Even after six centuries, the name Bud Shah among all Kashmiris evokes a feeling of admiration and reverence. Even now when boatmen drag their barges along the Jehlum River or labourers push heavy loads, they recite the words, “Bud Shah, Pad Shah”. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly called Bud Shah, Pad Shah, and the most revered King in Kashmir’s history ruled from 1420 to 1470. One of the most absorbing and detailed accounts of his reign is given in the History of Kashmir by PNK Bamzai. A summary of this account reproduced here can be a good blueprint for our present rulers if they care to follow it! Known in his younger days as Shahi Khan, Zain-ul-Abidin was the second and the most favourite son of Sultan Sikandar but was unlike his father in many ways. The period of his father is remembered for persecution of Brahmans, a large number of whom had migrated from Kashmir. It has been pointed out by some historians that Sikandar was not so cruel as has been depicted but it was his minister Sahu Bhat who was the real culprit to bring a bad name to him. Kashmir has many Central Asian influences especially in Handicrafts but not many know that the moving spirit behind these was Bud Shah. He had received a good education at home but the luckiest break came when he got an opportunity to travel abroad. Timur Lang or Tamerlane after conquering Persia and Turkistan came to India. Sultan Sikandar through a message acknowledged him as the supreme ruler. Timur was pleased by this expression of allegiance and sent him a number of gifts. In return Sikandar made arrangements to meet Timur at Attock on his return but missed him. To express his gratitude he sent Shahi Khan with all the presents to Samarqand. He successfully reached Samarqand. Timur was very much pleased by his arrival and bestowed many favours upon him. He stayed at Timur’s Royal Court for 7 years. During this long period Shahi Khan acquainted himself with many arts and crafts of Samarqand which was at the peak of its glory during that period. It was only after the death of Timur that Shahi Khan was able to return to Kashmir.
On ascending the throne of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin found the whole country in chaos. The administration had broken down. Corruption was at its peak and there was no semblance of any law and order. Criminals were ruling the roost. The first and foremost task for him was to bring some order to chaotic conditions. For this he motivated the old class of officials, the Pandits, to return to Kashmir giving them every facility and guaranteeing them religious and civil liberties. (Incidentally a similar situation prevails in the present day Kashmir but it is doubtful whether Pandits would be able to help us now?) The King severely dealt with all corrupt officials to ensure corruption was completely rooted out. He dealt ruthlessly with all types of crime and most of the known criminals were put behind the bars. Realizing that the unemployment and poverty resulted in commission of crime, he took a number of steps so that suitable employment was guaranteed to all eligible persons in different fields. Due to long period of lawlessness and insecurity of life and property, the farmers had left most of the land uncultivated. Zain-ul-Abidin’s first great reform was the revision of land assessment. He reduced it to a fourth of the total produce in some places and to a seventh in others. The farmers were further protected from the harassment of revenue officials by enacting a law which prohibited latter from accepting any gifts from them. He also introduced a proper system for registration of documents to prevent fraudulent transactions in property. He also enacted a code of laws for his people, which were engraved on copper plates and displayed in public places and halls of justice. Sultan abhorred all killing and bloodshed and would avoid capital punishment wherever possible.
However, his leniency and mild temper did not encourage any crime in the country because of his complete impartiality as a judge. According to Jonaraja, “Though the King was kind-hearted yet for the sake of his people he would not forgive even his son or minister or a friend if he were guilty. Mir Yahya, a great favourite of the King, while drunk, had killed his wife. Although he was very close to him, yet he was held guilty and executed.” (One wonders if such justice can be meted out to the guilty of the recent scandals in Kashmir? Alas, we would need a Bud Shah to do that! Do we have one?)
