Like its scenic beauty, Kashmir valley is even famous for its cultural heritage. The valley of Kashmir is very rich as far as different aspects of its culture are concerned. The amalgamation of Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist Philosophies has added colour and fragrance to the Kashmiri culture resulting into a composite culture based on humanism, secularism and tolerance. Besides, it has borrowed certain features from its adjacent regions like Central Asia also. Some aspects of Kashmiri culture are given below:
Belief System - To understand the cultural basis of a particular community, the study of its religious beliefs is very important. Kashmir is inhabited by believers of Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. A few Christians and Buddhists also live there. Islam is the dominant religion in Kashmir Valley. Some historians are of the view that a Syrian by the name of Hamim bin Sam was the first Muslim to settle in Kashmir. He came to Kashmir with Raja Dahir’ssonJasiya. Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, popularly known as Shah-I-Hamadan (in Kashmir), visited the valley three times and brought with him seven hundred disciples, known as Sadaat, from Central Asia.
Hinduism forms the second major religion of Kashmir. It is the oldest religion of the valley. The community is highly educated. Kashmiri Pandits have been profoundly religious people. Religion has played a pivotal role in shaping their customs, rituals, rites, festivals, fasts, ceremonies, food habits etc. Kashmir is widely known as the birth-place of 'Kashmir Shaivism' – a philosophy expounding the unity of Shiva and Shakti. Hence, Shaiva bhakti and Tantra constitute the substratum of the ritualistic worship of Kashmiri Pandits on which the tall edifice of the worship of Vishnu (Krishna and Ram), Lakshmi and Saraswati, and a host of other deities has been built.
Sikhism forms the third major religion of Kashmir valley. However, in comparison to Muslims and Hindus, Sikhs are fewer in number. Some people are of the view that "they came into Kashmir with the lieutenants of Ranjit Singh, but some state that there were Punjabi Brahmins already living in Kashmir and they embraced Sikhism when the valley passed into the hands of Ranjit Singh. Kashmir has been a great centre of learning for several centuries. It has been a major centre of Buddhist learning for nearly a millennium during which period a sizeable number of revered Kashmiri Buddhist scholars travelled as far as Sri Lanka in the South and Tibet and China in the North.
Festivals, Fasts and Holy Days - Hindu festivals have a deep spiritual import and religious significance and have also a social and hygienic element in them.In their lunar calendar Kashmiri Pandits’ observe a number of festivals and fasts, most of which fall in the dark fortnight (Krishna paksh). The eighth (ashtami), eleventh (ekadashi) and fifteenth (Amavas/ purnima) days of both dark as well as bright fortnights, and the 4th day of the dark fortnights (SankatChaturthi) are considered so auspicious that people generally would observe fast on these days. Kashmiri Pandits’ (KP) new- year (Navreh) begins on the first day of the bright fortnight of the month of Chaitra.The eighth and the ninth days of the same fortnight are observed as DurgaAshtami and Ram Navami respectively. The fortnight marks the beginning of spring, an important function of climatic and solar influences. DurgaAshtami is celebrated with great devotion when people throng the Ragnya temple at Tulumula (Gandarbal), and Akingam, Lokutpur (Anantnag) to pray and worship Maa Shakti.The 14th day of the bright fortnight of the Ashara month is especially dedicated to Jwalaji, the Goddess of fire. People in large numbers go to Khrew, 20 kms from Srinagar and offer yellow rice and lamb’s lung to the Goddess.Purnima of the Shravana month is the day of Lord Shiva. On this day pilgrims reach the holy Amarnath cave to have ‘darshan’ of the holy ice-lingam. People also go to Thajivor (near Bijbehara) to pray at the ancient Shiva temple.
The eighth day of the dark fortnight of Bhadrapada is celebrated as the birthday of Krishna, the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This is also called Janamashtami.Mahanavami and Dussehra, marking Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana, fall on the 9th and 10th days of the bright half of Asoj. Diwali, the festival of lights falls on the 14th day of the dark half of the Kartika month. The third day of the bright half of Magara month is celebrated as the day of the 'Guru' (Guru tritya). Before the advent of Islam in Kashmir, scholars were awarded degrees to honour their academic achievements on this day (a precursor to present-day convocations). On this day the family purohit brings a picture of goddess Saraswati for a newborn baby or a new daughter–in-law in the family.
