Culture and traditions
The CKNP and the surrounding territories belong to an area rich in history and culture that has evolved over time under diverse cultural influences and traditions which left their mark from the fifth millennium BC onwards.
Although, the mountain ranges of Hindukush, Karakorams and Himalayas form a seemingly impenetrable barrier separating the Indian subcontinent from the highlands of Central Asia and China, a web of routes and mountain passes have allowed over the centuries the long-distance movement of peoples and transmission of cultures, making these mountain ranges more like a porous system that a limit.
The archaeological findings in Upper Indus, Gilgit, and Hunza valleys, tell us that throughout hundreds and thousands of years important cultural movements were able to overcome this obstacle.
Thousands of rock carvings, petroglyphs and graffiti found on the rocky slopes and boulders of the Indus gorge, starting from Shatial up to Gilgit and Hunza, and extending as far as Baltistan, Ladakh and Western Tibet, documenting the life of the first inhabitants, provide information about cultural variety, the transformations of climate, flora and fauna, as well as the changes of religion, from pre-Islamic time back to prehistory and even to the epi-palaeolithic period, that is, the ninth/eighth millennium BC.
This area has been known as ‘Dardistan’ and ‘Boloristan’ in the historical works. The British historians coined the term Dardistan – to describe the ethnically and culturally diverse inhabitants of the area as one homogenous group – based on the accounts of the Herodotus and Sanskrit texts, which refer to the people of the area as ‘Dards’. The locals never call or have called themselves Dards, expect for a brief period in medieval times, where the inscriptions point to Dard kings in the Kishanganga valley. The term Boloristan is probably linked to Patola Shahi rulers of the area who were called Bolo or Balor by the Arabs and hence the area Boloristan.
The people of the area are descendants of the earliest Indo –Aryan tribes, who migrated from Trans-Pamir region between 2000 and 1500 BC, and settled in the northern mountain valleys
PRE-HISTORY THE ROCK ART PEOPLE
The history of the earliest inhabitants of this area can be traced back to about 5th millennium B.C.
They were hunters and food gatherers, hunting collectively and living in rock shelters and dried up river channels. They used to cross the river Indus by rafts or logs with no knowledge of boat making. Animal skin was used as protection from cold and in latter stages, they developed family system with proper roles for men, women and children.
They used to practice a religion based on the fear and worship of mountains.
They can be termed the “People of the Rock Art” as it was they who started the tradition of rock engravings in the Northern Areas, which was continued by their successors up to the modern times.
THE MEGALITH BUILDERS
The next group of people to inhibit and dominate this area is known as the Megalith Builders. These newcomers, with direct links to Chitral and Swat, introduced the art of building huge megaliths and pit grave burial. They used to practice the art of stone cutting and used copper, bronze, iron, gold and silver for making tools and other objects, which suggests economic activity. They developed terrace fields along the slopes of the mountains, which were irrigated through cutting channels from rivers and streams. Use of domesticated cattle and horses was also prevalent but not common.
Herodotus in his accounts of the area mentions ‘Dardic’ people living in the present day Northern Areas during the reign of Achaemenian Empire (4th Century BC). He mentions the subjugation of these people to the Achaemenian Empire. They paid a tribute to the empire and served in its armies along with the Gandharians and other tribes. The evidence suggests that there was some sort of political state or states of the people described as Dards or Dardic by Herodotus. These people mined and traded gold, which helped the area in becoming centre of economic and trading activities and opening of a trade route from Central Asia and China to India through this area.
SCYTHO – PARTHIANS
Scythians from Central Asia had established their rule in this area around first B.C. Their first king – Moga– defeated a local ruler Gopadasa, who was probably a Buddhist. The rule of Scythians resulted in the introduction of Kharoshti script and Taxila style stupas into the area and establishment of close trade relations with Taxila. The Scythian rule lasted about two generations – between 1 BC and 1 AD – followed by the Gondophares branch of Parthians. The influence of Parthians on local culture is evident from the rock carvings of this era, which has a distinct Parthian touch and depicts themes totally new to this area such as Parthian soldiers and chariots etc.
