“Gar Bar-ru-e-Zamin Ast; Hamin Ast, Hamin Ast Hamin Ast”.
In the north of the Kashmir, an immense stretch of mountain ranges of the Himalayas-Karakoram, Zaskar and Pir Panjal, running from northwest to northeast makes it part of the world’s one of the most beautiful places. These snow capped ranges makes Kashmir look like the “paradise on earth” or jannat. Dazzling and mesmerizing rivers, serene lakes, splendiferous gardens, flowering and peerless meadows, etc are some other fascinating magnificent features of the landscape of the Kashmir valley. The breathtaking beauty of Kashmir has rewarded it with the name “”Switzerland of the East” (although I quite disagree with naming Kashmir as Switzerland of the east rather than naming Switzerland, Kashmir of the west). Besides its geographic beauty Kashmir is also home to a delicate hospitality tradition.
Warm hearted cordial and enthusiastic mehman-navazi (hospitality) has always remained one of the most valued fine traditions of the Kashmiri culture. A guest visiting here in any house of Kashmir is always considered to be a God’s representative, hence served and catered in an invigorating manner which gives guest a special feeling. People here continues endeavor to make you feel comfortable in their houses.
The culture and tradition of Kashmir including its hospitality is driven by the philosophy of Kashmiriyat, (philosophy is’ what ought to be’). This philosophy of Kashmiriyat is believed to be an expression of solidarity, resilience and patriotism regardless of religious differences. It is believed to embody an ethos of harmony and a determination of survival of the people and their heritage. Kashmiriyat demanded religious and social harmony and brotherhood. It has been strongly influenced by Kashmir Shaivism, Buddhism and Sufism, carrying a long-standing conviction that any and every religion will lead to the same divine goal.
Kashmiri mehman-navazi (hospitality) activated the moment you enter your step in their house. The entire family gets down to preparation of a royal welcome. Most Kashmiri people live in a joint family so often you will find the in-laws, uncles, cousins and others staying together. Saying salaam to a guest is integral to guest hospitality in Kashmir and every member greets you in the same positive and hearty way. The womenfolk form the backbone of traditional hospitality. Apart from taking full care of all their family members, they never ever let a guest go away unfed or unhappy from their home. Every house in Kashmir has a unique and elegant pattern of seating arrangement on the ground. Colorful woolen carpets adorn the sitting area including kitchen area; even guests will be invited to the kitchen to sit. In the winters the bukhari will be set up in the sitting areas to keep it warm. Separate mat is placed to mark the sitting spot; a guest is offered a cushion and a blanket to sit on comfortably. The ladies of the house will serve the hot beverages like salted tea (namkeen chai), sweet tea, and then there is the fantastic Kahwa from the Kashmir valley made by boiling Dalchini with water and sugar. Along with that they also offer you varieties of carrying bakery and confectionery items which makes your day perfect. Kashmiri delicacies like Roasted Chicken Roganjosh, Mirchi korma, kofta and yakhni are served one after other on the dastarkhwan “interspiced” with chutnis, curd and pickle. Lunch is served hot and gobbled up in the midst of mouth-watering flavors’, friendly gossip add more taste and fraternity in it. For non-meat eaters the multi-course non vegetarian food packages are also served without making you feel odd.
Kashmiri mehmaan- navazi at its best during marriages. Usually a three to four-day affair, the festivities involve a long list of Wazwaan delicacies prepared by waazas or professional cooks. Dish after dish, which have taken the whole day to prepare, arrive on the beautiful crockery. The quantity of meat intake is such that it takes days to set the digestive tract on course again. The waazwan feast invariably entails lot of wastage but Kashmiris never seem to learn any lessons. Waazwan is sought after and the host is supposed to invite the entire guest present in the occasion and continuously be catered with utmost care and attention ensuring that all have eaten well with full satisfaction. Anybody not attending and adding his bit to the wastage part invites social sanction.
I was fortunate to meet Roohani (now my friend) in such one local Kashmiri wedding. She helped me in understanding many dimensions of Kashmir. One day I visited her house, which filled her with great pleasure and joy, I met her parents and siblings, all are wonderful people and fantastic hosts. Her younger brother, who referred to himself as Sehazaad, is a very amusing and entertaining person with a good sense of humour. Roohani is a sensitive, thoughtful and intelligent girl with a talent of influential behavior. For the first few days I felt she was feeling very shy to actually say anything to me but then she opened up,and of course, the grand-parents, wonderful family.
Be it a city guest or a family visit in the villages, the moment of parting presents an emotional scene. The host sidewalks the guests up to a distance and thanksgiving, long Kashmiri pleasantries are exchanged at the gate as also promises to return the visit “soon.
In recent past, Kashmir has been infamously known to the world about its deteriorating law and order situation in the name of Kashmiriyat due to few handful people. But the abovementioned aspect of Kashmiri mehmaan-navazi puts Kashmiriyat in the right perspective. If this aspect of Kashmir is adequately and most prominently propagated then perhaps it will go a long way in recreating the true paradise on earth.