Saturday, September 11, 2021




BOOK  REVIEW….Baharistan-i-Shahi (A Chronicle of Mediaeval Kashmir)
by Kashinath Pandit,
2nd edition., paperback, pages 312,
published by Akshaya Prakashan, Delhi-110052,

Not everybody can be a good translator. Translation is more than linguistic knowledge or accuracy. A good  translator must possess some basic qualities like proficiency in source and target  language ,  writing skills , enthusiasm to appreciate other cultures, a passion for  details and above all professionalism . From my study of the book under review  , I am convinced that Kashinath Pandit  possesses many more qualities apart from the ones  listed by me. From the study of the  book , it becomes  amply  clear that  Kashinath Pandit  is a traveller , historian , writer , teacher and above all a translator par excellence . 

Let us delve a little  into the background of the translator . At  Teheran university , Kashinath  Pandit  had been a  favourite student of   the world renowned  scholar  Prof. Dr Zabiollah Safa ( 1911-1999)  , a doyen of Persian literature.  Dr Safa was an author , teacher , polyglot , philosopher, writer , translator and editor. Kashinath Pandit did his doctorate under the guidance of Dr Safa . Studies relating to  Central Asia have been an area of specialization for Kashinath Pandit. He has  extensively travelled to various countries in the Central Asia , Europe and also visited the US many times .He retired as  Director  Department of Central Asian Studies , University of Kashmir . Author of books like ‘My Tajik Friends ‘, ‘Avicenna – An Introduction’ ,  ‘Iran and Central Asia ‘,  ‘Ladakh, Life and Culture (edited )’ , ‘Hafiz of Shiraz (Urdu)’, ‘Ten Studies in Kashmir’ ,  Kashi Nath Pandit has also translated ‘Tohfatul Ahbab’ into English from Persian. He has also been awarded Padamshri by Government of India .

The book under review is the  second edition of the well known “ Baharistan I Shahi “ translated  from Persian into English by Kashinath Pandit. Baharistan I Shahi is a Farsi manuscript that deals with the history of  Kashmir brought down to 1614 A.D.  The manuscript remained inaccessible to non Farsi knowing scholars and historians . The first translation of the Farsi manuscript was done in 1991 by Kashinath Pandit from a collated text of the two existing and reliable manuscripts held by India Office Library  and  British Museum . This Farsi text deals with the early Hindu period in a summary manner  ( giving it just 11 out of a total of 212 folios )and essentially focuses on the rule of  Shahmiri Sultans and Chaks . Translating this work has been a tough job on account of many factors. The  Farsi manuscript of the chronicle is a single  long narrative without segregation of rulers or period of their rule . The translator has done a value addition by segregating  this text into chapters that make it easy for the readers to understand the events and happenings period wise . This segregation has been done with a skill that leaves no scope for overlapping of events or their  dislocation from the flow .The translator has also taken great pains to correct  some incorrect names of the places mentioned in the Farsi manuscript.  For this he has consulted  relevant historical texts like Rajatarangini ,   Nilamata Purana , Ain I Akbari ,  relevant  Gazeteer  of Kashmir , Buhler’s Report , Tarikh I Hasan , Tarikh I Malik Haider Chadura and many more books . The transliteration of  the Persian or Arabic or Sanskrit words and phrases has been done in accordance with the accepted system with diacritical marks wherever necessary . The translator has also taken pains to convert Hijra years of the Farsi manuscript  into Christian years .

The greatest quality of this translation remains the  footnotes  of the translator . These footnotes reveal the deep study ,  the  erudite scholarship  and  the  knowledge of  history that the translator has.  The footnotes help even a layman in understanding the  events in a proper historical perspective .

Baharistan I Shahi  is an important historical  document  that needs to be widely read and  known. The author of this work appears to have been close to the rulers of his time and some events are thus first hand account of the rule of Chaks . He also appears to have been very close to Sayyids  whom he praises lavishly .The book also gives a fair  glimpses of the events , style of governance ,  court intrigues , political rivalries. personal enmities ,  battles for power , general  outlook of  Shahmiri and Chak rulers, role of  Mughal rulers  , role of Baihaqi Sayyids  and Mir  Shamasu‘d- Din Iraqi in Kashmir .

One amongst the major issues dealt in this book is the large-scale  conversion of  the Hindus  of Kashmir and demolition and destruction  of their  places of worship..  What Jonaraja has said in a summary manner , the author of Baharistan I Shahi provides the same  information with  details  .The book also informs the reader about the contempt  that the  Sayyids had for the local Kashmiri population. The Kashmiri Hindus who were converted to Islam also did not venerate the Sayyids who claimed high birth and at times told publicly that they were “ Musalman Brahmans “ as against “ Hindu Brahmanas “ .   Baharistan I Shahi endorses that greatness and virtues of Sultan  Zain ul Abdin whom Jonraja calls as incarnation of Vishnu .  Although  the author of Baharistan I Shahi is not happy with Sultan Zain ul Abdin for his liberal policy towards   the Hindus , he praises the Sultan for his splendid work in all other areas.

Bahiristan I Shahi is important  historical document on account of its numerous references to geography and topography of Kashmir. The book makes ample mention of lakes, villages , mountains , passes , routes , springs , rivers and boundaries of Kashmir. The chaos created by the death of Sultan Zain ul Abdin also finds detailed mention in the book .  According to the author , the enmity between various groups of  Kashmiri chieftains  led finally to the arrival of Mughals on the scene . The visit of Sheikh Yaqoob Sarfi to Akbar’s court proved as catalytic agent to the Mughal rule in Kashmir .

Concluding this review , it shall be purposeful for every reader of history to go through this translation and have a glimpse of Kashmir’s troubled history with first hand account of some period  to which the author of this chronicle has been a witness. The  erudition , research and hard work of the translator is visible at every page and its footnotes .

( Avtar Mota) 

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