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Who was Zain-ul-Abidin/Bud Shah/Pad Shah and What was his contributions to Kashmir | Medieval Kashmir

Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, (25 November 1395-5 April 1470) popularly called Bud Shah, Pad Shah, and the most revered King in Kashmir's history..
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Zain-ul-Abidin/Bud Shah/Pad Shah

Introduction to Zain-ul-Abidin/Bud Shah/Pad Shah

Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, (25 November 1395-5 April 1470) popularly called Bud Shah, Pad Shah, and the most revered King in Kashmir's history ruled from 1420 to 1470. 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. 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.

Shahi Khan, a son of Sultan Sikander the ruler of Kashmir, was charged with the rule of the kingdom of Kashmir when his elder brother, Ali Shah, left the kingdom on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was at this time that Ali Shah gave Shahi Khan the title of Zain-ul-Abidin. Although a religious man, Ali Shah was weak-willed and his desire to attain Mecca buckled under descriptions of the arduous journey ahead. He abandoned his pilgrimage when he arrived at the court of his father-in-law, the king of Jammu, and raised an army consisting of soldiers from Jammu and Rajauri in order to regain his throne. The ancient texts vary regarding why it was that Zain-ul Abidin relinquished his recently acquired status without a fight but there is no disagreement that this is in fact what happened.

Retiring to Sialkot, Zain-ul-Abidin sought the support of its chief, Jasrath Khokhar. Ali Shah became angered when this support was forthcoming and he rashly set out with his army to challenge Khokar. The forces met at Thanna and Khokhar defeated the challenger, who had ignored the advice of his father-in-law to hold back until the Jammu army could join him. Zain-ul-Abidin was then able to return to the capital city of Srinagar, where he was welcomed by his subjects. The fate of Ali Shah is uncertain: he may have died in captivity or have been put to death by Khokhar

Although fundamentally a peaceful man, Zain-ul-Abidin was protective of his territory. He raised and led an army to stabilise the fractious areas of Ladakh and Baltistan which had originally been conquered by his grand father, Shihabu'd-Din, and then had become independent on his death until Sikander reasserted control. With the arrival of Ali Shah on the throne, the territories had once again begun to assert their independence and Zain-ul-Abidin recognised that they had an economic and strategic significance which entailed that they could not be allowed to secede. Similarly, he regained control of Ohind, the chief of which had been overcome by Sikander but had then announced independence during the period of rule by Ali Shah.

He was on friendly terms with regard to the rulers of territories over which he inherited no historic control. The ancient records indicate that he gave and received presents to, and also exchanged embassies with, those who governed over Egypt, Gwalior, Mecca, Bengal, Sindh, Gujarat and elsewhere. Many of the gifts demonstrated the cultured nature of Zain-ul-Abidin; they included works about music, manuscripts and people who were scholars, the latter being sent to him when he commented that an original gift of precious stones was of less interest to him than a gift of a learned nature would have been.

During the last days of his reign, his three sons, Adam Khan, Haji Khan and Bahram Khan rebelled against him but he took energetic measures to crush them. He was succeeded by his son Haji Khan, who took the title of Haidar Khan. 

About his physical appearance Srivara says that he was handsome and had a black, flowing beard. He was married to Taj Khatoon, to whom he had been very devoted. He possessed a deeply religious nature, a mild temper and was very rarely provoked to anger. He was strict in performance of his religious duties, praying five times a day and keeping the Ramadan fasts during which he did not take meat.

Although fundamentally a peaceful man, Zain-ul-Abidin was protective of his territory. Operating from Naushehar, the capital he founded, he had a strong army but was not known for conquests like his grandfather Shihab-ud-Din. However, he defended the territory he inherited. Throughout his half-a-century rule, he sent his army to Gilgit and Baltistan many times to retain the desert as part of his state. He was once personally part of the campaign. The Sultan conquered whole of the Punjab. He added Western Tibet between 1460-1470 A.D to his dominion. Here he rescued a golden image of Buddha from destruction in Saya-Desha above Leh on the Indus. He had excellent relationship with most of his contemporary kings within the neighbourhood, especially in Central Asia and mainland India. Available records suggest his impressive diplomacy even with states as far as Mecca.

When Zain-ul-Abidin came to the throne, corruption in the country was rampant. He appointed spies to inform him about the conduct of his officials of all ranks. His spy system was so efficient that the Sultan was able to know “all about his subjects except their dreams”.

He was noted early in life for his abilities. His accession was, therefore, hailed with joy by both Hindus and Muslims. He ushered in a period of nearly half a century of peace, prosperity and benevolent rule for his people. The first thirty-five years of his reign are described by Jonaraja in the Rajatarangini Dvitiya, while the subsequent years are described by the pupil of Jonaraja, Srivarain, in the Rajatarangini Tritiya. He acquired a halo in popular imagination which still surrounds his name in spite of the lapse of nearly five-hundred years. He was known by his subjects and indeed still is, as Budshah (the Great King). Historian Mohibul Hasan has said that “Of all the Sultans who sat on the throne of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin was undoubtedly the greatest”.

To his good fortune the Sultan had a band of trustworthy and able followers like Helmat Raina and Ahmad Raina. He appointed his brother Mohammad Khan as his chief minister. Srivara, his Hindu historian and author of Zainatarangni, says that Zain-ul-Abidin “published a common order that if any theft occurred anywhere, the headman of the village or town where the theft occurred should be held responsible”.

Administrative policies of Zain-ul-Abidin

Zain-ul-Abidin enforced the system of responsibility of the village communities for local crimes. He regulated the price of the commodities. He stabilized the currency which had been debased during the reign of his predecessors.

