Thursday, February 29, 2024


                                                          (miniature painting ....portrait of Dara Shikoh )


The first Urdu Gazal was written by a Kashmiri Pandit Chander Bhan better known as Chander Bhan 'Brahman'. He used Brahman as his pen name or Takhallus. Chander Bhan used his caste name as his Takhallus. The need for that identification was a sign that Chander Bhan was secure in both worlds – a “sacred thread-wearing” man from the learned castes who also counted among his mentors the Mughal officials who happened to be Muslim and were deeply spiritual. Most were like Chander Bhan himself, affected and influenced by this Indo-Persian ethos of seeking harmony and showing a “mystical civility” toward all.

Son of Pandit Dharam Das Bhan, a respected government official during the rule of  Jahangir, Chander Bhan Brahman was an accomplished scholar, author , polyglot ,poet and philosopher . He was well-versed in Persian, Arabic , Hindi ,Sanskrit  and Urdu . As  young boy, he  mastered most of the standard works of Persian lan­guage and literature under the tutelage of Abd-al-Ḥakim Sialkoti , Mīr ʿAbd-al-Karīm (mīr-a ʿemārat “superintendent of buildings” at La­hore), and Jafar Khan . He studied Persian calligraphy with the governor of Lahore Mollā Šokr-Allāh Afżal Khan , Āqā ʿAbd-al-Rašīd, and Kefāyat Khan . Before joining the court of Shahjahan ,Brahman served as secretary to several highly placed figures in the time of Shahjahan : Āṣaf Khan (commander of the royal forces at Lahore), Eslām Khan, ʿAllāmī Saʿd-Allāh Khan , Moʿaẓẓam Khan, ʿEnāyat Khan, and Afżal Khan (Wazīr-al-Mulk ). Through contact with them, his literary tastes were refined, and he developed a strong affinity for Sufis and saints. After the death of Afżal Khan, his nephew ʿĀqel Khan presented Brahman to Shahjahan and recommended him for a suitable post in the Royal Court. The emperor was highly  impressed by Barahman’s deep knowledge of Persian literature and by his callig­raphy . That is how Brahman entered Shahjan’s court

Brahman belonged to a Kashmiri Pandit family that had come to live in Lahore during the rule of Jahangir . He worked as Munshi (secretary) to Shahjahan. Chander Bhan remained in the service of Shahjahan for 30 years. He was very close to the emperor and used to write his diary. Chander Bhan "Brahman" stayed with the king during his travels and wrote down the circumstances of his travels. Later, he was given the responsibility of writing down the details of the Emperor’s visit to various countries. For historians, Chander Bhan’s books are the key source of information on Shahjahan's reign. Shahjahan was highly impressed by Brahman's knowledge of Persian literature .A linguist king like Shahjahan could not have entrusted the job of writing his diary to a non-linguist. He also worked on compiling Sanskrit epistemology. Chander Bhan was an Urdu-Persian poet and also a great scholar of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. He authored several books on Sufism and literature. The following works by Brahman are mentioned by his biographers and also by him in his letters  . However, only a few of them are extant.

1. A Divan containing 342 Gazals, 36 quatrains , and some brief didactic Masanawis in Persian .

2.Chahar-chaman, a historical composition with four chapters

3. Goldasta-e Chanhar-chaman extracts from Chahar-chaman

4. Toḥfat al-wozarāʾ (Gems of the viziers).

5. Kār-nāma (Chronicle).

6. Toḥfat al foṣaḥāʾ (Gems of literary language).

7. Majmaʿ al-foqarāʾ (Collection of Sufi writings).

8. Monšaʾāt (letters), a collection of 128 letters div­ided into five sections, according to whether they are addressed to kings, statesmen, friends, and the like, all with brief forms of address, in contrast to the normal practice of the time.

9. Roqqaʿāt (fragments).

10. Mokālamāt-e Dārā-Šokūh wa Bābā Lāl, the Persian translation of a mystical discourse between Dara Shikoh and Bābā Lāl, a Hindu ascetic, that took place at Brahman’s residence .

Chander Bhan "Brahman " is one of the few Persian-language Indian poets who have been recognized by the people of Iran. His poetry dwelt on subjects of Tawhid, Sufism and Vedanta. Brahman was probably the first gifted Hindu poet and writer in Persian, a product of the Indo-Persian culture that flourished under the Mughals. His work in Persian has attracted the attention of modern-day Persian scholars including Prof Zabiollah Safa .


