Kashmir is in the news. And it has been in the news for 70 years now

Yet its mindshare among Indians is still somewhat low and its centrality to Indian civilization and culture is woefully under-appreciated
There are many aspects to Kashmir that are are very striking, yet not quite common knowledge.

And even if it is, most Indians don't pause on these facts often enough

Let's take a look at some
1. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is often thought of as this idyllic valley in the Himalayas - a frontier of India so to speak

But this conceals the geographic and demographic diversity in the valley
2. The Kashmir valley is, as we all know, one of the three regions of J&K - with Jammu and Ladakh divisions being the other two

Now in terms of area, Kashmir valley accounts for only 16% of the state's area, Jammu accounts for 26%, and Ladakh 58%
But when it comes to the population distribution, Kashmir valley is easily the most populous region.

So 15% of the state's area supports 55% of the population

And this is contrary to most people's perception that the plains would be more densely populated than the valley
Jammu for the most part is a part of the North Indian plain. Yet it is far more sparsely populated than the Kashmir Valley to its north, most of which is at altitudes in excess of 5000 ft above sea level
Let's compare the population densities of the three regions.

Kashmir valley is more than twice as dense as the Jammu plain!
In fact, Kashmir valley, far from being an isolated frontier, is among the more densely populated regions of India

It's density of 433 per sq. km is significantly higher than the Indian average of 382

Here are some of the provinces with much lower pop densities than Kashmir
Excepting the Indo-Gangetic plain, and the Tamil / Chera country, there is hardly a province in India with a pop density greater than Kashmir's

No wonder that the valley was always v central to Indian civilization for the past 2 millennia. Hardly peripheral. Hardly a hinterland
Srinagar, the capital, is not just the northernmost city in India, but is a very densely populated city given its size with 4000+ people per sq. km

It also has a claim to rank among the oldest continuously inhabited towns in India.
A city discussed in Kalhana's rAjataraMgiNi in the 12th century. As per that text, the city was founded way back in 6th century by King Pravarasena

There are also legends dating back Srinagar to Ashokan times in 3rd can BCE
Why is the Kashmir valley so much denser than the Jammu plains?

Sure. Kashmir has the Jhelum River...But Jammu has the Chenab

I don't have a very good answer to this. But it looks like even in antiquity, Kashmir vale enjoyed a greater pre-eminennce than Jammu
All the great Hindu kingdoms of Kashmir were HQ'ed in the valley, and not the Jammu plains

The great capitals of the Karkota Empire were in Shrinagara and Parihasapura

The latter was built by the great Lalitaditya Muktipida - arguably the greatest of all Kashmiri monarchs
Kashmir's centrality to Indian intellectual life was not a short-lived thing.

It was one of the great centers of Buddhist learning for much of the first half of 1st millennium.

And later of course was central to the development of Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta
One of the central figures in Chinese Buddhism, the Kuchan monk Kumarajiva, was of Kashmiri ancestry

His father Kumarayana was a Kashmiri who crossed the Pamir mountains and settled in modern Xinjiang
The son Kumarajiva was a prolific translator of several Sanskrit Buddhist works to Chinese. Including the Lotus Sutra.

A very central figure in Chinese Buddhist history
Kashmir is also that rare province, that stands out in Puranic lore, in having an entire Purana dedicated to it - the Nilamata Purana

The Nilamata Purana is usually dated to 6th/7th cen CE, and was one of the primary sources used by Kalhana for his work on Kashmir 500 yrs later
The province's deep connection with Hinduism, can be guessed from the very etymology of its name

Kashmir is very much derived from Sanskrit. While some view it as "Ka-shimeera" (desiccated land), others view it as Kashyapa-Mir - the land made habitable by the great sage Kashyapa
Greek sources including Ptolemy refer to the land as "Kasperia" suggestive of the Kashyapa connection with Kashmir - a land that was formerly a lake, but drained by Kashyapa Mahrishi, under whom the first brahmin settlements in the region happened
One of the grandest temples in India - The Martanda temple was built in the Vale of Kashmir near modern Anantnag by the Karkota emperor Lalitaditya Muktipida

The temple lasted 5+ centuries before being demolished by the Shah Mir dynast Sikandar in the 14th century
One of Kashmir's greatest intellectual products was the redoubtable Abhinavagupta (of 10th century) - a native of the valley, who is remembered to this day as one of India's finest philosophers, and polymaths
Today one remembers Abhinavagupta as a critical figure of Kashmir Shaivism and Tantra

But he was a lot more than that

This Kashmiri was not just a man of religion, but a theorist of Indian art and aesthetics
He wrote commentaries on the works of both Bharatamuni (Natyasastra) and Anandavardhana

The idea of "rasa" is central to Indian art today. Though mentioned in Natyasastra, its elaboration happened mainly in the hands of Abhinavagupta in his bhashya "Abhinavabharati"
Kashmir's intellectual heft is further indicated by the legends in the Dravida country in the hagiographies of Sri Ramanuja, the Sri-Vaishnava philosopher
When Ramanuja wished to write his commentary on the Brahma Sutras (Sri Bhashya), he wished to refer a Vrtti written by Bodhayana on the Sutras

A manuscript of the Vrtti was available only in Kashmir which prompted Ramanuja to journey to Kashmir from Tamil country to reference it
Kashmir’s geopolitical heft, though arguably exaggerated by scholars like Kalhana, was no less worthy of our attention than its intellectual contributions
The Karkota empire during the reign of Lalitaditya Muktapida, was headquartered in the valley but extended its sway across much of North India at least for a brief period
Also contrary to popular perception, Kashmir was not among the first regions of Greater India to islamize.