He was responsible for a large number of public works. He founded several new cities, built many bridges and dug many irrigation canals. He also prevented the local governors from exacting illegal taxes and gave the peasants much needed tax relief. 

Religious policies of Zain-ul-Abidin

Zain-ul-Abidin earned a name for himself for his policy of religious toleration and public welfare activities. He abolished Jaziya on the Hindu minority of Kashmir. Although he was a Muslim ruler, he banned the slaughter of cows. He extended liberal patronage to Sanskrit language and literature. He knew Persian, Sanskrit, and Tibetan.

The Mahabharata and Kalhana's Rajatarangini were translated into Persian by his order. He was known for his religious tolerance. He called back the Hindus who left Kashmir during his father's reign. He allowed the Hindus to build their temples and follow the personal law according to the Dharmashastras. He stopped the killing of cows by means of poison and passed some regulations about eating beef. He reintroduced the grant of stipends to the learned Brahmans.

It is a recognized fact of history that Zain-ul-Abidin was the author of a new chapter of tolerance, mutual good-will and co-existence in the history of Kashmir. He avoided the atrocious precedent of his father who adhered to a policy of religious persecution. Nor was he myopic, narrow minded and fired with religious sectarianism. Living in an age when religious persecutions were the order of the day, his reign shines out as a gem amidst the narrow-minded and short-sighted rulers of his time. He made Kashmir a real paradise in which men of all religions and nationalities mingled together and shared one another’s joy and sorrow. 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. 

He abolished the Jizya and allowed the Hindus to build their temples and follow the personal law according to the Dharmashastras. He is credited for inspiring the genesis of Kashmiriyat – a socio- cultural ethos of religious harmony and Kashmiri identity.

Development of art and artichecture under Zain-ul-Abidin

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.

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.

Agriculture under Zain-ul-Abidin

He took been interested in agriculture. He built floating stands on which crops were shown. He drained the marshed land & also brought large area of barren land under cultivation. He developed the irrigation system by making no. of tanks canals & dams. Owining to the irrigation works draining of marshly land & use of barrey land for cultivation. Kashmir become self sufficient in food & rice was cheap. The reverence could be raised in this way the granaries were built to store food.

Education under Zain-ul-Abidin

Zain-ul-Abidin took great steps in the spread of Education, he built numerious schools, Colleges & a residential University. Many Kashmiri pundits were well versed in Sanakrit adormed them in Court among the may be mentioned soma pandit who held a high postion in translation Bearue & wrote an account of Zain-ul Abidins life in his book Zain Charit. Bhodi Bhatt another eminent scholar translated several Sanskrit works into persion. Jone raja & Srivara the famous author of the latter Raj tarangi were patronized by the king. Among the Persian, Arabic, scholars may be mentioned the name of Mulana Kabir Mulla Hafiz. Mulla Jamal-ud-din & Qazi Mir Ali.

It is said that Zain-ul-abidin built a school near his palace in Naushara & placed it in charge of Mulla Kabir. Some time he himself used to go there to attend the lecture of Mulla. He spend huge sum in collecting a library which could favourably compare with the one collected by Samenids. The library remained intact for 100 years after his death by when it was destroyed.

The Budshah was not only a patron of learned men, he was himself a scholar and a poet. He knew Sanskrit, Persian and Tibetan. Mahabharata and Rajatarangini of Kalhana were translated into Persian on his orders. The Sultan is said to have been the author of two works in Persian, one of them on the manufacture of fireworks in the form of a dialogue, a method which became a model for the Kashmiri writers. In another one named “Shikayat” he discussed the vanity and transitoriness of this world. The Sultan also composed poetry in Persian under the ‘Nom De Plume of Qutb’.

Public works under Zain-ul-Abidin

Budshah was a great builder. He founded many towns after his name viz., Zainapur, Zainagir. The Sultan built magnificent places at Zainagar by the names of Zainadab. Zainadab was later burned down by Chaks. He also built an artificial island in the Wullar lake by the name of Zaina Lank and two in the Dal Lake viz., Sona Lank and Rupa Lank. At river Jhelum in Srinagar he built a larger wooden bridge by the name of the Zaina Kadal. He opened many dispensaries and employed many Hakims and Vaids there. Medicines were supplied free of cost. He also prevented the local governors from exacting illegal taxes and gave the peasants much needed tax relief.

He took keen interest in agriculture. He built floating islands on which crops were sown. He developed the irrigation system by making a number of tanks, canals and dams. To promote agriculture he built many canals as Kakapur canal, Karla canal, Chakdar canal, Shahkul canal, Awantipur canal, Mar canal, Lallakul or Pohru canal.

For most of the initial 30 years, the king faced no major challenge except the Chak chieftains taking a strong exception to his forced labour and triggering a sort of rebellion. Chaks set afire his Sopore palace twice and in reaction he got all of them arrested and killed all their men. However, his last two decades were exceptionally difficult. It initially started with a famine triggered by a mid-summer snowfall. As people were recovering, a flood destroyed Kashmir two years later. While Kashmir started getting out of these calamities, his three sons, Adam, Haji and Bahram rebelled against him but he took energetic measures to crush them. He was succeeded by his son Haji khan, who took the title of Haidar Khan.

Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin turned Kashmir into an industrial garden. As a result there was tremendous development in the valley. He was deservedly named Budshah or the great king. No tribute can repay the debt Kashmir owes to him forever. Since May 12, 1470, Kashmir’s Budshah, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin lays resting outside his mother’s tomb.

Srivara in Rajatarangini says when Zain-ul-Abidin died in 1470 A.D., “No one cooked his food on the day; no smoke arose from the houses; all were dumb with grief. They lamented and said the king was the greatest among all sovereigns.”

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