Language use is an important sub-field of sociolinguistics through which one gets an idea about the use of different languages in a speech community. Sometimes language use can be directly observed as, for example, in the media, schools etc. However, in other types of situations, information regarding language use needs to be elicited.
Kashmiri in general and KP in particular has been a polyglot throughout the known history. Besides being mother tongue (Kashmiri) it has had a sound knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu-Hindi, and English. Literatures of these languages are a testimony to their genius and creativity. Their original contributions in the areas of philosophy, theology, aesthetics, logic, grammar, astronomy etc. occupy a place of pride in the existing literatures of these disciplines.
The information regarding language use in various domains is based on direct observation and a small-scale survey, which was conducted in different parts of the valley. During the survey a small questionnaire was circulated among the respondents. The data was later tabulated to compile the responses.
Kashmiri has a limited role in education in its home state, Jammu & Kashmir. It is recently introduced as an optional subject at the primary school level. It is not used as the medium of instruction.
Kashmiri is taught as an optional subject at the high school level, in the 9th and 10th classes. It is taught as a subject in few colleges in the valley of Kashmir at the graduation level.
Kashmiri is taught as a subject at the post-graduate level at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar.
Kashmiri has never served as the language of administration. Instead the languages, which have served for administrative purposes, have not been indigenous to the area. At different points of time Sanskrit, Persian and Urdu have played this role. Sanskrit served as the official language upto Mughal times (beginning with the conquest of Kashmir by Emperor Akbar in 1586) from which time Persian assumed this role. Persian, later, was replaced by Urdu as the official language in 20th century. Urdu continues to "serve as the administrative language of Kashmir; the existing policy was simply ratified in 1947, as Urdu functioned as the link language in the multilingual state. There has been no attempt to introduce Kashmiri as an administrative language in any branch of government; although it has sometimes been taught as an optional subject at various levels in the schools." (Koul and Schmidt, 1983).
In the survey mentioned above, responses regarding the language preferences of the respondents were elicited. The results of the survey revealed that a good percentage, i.e. 43% of respondents favour the use of Kashmiri as the language of administration. The remaining 57% were divided in their responses with some favouring English and some favouring Urdu as the language of administration.
Mass media is not very well developed as far as Kashmiri language is concerned. Inspite of the fact, Radio Kashmir and Srinagar and Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar, the two important media institutions of Kashmir valley, have played a great role in the development of Kashmiri language and literature.
Srinagar branch of Doordarshan telecasts programmes in Kashmiri, Urdu and Hindi languages. However, majority of the programmes are in the Kashmiri language. They include news, songs and other programmes. It was observed that, out of these programmes, the Kashmiri news bulletins of Srinagar Doordarshan have a large number of viewers. 67% respondents reported viewing the Kashmiri news on Doordarshan Srinagar. Only 27% respondents showed interest in Kashmiri songs broadcast on Doordashan Srinagar and only a small number showed inclination towards other programmes. The small number of responses regarding Kashmiri songs may be due to the fact that the Hindi-Urdu film songs have become very popular among Kashmiri youth in recent years.
Besides the regular television channel, Doodarshan has launched a special channel 'Kashmir Channel' that broadcasts programmes only in Kashmiri language. The channel has become popular in rural areas and among older people.
Radio forms an important mass media in Kashmir. Radio Kashmir, Srinagar mostly broadcasts programmes in Kashmiri language, which includes songs, news bulletins and other programmes. The news in Kashmiri is broadcast thrice a day. The Kashmiri news bulletins have a good number of listeners. 77% respondents reported listening to the Kashmiri news bulletins regularly. However, they did not show that much interest in songs and other programmes. The huge response in case of news bulletins may be due to the fact that Kashmiri people want to keep themselves abreast about the happenings in their motherland in these turbulent times.
It is a pity that no daily or weekly newspapers are published in Kashmiri language and only few journals are published in this language. Among the journals published in Kashmiri, bimonthly Sheeraza is published by Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Srinagar and the bimonthly Aalove is published by Department of Information, Jammu and Kashmir Government. The post-graduate department of Kashmir, University of Kashmir, Srinagar publishes an annual journal Anhaar. In addition to these journals, some literary organizations also publish their own journals which include Volrik Malar, Saqafat, Partav and Vethi Aagur. Some journals in Kashmiri published in places like Jammu and Delhi that include Nagraad, Khir Bhawani Times, Koshur Samachar etc.