Chander Bhan's family moved from Kashmir to Lahore and then to Agra . He was also given some Jagir in Agra  by the Mughal Emperor . He is believed to have died sometime after the death of Shahjahan. Chander Bhan Brahman's proximity to Shahjahan made the latter entrust him with the complete responsibility of education and upbringing of his favourite son, Prince Dara Shikoh, who rose to become a literary figure. Apart from Arabic and Persian  literature,  Brahman also  passed on the knowledge of Vedanta and Islamic Tassavuf  to young Dara who grew up  to become a liberal and open-minded person . Dara was also an ardent follower of Sufi mystic Mian Mir . A proponent of peace and tolerance, Mian Mir is famously known as a friend of Guru Arjan Dev . Mian Mir was invited by the Sikh Guru to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar . Mian Mir used to say, “Karni Parvan Kya Hindu Kya Musalman? (In the path to God, there is no Hindu or Muslim)”. In 1657, Dara Shikoh  got 52 Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita  translated into Persian .Dara also had close bonds with  the seventh Sikh Guru( Guru Har Rai ). Although in 1655 his father and Mughal emperor Shahjahan declared him the Crown Prince, Dara was assassinated on August 30, 1659, by his younger brother, Aurangzeb, in a bitter struggle for the throne. Dara Shikoh was 44 at the time of his death.




There is a fascinating story in Rajeev Kinra’s (Associate Professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University, USA )  book on Chandar Bhan Brahman titled , "Writing Self, Writing Empire: Chandar Bhan Brahman and the Cultural World of the Indo-Persian State Secretary" .Based on Chahar-Chaman of Chander Bhan Brahman,  Rajeev Kinra narrates the story of Princess Jahanara, Shahjahan’s eldest child,  who sustained severe burn injuries after an accident in the Agra fort. The sad emperor looked in every direction for help to ensure the recovery of, arguably, his favourite child. In his eloquent and flowery prose, Chandar Bhan details Shahjahan’s concern, his vigil over his convalescing daughter and the efforts the court took to ensure the best medical care for her. Those who arrived at the fort included not just Unani medical men, but also Hakims,alchemists, herbalists ,Yogis, Vaids, Jyotishis and other practitioners of native medicine. A call had gone out across a wide region to secure the best possible help. The narrative also accentuates Chandar Bhan’s  role as a trusted official who was privy to the emperor’s emotions and feelings. Brahman’s book Chahar-Chaman is divided into four parts. The first chapter describes the celebration of festivals in the court of Shahjahan . Brahman used to recite poems in these festivals. The second chapter describes  the splendour of the court,  the daily business of Shahjahan , his new capital Shahjahanbad, and the major cities and suburbs of the empire .The third chapter contains the life story of Chander Bhan Brahman and his letters while the fourth chapter deals with moral and religious subjects . In Chahar-Chaman ,  Brahman writes the name of his son as Tej Bhan . He also mentions Rai Bhan as his brother who died young.The name of another brother of Brahman is mentioned as  Udai Bhan  .

 He was deeply influenced by Islamic culture but in all his writings he shows his Hindu proclivities. In one of his verses, he says: -

“Maraa dilest ba-kufr-aashnaa ki chandii.n baar

Ba-kaabaa burdam-o-baazash barhaman aawardam.”


(I possess the heart of an infidel.

Many a time I took it to the Ka’ba

but always brought it back a Brahman”.)

It is related” that when he recited this verse in the court, Shah Jahan became greatly displeased, but Brahman’s patron Afzal Khan humorously quoted the well-known verse of Saadi:

‘Khar-e-iisaa agar ba-makka rawad

Chuun bayaayad hanuuz Khar baashad”


(If the donkey of Jesus goes to Mecca,

 on its return, it remains a donkey.)

The king smiled at the pleasantry. Brahman being a devout Hindu had a special affection for his sacred thread. He says:

“Maraa ba-rishtaa-e-zunnaar ulfate Khaas ast

Ki yaadgaatr-e-man az barhaman hamii-daaram”


(I have a special love for my sacred thread,

for this is the only sign which I possess of the Brahmanic faith.)




