. The Pandits are a handsome race of men, with fine, well-cut features, small hands and feet, and graceful figures. Their women are fairer than those of the Panjab, they are distinctly good-looking, and show more signs of refinement and breeding than the Musalmanis. The Hindu children are extremely pretty.

The Pandits are broken up into numerous gotras, or tribal divisions, and though the name of the gotra is repeated seven times by the Pandit as he performs his daily ablutions, the outside world rarely hears it mentioned, and the Pandits are known by their Gram, or family appellation. There are eighteen known gotras among the Levite Brahmans and 103 among the other Brahmans in Kashmir. In one gotra there may be many Krams, as the following instance will show. Among the Malmas gotras is one known as Paldeo Waasgarge, and this gotra embraces families belonging to the following Grams, or tribal subdivisions: - SopuriPandit, Mala, Poot, Mirakhur, Kadlabauj, Kokru, Bangru, Bakaya, Khashu, Kichlu, Misri, Khar, and Mam. Marriage is forbidden within the gotra, and a man of the Sopuri-Pandit subdivision cannot take a wife from the maidens of the Paldeo Wasgarge gotra, nor can he marry into the gotras of his mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother. Among the Banamas Pandits there is a gotra known as the Dattatrye, and from this gotra have sprung the great families of Kol and others less

known, such as the Nagari, Jinse, Jalali, Watal, Neka, Sultan, Ogra, Amin, Moja, Bamjai, Dont, Tota, Sabin, Kissu, Manslal, Singari, Rafij, Balu and Darabi. As will be afterwards shown when discussing the tribes of the Musalmans, the Kram is often the relic of a nickname applied to the ancestor of the subdivision. Thus Sopuri-Pandit points to the fact that the ancestor came from Sopur; Kokru means fowl; Bakaya signifies that the ancestor formed one of a very numerous class in Kashmir, t he revenue defaulter; Khar suggests that the ancestor was connected with the iron trade; Sultan, that the family had close relations with one of the first line of Musalman kings, and so on.

Among the leading Krams may be mentioned the following names: -

Tikku, Razdan, Kak, Munshi, Mathu, Kachru, Pandit, Sipru, Bhan, Zitshu, Raina, Dar, Fotadar, Madan, Thusu, Wangnu, Muju, Hokhu, and Dulu. Of these the members of the Dar family have probably been the most influential, though proverbs suggest that their influence has not been beneficial. The Kashmiri Pandits will not intermarry with the Brahmans of India. It is said that in Raja Seh Dev's time a Musalman in the disguise of a Pandit mixed with the Kashmiri Brahmans and learnt their Sanskrit lore. On this being discovered the Pandits, in order to guard against similar frauds, decided to have no intercourse with foreign Brahmans. The village people always speak of the Pandits as 'Bat'.

The other Hindus of the valley are not numerous. The Bohras or Khattris of Srinagar intermarry among themselves and are engaged in trade and shop-keeping. It is said that in former days some of them were admitted to caste among the Pandits, but at present, though they have adopted the customs and rites of the Brahmans, they enjoy no caste fellowship with them. With the two exceptions that the Bohra woman wears noserings and discards the girdle round her waist, a Bohra of either sex cannot be distinguished from the city Brahman.

The Sikhs of the valley, who were originally Brahmans from the Panjab, have been described in another chapter. They can be distinguished at once from the Brahmans of Kashmir by their method of wearing the hair, by the absence of the effeminate gown among the men, and by their accent, which it always conveys the impression of being less refined and educated than that of the Pandits. The Sikhs are chiefly found in the Trahal Pargana, Krihun, and Hamal. They are fair cultivators of dry crops, but are far behind the Kashmiri Musalmans in rice cultivation. They look to service as their chief means of livelihood, and in former days were enlisted in the Nizamat regiment, which was maintained for the collection of revenue. At present they obtain service in the State as chaprasis, but they are likely to find the Pandits awkward rivals. They are men of slight build, not bad-looking, and often have light grey eyes. Very ignorant and troublesome tenants, they invariably quarrel with the Musalman Kashmiris, and not infrequently among themselves.