In judiciary, the position of Kashmiri is not strong. In the lower courts, Urdu language is predominantly used while in higher courts Urdu and English are used. In police stations the official and legal documents and reports are written in Urdu while as in the discussions of legal cases, Kashmiri language is widely used.
Kashmiri forms the main language at the Panchayat and Block levels. It is due to the fact that these Panchayats are found in rural areas which makes the use of Kashmiri language indispensable.
Kashmiri has no role in the legislature of the state. In the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, Urdu language serves as the dominant language which is followed by English.
Muslims and Hindus form the two dominant religious communities of Kashmir valley. However, due to the mass migration of Kashmiri Pandit community after the eruption of militancy, only a small number of Hindus live in the valley at present. Arabic forms the religious language of Muslims while as Sanskrit is the religious language of Hindus in Kashmir. The survey majority of Muslims showed Arabic as their religious language. This may be due to the fact that Arabic serves as the language for Namaz or Muslim prayers. However, in other religious customs, Kashmiri was shown as the dominant language.
Amongst all the Dardic group of languages of Indo-Aryan family, Kashmiri is the only language which has a written or literary tradition. "Literary tradition of Kashmiri is a composite growth which reflects the impact of different ages and different influences." (Raina, Soom Nath, 1990, Kashmiri for Non-Kashmiris, Patiala : Gopi Publications).
The earliest literary text in Kashmiri is said to have been written between 1200 and 1500 A.D. Sitikants’ Mahanaya Prakasha is believed to be the first literary manuscript written in the Kashmiri language. It was written in the Sharda script. As far as its date is concerned, Grierson is of the opinion that "Mahanaya Prakasha was written in the fifteenth century, but Chatterjee and Pushp believe that it was composed around in thirteenth century" (Kachru,1969 : A Reference Grammar of Kashmiri, University of Illinois).
After Sitikant, Lal Ded and Nund Rishi established the literary tradition of Kashmiri poetry. Both Lal Ded and Nund Rishi belonged to the 14th century. Lal Ded was a very staunch follower and propagator of Shaivism. He composed and sang the Vakhs (a poetic genre in Kashmiri) in praise of Lord Shiva. A Muslim saint Nund Rishi or Sahikhul Alam was her immediate successor and contemporary. He composed the shruks (a poetic genre in Kashmiri) to propagate the message of Islam, human brotherhood and human bondage of love. His poetry is popularly known as Kashur Koran or Kashmiri Quran.
The 16th century belonged to the great queen and poetess Habba Khatoon. She made her mark in the literary tradition of Kashmiri through her romantic poetry. Another poetess, belonging to this period, also contributed a lot to Kashmiri poetry. Both Habba Khatoon and Arni Mal belonged to a period known as period of Romanticism which extends from 1525 to 1725 A.D.
The modern literary period in Kashmiri started at the begining of 19th century. This period called as Romanticism-cum-Mysticism can be said to extend from 1726 to 1925 A.D. During this period Kashmiri poetry got very much influenced by Persian so much so that some of the verses of the poems were written in Persian. During this period Kashmiri produced a good number of poets which include famous poets of Kashmiri like Mahmud Gam, Rasool Mir, Parmanand, Shams Faqir, Wahab Parey and many others. The common forms of poetry of this period are nazm, ghazal and masnavi.
Kashmiri literature, particularly poetry, has grown in leaps and bounds in 20th century. The famous poets of 20th century are Mehjoor, Azad, Master Zinda Koul, Dina Nath Nadim, Amin Kamil and Rehman Rahi. The present day Kashmiri literature consists of both prose and poetry. A great deal of prose in the form of tales, short stories, radio plays, dramas, novels etc. have been produced in Kashimiri language in the last century. It is expected that 21st century will prove very fruitful for Kashmiri literature.
