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"Kashmir proper is but a small country, a little vale surrounded by snow-capped mountain ranges, about eighty-four miles long from north-west to south-east, and from twenty to twenty-five miles in width, with an area of about 1,850 square miles," writes J. Hinton Knowles, collector of the proverbs and tales that follow.

Proverbs from Kashmir reflect the situation in that part of the world. Many of the proverbs refer to its cultural tradition: Since these say very little to a Westerner, they are omitted in this selection. Other Kashmiri proverbs are more all-over valid. The eighty proverbs and expressions included belong mostly to that group.

An asterix (*) behind a proverb shows the proverb is modified. A C after a sentence stands for "Comment by J. Hinton Knowles" in nearly all cases. There are some slight modifications in addition to these grasps.


Doing a sleeping man a disservice

A bear formed friendship with a man who was passing through his jungle. For some time he brought his friend large quantities of honey. One day the man fell asleep after eating the honey. While he was asleep a bee attracted by the sweetness alighted on his mouth. The friendly bear seeing this thought that he would save the man from the pain of a sting, and so he went and fetched a great piece of rock and aimed it with all his might at the place where the bee was. The stone frightened away the bee, but killed the man.

[Folktales from the Upper Punjab by C. Swynnerton, Journal Asiatic Society, Bengal, Vol. LII, Part 1, 1883].

In the Buddhist Makasa Jataka tale a son broke his father's bald head to kill a mosquito that had settled on it.

Proverbs and Sayings

A big basket in the water. [A man of some position and influence, - As long as he retains his employment, he retains his authority, but as soon as he is dismissed, he loses that authority and honour. The basket as soon as you take it out of the stream it is emptied.]

A contrary woman is like bad grass on the roof. [Grass not fitted for thatching does not set well, but lets the rain through the roof.]

A festival without dogs. [Pleasure without difficulty.]

A good marriage is not such an easy matter. (C.)

A lie increases as it goes. (C.)

A little child's prattle can be understood by its parents; and a man's speech can be understood by his countrymen. *

A little for you and a little for me, this is friendship.

A man in trouble knows not what to do.

A Pundit dug out the hole of a rat the other day and found pieces of cloth, iron, little piles of rice, apples, etc., enough for several months' provisions.

A sheep in appearance, but a wolf at heart. [A wolf in sheep's clothing.]

A son-in-law who lives always in his father-in-law's house, is like a dog at the door. [Hindus are so very fond of their children, male or female, that they cannot bear the idea of a separation, and so the sons-in-law are invited to come and dwell under the same roof.]

A string of pearls to a dog. [Casting pearls before swine.]

Anger spreads over the breast of an unforgiving man. (C.)

Better to fill your house with stones than to have a stranger in it. [It depends on which stones. Gemstones, like emeralds, are pretty too. TK]

Between man and man there is as great difference as there is between God and a swede. [There are no two persons alike.]

Blessed be the ragged garment which keeps me warm through the winter. [A poor man's retort.]

Clapping is with both hands. [It takes two to make a quarrel.]

Don't be ashamed of your real position. (C.)

Eleven men have lost a cow between them. [A great loss, but many to share it.]

Employment is like dirt on the wrist. [Employment is uncertain.]

Empty vessels sound.

Feed a servant or an animal well that they may serve you well. *

God spare the public benefactor.

He can't manage the horses, and so he beats their manure. [Too weak to trouble the " big guns," and therefore he oppresses the poor.]

He that neglects his own is worse than an infidel.

If a man of good family becomes great, he will give pensions in land (to the people); but if an ignoble man becomes great, he will take out the very hairs of their heads.

If I don't laugh, how can I live?

Keep your own counsel.

Knowledge unused is like a torch in the hand of a blind man. [Knowledge should be brought into use.]

Let every man bear his own burden.

Little can be done without money nowadays. *

May bad knowledge flee from you and good knowledge (derived from a study of the Vedas) stick to you. [A Pundit's prayer before schooling sets in].

Men bind on their turbans for honour's sake, not for warmth.

Men look into the rice-pot from the top part (to judge whether the food is cooked properly or not). [Men are judged by their speech.]

Not the rich man, but the man who gives dinners, is great.

