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Kashmir’s plural ethos and communal harmony

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Peace is the foundation of prosperity among the nation states of the world and harmony forms the basic foundation of that enterprise.Man is the wonderful creation of God with an inherent sense of metaphysical and worldly belongings. The savage societies of the pre-historic times without any order and hierarchy of social organisation subsequently in the long timeframe paved way for the foundations of nation states and social organisations with a proper moral and a social order.

Although, the onslaught of the forces of globalisation  after post-modernism have added a new colour to the contours of social dynamics and set in motion a new wave of  societal organisations in the world, the case of Kashmir portrays a different tale of ever evolving, unaltered communal harmony. The only narrative that can ensue an atmosphere of peace and prosperity is that of the peaceful coexistence in the society in order to avert the crisis that makes inroads within a society from time to time.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of India with a longest tag of amity and brotherhood that has survived the currents of time and remains so in the contemporary times. Kashmir called as the land of rishis, saints, seers and sadhus is known for its communal harmony not only at the local level, but also the world over since times immemorial.

The sort of mysticism that the Sufi and Bhakti movements have lent to the cultural ethos of Kashmir is found much nowhere in the world besides Kashmir. The vale of Kashmir is full of various religious faiths who have survived the onslaught of the forces of globalisation with the changing signs of time. Muslims form the majority of the vale along with the religious people of Hindus, sikhs, Buddhists, Christians; etc.

Over the period of time, a sort of communal harmony has permeated the socio-cultural space of the society creating a congenial atmosphere of communitarian responsibility and social bond among the people of Kashmir surpassing religious lines of thought. This has not only added to the peace horizon of the land, but also created a sense of mutual trust and unified bond among the various communities of the land. In Kashmir, the communal harmony is deep rooted in the historical narratives.

The ethos of the Kashmir culture has time and again withstood the travails and tribulations of the time despite the currents of odds and challenges through the changing times. On a miniscule scale, there has been disturbance to the communal harmony of the state following the partition of the Sub-continent into India and Pakistan.

The exodus of the Hindus in nineties ascribed to the circumstances was a gory chapter in the chronicles of Jammu and Kashmir history. However, the return of the same has added a new threshold to the scene. The separatist leadership has time and again been vocal for their return as being part and parcel of our composite Kashmiri culture.

However, the time has served as the best healer of the same wounds and paved renewed ways for the cherishment of the communal harmony. The social harmony vindicates the notions of love and affection among different religions and is a blessing in disguise for the times.

Status

The state of Jammu and Kashmir reflects the true plural ethos of the secular India where people of different communities strive for the love and harmony, complementing the lives of each other on a day-to-day basis.

The festivals of one community are celebrated with gaiety and fervor by the other religious community, solidifying the ethos of multiculturalism and pluralism. Kashmir represents the thread of the confluence of communal harmony and brotherhood. The communal harmony of the state is neither instant nor accidental, but is a legacy of the past times till date that has permeated the psyche of the people and created a bond of unity in the socio-cultural milieu of the valley.

The recent installation of a church bell in a church at Srinagar after a span of 50 years by the Christian community with the support of the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities is a reminder of communal harmony that is deep rooted in the cultural milieu of the state.

The annual Hindu pilgrimage of the Amarnath yatra is the biggest and ever glaring example of the amity where old and young, men and women, etc all are hospitably treated with care and concern by the native Muslims and even carried on their shoulders towards the sacred place of cave through the difficult terrains and ways enroute to the cave.

In the town of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag, the legal heir of a deceased hindu Pandit namely Arzan Nath is a Muslim man namely Nissar Ahmad Wagay. Long ago, through the oral history of the people, have heard of him serving the former during ups and downs of life. Arzan Nath was a govt employee with no one to look after. Nissar Ahmad served him through the turbulent times and offered heart-catching services, which even a true descendent, could not offer. Nissar used to accompany Arzan Nath through thick and thin times of life. Having personally observed, both of them used to pay the dusk obeisance at the shrine of Hazrat Shahi Hamdan (R.A.). At the time of his death, it was none other than Nissar who performed the last services to the deceased.

Another Hindu Pandit Shadi Lal in the same town is a hope for the hopeless patients who turn up in large numbers at his Ayurvedic shop. The most important trait of the said person is that he cares and heals the patients of the whole South Kashmir. In other words, he has turned out to be a savior of the whole community. Come dawn, the people could be seen in large flocks outside his shop. People respect him out of reverence and reciprocate in great regard. Recently, after suffering from body disease, the final remedy to my ailment surfaced only after i took the herbal medicine of the pandit gee.

