Kashmir And Its Region: A Historical Overview

The recorded history of Kashmir, though partially shrouded in myth, extends back nearly three thousand years. Throughout that time Kashmir has been recognized, to a degree matched by few, if any, other areas of South Asia, as a culturally and physically distinct entity. Though subject for brief periods in ancient times to various powers ruling over much of the Indian subcontinent — notably the Mauryas, Kushanas, Guptas, and Hunas, in that order — Kashmir generally remained, until its incorporation into the Mughal Empire in 1586, an independent state. And, like scores of other South Asian states, it too witnessed periods of imperial glory, initially under the Karkota dynasty in the mid-8th century and intermittently under the Shah Mirs in the 14th and 15th centuries. Yet, such moments in the sun were short-lived and the control that Kashmir was able to exert over distant territories was typically tenuous. Rather, the political norm for Kashmiri states was that of controlling the region’s fertile Vale and relatively small adjoining territories, mainly in the Himalayas and their foothills.

Portions of the pre-independence state of Jammu and Kashmir, other than Kashmir proper, have, of course, had their own distinctive — although typically sketchily known — political trajectories. The Jammu region has been, for most of its history, the domain of small hill and mountain chiefdoms. Jammu proper, apart from its conquest of Kashmir (while under the suzerainty of the Sikhs), occasionally expanded its power southeastward into parts of present-day Himachal Pradesh. The Gilgit region too was generally characterized by the existence of petty, essentially tribal polities. The large, thinly populated, region including Ladakh and Baltistan, was independent for most of the period from the mid-10th century until its submission to the Mughals in 1680, at times under a single Ladakhi state (which occasionally expanded into western Tibet) and more commonly in two or more states. There were also brief periods when it became subject to the control of neighboring powers centered mainly in Kashmir, Tibet, and Turkestan.

The names on this map, including “Kashmira,” are attested to in numerous ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts relating to the period from the 8th to the 4th century BCE. However, apart from Kashmir itself, barely a handful of the scores of realms and peoples noted here are recognizable, even in altered form, in the current political or cultural landscape, or, for that matter, in the one depicted on the map that follows. The polities shown on this map, including Kashmir, were generally small in size, as were most South Asian states over much the greater part of history.

This map depicts the area encompassing Kashmir as it existed in the 6th - 7th centuries CE during what might be considered the late Classical period. Over most of the roughly one and a half millennia that elapsed from the beginning of the period depicted on the preceding map until the end of the period to which this map refers, Kashmir was a small, independent state. Existing on the periphery of a politically fragmented India, it also maintained commercial and cultural ties with Central and Southwest Asia. The situation depicted here is that which prevailed shortly before the mercurial imperial expansion of Kashmir in the reign of the Karkota monarch, Lalitaditya (724-761 CE). Following this reign the state lapsed back into its customary position of relative weakness.

The Mughal conquest and annexation of Kashmir in 1586 ended nearly a millennium of continuous Kashmiri independence and ushered in one of several periods during which an external power extended the territory of the political entity known to the outside world as Kashmir to well beyond the actual area of Kashmiri language and culture. Thus, by the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal suba (province) of Kashmir was extended to include the greater part of what was later to be incorporated within the Dogra domains, as shown in the map that follows. It then included both Ladakh and Baltistan, but the core area of the Dogras, centered on Jammu, remained a part of Lahore suba.

The final period of Kashmiri expansion occurred under the Dogra dynasty of Jammu, which ruled the state from 1846 until the partition of India in 1947. This century witnessed a remarkable increase in the area and, consequently, in the cultural heterogeneity of the state. This accomplishment was due in large part to military and political assistance from the British Raj without whose imperial protection the territorial coherence of the state might not have been maintained.


Figure 2: Kashmir: A Historical Overview

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