According to historians, the ancestors of
Kashmiris are early immigrants from India proper.
With the spread of Buddhism, many scholars came to
Kashmir from far-off lands for research and study. The
contact of Kashmiris with the Roman, Greek and Persian
civilizations resulted into a fusion of cultures. Most
of the people claim their descent from the Indo-Aryan
stock but one can easily find people belonging to
diverse and different races inhabiting Kashmir with
distinct looks, dresses, food habits, customs, speech
Kashmiris have made remarkable contributions to the arts of story-telling and mystical poetry, the Shaiva philosophy, grammar and the sciences. The artistic and cultural genius of the people of Kashmir is evident in their folk songs and dances as well as the various arts and crafts that are world-renowned. Known for their charming beauty, most of the people in the valley are very fair complexioned, with light brown to dark hair, blue or grey to black almond eyes, rosy cheeks behind Indian tan, chiseled features and fine physique. Superstitious by nature, Kashmiris are generally non-aggressive and temperate in nature and are God-fearing. Regarded as non-martial in character, they are considered extremely warm, friendly, and hospitable.
Kashmiri Muslims are generally more active, energetic and dynamic in nature and are considered unrivalled craftsmen, known for their time-honored intricate and beautiful designs that they produce on papier-mache, wood, silver and gold. Shrews businessmen, they also indulge themselves in agriculture, sheep rearing, cattle rearing and other cottage industries. Ninety percent of the population in the valley professes Islam of both Sunni and Shia sects.
Pandits live a simple and frugal life. Individualistic and largely intellectual, they avoid manual labor and cling to professional and administrative jobs. Due to the terrorist activities lately, many of them have been uprooted from their homeland but the government has been trying to relocate them here. The Kashmiri Pandits do not have castes like Hindus in the rest of India.
Kashmiri women generally have such love of jewellery that their headgear, ears, necks and arms glisten with ornaments. The typical ornament that Hindu women wear is the Dejharoo, a pair of gold pendants, hanging on a silk thread or gold chain which passes through holes in the ears pieced at the top end of the lobes. The Dejharoo symbolizes that the Kashmiri Pandit woman is married. Muslim women wear bunches of earrings, the weight of which is supported by a thick silver chain along with several bracelets and necklaces. The whole ensemble lends a most artistic effect to the appearance of Kashmiri women.
Gujjars are the hill people of Kashmir, which are mostly herdsmen by occupation. Said to be Rajputs migrated from Rajasthan and adopted the Muslim faith, they are tall and well built, with a prominently Jewish cast of features. Their dialect, Gujari is now identified as a form of a Rajasthani. Their nutritious diet consists of maize bread, whey, jungle roots and fruits. The dress of a Gujjar woman of the hills in the valley consists of as ample shalwar and full-skirted tunic with loose sleeves. Very much similar to that worn by the Turkish village women, a thick veil on their head falls back to their shoulders. They knit their hair in multiple plaits, which hang in front and cover half of their moon-shaped faces.
Rice and meat is the staple diet of the Kashmiris and
Kashmiris pride over Karam Sag (a kind of leafy green
vegetable), nadru (lotus stalk) and turnips that are
considered precious enough to be presented as token
gifts. The culinary art of Kashmir, especially, the
cooking of lamb dishes in various ways, is very famous.
The tea that the Kashmiris drink is called Kahva, which
is a concoction of green tea leaves brewed in the
samovar and enriched with pounded almonds, cardamom
seeds, and cinnamon stalks overdosed with sugar and
served without milk. The other kind of tea is Shir chai,
which is salted and milked, pink in color and is topped
with lots of cream.
Kashmiri Muslims used to wear the pheran, a long loose gown hanging down below the knees, a white turban tied on a skull cap, a close-fitting shalwar and lace less shoes called gurgabi. A white piece of material is hung on their shoulders like a stole. Hindu men wear churidar pyjama instead of shalwar. The less affluent Muslims wear skullcaps, which looks cute and does not carry any shawl. Unlike a Hindu woman's pheran, which gives her a Roman look, the Muslim woman's pheran is beautifully embroidered in front. Whereas a Muslim woman's pheran is knee-length, loose and embroidered in front and on the edges, a Hindu woman's pheran touches her feet. For the sake of smartness and ease it is tied at the waist with folded material called lhungi. The long loose sleeves are fashionably decorated with brocade.
With this type of Hindu costume goes the headdress called taranga, which is tied to a hanging bonnet and tapers down to the heels from behind. The folds of the taranga are made of brightly pressed lines fastened to a pointed red-colored and brocaded skull cap with a few gold pins at the sides. Over the head and ears are pieces of muslin embroidered in gold thread. Muslim woman's headgear, the Kasaba, looks very different from the Taranga. It is red in color, tied turban-like and held tight by an abundance of silver pins and trinkets. It has an overhanging pin-scarf, which falls gracefully over the shoulders. A work-a-day shalwar goes with it. Unmarried Muslim girls wear skullcaps, embroidered with gold thread and embellished with silver pendants, trinkets and amulets. With the passage of years, an appreciable change has come about in the dress of the Kashmiri women. Saris, shalwar-kameez, churidars and jeans are becoming popular, yet none of these belong to them as much as the good old pheran.