A brief history of Kashmir Literature – Part II

Growth and Development of Literature in Kashmiri language

The Kashmiri language, also known as Koshur, belongs to the Dardic subgroup of Indo-Aryan (Iranian) languages. It is spoken approximately by around seven million people primarily in the Indian Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and also in parts of neighbouring Pakistani territory. Based on the language pattern, Kashmiri literature may be broadly divided into the following three periods:

  1. Old Kashmiri, from CE 1200 to 1500;
  2. Middle Kashmiri,  CE 1500 to 1800;
  3. New or Modern Kashmiri, after CE 1800.

The development of the Kashmiri language was shaped around CE 1200. Prior to the old Kashmiri period, it is learnt that both Indo-Aryan Prakrit and Apabhraṁsa were being used for literary compositions by Kashmiri scholars, along with Sanskrit.


The Tantrasāra, written by Abhinavagupta in Sanskrit, contains two verses in some kind of apabhraṁsa at the end of each section (āhnika). There are in total, seventy-six verses but they do not have any specific Kashmiri character. There is another work known as the Mahārtha mañjarī written by Maheśvarānanda, which consists of seventy-one distichs in Prakrit (it is not the language of Kashmiri but is Mahārāṣṭri Prakrit), and this work which has been found in two recensions (one from Śrīnagar and another from Trivandrum), both of which have been published. It is believed that this work, in all probability, belongs to a period before 1200CE. Although the Kashmiri language developed into the style of Persian, nevertheless it preserved a good deal of its native characteristics of the Sanskrit language. The influence of Urdu and English also gradually crept into the evolution of Kashmiri literature, thus resulting in new ideas and styles in thought and letters.

Early Kashmiri Literature- (CE1200-1500)

The earliest composition in Kashmiri is the Mahānaya prakāśa, authored by Śitikaṇṭha Ācārya. It contains ninety-four four-line stanzas. Though it is a Kashmiri work, it has been written in Sanskrit.   The contents of the work are highly complex in nature, dealing with the Śaiva Tāntric philosophy current in that region then. When compared to modern Kashmiri, the language in the work is somewhat very archaic. It is even more ancient than the language of the poems of Lal Ded (14th Century) as preserved in old manuscripts. P.N. Pushp has discovered another work of unknown date, the Chumma-sampradāya comprising seventy-four verses, which in their language and subject matter as well belong to the period of Mahānaya-prakāśa. These two works give us the oldest specimens of Kashmiri and, in all likelihood, belong to a period before 1300 CE. Hence, it is to be inferred that the script of the Kashmiri language was only in the primitive stage during that period.

Another remarkable contribution to Kashmiri literature and philosophy has come from Lal Ded, who was known by many names. She lived in Kashmir in the fourteenth century. She was a Śaiva woman saint, whose compositions in a modern Kashmiri form are in the mouths of all Kashmiris. They represent the oldest specimens of Kashmiri which still continue down to the present times by oral tradition.

Lal Ded became a sanyāsini and moved about the country singing her short poems of mystic perception of Lord Śiva. In the later part of her life, she met Shah Hamdani, the first great Sufi saint and preacher of Islam in Kashmir. Both of them were mutually appreciative of each other’s mystic qualities. Her poems, called vatsun or vakhs, means “speech”. Her verses are the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language and are an important constituent in the history of modern Kashmiri literature. Her poems have been translated into English by Richard Temle, Jaylal Kaul, Coleman Barks and others. Earlier G.A. Grierson edited and translated some 110 poems written by her. To cite an example of her thought-provoking spirituality:

“Whatever the work I did became worship of the Lord;

Whatever word I uttered became a prayer;

Whatever this body of mine experienced became

The sādhanā of Śaiva tantra

Illuminating my path to paramasiva”5– 138

While that was the original translation using Hindu terms, the same poem has been translated into another version from a more poetic and Islamic perspective.

The contribution of Sheik Nuruddin (1377-1440), a Muslim saint, philosopher and poet great mystic poet, is a notable addition to Kashmiri literature. He was also called ‘Nanda Ṛṣi’ by the Hindus. He was held in great esteem by both Hindus and Muslims. His verses and sayings are known as Shrukhs expressing profound faith in love, love for God, and the liberal nature in expressing sentiments and views. They are importantly didactic in nature. The book containing the collection of his verses is called Ṛṣi nāma or Nūrnama.

