Balti Muslims in Leh

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Balti Muslims in Leh

The causes of the arrival of the Balti Muslims in Leh

By Zainul Aabedin Aabedi, Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reach Ladakh

Balti Muslims in Leh

Leh: The Balti Muslims arrived and settled in Ladakh gradually from15th century to the beginning of 20th century. Till the end of 13th century the people of Baltistan were followers of Buddhism. But because of the preaching of Shah-e-Hamdan and his disciples they gradually converted to Islam. Thus the language, traditions and culture of Ladakh and Baltistan are similar with some minor differences. The people of Baltistan have preserved the dialect but lost the script, because after conversion to Islam instead of Bhoti they adopted the Persian and Urdu script in almost every form of communication. Now some of the Balti scholar’s are doing efforts to restore and revive the Bhoti script. The causes of their migration and settlement in Ladakh are as follows:-

The wet land called Khumdan is responsible for migration of Baltis from Khapulo to Indus belt in Leh. According to Hashmatullah, it happened during the reign of Raja Salim Ldey of Thursay-Khar, Khapulo. (1430-1470 AD.)When King Takpa bum Ldey was ruling over Ladakh from Shay as its capital, because of the melting of the ice of the passage of the Khumdan Lake, a devastating flood came in through Shayok River, which destroyed the Chaythag town of Khapulo. People became homeless and many Baltis migrated to Ladakh and settled in the Indus belt. The king was so generous and kind that he never pressurized the migrants to accept Buddhism instead he helped them to settle there. They constructed Khankah, mosque and Imambarah at various places.

Joint expedition of Balti Rajas under the command of Garzi Raja Shigar

After the death of King Takpa Bum Ldey, his elder son Lotus Chhokdan ascended to the throne of Shay. His other two sons were Tongpa Ali and Lafstan Sherap. According to the well-known historian Wazir Hashmatullah, king Lotus Chhogdan (1470-1534 AD) confiscated the vast area from the Doru Cho of Purig and instead of Khaltsey Bridge, Nala Kanji was made Border. After Doru Cho, his brother Habib Cho became the ruler of Sot (1475-1490). He met with the Rajas of Shigar, Khapulo and Skardo and motivated them to invade Ladakh. Thereafter, a joint expedition of Balti Rajas, under the command of Garzi, the Raja of Shigar started and after a long time King Lotus Chhogdan surrendered before them. It is expected that some Balti Muslims might have married with local women and settled at Shay, since Shay remained as capital from 10th century to 15th century. After Lotus Chhogdan capital was shifted from Shay to Leh and the Muslim traders, travelers and preachers also turned towards Leh. And after the marriage of Queen Rgyal Khatoon with King Jamyang Namgyal many Balti Muslims like preachers, traders, architects and musicians came to Leh and gradually their number increased and many Muslim monuments like mosques and Imambarahas came into existence in Leh. Therefore Shia Jama Masjid Leh was one of them.

Invasion of Ali Sher Khan, Anchan Raja Skardo and arrest of King Jamyang Namgyal (1555-1610 AD) and marriage with Queen Rgyal Khatoon developed the relations between the Balti Muslims and the Buddhist. For instance, King jamyang Namgyal married with Queen Rgyal Khatoon, King Nima Namgyal married with Zizi Khatoon (1695-1750), Tsewang Namgyal with Begum Wangmo and Tsering Khatoon, and Tsewang Rafstan Namgyal (Chhogsfrul) with Zahra Khatoon. Large number of people and their families serving the queens accompanied them to Leh and got settled there permanently. The Muslim Queens of Namgyal kings have performed Nimaz and prayer in the Masjide-shah-hamdan Shay.

