Shah-i-Hamadan and Modern Kashmir Identity.

Zahid G MuhammadSix and quarter centuries after his departure from Kashmir, Mir Saiyid Al Hamadani (1314-1385) like a roaring stream continues to run through social, cultural and religious discourses of the elysian land. Mostly scholars, researchers and experts have been focusing on mysticism and Sufism of the Saiyed. Of late some academicians are engaged in giving spin to Sufi orders to suit the dominant discourse. The spin-doctors working on the campuses have not only been politicizing the four orders of Sufism but also reinterpreting the indigenous Reshi tradition to create chinks within the people's narrative.


Mir Saiyid Ali Hamadani is the protagonist around whom both medieval and modern Kashmir history. Is he only architect of modern Muslim Kashmir personality? If I write so, it will be denying him his due place in the history of Kashmir. Those, who have been doing so have been dishonest to his over all contribution to Kashmir society. The Kashmir University by denying this great sage in its Tarana (Anthem) have also not been fair to this great benefactor of people of the Valley and beyond. Not mentioning name of Mir Saiyid Ali in the anthem is not an inadvertent omission of the poet who has written this song but a deliberate effort at deconstructing the peoples narrative. The translation of anthem reads:
University Anthem

O. Mother Kasheer: all founts of knowledge
have ever been at your bidding command
O, you who make the Vitasta gosh forth: whose wisdom
profound flows perennially through our souls.

You willed, and this seat of learning came
into being this paradise on Earth.
This fountain of Knowledge made a leap at your will;
and yours was the intent which bodied forth into
what we behold around us here.
You are the wisdom of our past which kindly leads us on today.

This is the land that heard khamendra's poignant tale, and
quickened Bilhana's fond memories.
Isn't it here that Kalhana's Vitasta sprawls far and wide, and
Abhinov Gupta's ocean of knowledge surgas high?

You are the refulgent flame of Lalla's verse; you are solemnity to
the Sheikh's sacred hymns.
On this campus dawns the benediction of Hazratbal, and the
Moon and the Dal gift the dusk's tranquility. Each Sunny moment
here is the bettle's dance, each dusky moment the quiet

When aspiring souls take their wing, Budshah comes forth to greet them;
When devotion stirs our souls, we raise a song or praise to Iqbal

Gani, who tore his shirt to shreds, speak for the conscience aroused. The fresh and bold imagination of Nehru wrung milkout
of perspiring rocks.

It's here that the Harmukh peaks cool the scorching summer, and the Lion's eyes burn bright in the Caves of snow.

Under the glory of this lighthouse we turn into various little suns.
Playing ecstatically about this vernal bush, we have the heightened sense of Beauty and realize the dream of love.

This soil shall bloom into diverse hues of the rainbow, and the firmament shall feel restless as mercury.

