Shelly, one of the great romantic poets, said that “Poetry makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world”. He was proven right by Thomas Moore, an Irish poet who had never visited India or Kashmir but by his creative faculty and imagination immortalised Kashmir in the west. Moore wrote a fictional romance of four narrative poems and a connecting tale about Lalla Rookh in 1817 (Tulip Cheeks) about a Mughal princess who introduced the Kashmir valley to artists in Europe. In all the four imaginative tales, Feramorz is the narrator, who accompanies and entertains the Mughal princess Lalla Rookh from Delhi to Srinagar.
Moore’s poem captured the popular imagination with its rendering of exotic scenes and colourful images from the distant Orient. More importantly, it introduced the valley of Kashmir (“Cashmere”) to the west, providing the canvas upon which future European travellers to Kashmir painted much of their story. In the early 1900s, a spirited Englishwoman, Florence Parbury, wrote An Emerald Set With Pearls, extolling the beauties of Kashmir. The poetry of Lalla Rookh had made her restless until she travelled to Kashmir, where she sketched and painted its natural beauty. She devoted extensive space in her book to the story by Moore. She added musical scores for some of the poems in the book, particularly those with references to the Vale of Kashmir.
As such, Moore’s verses opened a new vista for Parbury who drew reference to “a wondrous land tucked away in the Himalayan Range”, describing its charms by such names as “Kachemire-be-Nazeer” or the Unequalled, the “Garden of Paradise” and the “Emerald set with Pearls”. Mentioning the early European traveller, Francois Bernier, who visited the Vale of Kashmir in 1664 with the royal suite of the Mogul Emperor, Parbury says: “Those only who have seen Kashmir in the beauty of its seasons can appreciate the truth of these oldtime poets, none of whom however, of any nationality, have ever done justice to this delightful country and immortalised its lakes, flower, valleys, streams and fountains as perfectly as Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, did in his famous poem Lalla Rookh.” Parbury bemoaned the fact that few had heard of Moore’s work at the time of her writing her book. In fact, by the turn of the twentieth century, in late Victorian England, the poem had lost much of the tremendous popularity it had enjoyed in the decades after its publication in 1817.
Her effort, therefore, was to “rouse a fresh interest in the poet’s beautiful work, in the form of a souvenir of Kashmir”. In writing his book, Moore received encouragement from a number of friends, including his more famous contemporary, Lord Byron, who said, “I rejoice it from my heart.” Moore received an advance of 3000 guineas for the book, unprecedented for his time. The book went into at least five editions in the first year of publication (1817). Tailpiece: After the partition of the subcontinent, many European travellers began to challenge the popular notion about Kashmir as an abode of peace and beauty, as portrayed in Lalla Rookh. Most modern travelogues on Kashmir became political and controversial. One hopes that the days of Lalla Rookh will return once again in the future!
Let me conclude from Mehjoor, the great Kashmiri poet: “Bulbulan Dup Gulls Hussan Chui Pur Keyhawanai, zew chai ne, suchuikashur”