Historically the Himalayan Kashmir region has been a complex quagmire of protracted political conflict. The existence of scattered, ordinary and anonymous rich culture of oral history has often helped its people to build arguments, challenging the dominant narrative of state.
Even in its folklore, there are certain historical facts and myths which are repeatedly used as metaphors in common language.
Introducing the seven most fascinating legends of Kashmir having a historic relevance and contemporary validation, these amazing legends or historical ‘facts’ are deep rooted in the valley’s rich oral history, tradition and folklore.
Way to Russia
A cave located in Kalaroos village of northern Kupwara — some 90km from Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar — is a way to Russia, the popular legend claimed. The name actually is ‘Qil-e-Roos’ which means Russian Fort.
Locals for years have believed that Russian armies would enter the valley through these caves. Adjacent to these secret tunnels, Lashtiyal village houses the mild settlement.
Subsequent to the village the small houses that connect the narrow way makes way to an uphill footpath that leads to the colossal rock called Satbaran, which is a chronological marvel rock in Kashmir. Satbaran in loose Kashmiri means ‘seven doors’ and its name relates with its structure which has seven important engraved rocks and each of the rock inclines three feet down under.
The legend further suggests that these seven doors lead to seven different locations within the erstwhile Russia.
Among several venerated thieves of Kashmir’s folklore, Layak Tchoor occupies a distinct position for his philanthropic attributes. Known to steal from rich and distribute the same among the poor, Layak is an alias for the Kashmir’s Robinhood roughly translated as ‘able.’
Legend is, he used to smear himself in oil and often duped the hoarders by entering their premises from chimneys and escaping in thin air at a time when Kashmir was poverty stricken.
According to the poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef, besides Layak Tchoor there are other three popular rebellious robbers: Usman Cacha from old city, Madav Lal from southern Islamabad and Layak Singh from Srinagar’s Rainawari mentioned in history books.
In 1320 AD, a foreign invader ‘Zulju’ caused huge destruction in Kashmir. Earth turned black as he left no house, existing grains, cattle-shed and crops without setting them on fire. For eight months, he wreaked havoc in the Vale until the commencement of winter. He had to leave as there was no food left. He left with his slaves, who promised him a shorter route to India to escape the snow. To avenge themselves they directed him to the most hazardous route knowing that the tyrant and his army would not survive the snow and the harsh terrain. The whole army along with the prisoners is believed to have perished on a hilltop near Banihal Pass.
Prophet Moses in Kashmir
Many researchers have concluded that the ‘lost tribe of Israelites’ who were exiled in 722 BC wandered along the Silk Route until they settled in Kashmir. Some argue that Moses never entered the ‘promised land’ and that he came to Kashmir where his resting place lies. Arab historian El Bironi in the 12th century wrote, “In the past, permission to enter Kashmir was given only to Jews.”
A Jewish grave dating back to the pre-Islamic period lies deep in the mountains of north Kashmir’s Bandipora. It’s housed inside the shrine of Hazrat Bibi Arifa, a lady saint. Many believe that the grave belongs to Prophet Moses. Many historians emphasize that Moses did visit Kashmir and died there.
A brutal king Mihira Kula Hun, whose approach according to Historian Kalhana became known by the sight of thousands of vultures, crows and the like in the sky, was eager to feed on those being massacred by his encircling army.
According to a legend, while crossing Pir Panchal pass, an elephant slipped from a mountain pass. The dying elephant’s shrieks delighted the king to the extent that he ordered other hundreds in the cavalcade to be pushed down the precipices into the valley below. Each shriek from the falling animal, many claim, made the Mongol King, laugh more hysterically.
Jewel in the feet
Built by Mughal empress Noor Jahan in 1623 AD, Pather Masjid on the banks of River Jhelum in the heart of Srinagar city is believed to be a ‘dishonored’ structure (unfit for offering prayers) for many people in Kashmir.
According to a legend, following the construction of the mosque, the Mughal empress was asked by local priests about its building cost, to which Noor Jahan pointed towards a jewel in her sandals and is said to have replied, “This much.”
The priests took the response as a reflection of the queen’s vanity and a ‘blasphemous’ suggestion. For centuries the mosque was deemed desecrated and is known to bring ill fate to the valley whenever thrown open for prayers.
Pillar from heaven
Historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, built by king Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, is said to have been erected on a pillar that has descended from heaven. The legend has that the constructors of mosque were left frustrated after the mosque’s plinth was found destroyed ‘mysteriously’ each time it was built. To the shock of many, one day the plinth was found erected on its own with a wooden pillar on it and different (present) alignment.
The largest mosque in Kashmir that includes beautiful Indo-Saracenic architecture has about 370 identical pillars, which people believe, were later deliberately made similar to avoid the identification of the one from the ‘heaven’ so that people do not indulge in idolatry. Any carvings had also been dissuaded on these pillars. The wood for construction of the grand mosque was made available after cutting down woods in Fateh Kadal area.
(Umer Beigh is an independent journalist from Kashmir. He is a graduate from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, JMI, New Delhi.)