The University anthem mentions many great historical personages that have contributed to literary, religious or political landscape of this land but surprisingly Mir Syed Ali Hamadani finds no mention in it. When I asked lyricist Rehman Rahi, why name of this great benefactor of Kashmir was not in the University song. He answered that Saiyid Ali did not belong to this land --- He was not an aborigine. When I wanted to know from him how names some pre-Islamic period poets, literati who were not equally aborigine but contributed literary landscape of the land had been mentioned in the anthem- he had no answer.
The emblem of this great temple of learning which read as "darkness into light" but not mentioning the name of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani'- an embodiment of piety, knowledge, wisdom and pragmatism in the University anthem as a manifestation of particular mindset, that denies Kashmir its own distinct identity. This mindset is a continuation of the mindset of his contemporary chroniclers of the great saint. Prof Muhammad Ishaq Khan writes about this mindset:
"It is somewhat intriguing that the Sanskrit chroniclers, Srivara and Jonaraja, who were near contemporaries of Sayyid 'Ali Hamadani did not refer to him at all in their works, notwithstanding their useful account of the inroads of Islam in the cultural life of the Kashmiri Brahmans"
Most of the historians see Shah-e- Hamadan as the founder of Islam in Kashmir. I not only see him as founder of Islam but also as founder of modern Kashmir, that could be rightly called as " modern Kashmir", an architect of distinctive Kashmir identity.
There can be no denying that before the advent of Islam Kashmir had its periods of glory. For his conquering territories after territories, Kalhana called Laltadiditya 'universal monarch moving around the earth like the sun.' However, with all its glories it was a fractured society. It was a caste-ridden society. The 'intellectual supremacy of this society had started decaying centuries before the advent of Islam and two hundred years before Islam consolidated its hold in this land it had been "infested by deadly virus of intrigues, , rebellions, oppression, murders and suicides." And the period was marked by "short reigns, plots, conspiracies, rebellions and fiscal exactions." "The strife between the kings and the feudal barons on one side and tyranny of bureaucrats on the other had crushed the people. The fiscal domination was another demon which had destroyed them. " Kashmir society at the time of advent of Islam was no better than the Arabian society in the sixth century. In the words of Prem Nath Bazaz, it was a society of 'drunkards and 'womanizers'. Not only has Bazaz given a dismal and disappointing picture of the period, even Sir Walter Lawrence narrates the horrifying stories of the period. The history of the period is brimful with tales about the sexual exploits by kings and feudal lords. "The people were subjected to the hated corvee, and to all kinds of taxes in addition to illegal exactions of the authority. Life and property were not safe, agriculture declined and there were periods when trade came to a standstill." ." "Politics had dehumanized the Kashmiris; Islam made them men again."
Message of Islam during these bizarre years was stealthily and avowedly seeping into the society and causing multiple ripples. Gyalpo Rinchana's coming into the fold of Islam and becoming the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, when seen in right historical perspective was an effect of these multiple ripples . Contemporary historian of the period Jonaraja, stating that "the Rinchana wanted to become a Shavite but was not allowed by the Chief Brahaman Daveswani, on the plea that there existed no place for converts in the Brahamanical fold, " does not stand test of the history. He in fact was disappointed with the corrupt Brahamanical society. It was in fact Ranchana's urge to know the truth that made him to embrace the new faith. " Rinchana who had the capacity to become the ruler of Kashmir would not leave such a decision to chance," writes Professor Mohudin Hajan, "The fact remains that his thirst to find truth brought him into contact with Saiyyid Sharaf-ud-din. He learnt from him the soul and spirit of Islamic principles which are free from rituals." During three years reign of the first Muslim king a good number of people embraced Islam. It was Mir Syed Ali Hamadani in the words of Sir Walter Lawrence who "practically established Islam in Kashmir"
Here, I am not to going to enter into debate how long Mir Syed Ali Hamadani stayed in Kashmir. Prof. Ishaq Khan with firmness of his belief has been stating that he stayed in Kashmir for six months only. While as historians like G.M.D. Sufi besides stating, he visited Kashmir, thrice writes that during the time of Sultan Qutab-U-Din, After a stay of about two and half years, he went to Ladakh in 783 hijra (1383 A.D.), en route for Turkistan. The third visit of Shah Hamadan took place in 785 (Hijara) 1383 A.C." The travel and tours undertaken by him in and around the valley sufficiently suggests that the stay could be of longer duration.
Shah-i-Hamadan, undoubtedly was a Sufi saint belonging to Kubraviya silsilah. Scores of books have been written by scholars about his teachings. It also needs to be borne in mind that he was not preacher in traditional sense. He was not confined just to the pulpit. He was a great scholar, a great reformer, an economist, a statesman and a revolutionary. He had his finger on the pulse of the situation as it obtained in Kashmir during that period. He was a great missionary and it was because of his zeal that people in hordes embraced Islam and almost entire society was changed. For a number of factors I call him as founder of modern Kashmir identity.
Kashmir identity for its political import during past few decades has been part of both 'dominant' and 'popular' discourses'. The 'dominant' discourse sees the Kashmir identity in syncretism of faiths as against this the 'popular' discourse attributes it to the 'religious tolerance' as contained in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and articulated in pristine form by Saiyid. History very subtly suggests that the concept of religious tolerance in Kashmir was born along with the blowing of the breeze of new faith allover the valley and it found a very firm pedestal in the teachings of Shah-i-Hamdan. The Kashmir society before the advent of Islam was unipolar so far as faith is concerned but it was overwhelmingly caste ridden and intolerant towards the members of the lower caste. Islam dissolved not only caste distinction but elevated the status of the underprivileged at par with elite of the society. Mir Syed Ali Hamadani in consonance with teachings of Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) presented Islam in Brahamanical environment as a religious of love and equality thus laid foundation of a highly tolerant society that founds its expression during most trying times of the history of the land. His writings and works testify that he wanted to bring in a just and humane society.