                                      ( Chander Bhan  Brahman praises  Kashmir  in Chahar chaman )

What distinguishes Brahman from others is that he was not only the first Diwan-e-Hindu poet of Persian but also the first Diwan-e-Shair of Urdu language. He is credited with having written the first Urdu Gazal .Chander Bhan "Brahman ,lived before Wali Deccani. Though on records, it’s Deccani who is credited with writing the first Diwan (collection) of Urdu poetry, the fact is that Wali Deccani was born in 1669, six years after Chander Bhan’s death.A sample of his Urdu Gazal is as under:-


Khuda ne kis shahar andhar haman ko laaye daala hai...

Na dilbar hai na sheesha hai na saaqi hai na pyaala hai ...

piya ke naam ki simran kiya chaahoon karoon kis sinn,

na tasbih hai na simran hai na kanthi hai na maala hai ...

"Birahman"' vaaste ashnaan ke phirtaa hai bagiyan sinn,

na ganga hai na jamuna hai na naddi hai na naala hai ...


( Avtar Mota )

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Sunday, February 25, 2024



I thought buyers for  my sorrow had come to the market,I too arrived to sell my dreams .How strange ,life called me many times yet hid itself every time I arrived to meet her . Fooled every time , yet simpletons like me , kept coming again and again at her call . Poet Ahmed Faraz also feels similarly .

"Ye soch kar ki gham ke khareedaar aa gaye
Hum khwaab bechne sar e bazaar aa gaye
Awaaz dhe ke zindagi har baar chhup gayi
Hum aisse saada dil thay ki har baar aa gaye"..

( Avtar Mota )

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Saturday, February 24, 2024




When respect is intended to be shown, Kashmiris use words like Huz or Mahara. Muslims use Huz which is believed to be a shortcut for Hazarat. In the Arab world, the word Hazarat is used with religious persons or respected personalities. It is a title prefixed to the name of a saint or any respected person . I found people from Turkey and Iran using word Hazarat  .It is also equivalent to the normal Western honorific addressing high officials as "your honour" or  “your majesty ”.In Kashmir when the word Huz is used, the intention is to convey “ I respect you ”. The word Mahara used by Pandits is a shortcut for Maharaj. The word Maharaj comes from two Sanskrit words, Mahat/Maha meaning  "Great," and “Rajan” meaning, "King".While the literal meaning of the word Maharaj is “Great King ”, it is used as a title to address men who hold high, noble or religious office. Kashmiri  Pandits use it for elders to demonstrate respect and regard. Amongst Kashmiri Pandits, the word  Mahara is used to convey, “ I respect you ”. 

Other titles of address that Kashmiris use are as under;

(1 ) Joo …Elders are shown respect and addressed with their names suffixed with "joo", like Ram Joo,  Krishen Joo, Subhan Joo, and Qadir Joo. Both Hindus and Muslims use Joo.

(2 ) Sahib ... Sahib means Sir or Master and was especially popular among the native inhabitants of colonial India when addressing or speaking of a European of some social or official status. It is also a general title for the boss, ‘ Sahib Chha Aamut’  … ‘Has the boss come? It was also used for addressing Europeans in Kashmir like  Biscoe Sahib or Neve Sahib for Tyndale Biscoe or Dr Arthur Neve. Kashmiris also suffix it with surname to give respect like Dar Sahib, Dhar Sahib, and Koul Sahib.  The word has been carried over and put to extensive use even after the freedom from British rule. Sahib is also used for Almighty or God.

(3 ) Haej Saaeb … Used while addressing an elderly person who has performed Haj.

(4) Pandit Ji …Used for showing respect to an elderly Kashmiri Pandit while addressing him. Pandit Ji is also substituted by the word Bobu Ji when Muslims address an elderly Kashmiri Pandit.

( 5) Khwaja Saeb… Khawaja means master or lord. The title is also closely related to other terms in Sufism or one can say a spiritual title but practically in Kashmir, it is used to address a person who is well-off or belongs to the upper strata of the society. The word Khwjabaai is used for females to show respect.

( 7 )  Kaak .. A  member of a Kashmiri family who is elderly, wise and has rich experience of life.

( Avtar Mota )

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Friday, February 23, 2024



Inspired by a post of  Abdul Majeed Baba on Facebook , I wrote this quatrain  in Kashmiri :-

 "Dapaan chhus soor mala ha door tsal ha..
Kollan pyaath daaf traavith obbur vala-ha.. 
Chillas atch-ha  ba kuni sheena-maani goffi manz,
Zuviek yim naar-taet saari ba chhala-ha .."

