Date: 6/11/2002

Comment (Farhan Siddiqui) wrote:

Two views of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan

Khaled Ahmed



by G.W. Leitner

Vanguard Books Lahore; Pp300; Price Rs 495

.............TRIBES OF THE HINDOO KOOSH Major J. Biddulph

.....Vanguard Books Lahore; Pp340; Price Rs 695

Both the books under review are classics which disappeared from Pakistan soon after 1947 when the Raj libraries succumbed to mismanagement and wholesale pilferage. They have now been reprinted and surprise the reader with the perfection and industry with which they were compiled by their authors. They have photographs, sketches and maps, along with tables, carefully included as appendices to the text. They provide information about an area of Pakistan where research has not advanced too far from the pioneering levels reached by these British writers. They tell the ethnic history of the people, catalogue their languages and inform about their religions and customs in a scientific manner.

Leitner was a great orientalist who ran the Woking hostel and mosque in London before it was taken over by others and finally sold. He came to Lahore as director education and founded the city's Government College. His work on the religious seminaries of Punjab of the mid-19th century remains a classic. His ethnic studies are a special area of interest. He not only wrote about the nomadic tribes of Punjab but was able to go to Baltistan a number of times to record the racial and linguistic aspects of the people he identified with the Dards mentioned in Greek and Latin accounts.

Biddulph too became an expert in this area after his participation in missions to Central Asia, landing him his job as the first political agent in Gilgit. He has extended the research of Leitner, by disagreeing with him in certain details and by bringing to light more information by reason of his residence in the area.

From 1866 to 1898, Leitner visited the areas of Gilgit, Chilas, Yasin, Chitral, Hunza, etc, in the eastern Hindukush range and recorded their history, language and culture. He identified the people with the Dards mentioned by Greek historian Herodotus as populating a region between Kaspapuros and Paktya. Leitner did not find it hard to identify Kaspapuros (city of the sage Kashyap) with Kashmir and Paktya with ancient Afghanistan. What is remarkable about Leitner's book is the collection of detail in just three visits to the Dardic region. He gives us the legends and fables remembered by the people, he gives samplings of the Shina idiom they speak, the genealogy of the chief families who live there, along with the history of political changes in the region. From his interviews he comes to the conclusion that the people of Dardistan are a mix of Tibetan races from the Kashmir side and Central Asian races speaking a mix of Indo-European idioms.

In 1877, Biddulph was appointed in Gilgit. He was soon able to visit all the valleys of Baltistan and Yasin, confirming the information he already possessed from the earlier accounts of Shaw, Drew and Leitner. His account of the local people is naturally more detailed than the earlier accounts. He is able to count men and ascertain the number who would do battle if the occasion arose. He sat down among them and questioned them on their genealogies and languages. In the valley of Tangir, he discovered that the population was originally Shin, mixed with Yashkun and Krammin, but its fertility had attracted the various Pakhtun tribes of Swat. In Baltistan, he finds the local population of Tatar blood mixed with a Tibetan strain. Speaking a dialect of Shina, there were the Brokpas who exclusively populated the high altitude valleys.

Biddulph thinks that all the inhabitants of the region could not be called Dards. Indeed some of them objected to being so labeled. Even the Baltis, formerly placed in the middle of the Dardic racial map, seem to have a mixed racial stock and a language that had accepted influence from non-Aryan elements. He sees traces of a largely Hindu culture before the advent of Islam, as shown in the names of the various towns. For Instance, Shogram means 'the village of Shiva'; in fact, the ancient presence of Shaivism is in evidence in parallel to the Buddhist culture. The population is Ismaili or Mulai whose dominance has been changed by a constant injection of Pakhtun settlers who are Sunni Muslims violently opposed to Ismailism and Shiaism. He notes that the Pakhtun of Chilas in fact were in the habit of killing any Ismaili or Shia crossing into their territory. There was even a Wahabi-Pakhtun village who lived like warriors, did no work, but carried arms with funds which arrived from the religious leaders of Swat.

Biddulph's book is full of interesting history, including the history of the princes of Gilgit. His strong point is his collection of vocabularies of dialects known as Brushaski (Nagir), Shina (Gilgit), Chiliss (Indus Valley), Torwalak (Swat), Bushkarik (Panjkorah), Gowro (Indus Valley), Narisati (Chitral), Khowar (Chitral), Bushgali (Siah Posh), and Yidghah (Ludkho Valley). His book, together with Leitner's, forms one of the most exciting accounts of the region (now called Northern Areas) as it was in the middle and end of the 19th century. It makes clear also the academic interests of the British officers, which served to advance the political ends of the empire.


Vedic Origins of Afghanistan

Pakthoons (Pathans) are the descendents of a Hindu rishi named "Paktha" who is mentioned in the Rig-Veda. Today, many of these same Pakthoons came to form the Taliban. These Afghans or Pathans that every one calls a warrior race are actually descended from Luv, son of Lord Rama. They were once called Lohana. Present day Lahore was once called Lohan. It is because of this that the children of Luv (modern day Afghans) are good fighters. They were important b/c they were of the Kshtariyas (the warrior caste in Hinduism), but unfortunately, thousands of years later they were forced to accept Islam. Maharaja Bhimapal was the last Hindu king of Afghanistan. He was murdered in the 12th century by Muslim invaders.

Rig Veda: Book 10, Chapter 61, Verse 1: The speaker in the storm of the battle uttered with might this prayer to win the Asvins, when the most liberal God rescued Paktha's parents and assailed the seven Hotras.