Exhibition of rare manuscripts bridges gap between rapture and anonymity of Persian literature in Kashmir

Historically known as “Iran-e-Sagheer” (Small Iran), Kashmir has a glorious and yet forgotten history of being the centre of Persian scholarship.

During the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin known popularly as the ‘Badshah’ (The Great King), Persian received huge impetus. He established a ‘Daar-u-Tarjama’ (Translation Bureau) where scholars translated texts from Sanskrit and other languages into Persian and from Arabic and Persian into Sanskrit and Kashmiri.

Sufis and saints who came to Kashmir from Central Asia also enriched the Persian literature here. Most important among these Sufis and saints was Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani who, according to poet Sir Mohammad Iqbal, was responsible for establishing a “small Iran in Kashmir”.

From 14th to late 19th century, Persian was the language of the administration and the primary language in which historical, religious, literary and political discourses were written.

Kashmir had its own galaxy of Persian writers and poets who produced masterpieces in this language.

From Muhammad Amin Uwaisi to Muhammad Amin Darab (1891-1979), Kashmir’s Persian scholars have contributed greatly to literature. Many have been acclaimed for their craftsmanship in Iran.

Kashmir’s greatest Persian poet was Mulla Tahir Ghani, known popularly as Ghani Kashmiri who died in 1669. His expertise was in creating delightful metaphors and images which made him one of the few medieval poets who appeal to the modern reader.

Prominent among Kashmiri Persian scholars, theologians and poets have been Sheikh Yaqub Sarfi (1529-1594). Kashmir offered its native talent to Persian literature through Fitrati, Mulla Zehni, Mehdi, Fani, Ghani, Juya, Guya, Salim, Auji and many others.

Iranian poets travelling to different Mughal courts described the climate of Indian plains as ‘Jigar Khwaar’ (heart-consuming) and found solace in the climate of Kashmir.

Prominent Iranian poets who came to Kashmir in 17th century, include Sa’ib Tabrizi, Abu Talib Kaleem Kashani, Muhammad Quli Salim Tehrani, Muhammad Jan Qudsi Mashhadi, Mir Illahi and others.

Persian enjoyed official patronage for 600 years till early 20th century. In 1889, it was replaced by Urdu during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh.

The period between that great rupture and anonymity would have remained unknown, but for a casual phone call received by Saleem Beg, convener of INTACH’s (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) J&K chapter, from Nighat Shafi Pandit, a local patron of art, culture, music and tradition.

Nighat asked Saleem Beg to have a look at a cache of manuscripts she had come to possess. The manuscripts looked intriguing to Nighat. The manuscripts were locked in an old rusty trunk that had been acquired by her from the family of Khwaja Mohammad Amin Darab.

The trunk was opened by Saleem Pandit in presence of Nighat’s husband, Muhammad Shafi Pandit, retired senior IAS officer and former chairman of J&K Public Service Commission.

The trunk revealed the archives of the last major Kashmiri Persianate poet of 20th century, Khwaja Muhammad Amin Drabu. AThe treasure of manuscripts unfolded the life and times of Mohammad Amin Darab, his scholarly pursuits, interest in education and craft merchandise.

INTACH finally mined into the collection and examined folio after folio and assembled the selection into a thread that gives an insight into the life and times prevailing then and the cultural and literary landscape of that period.

The manuscripts also brought to fore Darab Sahib’s way of engaging with the community, scripting invitations for them, writing ‘Marsiyas’ on the passing away of eminent persons, versified ‘Tarikhs’ and ‘Qita-e-Tarikh’ for inscribing a verse on the inauguration of a shrine, mosque, religious or educational activities.

That is where the idea of the exhibition of manuscripts started with INTACH. The exhibition is presently being held at the Amar Singh Club in Sonwar area of Srinagar city.

Scores of students, scholars, patrons of art, language, literature and culture in addition to the common Kashmiris interested in rediscovering their roots are visiting the exhibition daily.

The manuscripts are being explained to the visitors by a team of scholars engaged by INTACH and as usual, Saleem Beg is supervising and coordinating the exhibition.

Darab’s imagery and metaphors are traditional. His themes are old and classical as reflected by the manuscripts.

His poetry reflects a continuation of the 19th century trend in Persian poetry of Kashmir yet it stands far apart from its heydays of development in 17th and 18th century.

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