I have tried to render this thought into English for friends who don't know Kashmiri :-

(Wish I could  smear this body with ash and move far away,
Move far away to sleep on the surface of  streams and rivulets,
Move far away to   slip into quilts of clouds ,
Move far away to to enter some freezing glacial cave 
and cold-wash the burns tormenting my  soul..) 

( Avtar Mota )

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(Photo ...A portrait of Josephine Bonaparte  wife of Napoleon with a Kashmiri Pashmina shawl and garment to cover her body)



 Kashmiri shawls are coveted fabrics that have a rich history of being the most valued possession. Pashmina shawls  from Kashmir are often referred to as soft gold, owing to their softness, lightweight ,texture and fine weave.  Cherished and prized by the courts of Caesar, or the French queen Mary Antoinette or Josephine Bonaparte , Kashmiri shawls have enjoyed patronage in Mughals ,Rajputana ruler ,Ottoman Turks and many Royal European courts. I  saw a portrait of  Josephine  Bonaparte in Louvre ( Paris )  wearing a gown, the lower part of which is made from a Kashmiri embroidered Pashmina shawl. The portrait was done by Antoine Jean Gros. In Paris , I also saw a portrait of  Marie Antoinette wife of King Louis XVI done by Jacques Louis David in 1790. She is shown wearing an exquisite  Kashmiri shawl over her left shoulder and elements of it hang down below her leg revealing a patterned tip. The pretty queen was publicly guillotined by revolutionaries in Paris following the French Revolution which also abolished the monarchy in  France. In another portrait that I saw, Queen Konigin Pauline of  Wurttemberg, Germany  wearing a Kashmiri shawl. This portrait was done in 1825 by artist  Joseph Karl Stieler. The queen is shown  holding her son Karl who later married Grand Princess Olga.

 In France, I  came to know that many Egyptian traders would move to Europe and sell Kashmiri Shawls. Apart from other commodities or handicrafts, some shops in Cairo used to sell Kashmiri shawls. Many books reveal the movement of silk, and other handicrafts including woollen shawls from India on the ancient Silk Route right up to Palmyra  (Syria), the last outpost of the Roman Empire.

Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls and embroidery is certainly  a unique gift  to the world but the story of shawl as  apparel is as old as human civilization . I have seen it in paintings ,sculpture , stories and fables from ancient Rome , Greece , India ,and Egypt. Even the ancient  Chinese and Zoroastrians women wore a drapery that comes close to the shawl.


I have seen many ancient Egyptian paintings and sketches etched on stones where women are shown wearing cape shoulder drapery like a shawl. Some paintings depict women wearing shawl like drapery to cover their neck and chest. We have the story of Queen Neferititi ( around 1350 BC ) who wore fashionable shawl like apparel to cover her head  or neck and chest which became a status symbol of women  belonging to royal families in ancient Egypt .  May be for this reason, the  Kashmiri Pashmina shawl had its first market in Egypt wherefrom it travelled to France and Europe .


In ancient Rome, only married women  wore a stola . In addition to that , Roman women also wore a palla, a versatile shawl that was long, wide, and rectangular. The palla was a draped shawl that was placed over the outer tunic. It was pulled across the shoulder or over the head like a veil. It could be worn as a cloak or head covering. The more brightly coloured, decorative, and elaborately folded, the more wealthy the woman was. It was a status symbol. The Statue of Ashurnasrpal II from the 9th century BC features the emperor wearing a shawl.

Shawls also had a significant presence in ancient Greece. They were draped over the shoulders by men and women . Those amongst us who have visited Santorini  (Greece )  must have observed typical Greek shawls, a blend of wool and linen or sometimes only  heavy silk with a crinkled texture being sold to tourists . Silk shawls and scarves were popular in Hellenic homes. Ancient Greeks were masters in apparel embroidery .The designs embroidered included representations of floral patterns and geometric patterns as well intricate scenes from Greek stories. In ancient Greece , Shawl was known as Epiblema.


There is a miniature painting in Philadelphia Museum of art in the US  that shows a scene from Ramayana where Sita is shown throwing her shawl. This painting illustrates an episode from the fourth section of the Ramayana, the Kishkindha-kanda, which describes the politics of Kishkindha-the monkey kingdom-and tells how the monkeys helped Sri Rama in his quest to rescue Sita. Hoping to give Sri Rama a clue to her whereabouts, Sita threw down her shawl and jewellery, which the monkeys picked up and hid in a cave. So , In India , shawl is as ancient as  Ramayana.

So long so much

( Avtar Mota)


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