In a society with strong tradition of renunciation and he not only denounced living a hermit life but also taught lessons in dignity of labor. "He rejected the traditional sufi livelihood supported by patronage because he feared that this would make Sufis parasitical on society. He himself made his living by cap making and he encouraged his disciples to work for a living" . It had a very strong message for a society with religious parasites like Brahamans- who were tyrannical towards other castes.
He focused on developing the personality of ordinary Kashmir and seeing him emerge as Insan-Kamil, the perfect man through education and earning livelihood through sanctioned means. He believed in education for all irrespective of class or caste and was critical of those ulema and mashaikh who were not involved in the task of mass education. According to him, it was duty of all learned men to educate others: family members, neighbors, and fellow townsmen. An educated man who failed to educate the illiterate according to him would be accountable to God on the day of judgment,"
'Handicrafts of Kashmir over a period of time have become another icon of Kashmir identity. In fact these have brought Kashmir international recognition. 'Having turned into symbol of royalty, epitomes of positions, totems of brilliance and 'a determinant of commercial ties with foreign countries' it attracted imperial patronage.' this made Kashmir known to the comity of nations and gave this land an identity of its own. The common Kashmir had not suffered caste and class discrimination only in ruptured and tormented society but under exploitive Brahamanical hegemony society was living a life worst than a quadruped. Mir Syed Ali Hamadani role in changing the economic condition of common people has been epoch making in the sense its effects were not time specific but continue even to this day. "The seven hundred people who accompanied him to Kashmir brought with them the Iranian arts and crafts." He popularized handicrafts and cottage industry amongst the people. It was because of his efforts that the rulers of his time patronized the arts and crafts in the State. In the words of G.M. D. Sufi, "It was through the efforts of the great saint that shawl, as we all know it now was reborn in Kashmir in the latter part of the fourteenth century and the Shawl industry took a new lease of life. Sultan Quatib-U-Din who was then the ruler of Kashmir patronized and nourished and stimulated it." During the period of Moguls the handicrafts industry by Shah Hamadan took the shape of an organized sector.In nineteenth century Kashmir had emerged on the scene as an important exporter of Shawls to the international market. Moorcroft writes that the value of handicrafts goods exported during 1822 was to the tune of Rs. thirty-five lakhs per annum. The handicrafts industry sustained Kashmir economically during past two decades.
Interaction of Kashmir with the Central Asia and Iran through the disciples of Hamadani immensely contributed in shaping the modern Kashmir. "One of the indirect effects of Shah Hamdan's achievement was the popularization of Persian language and literature in Kashmir." More than thousand Persian poets from Kashmir have made immense contribution to the Persian Poetry and language. 'Kashmir has produced its own Firdusi, Hafiz, Rumi in Shaiq, Ghani, Sarafi, Fani and Akmal." " Both the tradition of mystical poetry mystical poetry and of the court poetry arrived in Kashmir in the fourteenth century. And since the carriers of Islam were more of the mystic than the courtly tradition, the first exposure of Kashmiris to Persian literature was dominated by its mystic strain." The Persian language not only influenced but greatly enriched it. In the words of Dr. G.M.D. Sufi, the original Dardic language has supplied the skelton, Sanskrit has given ir flesh and Islam gave it life. The impact of Islam on Kashmir literature was immediate. Lal Ded whose poems constitute the earliest extant literature of Kashmiri either 'in oral or in manuscript' wrote in native verse form- Vakh, meaning word or inspiration, but "content of Kashmiri poetry of the period clearly shows influences from Islam.' Persian language did not only enrich vocabulary of Kashmiri language but its form as well. Notwithstanding Kashmir passing through many a political vicissitudes Persian language continued to influence Kashmir language and literature, Persian scholar G.L.Tiku, writes, "A qualitative as well as quantitative gains were made by Kashmir literature in nineteenth century. But these changes did not diminish the Kashmiri literature fascination for Persian tradition. " How various forms of Persian became part of Kashmir literature?
Tikku has dealt the subject in detail.
pic article Mir Syed Ali Hamdani Revolutionay visonary 3 aThe caravan that accompanied Shah-i-Hamdan included artisans. Their presence not only influenced in the Kashmir architecture but brought a metamorphic change in it by blending the Persian architecture with local environs and evolving what could be called as distinctive Kashmir architecture. The minarets of various hospice and shrines dominated the skyline also give distinct identification to Kashmir.
The interaction between Kashmir and Central Asia that started in big way with the arrival of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani and his disciples followed by his son Mir Muhmmad Hamadani arrival in Kashmir with about three hundred Saiyeds continued influencing rather shaping Kashmir culture. Music of Kashmir is music of Iran. Prof. Muhubul Hassan, "Kashmir Music is the product of diverse elements, which have blended with one another. But the chief contribution to this was made by Persia and Turkistan." Most of the musical instrument used in folk and Sufina Music are almost the same. "In an interview from Radio Kashmir Dr. Roohullah Khalqi an expert of music from said in 1965, "Ancient classical music has vanished from Iran. But it has preserved itself in its pristine form in Kashmir."