Challenges

The biggest obstacle and roadblock for the cherishment of the ideal of communal harmony in India is the fanaticism and extremism of fringe elements of the society. Since, all religions preach the message of peace and harmony, there can be no way to justify the claims of the demeaning and demoralizing of whatsoever religious community a society carries on. The biggest issue of the current and contemporary times is to contain the fringe elements of the society and let the people live in whatsoever capacity they live to carry on the cog in the wheel of the life.

The Few reasons in the path of communal harmony are:- Egoism, Lack of vision in Education, Lack of discipline, Lack of Cooperation, Social disorder, Casteism, Violence, Immorality ,Lack of faith in true religious values, deficit of good leadership, etc.

Education can be exploited as a powerful tool against these threats in the path of Communal Harmony. On his return from South Africa, Gandhiji envisioned for a unity among different communities of India and did his best in capacity for the realization of the same.

Last Word

In order to realise the goal of communal harmony, peace is the main pre-requisite and a necessary condition. Disharmony creates the forces of disarray and disruption, rendering harmony handicapped and ultimately towards a state of paralysis. To promote the ethic of communal harmony, it is imperative for all the stakeholders of the society to play a part in particular and work in sync for the realization of the same in general.

Youth as a main driving force and an asset of a nation can be the best ambassadors of peace and communal harmony. The only way to achieve that goal is the proper education of the youth across the spectrum of education spanning the whole level of education. This way youth can learn to make communal harmony as a way of living, rather than ethic in simpler terms. Besides, the govt of the state as well as the centre have a shared responsibility to promote communal harmony further.

Although, some ground work has been done, but, there are still miles to go before we sleep. The need of the hour is the further promotion of the communal harmony in the society. The recent publication of ‘Living in Harmony’ books for school going children by Oxford University Press (OUP) in India to foster values of peace and cooperation is a good attempt.

Also, the Social media and yellow journalism of the mainland India should try to cherish the instances of communitarian love and amity in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of fomenting trouble to earn TRP’s and portrayal of the news which creates wedge in the bond of the society, the main urge should be to plead the cases of injustices and show a solidarity for the same. The problem of binary has to do away with.

Today, when the world is envisioning for the state of annihilation of crisis, the crisis in Kashmir takes a major sway with each passing day. The gory tales of widows, half-widows and orphans who have been rendered so after the loss of their dear ones has permeated the society deeply and created a multidimensional layer of unwithering pain and sorrow and a state of unabated alienation of the masses.

The question is not of the otherness of the other, but, of oneself in tandem with the other. Not a single day is devoid of pain, agony, and other tragedies. The question is the question of order. The major onus lies on the representatives of the people who represent the masses which have been rendered heart-broken and empty hoped. Let the seers of politics take on. The answer to all the problems can be cherished in unity within the broader perspectives of the humane approach by which peace can return to a treacherous path within the domain of the whole society. Government in J&K should understand and circumvent in Toto and try to dive from the static deficit of governance to good governance. After all, time in consonance with care serves as the best cosset.

 

The author has done M.Sc.(Biochemistry),B.Ed from Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi,M.A.(History) and also qualified CTET from CBSE. Previously,he was also working as a project trainee at JNU,New Delhi.He writes for a number of platforms on socio-politico-economic issues and currently works in J&K, government education department. He can be reached at abidjmi121[at]gmail.com

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Architecture Reflecting Culture: The Alhambra

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Throughout history civilizations have been overtaken by successors.  These in turn decline and fall as time marches on.  Often all that remain are monuments, an occasional palace or temple often a tomb, usually in ruins unless of relatively current vintage.

The ancient Egyptians built massive pyramids to bury their pharaohs, projects lasting a lifetime and ensuring a reliable source of income for the workers and others involved. 

The Greeks favored exquisitely proportioned temples and statuary rendered with a skill that was not matched again until the Renaissance.  One would be remiss not to mention their vast output of the mind from philosophy and logic to the poetry and drama played out in the amphitheaters.

If Roman entertainment relied on blood and gore, it was part of a culture of brutal wars, subjugation and suppression of foreign peoples welded into an empire.  Then there was Roman law, even if it applied only to citizens.

Of more recent vintage are the great cathedrals of Europe like Chartres, tall, massive, constructed in a span of time unimaginable in our era of haste.  Preceding them were the great mosques of the Muslim era decorated in geometric shapes and colors to dazzle the eye.  Damascus and Isfahan come to mind.

Then there are the Nasrid kings of Grenada in southern Spain, al Andalus to these descendants of North African Berbers and Arabs who ruled there for several centuries.  A time when the three Abrahamic religions coexisted in relative harmony it saw the flowering of a civilization noted for its mixture of opposites.