The Mian Rajputs, to which tribe the rulers of Kashmir belong, are found chiefly in the Deosar Tahsil, around the foot of the mountains to the south of the valley, where they have been granted jagirs, or land free of revenue. Formerly they rendered service to the State, but of late years they have remained idle, and this idleness in telling on their character and appearance. Though they still look smart and clean in comparison with the Kashmiri Musalman, there is a great difference between the Mian Rajput of Deosar and his brethren in the Dogra country, and it is to be hoped that the State will find this fine race of men some congenial employment. It is doubtful whether they really like Kashmir, but they seem able to stand the rigour of the winter climate, and some of the Mians have attained to a great age. They have adopted the Kashmir style of architecture, but the house and courtyard are screened from the public view, as the Rajputs are very careful about the privacy of their women.

MUSALMANS

Of the 883,099 Musalmans of Kashmir 93,575 reside in Srinagar. The rest may roughly be said to form the rural population of Kashmir, as the Musalman inhabitants of the smaller towns are for the most part engaged in agriculture. The census of 1891 does not show the divisions into which the Musalmans of the valley fall but it may be stated that the great mass of the village people come under the head Shekh, and are descendants of the original Hindus, and that though the Saiyads are a numerous community, both they and the Mughals and Pathans are, when compared with the Shekhs, in a great minority.

The Shekh Musalmans of the valley may have retained, for some time after their conversion to Islam, some of the Hindu customs of endogamy within the caste and of exogamy outside the gotra. But there is no trace now of these customs, and the different tribal names or Krams are names and nothing more. There is no restriction on mariage, and a Musalman of the Tantre Kram can either marry a Tantre girl or any other maiden of the villages, provided she be one of the agricultural families. The only line drawn is that one must not marry into Saiyad families on the one hand, nor into families of market-gardeners and menials on the other. It would be interesting to trace the origin of the Kram names, although by intermarriage the Krams have ceased to have any individuality or distinction, and to inquire whether the various Krams sprang from a Brahman, Khattri or Vaisya origin. It is supposed by many that Musalmans of the Pandit, Kol, But, Aitu, Rishi, Mantu, and Ganai Kram are descendants of Brahmans who were forcibly converted to Islam in the fourteenth century, and I have tried to trace in the features of the men of these Krams something of the clean-cut physiognomy which is associated with the Brahman caste. But I find that the Musalman of the Pandit Kram is exactly like the other Musalmans. Other Krams are believed to have sprung from Khattri origin, as ancient history mentions that the bearers of these names in Hindu times were a military and warlike people. Among these Krams may be mentioned the Magres, Tantres, Dars, Dangars, Rainas, Rahtors, Thakurs, and Naiks. Only one Kram, the Lon, is generally assigned a Vaisya origin, and the Oamars are said to be descendants of Sudras, the lowest of the four Hindu castes.