As far as the style of structure of the mosques in Leh is concerned , stone have been used 2 to 3 feet high from the surface in the foundation and rest of the structure have been completed with local bricks only. For construction of the roof local logs and twigs have been used and dusts in a large quantity have been placed over it. Cement and iron was not in practice in the past. The main gate of the entrance is decorated with “Shingtsags: which looks very beautiful. The door of the Masjid is in the centre with two windows on both sides. The door and the windows even the front side of the building is decorated with ornamental “Shingtsags”. Inside the Masjid there is a “Mehrab” on the westward, which indicates the “Qibla”. The Imam of the Masjid sits in or outside the Mehrab and leads the believers to perform Nimaz. There is a “Menbar” adjacent to the Mehrab, where the Imam (Prayer leader) sits and delivers the sermon. None other than the Imam or a great religious scholar is allowed to sit on the menbar. The ancient mosques were not having the tombs and minarets like today. However every mosque was having a “Roshandan” in the centre. But now style of construction has partially changed. Cement and iron are used in large quantity and the much influence of Turko-Iranian style of construction is there. But it is interesting that the old mosques big or small were having a varanda in the front. Even the small historical mosque of Queen Rgyal Khatoon at the Basgo Palace is having a small varanda. Queen Rgyal Khatoon supported the Baltis in construction of Imam-Barahs, Mosques, and sarais.

Many Balti Muslims reached Leh along with Queen Rgyal Khatoon, who remained as Muslim till her death and got buried at Hunder Nubra according to the Islamic principles and rituals. She supported the Balti Muslims for construction of mosques at Phyang Chhusgo and Tsas Soma Leh and Shia Jama Masjid near Chhutay Rantak. Whereas the present Jama Masjid Ahle-Sunnat leh is concerned, it came into existence during the period of the grandson of king Jamyang. He was Deldan Namgyal. Later, after the treaty of Timisgam King Delek Namgyal, whose Islamic name was Aaqibat Mehmood Khan got it re-built as per the direction and drawing of the Mughal rulers in 1680.AD.and struck the coin as Mehmood Shah on adverse and 875 Hijri on reverse. It is called “Jao” and probably is the first and last coin of Ladakh.

In the later years many more Baltis came to Leh as travellers, traders. Because of its unique taste Apricot of Baltistan was in huge demand at that time and large number Baltis used to trade it along Silk route and Leh was an important market for them. Preachers like Akhons , Sheikhs and Aghas visited Leh and settled at different villages. For instance, Sheikh Ghulam Hassan Zubdavi, a renowned Muslim Scholar came during the pre-independence period and could not go back to his native place because of partition. Presently, his offspring’s are settled at Thiksay. Among them Sheikh Mohammad Ali Zubdavi and Sheikh Mohammad Jawad Zubdavi are well-known Muslim scholars. Similarly, many more Balti families came to Leh from time to time from 15th to 20th century and settled permanently. The Balti Muslims and the Buddhist of Leh is having common culture, language, customs and traditions, the only difference is the religion. Many Balti Muslims married with the local women and developed relations with Buddhist. Even today, there is blood relation between the two communities and share sorrow and happiness.

Contributions of the Balti Muslims in the local society

The Balti Muslims have contributed a lot in the upliftment and development of the present culture and civilization. In the field of literature, the Balti Noha, Marsia, Qasida, Ghazal, and Rgyangloo became popular and achieved very remarkable place in the society. The Hussainy Majlis is considered incomplete without Balti Marsia and Nohas. Most of the preachers also speak in Balti language. There is very little difference in Balti and Ladakhi dialect, as both can understand each other’s language. In sports, they introduced Polo and archery. It is also believed that the musical instruments like Surna, Daman etc came from Baltistan during the period of Queen Rgyal Khatoon. It is said that one of the daughter of Raja Ali Sher Khan Anchan namely Gul Khatoon was married with Jahangir. She convened some of the Balti youths to Delhi to get training in music. Similarly the music and musical instruments like daf, damama, and sunai etc reached in Baltistan with Persian names and later transmitted to Ladakh. In the field of technology they introduced water mill (Garad), ornamental designs in carpentry, and Balti architecture .It is believed that the Singay Palace Leh and Chiktan Razi-Khar was built by a well-known Balti architect popularly known as Shingkhan Chandan Ali of Khapulo. There is a legend about him in Purig. Some of the dishes like tapu, baley, tsaps, kisir, tenten and azoqa are also introduced here by them.

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