Sultan was a great builder. Remains of his numerous towns, villages, canals, and bridges still exist and bear his name. To increase agricultural production, he utilised the fertile but dry soil of the karewas for which purpose he built numerous canals such as Utpalapur, Nandashaila, Bijbhira, Advin, Amburher, Manasbal, Zainagir, and Shahkul at Bawan. This gave a tremendous boost to agricultural production in the valley. He built many bridges including the first wooden bridge in Srinagar still known as Zainakadal (now replaced by a concrete bridge). One of his engineers, Damara Kach constructed a paved road which could be used even in rains. Sultan was very fond of wooden architecture and built the palaces of Rajdan and Zain Dab in Zainagiri. These were very beautiful and artistic buildings. The former was twelve storeys high with numerous rooms, halls, verandas, and staircases. The latter was burnt down by chaks. He also built rest houses for travellers and laid many beautiful gardens, prominent being Baghi Zainagiri, Baghi Zaina Dab, Baghi Zainpur, and Baghi Zainakut. The layout of these gardens depicted influences from Samarqand and Bukhara. Zain-ul-Abidin had great love for learning, music, and dance. He established many schools, colleges and a residential university. He was keen that the land of Sharda should once again shine forth as the fountain of knowledge and learning. He patronised Sanskrit scholars like Jonaraja, Srivara, Soma Pandit, and Bodhi Bhatt. Among the Persian and Arabic scholars names of Maulana Kabir, Mulla Hafiz Baghdadi, Mulla Jamal-ud-din, and Qazi Ali Mir are very prominent. Soma Pandit who held a high post in the Translation Bureau wrote an account of Zain-ul-Abidin’s life in his book, Zaina Charit. Sultan established one of the greatest libraries in Kashmir at a huge cost which remained in use even 100 years after his death when it was unfortunately destroyed. About Sultan’s love for learning Srivara writes, “The meritorious king Zain-ul-Abidin for the purpose of earning merit built extensive lodging houses for students and voices of students studying logic and grammar arose from these houses. The king helped students by providing teachers, books, houses, food, and money and he extended limits of learning in all branches. Even the families which never dreamt of learning produced men who through the favour of the king, became known for their erudition. There was not a branch of learning or arts or literature or fine arts which were not studied.” He also patronised vaids and hakims, prominent among them being Shree Bhatt and Karpurra Bhatt. Many hakims from Central Asia came to his court. Sultan also maintained a number of charitable institutions and distributed free food among poor and infirm. Sultan reorganised his army and made it into formidable force which he used to reconquer Punjab and Western Tibet. He sent his ambassadors to Khorasan, Turkistan, Turkey, Egypt, and Delhi.
One of the greatest contributions of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin was in the field of arts and crafts. After ascending the throne, he invited a large number of competent teachers and craftsmen from Samarqand to train his subjects in these arts. Some of the handicrafts introduced include carpet weaving, papier mache, silk, paper making etc. Kashmiri artisans improved and perfected these arts to such a level that their fame spread to whole Asia and even to Europe.
Pandit Anand Koul giving account of the development of these crafts writes, “Zain-ul-Abidin turned Kashmir into a smiling garden of industry inculcating in the hearts of the people sane conceptions of labour and life and also implanting in their minds the germs of real progress. He introduced correct measures and weights and made artisans and traders take solemn oaths (which in those halcyon days one could not easily break) not to kill their golden goose by cheating and swindling. He thus promoted commercial morality and integrity and industrial righteousness-qualities which constitute the backbone of a people’s credit and reputation. It was through these virtues that the Kashmiris successfully carried on shawl and other trades at a period when Kashmir was an isolated country and communications with outside world were very difficult.” (The spirit of the Great King must be immensely hurt by the doings in present day Kashmir. Almost all the attributes which Pandit Anand Koul attaches to the traders in the period of Budshah are missing today. Rather we are doing the reverse in every sphere of life these days. Just for an unquenchable material greed!)
