An ancient Kashmiri town is back to news for its competing name being prescribed with power.
Maryam was taken aback by an unusual din and disturbance while cooling her heels for a cab in a shrilled street of Srinagar. Some 20 minutes later, she boarded a ride and took the front seat. It shortly proved to be a bumpy ride as the driver was fuming over the music he faced for the contested name.
“This is nothing new,” an old man yelled in a bid to calm down the driver. “It’s a throwback to nineties.”
Akin to 90s, the Srinagar-Anantnag cab drivers avoid displaying Islamabad as their destination name for the fear of music. The security check, the cab driver said, became regular post-abrogation of Article 370.
“In Naya Kashmir, we’re still witnessing the same old strongarming,” the driver said. “This name is seen as a sentimental support to the neighbouring country when it has its own glorious history.”
But the fact remains that the town’s association with the name Islamabad is prior to the existence of the state of Pakistan itself, says Muzamil Peer, a south Kashmir native. “While there has been a constant debate over the name of the town, the assumption was predominantly propagated during the nineties. It created bitterness and binary.”
The existence of the town is old. Archaeologists claim it to be one of the first human establishments of the world dating back to 5000 BC.
In Sanskrit, the word ‘Anant’ means infinite and ‘nag’ in koshur means spring. It’s assumed that the name Anantnag got its name due to the presence of numerous springs in the region.
However, Khalid Bashir Ahmad in his celebrated treatise—‘Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative’—writes that there’s no historical evidence supporting the assumption that the town with the name Anantnag existed in ancient Kashmir. “History does not corroborate with the assertion,” he notes. “The town was rechristened as Anantnag during the Dogra rule (1846-1947 AD).”
However, Zareef A. Zareef, Kashmir’s poet-historian, says the traces of the name—Anantnag—can be found in some of the earliest texts of Kashmir history, be it Gilgit Manuscripts of the 4th century, Nilamata Purana of the 7th century or 11th century’s chronicle, Kalhana’s Rajtarangani. “Whereas the name Islamabad can be traced back to the Mughal rule in Kashmir,” he says. “In 1663 AD, the Mughal governor Islam Khan changed the name of the town to Islamabad.”
Under Mughals, the Anantnag town flourished and the area attracted more attention and popularity, Zareef says. “And therefore the entire town popularly came to be associated with the name Islamabad.”
Some experts even suggest that the town was still known by the name Islamabad under Dogra period as validated by revenue records of the period.
In fact, most of the 19th and 20th century travelogues mention the town as ‘Islamabad’. Among others, Sir W. R. Lawrence of ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ fame has used the same name, and so has Sir Baden Powel in ‘The Memories of India’.
But under the reign of Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, it’s said the government predominantly used the name Anantnag to “woo” New Delhi.
Decades later, the origin of the name remains in ambiguity. While Kashmiri Muslims prefer ‘Islamabad’ for faithful reasons, Kashmiri Pandits use the name ‘Anantnag’ with reference to its Sanskrit origin.
“Both the names instrumented propaganda for different political motives while aiming to exploit the social construct of the society,” says Kuldeep Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit. “The term in the 90s was also seen as a device to bifurcate the people and create divisions. Additionally, it was seen as a mark of affiliation to a particular ideology. Though, not at any point did it become the extremity of conflict among Kashmiris.”
But now, as the ‘twin paradox’ has returned to shadow the town, native observant Maryam is witnessing rage and reason over the contested legacy.
However, the realisation that ‘Kasheer’ is for ‘Koshur’ of all shades enlightened her when the Muslim driver’s phone rang and he answered: “Namaskar Maara!”