Zarthusht Parsis in Kashmir

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Zarthusht Parsis in Kashmir

Parsis and Kashmir : As Zubin Mehta visits the valley, it’s time to explore an unknown mystical legacy
The forth-coming performance of Zubin Mehta, born in 1936 in a Parsi family in Mumbai, has rekindled our interest in a very rich but lesser known Parsi presence in Kashmir. Parsis or Zoroastrians are the followers of Zoroaster known as  Zartusht in the Islamic  world. Muslims are intimately acquainted with this religion as it is the only non Arab belief that finds honorable mention in Holy Quran. Islam equates pious followers of zartush, mentioned by Arab name Majusi, to the  men of piety from Semitic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Zartusht lived some time in 6th century BC  in Middle Asia, then comprising Iran and Afghanistan with a  lineage tracing to a spiritual  family from Balkh, Afghanistan. The close affinity of Zoroastrians with the semitic religions, especially Islam is well documented in the literature of the two religions. Majusis, like Muslims, believe in one ness of God, Ahur Mazda, and offer prayers five times a day. The only surviving monotheistic belief at the time of prophet of Islam (pbuh), it  therefore evoked   keen interest in this religion from the Muslim saints and scholars. The first Majusi who came in contact with the prophet (pbuh) and converted to Islam was Hazrat Salman Farsi. Recognizing his superior spiritual prowess and piety amongst the believers, Prophet (pbuh) showed great affection towards him and called him among the Ahl bait, a distinction bestowed to no other Muslim. Salman Farsi made  great  contribution towards establishing a just, honest and egalitarian society in the formative years of Islam. The Zoroastrian thought and philosophy was integrated  into the larger fabric of Muslim society in the form of what is known in history as the Iranian influence.  This subsuming gave  Islam and the world the great Abassi empire, the zenith of Islamic faith, art, and culture.
The research on the forgotten parsi presence in Kashmir has an interesting and revealing backdrop. In 17th century a path breaking book surfaced which took the religious and temporal scholarly world  by storm. The Persian book was known as Dabistan or Dabistan-i- Mazahib (treatise of religions).  This book gave a fair and unbiased description of the faiths of the time, the details of which were mostly obtained from the followers of the respective faiths. At a time when the religious scholarship was plagued with  contestations, this book evoked tremendous interest. The book was attributed to Mulla Mohsin Fani (d 1671), a poet, renowned Islamic scholar and a popular figure in Kashmiri literary world. Fani seems to have been much ahead of his time  and must have gone against the then prevailing traditional  ethos. He was declared murtad for committing  blasphemy by his co religionists (Sufi, Kashir). Subsequent historic writings attributed his being declared murtad to the book, Dabistan-i. mazahib, purported to have been authored by him. The book was first published in Calcatta in 1809 followed by a lithographed reprint by Ibrahim ibn Noor Muhamad, Bombay in 1875. This historic fallacy needs separate treatment by someone who is more into the concept of irtidad and the Persian scholarship in Kashmir, a subject that has received scant attention from our historians.
Dabistan, for reasons of its great importance in understanding the religio-political  environment of 17th century, has been put to some genuine scholarly scrutiny. Professor Athar Ali, Prof. Of History AMU, Wilson fellow, Wilson Woodrow centre for scholars (d 1998) took up this honorific task. He has come up with astounding facts about the authorship of the book. He has categorically established that Dabistan was authored by a parsi, Mobad, a disciple of Mobad Hoshyar, a parsi spiritual personality who lived in the company of other saints and mystagogues of his time.
Here we enter into a hitherto lesser known world of parsi mystics of Kashmir. The author comes to Kashmir some time in 1630, where he records intellectual contacts exclusively with parsi priests who were living as a community in sects and sub-sects in Kashmir. This revelation  has also opened up vistas for further research about our parsi heritage. He records his meetings with another mobad Hoshyer, mobad Sarosh, Pilazar, a follower of Shidragi sect of Parsis; Raham of paikari sect, and Andariman belonging to Alari sect and Shaidab of akhshi sect. He also meets yogi Ishar kar. Interestingly his first contact with a muslim mystic has been when journeying out of Kashmir, Arif Subhani in NWEP. Later on he meets  Mahmud  fal Hasiri in Kashmir who narrates a story about a parsi saint, disciple of farshad  who again had lived in kashmir and who was known to Hasiri. He also meets ashur Beg, a sufi, who narrated a personal encounter with a parsi divine, Farzana Bahram.
We all know that Mian Mir whose disciple, Mulla akhoon was the spiritual master of Dara Shokoh  for whom Dara built a sarai, madrasa and a hammam in the mughal city in Srinagar, Nagar Naagar. Mobad also meets Mulla Ismail sufi, another disciple of Mian Mir in Kashmir. While in Kashmir he also meets followers of Akhshi, a parsi  sect whose followers  had assumed Muslim names. These saints were well versed in persian and Arabic and had extensive knowledge of Persian literature, Islamic beliefs and mystic thought. Dabistan reveals substantial presence of parsi saints from different sects who found this land conducive to their spiritual amd mystic urges revolving round the tenets of their individual  faith and belief. These revelations, brought to light by Prof. Athar Ali, open up new vistas and a need for delving deep into the period literature using Dabistan as reference point.  A new definition for resh waer, the land of saints as kashmiris call their country,is awaiting  some masterly treatment so that this rich mosaic is exposed and presented to the world at large in the form in which it evolved and flourished here.
Reverting  to the concert  of Zubin Mehta at Shalimar on 7th Sept, it is very well known that the spirit and influence  of music patronized  by  sufis and  mystics  resulted in music becoming the integral part of all flourishing muslim societies. Many great philosophers of Islam, including al –Kindi(d866), Al-Farabi(d950), Ibn Sina(d1037) wrote profusely on the theory of music and encouraged its performance. Al-Kindi argues that music can turn anger into calm, grief into joy, avarice into generosity and cowardice into bravery. One is reminded of this treatise when one looks at the great work Zubin and his brother are doing in occupied territories of Isreal where  they are lighting the tender hearts and souls of Palestinian children in villages like Nazareth and Shawaram by treating them to music therapy. The concert has been named Ehsaas-i-Kashmir. We hope it will measure upto its title and present  the feelings of Kashmir through the medium of music. The following urdu couplet points towards the  expectations from the concert.
‘Kya zulmatoon main geet gaye jayein gey
Haan, zulmatoon main zulmatoon ke geet gaye jayein gey’.
(The writer is Convener and head INTACH, J&K chapter.
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