The whole subject of the Kashmir Krams is fraught with difficulty, and this is increased by the fact that men of low occupations are arrogating high-sounding names. Thus of late years the Dums of Kashmir have steadily assumed the Kram of Ganai, much to the annoyance of the original Ganais. To make matters worse, the gardeners and butchers have also taken a fancy to the Kram name Ganai. The boatmen of Kashmir have seized on the name Dar as a patent of respectability, and Musalmans of the other Krams are now annoying the Ganais and the Dars by asserting that they were originally Dums and boatmen. Some Krams are, however, restricted to men of lowly pursuits, and the Kram name Sufi, which is said by some to be of Brahman origin is chiefly found among marketgardeners, bakers, and servants. Pal is another such Kram. The barbers of the valley do not aim so high as the butchers and boatmen, and have contented themselves with appropriating the Kram of Thakur; but there is nothing to prevent Abdulla, the Dum, calling himself Abdulla Pandit if he chose. At first the people would laugh, but after a time, if Abdulla Pandit prospered, his descendants would exhibit a lengthy pedigree table tracing their family back to one of the petty Rajas, lord of three villages and possessor of a fort the ruins of which still stand in Abdulla Pandit's village. In making inquiries as to the descent of leading men of villages I have found several such cases, and in one instance went back generations until confronted with the inevitable Raja. But the Raja's descendant, in spite of his wealth and influence, puzzled me, as he was extremely dark-skinned, and it was some time after that I found that the pedigree table was fictitious, and that the man of royal descent was a Dum, who had ingratiated himself with the authorities and had gradually established himself as an agriculturist of the bluest blood. The social system in Kashmir is delightfully plastic, and I know one or two instances of boatmen who have within recent times abandoned their boats and taken to agriculture. These men are now on an equality with the agricultural families and can intermarry with them. Similarly I know of an agriculturist who has degraded himself by taking up the work of a market-gardener, in which the use of poudrette is essential. This man must now contract marriage alliances with other market-gardeners, for he is cut off from the families of the agricultural Musalmans. Again new Krams are springing up. In Zainigir I found a large number of families rejoicing in the Kram 'Chang'. Their ancestor was a man who played on the Jew's harp (chang). Azad, the Pathan tyrant, sliced off the ears of an old an faithful servant because he was slow, and banished him to the Lolab. His descendants are numerous, and their K-ram is Kanachattu, the 'crop-eared'. In the Lolab a young Kram is arising known as Dogra. Two generations have been in the service of the Dogra rulers of the country.

Among the Shekhs must be mentioned the following classes who are more or less connected with the religion of Islam. The Pirzadas, who are descendants of zealous converts to Islam, consider themselves equal to the Saiyads and intermarry with them. The Babas, also descended from zealous converts, are now chiefly religious mendicants. The Rishis are the attendants at shrines established by the old ascetic recluses of Kashmir who were called Rishi, a corruption of the Sanskrit word Rikhi. The Mullahs or priesthood of Kashmir are Shekhs, and may be divided into two classes. The first class includes Mullahs learned in the law, and variously designated as Maulvi, Kazi, Akhund, or Mufti, and Mullahs less learned, who lead the prayers in the mosque, teach children the Koran, and live upon the offerings of the faithful. The second class consists of Mullahs who have fallen in social position and are known as Mals. These wash and prepare the bodies of the dead for burial and dig graves, and they are not allowed to intermarry with the Mullahs or with the villagers. Many Dums and Hanjis have adopted the Kram'Mal', but the Hanjis regard the name as a corruption of the Panjabi word for boatmen (Malah).

There is some doubt as to the origin of the Tsak of Chak tribe, which played so prominent a part in the history of Kashmir in the sixteenth century, and it is believed that they were not descendants of the Kashmir Hindus but Musalman Dards from Chilas. There are many families in the valley of the Tsak Kram, but they are in no way distinguished from the other Musalmans. The Kakru families, who are settled in Baramula, are said to be descendants of the Ghakkar tribe, and like the Tsak have no connexion with the original Hindus of Kashmir. The small Musalman traders of the villages all belong to the Wani Kram, and are said to be descendants of Khattri Hindus. About the origin of the Pare, Parar, War and Kambe Krams, nothing is known. Their name is nor mentioned in old histories, and inasmuch as Kram names are very easily manufactured, it is probable that these names were introduced after the conversion to Islam.

SAIYADS

The Saiyads may be divided into those who follow the profession of religion (Pir Muridi) and those who have taken to agriculture and other pursuits. As compared with the Shekh Musalmans they may be regarded as foreigners, though there is practically nothing in their appearance, manners or language which distinguishes them from other Kashmiri Musalmans. Some Saiyad families are much looked up to in the villages, but those who have taken to agriculture are practically on a level with the other villagers, and intermarry with them. No villager would think of marrying into a Saiyad family of the Pir profession, as such presumption would bring bad luck.
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