The city of Cordoba with its great mosque was an early fruit of this admixture becoming the largest city in Europe during the 10th century, although civil wars had diminished it considerably by the 13th century.  Yet the 13th century began the growth of a city on a hill now called Alhambra probably due to the reddish color (alhamra in Arabic) of the rock face.  Housing some 40,000 citizens then, not many of the buildings survive.  Notable are the defensive citadel Alcazaba, three palaces — the Mexuar, the Comares and the Court of the Lions — and an encircling wall with battlements and towers.  The great mosque was replaced by a Franciscan monastery in the 15th century and is now a parador — a government-run hotel that was formerly a castle or palace or the like.

The Courtyard of the Lions is justly famous as the symbol of Alhambra.  The twelve lions at the center appear to be holding up a water basin right in the center of a network of channels …  on the periphery, colonnades supporting delicately carved arches form an abbey-like cloister.  But the walls in the adjoining rooms hold their own surprise in intricately carved geometries of colored tiles and plasterwork.  Glancing up, the ceilings are designed to take your breath away.  Even more intricately constructed, they comprise thousands of meticulously carved sections of wood rising layer upon layer to feast the eye as small apertures allow in shafts of sunlight or moonlight.  Watercourses run through many rooms spilling across portals into pools among enclosed gardens melding interior with exterior and joining it with nature. 

The architect LeCorbusier called it ‘the intelligent, just and magnificent interplay of volumes made harmonious by daylight.’  Henri Matisse exclaimed, ‘The Alhambra is a marvel’ and Washington Irving captured imaginations throughout the western world with his 1832 book, The Alhambra.  At the time going to rack and ruin, his romantic vision helped to trigger an effort to preserve the precious gem.

Now a magnet for tourists, it remains a precious reminder of what an intermingling of cultures can produce — just as the Taj Mahal does in India where Mughal emperors often married Hindu Rajput princesses and Shah Jahan (whose mother Manmati was one) built his own marvel.

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Don’t avoid what is easy – diplomacy meets art

Tiiu Meiner

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Harbour for Cultures - Yerevan cards

Individuals should and need to feel like they have the right to want. That is the message that artist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova is continuously expressing through her artwork. Exemplifying socially-engaged art, Lemberg-Lvova aims to be a part of a much broader political movement which discusses important historical and modern-day social processes through creative means.

The second-wave feminist movements from the 1960s is one example of such a powerful movement. With their infamous quote, ‘The personal is political’, authored by millions of voices of women collectively rather than one feminist author, the message that every individual has the right to a voice was heavily stressed. As personal experiences took center stage and the individual became a political platform during the feminist movements, crowds of individuals also gained new meanings of courageous collectivity. Ultimately, the movement gave opportunity for previously ignored and taken-for-granted personal circumstances to be framed in a bigger picture – a picture that women as minorities were often left out of.

Continuing to portray the central message that movements such as the feminist strikes and many other historical crusades have fought for, Lemberg-Lvova uses her own art to focus on the younger European generation, highlighting the vast diverseness of the voices that live in Europe and sending a bold message that evidences a heterogeneity which needs to be more thoroughly discussed amongst the European community. With her projects, she is able to recognise the ways in which the systemic infrastructures that exist around the individual leave them feeling insecure or insignificant in relation to their voice and its right to exist in public. By initiating healthy conversation and focusing on this very elemental act of daring to express one’s desires towards public space, she has created a platform that encourages individuals to learn to voice their opinions more often, ultimately leading the person to be engaged as the multiplicities of voices are amplified to lead to more diverse discussion and perhaps outcomes. 

Anastasia avatud stuudios Kogo galeriis (foto Mariia Nedosekova)

Her exhibition, ‘Don’t Avoid What is Easy’, on show from August 14th – September 9th at the Freedom Gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, is thus the result of 2 years of research conducted mainly through interviews of younger generation individuals during her own expenditures through Europe. Although seemingly humble in its outcome as portraits, there is a strong message behind Lemberg-Lvova’s work, depicting the notion that we should feel more confident to voice our opinions about our public surroundings, Lemberg-Lvova uses art and representations to give a voice to over 100 participants from 24 European countries.

By painting vibrant oil portraits of a selected 7 individuals whom she interviewed, she touches on the concept of art and its political capacity by explaining “There will be portraits of participants with a visual interpretation of their wish as the background. The experience of, as we often say, “putting a face to a name” has a profound effect and is more intuitively understood than just going through text or trying to grasp abstract ideas. Painting as a form of expression is immensely malleable and useful when getting ideas across.”The desire to initiate discussion and give it a platform within the context of a gallery means Lemberg-Lvova’s art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing space where the audience can identify small changes that resemble the tip of a much bigger iceberg– or at least the ignition of confidence and curiosity. 

This focus on the first and easiest step sometimes being the hardest is something of great importance for Lemberg-Lvova as she explains “An inhabitant of a city logically has the right to express ideas or wishes when it comes to their surroundings – it is, after all, their home. But they are often stuck in the belief of not being able to change anything. In this instance, I am not talking about taking action or creating a plan. This is about the simplest first step that does not require anything – feeling like one is entitled to express a wish. It doesn’t have to lead anywhere; just remember that you have the right to want something. What follows is a different matter, but it is clear that nothing will happen without this first step.”

An interactive wall installation where participant answers are projected for all to see will pay homage to the importance that Lemberg-Lvova holds for communities to listen to the expressions of their surrounding civilians. She explains “From an early age, our heads are flooded with subliminal messaging and that often diminishes internal self-worth. Let me explain this from the point of view of a woman – a frame of reference I am most familiar with. As a woman one feels that unless they have perfect dazzlingly white teeth, flawless hair, a tiny waist and the right kind of shoes they are not worthy of expressing an opinion. Because if you do not fulfill all of the criteria above, no one will listen to you or even consider you worthy of attention. This is a cliché, yet it exists because it is true. It describes the reality of many women, because we are surrounded by sources reaffirming it – adverts, friends, sometimes parents or spouses, fitness centers and the list goes on. At the exhibition, I am striving to fill the space with messaging that reiterates one’s right to express their wishes whoever they are.

What to maintain_ – Lemberg-Lvova 2020

Her message is clear – we should not avoid formulating our wishes in matters that concern us. Her persistence to initiate discussion and to give it a platform within the context of a gallery means her art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing meeting space for the artist as well as her audience amongst each other.

Open Studio at Kogo Gallery, Widget Factory (Aparaaditehas), Tartu, Estonia: 08.07-01.08

Exhibition “Don’t Avoid What is Easy – Diplomacy meets art”at Vabaduse Gallery: 14.08-09.09

*Valeriya Billich also contributed to this article. Photos:Mariia Nedosekova

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Life of a Bon Vivant

Ankit Malhotra

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Gentleman Sitting in Wingback Chair Enjoying a Brandy Fleece Blanket, John Lyes

Uncertainty and summer saunter in with its retinue of rules, so I am told. While philistines slip into their shorts. Gentlemen don’t do that. At least the ones I know, or rather, admire. I am strongly of the opinion that summer requires meticulous management and planning. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the sartorial preferences, dietary habits, and recreational regime. Additionally, and rather, increasingly significant nowadays, at the bar cabinet, which must gracefully welcome fresh grog.

Change, I am reminded of being told is a perpetual challenge. This is true now more than ever before. This summer shall be different for me; No travel to new or old destinations, no steeps into rich heritage which are pulsing with an unparalleled artistic spirit, no gastronomic sensations and beautifully landscaped parks and gardens that beautifully manicured and most of all, a restricted consumption regime of spirits and smokes. There is no doubt about the fact that the perfection of a sufficient dose of sensual stimulation shall be missed, dearly.

In times of such glaring uncertainty, many of us find ourselves in the rigour of isolation. Yet one mustn’t drown in sorrow, for that pernicious jump into the rabbit hole of total despair will drive to insanity. Instead, in the spirit of making hay while the sun shines, I find myself deeply grasped in my hobbies and interests of art, culture, fashion, and even interior design. In furtherance of my interests and passions, I plan future trips to the European continent for study and debaucherously pleasurable activities while my folks worry about the thickness of their chequebook.

Despite countless hours spent on my multiple whims and fancies devoting time to the daily duties is an art. An art that is similar to the fine tailoring abilities of the talented gentlemen with the extraordinary skill of Hunstman, Savile Row. Managing the split of time is learned and perfected over time, like the of cutting cloth. This skill, over which I have achieved mastery, I am lucky to say, I received at birth from my mother who hails from a decorated family of army officers. For me, it runs my veins to be fastidious. For novices, here’s a hint; Avoid morning lie-ins, afternoon naps, and daytime Netflix binges while leaving tasks to complete after the evening meal. Have some self-discipline, dude.

These days after supper, I find myself sitting back in my armchair engrossed in a new book with either a Cohiba or something out from my patriarch’s prized whiskey collection, resting on my mahogany piecrust tripod table helping me fulfil the senses. Millennial Chilling is not for me. I have often been told that I am an old soul trapped in a new body. To me, that is madness, but I often see the method in it. That is because, I do not find any sense of gratification or contentment in doing nothing but, for those who do, remember, one simply can’t make love seven days a week, much as one’s partner might desire it. Other forms of vigorous exercise are sometimes required.

While I happily drown myself in pursuit of knowledge, I turn to the literary world to share my final thoughts to share a contrary tale. The words of Ernest Hemingway: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. For me, contrarily, the gleeful effect of the fine cognac and Erik Satie’s mastery on the piano has its drowning effect. You hear only what you wish to hear much like my most favoured ruler, Napoleon. To that, I’ll drink.

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