The influences that came along with Shah-i-Hamdan and his disciples got intricately woven in culture and day-to-day life of Kashmir that is what gave birth to Kashmir personality and identity.
For preserving this identity that carried within its ambit religious tolerance and social justice" his writings are as relevant today as they were six hundred years back. His book Zakhirat-ul-Maluk that is a treatise on politics is a lodestar for rulers even today.
( Adopted from a presentation made in Kashmir University).


  1. Key note address President by Prof Isaq Khan on 13-3-12, at three day international seminar on Shah-i-Hamdan.
  2. Icons of Identity by Zahid G Muhmmad, Gulshan Publishers, 2007 page
  3. Islamic Culture in Kashmir by G.M.D. Sufi page No 29
  4. Struggle for Freedom by Prem Nath Bazaz Page No 20
  5. See Valley of Kashmir by Walter Lawrence page 189.
  6. Kashmir Under Sultans by Mohibbul Hassan page 31
  7. Struggle for Freedom by Prem Nath Bazaz Page No 47
  8. History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir by R.K. Paramu page 79
  9. Islam in Kashmir by Prof Mohu-ud-din Hajani Studies of Kashmir Council of Research page No 43
  10. Mir Syed Ali Hamadani born on ' Monday 12th of Rajab 714 (hijra) 1314 A.C at Hamadan arrived in Kashmir in the period of Sultan Shahib-u-din (1372).
  11. The Valley of Kashmir by Walter R Lawrence page no 293
  12. Kashir by G.M.D. Sufi page Nos 86
  13. Dr. Syeda Ashraf Zafar in her book Syed Mir Ali Hamadani has talked in detail about the period of his stay in Kashmir pages 72-78
  14. Editor Note by S.M. Waseem on the proceedings of seminar conducted by Jamia Mila Islamia New Delhi published by Kanishaka Publishers and distributors.
  15. Ibid eduction Shah Hamadan Mir Syed Ali Hamadani page no3
  16. Icons of Kashmir Identity page 112
  17. Islamic culture in Kashmir by G.M.D. Sufi page No 233
  18. Kashmir Culture and Literature by Prof. G.R. Malik
  19. Icons of Kashmir Identity page 43
  20. Persian Poetry in Kashmir 1339-1846, By G.L. Tiky University of California Press page 4
  21. Persian Poetry in Kashmir page 27
  22. ibid 243
  23. Kashmir Under Sultans.
  24. Icons of Kashmir identity page 47