In fact Mahmud of Ghazni did not succeed in raiding Kashmir, even though he raided much of North India. The Lohara kingdom held on
Kashmir remained staunchly Hindu, right up to the 14th century

Even Mohammad Ghori did not succeed in annexing Kashmir.

It was only in the 14th century that after the fall of the Loharas, Kashmir fell into the hands of the Shah Mir dynasts who established Islam in the region
The sixth Sultan of this dynasty was the notorious SIkandar Butshikan who ruled from 1389 to 1413.

The Martanda temple fell during his reign. And it was during this period that great efforts were made to convert the populace to Islam. Efforts which finally succeeded
The Sultan was also a very conscious islamist. Who encouraged settlements of Sufi saints in the region, and also imposed the Jizya

The history of this period is vividly described by Jonaraja, a Kashmiri of 15th cen who continued Kalhana’s vein with his “Dwitiya Rajataramgini”
Interestingly Kashmir is one of the few parts of this country which have had this historical tradition

The tradition of histories being written - something you don’t necessarily associate with other parts of India, where historical records are patchier
Eventually Kashmir fell under the Mughals, in 16th century during AKbar’s reign. But it was also one of the early provinces to move away from the Mughals.

In the mid 18th century, power shifted to the Durrani dynast Afghans
In early 19th century, the region came under Sikh rule - governed by the great Ranjit Singh of Lahore

In 1846, post the Anglo Sikh wars, the region was gifted to the Hindu Dogras, under Gulab Singh, whose dynasty ruled till 1947 when the province acceded to India
So unlike many other parts of India, Kashmir has not been under Muslim rule since early 19th century

A region that was under first Sikh rule (1820-46) and later for the most part Hindu rule from 1846 to 1947
However the culture had been islamized a few centuries before all of this

And the Sikh and Hindu rulers did not succeed in (or probably did not even attempt) cultural engineering

The Demography remained mostly Muslim though the Jammu plain remained predominantly HIndu and Dogra
Recent history of Kashmir is well known to most people.

The key aspect of Kashmir causing the conflict has been the demographic balance.

Despite its long history and centrality to Indian civilization, the valley has been over 90% muslim for many centuries now
For Kashmir to continue to be a part of Indian civilization, what’s needed is not just security measures, but also a cultural renaissancece.

A spiritual regeneration that reminds the Kashmiris of the region’s centrality to Indian life and Indian thought
Such a regeneration need not be anti-Muslim. But it definitely would entail a more religiously diverse valley than what we see today

For Kashmir to remain Indian, it has to cease being a monoculture. Something that it never quite was for most of its history right up to 14th cen
However the culture has become even more homogeneous since acceding to India than it was in past centuries as indicated by this chart

Notice the decline in H- population since 1980 - caused by the fleeing of Kashmiri Pandits
The liberal argument often is -

"Hey...why do we harp on ancient history and cultural connections..
"Let's face up to ground realities"..
"Let's have a plebiscite"
What this view ignores is that while Ladakh and Jammu are not quite Muslim, there are significant parts of it that are significantly Muslim

So once you start ceding ground to "self-determination" movements on the dicey basis of religion, there is no end to it.
Let's take a closer look at Jammu and Ladakh

Now Jammu is supposedly the most Hindu of all three divisions with 66% of the population practicing Hinduism / Sikhism

But 62% is down from 71% in 1980.
Also while Jammu district is 84% hindu, the same thing cannot be said about other parts of this "Hindu" region..

Let's look at some regions -

Poonch : 7% Hindu
Kishtwar : 41% Hindu
Rajouri : 35% Hindu
So this vision of Jammu being Hindu is not entirely accurate as it is skewed by the more urban parts of the division
Now let's take a look at Ladakh - the least populous of the three regions.

Now Ladakh on the whole may be 53% Buddhist / Hindu

But within Ladakh, Kargil is 77% Muslim. In contrast Leh is only 14% Muslim
The reason this is mentioned is to emphasize that the issue is not just "Kashmir valley"

If one were to become a slave to the mentality of determining national boundaries purely based on religious demography, then parts of Jammu & Ladakh will also face the stress sooner or later
Which is why it is important to emphasize a broader Indic identity of the region - an identity that invokes the various influences that have made the region immortal in world history
This is the land of Abhinavagupta
The land of KumarAyana
The land described in Nilamata Purana
The land of Queen Didda (who was a native of Kabul and got married into Kashmir)

This invocation of Kashmir's checkered past has to be at the base of any Indian argument on the region
It can never come down to numbers, and whether a community is 60% or 48% in a. given district

Such a mindset would not spare not just Kashmir but will eat away at many other parts of this very diverse cosmopolitan state
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