The most famous festivals of Muslims are Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha. Id al-Fitr follows the thirty days of fasting in the month of Ramzan. Id al-Fitr is treated as the day of special thanks to mark the complete observance of the holy month of Ramadhan. It is a festive occasion with people wearing new clothes and offering greetings to each other.Id al-Adha is celebrated to commemorate the sacrifice of the prophet Ibrahim when he was about to sacrifice his son to the glory of God. On this day it is obligatory for the wealthy Muslims to sacrifice an animal to commemorate the event.Another important festival of Muslims is Miraj-i-Alam, which marks the anniversary of the night on which prophet Muhammedascended from Al-Quds mosque (Jerusalem) into the heaven. Id Milad is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammed. On both of these occasions, devotees throng the holy Hazratbal shrine where the holy relic of Prophet Muhammed is shown to the devotees.
Marriage, Birth and Death rites - The customs related to birth, marriage and death among Hindu and Muslim communities of Kashmir are very elaborate. A brief attempt has been made to trace the customs of these two communities.
Marriage: Traditionally, amongst Hindus, marriage was possible only between the families which have had no kinship for seven generations on the paternal side and four generations on the maternal side. This ritual is known as Kasam-drIy. This is followed by a formal engagement ceremony (taakh or gandun) in which some members of the groom’s family and relatives visit the bride’s place to partake in a rich feast. During this ceremony, the two parties exchange flowers and vow to join together through wedlock. After this function, the two families begin to make preparations for the marriage ceremony which is held on some auspicious day after consulting a purohit. Several rituals are associated with marriage whose observance begins nearly a week before the wedding day. Devgun is the religious ritual performed after the bath. Devgun is believed to transform the bride and the groom into 'Devtas'.
Conch-shells announce the arrival of the groom and his party at the bride’s place where the lane leading to the main entrance of the house is beautifully decorated with colourful flowers and dyed saw-dust. Upon entering the compound of the bride’s house, the groom is welcomed by traditional songs sung by the bride’s relations. Then the mother of the bride comes with a thali of small lighted lamps made of kneaded rice flour and an assortment of sweets and makes the groom and the bride eat from the same piece of sweet, a couple of times. After this the bride is taken back into the house and the groom is made to stand at the main door of the house for a short dvaar puja, ‘door–prayer’. Meanwhile the bride and the groom are seated in a room for a series of rituals and ceremonies amidst chanting of Sanskrit mantras. The purohits of the two families recite mantras and make the bride, groom and their parents perform a number of rituals with fire (agni) as the witness. The boy and the girl vow to live together in prosperity and adversity, in joy as well as in sorrow until death seperates them. Lagan, as this ceremony is called, is followed by posh puja. After this ceremony, the bride and the groom are taken to the kitchen and made to eat from the same plate.
After this, they return to the bride’s place with a small party comprising groom’s father, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, and a couple of friends. She is now a guest at her parent’s place. The groom’s party asks the bride’s parents to send her (the bride) to her family (the in-laws). After a small tea party, the party leaves for the groom’s place. A younger brother/ sister/ cousin of the bride accompany the party to the groom’s place. On the next day, depending upon the mahuurat (auspicious day), the newly married couple visits the wife’s parents. This visit is known as ‘satraath’ or‘phirIsaal’. After that the man and wife are welcomed with aalath – a thali with water, rice, coins and flowers.