Kushans, after extending their empire to Central Asia, Kabul Valley and Indus Valley, moved north – to establish their rule in this region – in the beginning of the 1st Century AD. The Kushans used gold, mined in the area, to engage in trade with Central Asia and China, which lead to the opening of many silk routes, at least one of them passed through the present day Northern Areas. The Kushans brought stability and prosperity to the area and Buddhism flourished under their rule.
In the beginning of the 3rd century AD, this area came under the control of Sassanians from Persia. A branch of Kushans – the Kidar Kushans – still ruled the area but as subordinates to the Sassanians. The culture of the area was greatly influenced by India; Gupta Brahami gradually replaced Kharoshti script, as illustrated by the rock carvings of the period. During this period, Buddhism continued to flourish and the area was a popular route between China, India and Central Asia, used by both traders and pilgrims. Towards the end of the 4th century AD the influence of Sassanians started to wane.
The White Huns – warrior tribe or tribes from Central Asia – conquered Kabul Valley, Indus Valley and Northern Areas in the early 6th century AD. They ruled through several local Shina and Burushiski kings called ‘Rajas’, subordinate to the Hun Emperor. Huns were non-Buddhist and hence the official patronage of Buddhism stopped during their reign, but the people of the area continued to practice Buddhism.
MEDIEVAL TO MODERN TIMES
As the Hun power declined, the local rajas got independent. The area was ruled from 612 AD to 750 AD by Patola Shahi dynasty. The Patola Shahi’s were Buddhist and had close ties with Chinese empire. Patola were called ‘Pa lo la’ by Chinese and ‘Balol’ or ‘Balor’ by the Arabs who referred to the area as Boloristan.
After the Patola Shahi dynasty, most of the area came under the control of the Turks– deposed from their Central Asian home by the Arab conquest. These Turks were, most probably, fire worshippers, while the people at large still practiced Buddhism.
Locals described as ‘Dards’ in the rock inscriptions ruled the northern Kishanganga valley. This is the only instance of the people of the area using the term ‘Dards’ for themselves.
Later the Skardu valley came under the control of Tibetans for some time. The following dynasties ruled different parts of Northern Areas during Medieval times, from 7th century AD to early 19th century AD:
• Tarkhans of Gilgit
• Maglots of Nagar
• Ayash of Hunza
• Burushai of Punial
• Makpons of Skardu
• Amachas of Shigar
• Yabgus of Khaplu
A prince from Badakhshan started the Tarkhan dynasty. The Tarkhan rulers converted to Islam in early 8th century AD while the population continued to be Buddhist until they converted to Islam after a few decades through the preaching of Sufi saints from Central Asia.
The founders of Maglot dynasty of Nagar and Ayash dynasty of Hunza were both Tarkhan princess.
The Makpon dynasty of Skardu originated in early 13th century AD after a long Tibetan rule. The dynasty is traced back to a local ‘Fakir’ Makpon Bokha. A conflicting account refers to Ibrahim Shah from Kashmir who established his rule in the area and started Makpon dynasty. Mir Shamsuddin Iraqi spread Islam in this area in 16th century.
In Medieval times, the area remained outside the Mughal control. Although Akbar conquered Kashmir and parts of Baltistan, Gilgit continued to have an independent status until the Northern Areas came under the control of Dogra rulers of Kashmir in mid-19th century.
The British created Gilgit Agency and appointed a political agent, at the end of 19th century under a lease agreement with Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir, to counter the threat of Russian empire.
Gilgit was returned to Dogra Maharaja on 1st August 1947.
The people of Gilgit and Baltistan, reacting to the Dogra Maharaja’s accession to India started an armed struggle against him. The struggle, lead by Gilgit Scouts and Muslim officers of Kashmir State Forces, managed to take control of the areas comprising Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir by January 1, 1949 when the ceasefire was announced.
The Northern Areas became a part of Pakistan in 1949.