Zain-ul-Abidin, however, has made a place in history unsurpassed anywhere for his religious tolerance. Living in an age when religious persecutions were the order of the day, his reign shines out as a bright gem amidst the narrow minded and short-sighted rulers of his time. He made Kashmir the real paradise in which men of all religions and nationalities mingled together and shared one another’s joys and sorrows. In return for his patronage and love the Hindus vied with the Muslims in turning their homeland into a smiling garden of peace and prosperity. The unstatesman like policy of his father Sikandar had left many a wounds behind. A majority of Hindus had left Kashmir taking with them valuable books both religious and secular. Zain-ul-Abidin had already as heir-apparent and prime minister of his brother, made himself popular with Hindus who looked upon him as their best protector during the dark period of religious bigotry. On his ascending the throne, confidence returned to them and as soon as he sent messengers to India inviting them back to their birthplace, they responded with great alacrity and pleasure. He enacted certain laws to guarantee them a just administration as also trial of their cases according to their own laws and customs. Persecutionary measures instituted by Sikandar and Suha Bhatt were revoked and a general toleration of all religions was proclaimed. Many of the temples which had been demolished in the previous reign were rebuilt and permission was granted to erect new temples. Killing of cows was penalised. In several sacred springs (Nagas) killing of birds and fish was forbidden. The King used to participate in the Annual Nagayatra Festival with other pilgrims and would feed thousands of ascetics and Brahmans. To expiate for the wrongs done to Hindus during the reign of his father, he built homes for the widows of the Brahmans killed in the preceding reigns. He installed many learned and experienced Hindus on high posts who studied Persian, the new court language at his bidding.
Zain-ul-Abidin led a very simple life. He did not take any money from the State Treasury for his personal use but lived on the income from a copper mine in Aishmuqam. He had only one wife in contrast to usual practice of having a harem among the kings of that time. He did not consume any intoxicating liquors and during Ramazan did not even take any meat. In his private life he wore a very simple dress and was a highly religious man, extending equal respect to all religions of the world. He venerated holy saints and fakirs and took instructions both from superior and inferior hermits.
Towards the end of his reign a very severe famine occurred in Kashmir. This was caused by an early snowfall which destroyed the fully ripe paddy crop. Unfortunately the succeeding winter was also very severe. A large number of people died. The King made all out efforts to alleviate the suffering of the people.
He distributed paddy from his government stores free to the needy people. Fortunately the following year’s crop was a bumper one and the sufferings of the people were quickly relieved. However, after the restoration of normal conditions, the king punished all the black marketers and hoarders who had swindled the people during those hard times and the excess money charged from them was returned. By a royal decree he cancelled all the debts incurred by needy people in their hour of distress from unscrupulous money-lenders. Another calamity afflicted the people two years after the famine in the shape of a devastating flood. Heavy rains fell incessantly for a number of days and all the tributaries of Vitasta (Jehlum) swelled and washed down trees, houses, cattle, and human beings. The city of Srinagar which was situated in a low lying area was the worst sufferer. Houses were destroyed and people ran for safety to the hill-tops of Hari Parbat and Shankaracharya. To prevent such an occurrence in future, the King decided to extend the city towards the high ground around Hari Parbat. He thus founded his new city which is to this day known as Naushahar. The town was very well laid with broad roads and streets were all paved with stones. The houses were of a better type and cleanly. In earlier times Dal Lake joined the river through the middle of the old city but the King got a new canal, the Mar, dug to connect the Dal Lake directly with Anchar Lake. The Mar canal was crossed by artistically built stone bridges and was lined with dressed stones. The houses of rich officials and traders rose on its banks. (Unfortunately our “Modern Engineers” instead of cleaning and restoring it, filled it up and constructed a road over it thereby not only depriving Srinagar, which was known as the Venice of the East, of its major waterway but also strangulated the Dal Lake which is now slowly dying.)
Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin died in 1470. Long was his death lamented and even up to this day the people take his name with reverence and gratitude as a word of good omen. No tribute can repay the debt Kashmir owes to him for ever. The turbulent years of last half a century make one wonder how Kashmir ever produced such an illustrious ruler whose reign shines in the annals of history. Kashmiris must be pinning for the rise of such a ruler. Will it happen again? Time only can tell!
A poet chronicled the year of the demise of Budshah in Persian which translates as:
Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin went to dwell in heaven.
The crown and the seal became lustreless.
The earth and the sky became gloomy.
From that date evidently headless became in the world;
Justice and generosity; Learning and power;
Glory and pomp; Peace and tolerance.