Renaissance is a French word which means ‘rebirth’. It ordinarily means revival, awakening, enlightenment and rejuvenation. It refers to the period in European civilization immediately following the Middle Ages and conventionally held to have been characterized by a surge of interest in Classical scholarship and values.
Renaissance as a movement for reawakening also witnessed the discovery and exploration of new continents, the substitution of the Copernican for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the decline of the feudal system and the growth of commerce, and the invention or application of such potentially powerful innovations as paper, printing, the mariner’s compass, and the gunpowder.
To the scholars and thinkers, however, it was primarily a time of the revival of Classical learning and wisdom after a long period of cultural decline and stagnation.
The key people who gave a meaning to the movement of Renaissance included Erasmus Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Claudio, John Milton, Shakespeare, Gianozzo Manetti, Leonardo Bruni, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Lorenzo Valla, and Coluccio Salutati. While the spirit of the Renaissance ultimately took many forms, it was expressed earliest by the intellectual movement called humanism. Humanism was initiated by secular men of letters with the background of great scholarship.
Humanism looked forward to the rebirth of a lost human spirit and wisdom. In the course of striving to recover it, however, the humanists assisted in the consolidation of a new spiritual and intellectual outlook and in the development of a new body of knowledge.
The effect of humanism was to help men and women break free from the mental strictures imposed by social orthodoxy, to inspire free inquiry and criticism, and to inspire a new confidence in the possibilities of human thought and creations.
Every society passes through such a period of Renaissance during its course of history. In essence it means the end of a dark age and the opening for the enlightenment for the growth and advancement of the society.
Kashmir has been witnessing a very difficult time over the last four decades due to various factors chiefly among them are terrorism, violence, orthodoxy, death and destruction. It can be called a period of dark age for Kashmir and its people. It is the age in which around one hundred thousand souls were lost by us due to violence and terrorism.
The indigenous people of Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits, had been a victim of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the valley and were forced to live in exile in their own country. Such a dark age needs an end and here is where Renaissance is in the offing.
Renaissance requires a reason or a cause which is created by the events of the time. Fortunately, we have a number of reasons available. This time it has come in the form and shape of the birthday of the river of Kashmir valley known as Vitasta (Jehlum) or Vyeth. The celebrations were held across the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir on 18th September this year, in this connection.
Here is a river, called the Nile of Kashmir, whose birthday is celebrated every year for the last thousands of years. It is the only river in the world whose birthday is celebrated by the people who lived along its banks in the vale of Kashmir. It is indeed recognised as the lifeline of the Kashmir valley. Persians called it as Behat and Greeks would call it Hydaspes and considered it a god.
Once upon a time this used to be the main source of navigating trade and commerce, means of transportation and communication, a symbol of civilizational, cultural and historical flow in Kashmir. It continues to be so even now as a strong civilizational symbol, but the emphasis seems to have been overshadowed over a period of time.
The Vitasta-Jehlum travels a distance of more than 600 miles through Kashmir valley before joining Chenab in the West Punjab in Pakistan. ‘The first phase of Jehlum’s journey from Verinag to Anantnag is frothy as it follows a hilly track. Second phase from Anantnag to Srinagar, it is silent and tranquil through lush green rice fields and the last leg in Baramulla, Kupwara and Sopore areas, it is totally calm before it enters Pakistan’.
It is a well established fact that the birthday of Vitasta was celebrated in Kashmir over the last more than five thousand years. The people of Kashmir in general have been the worshipers and admirers of nature historically and culturally.
Testimony to this effect can be found in the earliest chronicles like Neelmatapurana and Rajtarangini by Pt. Kalhana, which have given descriptions about the celebrations of the Vitasta’s birthday in ancient times. It would be in order to mention that the reference of River Vitasta can be found in the oldest book of the world, the Rigveda, the biggest Purana of Jammu & Kashmir written 600-700 years before namely, Vishnudharmuttarpurana, and also in the Vitasta-Mahatmya composed in Kashmir.
Vitasta is recognised as Uma, the consort of Bhagwan Shiva, as per Neelmatapurana. Stanza 323 of Neelmatapurana confirms that ‘Vitasta is not only a simple river but is the mother of all dieties’. This is confirmation of the fact that people of the valley used to be great devotees of nature all along be it in the form of mountains, trees, water resources, energy, flora & fauna, birds & animals or the rivers.
The celebrations this year assumed significance. First of all, these were held across Jammu and Kashmir. The original source of the river at Veth-Vatur (Vetra-Vati) near Verinag witnessed a two-day ‘Hawan’ and other connected celebrations organised by the Managing Committee thereat while five ghats (banks) of the river in the centre of the Srinagar city around Habbakadal were illuminated on the occasion.
Simultaneously, a grand function was also held at Purshiyar ghat, Habbakadal and the river was offered flowers especially lotus and milk. The earthen lamps were kindled and flowed in the river with great reverance, gaiety and festivities.
In addition to this, on the occasion, the traditional celebrations were also held by the displaced Kashmiri Pandits on the banks of the Ranbir Canal, a branch of river Chenab-Chandrabhaga in Jammu city. It needs to be mentioned here that the exiled community took the initiative of celebrating the birthday of River Vitasta in exile in the year 1991 and has been following the tradition, meticulously, on the banks of Ranbir Canal, Jammu for the last three decades without fail.
The people of Kashmir would be celebrating this auspicious day on the banks of the river Vitasta-Jehlum up to around 1989-90. It got discontinued due to a number of reasons mostly political, sectarian and communal. Credit should be given to Panun Kashmir and the “Daughters of Panun Kashmir” for initiating the celebrations post-exodus and continuing it over the last three decades with complete dedication, consistency and devotion. It is a form of revival and rebirth of a cultural legacy that has the potential to open up the gates for the movement of Renaissance in Kashmir valley.
There is an urgent need to rekindle the civlizational flow of Kashmir in the light of its wonderful history, tradition, legacy and culture. Civilizational legacy is not the domain of a particular sect, community or section of society. Neither is historical flow subject to the religious interpretation.
Normally, religion shouldn’t cut at the roots of history and civilization but where it does so, it ceases to be a contributory to the cultural process and flow.
Kashmir is on the verge of a Renaisance, provided the civilizational, cultural and historical flow remains unhindered, secular and inclusive. It is time to embrace the golden opportunity provided by the nature to reverse the avalanches of destruction and meyhem and allow the gushing waters of Renaissance come into the beautiful land that we cherish to call, ‘Resh-Vaer’, the orchard of Rishis & Munis, the land of Kashyapa, Kashmir. It is a gateway to the rebirth of a lost human spirit and wisdom.