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Burzahom and the origin of Kashmiris

There are many theories about the origin of Kashmiris. It is one of the most mysterious and exciting topics. Some say we are descendants of Aryans who came from Central Asia. There is a fantastic theory which says that we may be part of the lost tribes of Israelites who came here through Iran and Afghanistan. However, one can say with certainty that we are not in any way very close to other inhabitants of the sub-continent especially those living in our southern neighbourhood. Physically we are of a fine stock, well built and tall. We have sharp and regular features. Generally people are lively and intelligent. Full of fun and fond of amusement. The beauty of our women has been well known and praised by writers and poets for a long time. We do look like an ancient race with complexions varying from very fair to ruddy and sometimes even blond. In Europe as well as in many other countries we are mistaken for Turks or Iranians or Greeks and in some cases as Spanish or Italians. Raj Tarangni describes original inhabitants of the valley as Pisacas and Nagas who used to create trouble for Brahmans. Kashmiri Brahmans popularly called Pandits form a distinct class of their own and can be considered to be the purest specimen of the ancient Aryan settlers in the valley. However, it is not fully established where from they came and what route they came by. Rajtarangni also mentions that the valley was once a big lake (Sati Sar) which was drained by Kashyapa after killing the Demon Jalodbhava who was guarding its outlet in Baramulla. Well, the Geological formation of Karewas, layers of sedimentary clay deposits, found every where in the valley, does confirm the existence of a lake. However, the exact origin of the people of Kashmir is not fully established and could be an interesting subject for research. It is not known whether any anthropological or any DNA study of Kashmiris has ever been attempted? There is only one definite and irrefutable scientific evidence about the beginning of human civilisation in Kashmir and that is the Neolithic (New Stone Age) dwelling sites in many parts of the valley out of which Burzahom site is the most studied and well known in the scientific community. But the significance of the site is not so much known among the people at large. Burzahom Neolithic Site is on a Karewa in the neighbourhood of Shalimar-Telbal road. It has a beautiful location. On one side in the distance is the Dal lake while in the backdrop is Mahadev peak. The site is famous because it was the first such site discovered in Kashmir. It has dwelling pits, burial pits and some megaliths. The Neolithic (or the New Stone Age) Period of this site dates back to around 3,000 BC. In a way the place represents the site as well as the period where from the first inhabitants of our beautiful valley came. They could be termed the original Kashmiris who started inhabiting this valley like their counter parts in many other areas of the world. The author visited the site first in 1969 when it had been freshly excavated. The then Chief Minister late G.M.Sadiq had informed me about the existence and discovery of this and other sites. He had been taking personal interest in its excavation and was desirous of having a museum on the site itself to house the various implements discovered there. In an informal chat he mentioned to me that he was very much apprehensive that everything discovered here would be taken to the National Museum in Delhi and we would be left with pits only! Because of this fear he had sanctioned construction of a Museum on the site itself. On visiting the site again a few years after his death his words proved prophetic. There was nothing at the site except some pits full of rain water and half complete concrete pillars erected to provide a roof over these. Everything had been taken to Delhi! Subsequently a number of other sites were discovered and excavated. The Burzahom site was excavated from 1961 to 1968. Many implements of the Neolithic period dating back to 3,000 BC were discovered in this site. It also yielded ten human skeletons. During the Neolithic Age man started using sharpened stone tools with smooth surfaces which was achieved by grinding. They started relying more and more on getting their food by growing crops and domesticating animals. They also began making pottery. A few pieces of pottery were also recovered from this site. Burzhom in Kashmiri means home of birch. It seems that there were a lot of birch trees in this area during that period. This has been confirmed by pieces of burnt birch recovered from here. From this site a stone slab with a hunting scene was also recovered. The other places where these sites were discovered are Begagund, Gofkral, Hariparigom, Olchibag, Pampur, Panzgom, Sombur, Waztal and Brah. Details of the excavation with illustrations can be seen on the website of Discover India where Mr.Upinder Singh has written a detailed article which has been illustrated by Gautam Trivedi. The article can be accessed here. As already mentioned the site also yielded ten human skeletons. Out of these five are of adult males, three are of adult females, one is of a juvenile and one of a child. These skeletons were examined in detail by anthropologists. One of the skeletons is of a female of 26 to 30 years which has a trepanated or trephined skull. The trepanated skull was first noticed by Allchin and Allchin but was later studied in detail by Roy Chowdhury and Basu and Pal. Trepanation is an ancient surgical practice of drilling or cutting holes through the skull vault of a living or recently deceased person for medical purposes or otherwise. This practice was widely prevalent in many ancient societies of Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Dr. Anek R.Sankhyan and George Weber have written a detailed article on the topic which is available at:

This clearly establishes that even this ancient Stone Age community of Kashmiris was quite advanced in scientific knowledge of those days and its practice. They probably used surgical instruments made of bronze and the procedure may have been undertaken by a surgeon from Indus Valley where it was more prevalent. Subsequently the Neolithic Dwellers of Kashmir got mixed with a number of waves of Aryans, Scythians, and probably Israelites to evolve into present day Kashmiris. The external rule of Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, and Dogras has had its own influence upon the lives of local people. However, due to our resilience and adaptability we have absorbed all strains and streams and have still stayed as Kashmiris. In many other places in the world where different cultures have come together one finds specific localities or areas belonging to these varied ethnic groups such as China Town, Greek or Latin quarter etc. However, in Kashmir we do not have any such isolated quarter but we have assimilated all cultures and ethnic groups which came here and have maintained our age old traditions and customs. This extraordinary quality of the Kashmiri people to face all inroads and external pressures from different quarters and retain the centuries old identity in the most difficult and trying conditions distinguishes us as a truly ancient race. A real scientific study involving anthropological measurements and DNA testing about the true origin of Kashmiri people would be a challenging but a fascinating project. Will someone from the University of Kashmir be willing to take it up?

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