Utthasoma composed a series of lyrics in Kashmiri, a treatise on music titled Mānaka and a biography of Zain-ul Abidin as well. An unknown poet wrote Bānasura-vadha (some historians claim that it is written by Avatāra Bhatta), the earliest epic poem so far known in Kashmiri. Yodhabhatta wrote Jaina-carita, the biography of Zain-ul Abidin and also a drama, Jaina-prakasa. Bhatta avatara, an erudite Persian scholar composed Jaina-vilasa on his royal patron. However, it is unfortunate that almost all these biographical and panegyric Kashmiri works have been lost now.

Kashmiri Literature in the middle period CE1500-1800

The contribution of Hubb Khotun (1551-1606/1554-1609), popularly known as Habba Khatun , a famous poetess , enriched Kashmiri literature, bringing in a new era of creative literary activity during this period. Her original name was Zun /Zoon and she is better remembered as the ‘Nightingale of Kashmir’.  It is mostly believed that she was the one who introduced the lyric form in Kashmiri known as ‘lol’ (songs of yearning). She is one of the most popular Kashmiri poetesses, and her wonderful lyrics of love and life are among the best treasures in Kashmiri literature.

Khawajha Habibullah Naushahri wrote a series of beautiful lyric poems in Kashmiri. Sahib Kaul, a Hindu poet, who lived during the period of Jehangir, wrote Kṛsna avatāra and janamcarita based on Purāṇic themes. The contribution of Aranimal, the third great poetess of Kashmiri love lyrics, is worth mentioning. She belonged to the second half of the eighteenth century. Her husband Munshi Bhavanidasa Kachru, a Kashmiri Brahmin, was a Persian scholar and writer. She poured out her emotions in a series of most poignant and exquisite poems of love in Kashmiri that form the most popular and universal compositions in the language. The love poems of Aranimal are equated to the finest love poems in any language by scholars.

Ramayana in the Kashmiri Language

Prakāsarāma, (also known as Divākaraprakāśa Bhatta), a great Hindu poet, wrote the Ramayana in Kashmiri under the title ‘Ramavataracarita, with a sequel, Lava-Kusa-carita in the mid eighteenth century.  It was a worthy addition to the literature of Kashmir. The work is structured in such a combined format of some stanzas set in the two-line Persian hazai and the rest in the native four–lined accented Kashmiri metre. Gangaprasad wrote a religio-philosophical work in Kashmiri verse titled ‘samsāra-māya-mohajala-sukha-dukha-carita’ during this period.  Many of the Persian classics and love stories and Arabic love stories have also been adapted and naturalised into Kashmiri literature during this period.

Thus the contribution of scholars from Kashmir is in many ways path-breaking, creative and, above all, enhance the value of Indian literature.


  1. P.N.K, A History of Kashmir, Metropoliton Book Company (Pvt) Ltd, New Delhi, 1973, pp.243-244.
  2. Macdonnel, A.A., A History of Sanskrit Literature, Munshi Ram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1958, p.430.
  3. Rajatarangini, Pandit, R.S., Sahitya akademi, New Delhi, 1990, I.7.
  4. Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1987, p.161.
  5. http://ikashmir.net/lalded/vakhs.html


  • A History of Kashmir, Bamzai. P.N.K, Metropoliton Book Company (Pvt) Ltd, New Delhi, 1973, pp.243-244.
  • A History of Kashmiri Pandits, Jia Lal Kilam, Gandhi Memorial College Publication-1, Srinagar, 1955.
  • A History of Sanskrit Literature, Macdonnel,A.A. Munshi Ram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1958.
  • History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Krishnamachariar,M., Motilal Banarsidass,1970.
  • History of Sanskrit Literature (in Tamil), Subhramanya Sastri P.S., Annamalai University Tamil Series, 1946.
  • History of Sanskrit poetics, Kane.P.V.,Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1987.
  • Kalhaṇa’ S Rājataraṅgiṇī, English Translation, Pandit.R.S., Sahitya akademi, New Delhi, 1990.
  • Kashmir’s Transition to Islam- The Role of Muslim Rishis, Ishaq Khan.M., Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, 1997.
  • The Abdullah-Carita of Lakshmipati, Edited Dr Mohan.V, C.P.R.Publications, Chennai, 2015.
  • The Cultural Heritage of India, Volume 5, The Ramakrishna Mission institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1978.
Dr. V. Mohan
Assistant Director and Head,
Department of Classical Languages, C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research, Chennai.
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