The marriage ceremony of a Muslim has great resemblance to that of a Hindu. Even here the services of a match-maker are availed to get a suitable bride. After the match is fixed, the betrothal ceremony, known as Nishan, takes place in which the groom’s father, with some relatives, visits and takes presents to the girl’s house. The visit is later paid back by the bride’s father and her relatives. Later a date is fixed for the marriage, which is duly solemnized in the Nikah ceremony in which the priest delivers a sermon highlighting the purpose behind the marriage. In the same ceremony a formal consent is elicited from the groom and the bride and the amount of Mehr (dowry) to be paid by the groom to the bride is fixed. On the preceding day of marriage, the groom’s father sends some mehndi to the bride’s house with which she stains her feet and hands, while the women folk sing traditional folk songs. This night of celebrations and dying the hands and feet is known as Menzhat (The night of applying mehndi). Next day, the groom visits the bride’s house along with his friends and relatives (Baratis) and a feast is served to the guests. After the feast is over, the Rukhsati or departure of the bride to her father-in-law’s house takes place. A female relative known as dudhmoj accompanies the bride who gives her instructions regarding the formalities to be observed. On reaching her father-in-law’s house, the bride is taken to a room which is specially decorated for her. After the bride’s arrival, her mother-in-law takes the veil off the bride’s face and at the same time, the bride passes on a handkerchief containing some golden ornament or cash to her and this is regarded as the mother-in-law’s perquisite or hash-kant. A great feast is served on this day in the groom’s house in which the world famous and choicest wazwan dishes are served.
Death - When a person breathes his / her last, his/her mortal remains are washed in water. The eldest son of the deceased carries an earthen pitcher in his hand and leads the coffin. It is the duty of the eldest son to light the pyre.After this, a shraadha is performed every year on the death anniversary.
Birth - The birth ceremony of a Hindu is an elaborate one, with mystic figures chalked on the floor, fire, pots and pestle being worshipped. The exact time and date of birth is carefully noted by the family astrologer. When the child is of one month, the ceremony called masInethIr is observed. In the third year, the ceremony known as Zara Kasa is performed. When the male child attains seven years of age, the thread ceremony called Mekhal or Yagnopavit is observed.
Dress - The costume of the male population consisted of a lower garment (adhararansukha), an upper garment (angaraksaka) and turban (sirahasta).Both Muslims and Hindus are seen wearing the local kurtan’ or shalwar-kameez. The ordinary headdress of a common Kashmiri is a cotton skullcap. Muslim women wear Phirak-yezar (lady suit) while as Hindu women opt for Sari. The low temperature of the winter compels people to employ woollenPherans (Kashmiri gowns).Kaangiri forms an indispensable part of Kashmiri culture. With hot embers in it, it is used under Pheran to keep a person warm during freezing cold winters.
Jewellery - The various kinds of ornaments worn by them include anklets, bracelets, earrings, necklaces etc. These ornaments are generally made of gold and silver but "sometimes beautiful colours of flowers and leaves and fruits are designed by studding jewellery with precious and semi-precious stones, shades such as jade, agate, turquoise, rubies and the gold stone. Central Asia has influenced the jewellery making of Kashmir valley to a greater extent. The influence of Mughals can also be easily traced.The ornaments worn by Hindus and Muslims are, to a great extent, alike. These include the ornaments of head, ear, neck and wrists.
Food and Drink - Mere cultural survey of a nation cannot be confined to the study of religion, literature and art of a particular place. It includes a gamut of other things like food and drink, dress and ornaments etc. Food system of a community forms one of the important aspects of culture of that community.
Kashmiris are gross eaters. Majority of the Muslims of the valley are non-vegetarians even Hindus are very rare vegetarian.Rice and knolkhol (haakh-batI) are the traditional stable diet of Kashmiris. Besides knolkhol they relish beans, potato, spinach, lotus-stalk, sonchal, raddish, turnip, cabbage, cauliflower, wild mushroom cheese, and an assortment of local greens like liisI, vopalhaakh, nunar, vostihaakh, hand. However, the main specaility of Kashmiri cuisiue is non-vegetarian food. The major non-vegetarian preparations of the KP include kəliyi, roganjosh, matsh, kabargah,yakhIny, tabakhnaaTI, tsoktsarwanetc.Rice serves as the main staple food for Kashmiris. The chief staple food of the valley include rice and other grains cooked as porridge, or ground into flour and made into bread, vegetables, oil, salt and pepper. Kashmiris are very fond of tea, which may be either salty or sweet. Salt tea is commonly found here but Kahwa (sweet tea) of Kashmir is known for its taste. Kashmir is very famous for its fruits. The apple, pear, plum, peach, apricot is the principal fruit products of the valley. Kashmiri dry fruits like almonds, walnuts etc., are famous world over