Pandit of Kashmir - Orientation

Identification. The Pandits are natives of the Kashmir Valley in north India. They belong to the highest-ranked Brahman castes of Hindu society. Among Brahmans they are identified as Saraswats. The two most commonly offered interpretations of this appellation are: Brahmans who live west of the subterranean river Saraswati; or Brahmans who are devotees of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. The Sanskrit word pandita means a learned man. Although Generally known as Kashmiri Pandits, they refer to themselves as Bhatta or Batta, which is the Prakrit word for "great scholars." There are no historical records of Pandits having come to Kashmir from elsewhere, though many lay observers have speculated about possible Jewish, Greek, or Persian origins.

Location. The Kashmir Valley is located approximately between 33°30′ and 34°30′ N and 73°30′ and 75°30′ E. It is famous for its scenic beauty. Surrounded by mountains of the Pir Panjal range, which rise up to 5,150 meters, the valley is 134 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide and is situated at an average elevation of about 1,500 meters. Many rivers, streams, and lakes provide a rich source of water. Kashmir is marked by a temperate climate with four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Much of the annual precipitation of about 66 centimeters is snow and the mean temperature for January is about 0° C. Summer temperatures rarely rise above 35° C.

Demography. When all Hindus are counted together (there are some non-Pandit Hindus also in the valley), they add up to 117,431 persons (1981 census) constituting about 4.5 percent of the total population; the rest are Muslims. According to unofficial estimates there are about 100,000 Pandits in Kashmir. Men outnumber women. Of the total number of Pandits, nearly 65 percent live in urban areas. While there are numerous villages inhabited by Muslims alone, there is no village where only Hindus live or where they outnumber Muslims.

Linguistic Affiliation. Pandits speak Koshur (Kashmiri), an Indo-Aryan language with pronounced Central Asian (Dardic) affinities. The Koshur that Pandits speak contains a larger number of words of Sanskrit-Prakrit derivation than the Persianized/Arabicized Koshur of the Muslims. The original script of the language, Sharada, is akin to the Devanagari script (of Sanskrit) but has fallen into disuse. It is now used only by priests for writing horoscopes or copying traditional texts relating to domestic rituals. The script in use in schools and elsewhere is Persian.

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