Kashmir has a long and rich tradition of folk literature. The earliest sample of folklore is available in cult-chants, which reflect the philosophy of life. Some of such cult-chants are transformed into popular rhymes which cannot be understood easily. Some important Sanskrit texts like Brhatkathaa composed by Sanskrit poets of Kashmir (kshmendra and Somadeva during 11th century) are believed to have been based on Kashmiri folk tradition. Similarly, the themes of kathaasaritasaagar, pancatantra etc. are also related to folk traditions. Folk-tales based on such texts have been adapted in different cultural contexts. For example, Persian renderings reflect different locale and names of characters. Some folk-tales of Kashmiri are based on the Persian versions of old native themes. The folk-tales have undergone different improvisations. As in other languages, they are assimilated and improvised in Kashmiri to suit different occasions and cultural contexts.
There are different genres of the Kashmiri folk literature: folk-tales, comic narratives, folk-songs, proverbs, riddles etc. Folk-tales are of different types presenting themes related to romance, adventure, miracles, anecdotal episodes, fables, fairy tales, ghost tales and tales of wit and wisdom. Most of the themes are found in Perso-Arabic and other Indian folk literature.
Kashmiri has a typical comic narrative style called ldishah. It is balladic and recited accompanied by an iron jingle. The themes of this genre are natural calamities, social problems, economic exploitation, political oppression etc.
Folk-songs are of various types: vaIvun (marriage ceremony song), vatsun (folk lyric), li:la (devotional verse), na:t (lyrical tributes), manqibat (related to Muslim saints), chakIr (folk chorus), rov bA:th (folk song sung with a rov dance), manzIl’ bA:th (cradle songs), shur’ bA:th (children songs), ma:tam bAth (songs related to death) are of two types : marsi: (grief songs), and va:n (bereavement verse).
Besides the above genres, Kashmiri has a large number of proverbs, sayings and riddles. Kashmiri proverbs are of interest from the point of view of the style. A large number of proverbs and sayings are in the conversational style.
Kashmiri folk literature has not been studied in depth so far. Most of the folk literature is scattered and has not been properly compiled. There is a wide scope for research in different genres of Kashmiri folk literature.
The richness of the Kashmiri folklore has been accepted by European scholars also. In the words of J.H. Knowles, "Kashmir as a field of folklore literature is, perhaps not surpassed in fertility by any other country in the world."(J.H. Knowles, 1893). The Kashmiri folk literature is available in different forms like folktales, proverbs, riddles, folk songs etc. Out of these, Kashmiri folktale is considered as the most developed form. Its richness can be gauged from the fact that Kashmri, with its brilliant past, is believed to have served as "the fountain head of the Asian (and later Europoean) tale treasures." (Lalita Handoo, 1994). Panchatantra, a collection of fables, serves as the most frequently quoted evidence to support this notion. The original version of Panchatantara was written in Sanskrit and contains eighty-four tales. Kathasarit Sagar is the written folktale tradition of Kashmiri. It was composed around 1070 A.D. by Somadeva.
In the modern times, The Folk Tales of Kashmir forms the earliest collection of oral tales. It was compiled by the famous missionary Physician Sir James Hinton Knowles in 1893. In 1937, Aurel Stein and J.A. Grierson brought out a collection entitled Hatim’s Tales. The collection consists of sex folktales and songs which Stein and Grierson collected from a single informant named Hatim.
Most of the Kashmiri folktales are familiar in homes. Earlier there used to be professional recuiters of tales who earned their living by telling these tales.
Kashmiri language is very rich in proverbs, which contain a wealth of information as far as the early history and social life of Kashmiris. Kashmir can be regarded as the land of proverbs and the common speech is replate with these proverbs. Some of the proverbs collected by J.H. Knowles are packed with information regarding the customs and character of the people.
Riddles form another major source of Kashmiri folk literature, which is generally used to amuse the children. However, they are very valuable in shedding light upon the ancient history of Kashmir.
Kashmiri language is very rich in folk songs also. Folk songs form an indispensable part of the life of Kashmiris. They are related to various customs, rituals, festivals and social situations that are sung on these occasions.
Folk drama is another important genre of Kashmiri folk literature. There exist some clubs and organizations in Kashmir who stage these folk dramas commonly known as Banda Pathar, the dramas usually depict the real social life of common Kashmiris.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore