Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dalrymple on "The Arts of Kashmir"

William Dalrymple has a good essay in this issue of the NYRB on Asia Society's exhibition catalog by Pratapaditya Pal on "The Arts of Kashmir".

The first part of the essay describes the sad devastation of the Kashmir Valley and the destruction of Kashmir's traditionally peace loving and syncretic culture. No matter where one places the blame for this long and deadly conflict, the clash of nationalisms that has played out in Kashmir has ravaged the Kashmiris with no end in sight for this strife torn people.

The exhibition catalog and Dalrymple's essay serves to remind the audience of the historic cultural vitality of Kashmir with its rich Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim past. I particularly enjoyed reading about the early Kashmiri Muslim ruler Zain-ul-Abidin "Budshah" (1420-1470) who was renowned for his artistic patronage and whose 50 year reign is still remembered fondly by Kashmiris despite the passage of 500 years:
Fluent in Kashmiri, his native tongue, and Persian, Sanskrit, and Tibetan, he was a great patron of the arts and architecture, of literature and music, and in the conservation and preservation of Kashmir's heritage, irrespective of his religious affiliation.... Indeed, the only other Muslim ruler on the subcontinent who can be compared to Zain-ul-Abidin for his liberality, his intellectual curiosity, his love of learning as well as music, and for introducing and nourishing a wide range of crafts and arts and architecture is the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556–1605).
One can only hope that Kashmiris and their land are spared further destruction and they gradually find a way back to a culture "of tolerance and syncretism so clearly exemplified in Kashmir's artistic traditions".

Photograph: Shiva and his consort Parvati (ca. 900 AD)

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