Nothing in this world can last.

On his big day the Hindu fasts. [An allusion to the Hindu's much fasting.]

One man cut the bridge, and a thousand people fell into the river [Punishment visited upon many because of the iniquity of one.]

This is a saying derived from a true story (so a native friend says). A very long time ago a large crowd of people were travelling together, perhaps they were going on a visit to some popular shrine. In the midst of the crowd there was a very wicked man. On seeing a swift and deep stream in front, this wicked man ran on ahead and crossed the ordinary plank bridge built over it and no sooner had he himself crossed over, than with his big hatchet he hacked and hewed away at the supporting beam of the bridge, until it broke into two pieces and the whole structure fell down, and was soon carried away by the waters. They all started to wade the stream together, but when they reached the middle of the water they were carried away by the waters and were drowned.]

One man is intoxicated with the juice of the grape, another with the juice of vegetables. [Pride dwells in every one, be he rich or poor.]

One man is old and sweet, another old and bitter.

One man's beard is on fire, and another man warms his hands by it. [To be glad at another's misfortune.]

One Pundit with another Pundit is like a mountain-crow.

One snaps with two fingers (not with one). [It takes two to make a quarrel.]

One woman is wealth to you, another is ruination.

Out of the same mouth proceeds both blessing and cursing. (C.)

Politeness is required in man. Scent is required in a flower.

Poor people cannot afford to speculate, though there may be every chance of making a lot of money quickly. (C.)

Prepare your garden, the fakir has come to dance. [A warning to prepare for any person's coming. - Fakirs stamp on the ground, gesticulate, and in other ways annoy people if their demands for largesse are not quickly complied with.]

Quick to do good, but slow to quarrel. [Excellent advice.]

Some have wives always in confusion.

The bachelor wishes (to get married), the married man regrets (that he got married).

The cow will not give (milk) and the calf will not drink it. [Step-mother and step-children, who do not always love another full well . . . Also cited concerning an old servant and his master if have got to dislike one another, but keep together all the same.]

The doctor killed a hundred men. [A doctor of some experience.]

The dog took away the piece of leather (while the men were quarrelling over it). [The dog represents the lawyer.]

The field must be always under the eye of the master. [It needs to be looked after steadily.]

The master is great in three hours, the servant is great in a year. [Some people earn as much in three hours as others do in twelve months.]

The milk is better in the autumn. *

The mother-in-law is great, the daughter-in-law is also great; the pot is burnt, who will take it off the fire? [Somebody must do the work.]

The one who suffers, knows what it is like.

The same concern may turn out well for one but adversely for another. (C.)

The sparrow must keep a good lookout, or some cat will kill it. *

The washerman's house will be known on the great feast-day. [The washerman's family wear the clothes which are sent to them to be washed; but on the day of the feast everybody takes all their clothes, and so the poor washerman and his family are left almost naked (This was not true of every washerman).]

There are Shias and Shias. [The village Shias are much more superstitions and bigoted than the city Shias. [In all there were about six thousand Shias in the valley around 1885. They were found chiefly at Zadibal.]

They said to the heron, " Your bill is crooked." He replied, "Am I not all crooked?"

Tip: Locusts can be sun-dried and powdered and made cakes of.

Tip: Natives of Kashmir, from the Maharaja down to the humblest subject, seldom ever skin a pear, but always skin an apple. Apple-skin, they say, is not easily digested.

To be wounded by words is not well.

To count the waves of the rivers is a quite impossible task. *

To eat out of a vessel and then defile it. [To receive a man's hospitality and then slander him.]

To form bad habits is to make pain.

To half (the people) wretchedness and to half happiness.

To the shameless shame is distant.

Today is not the time, now is the time.

Tomorrow is no day. [A caution against postponing.]

Truth is largely better than friendship. *

Two heads are better than one.

What is the good of a policeman beating a poor man? He will not get a bribe.

Whom God will, God blesses. (C.)

Will he throw a handful of grass into the fire-place? [Like a handful of grass in a fireplace, a little money in a big concern is soon swallowed up.]

Will the grocer sit and weigh water? [Nothing better to do?]

Will the milkman say that his milk is sour?

Your heart and mine are like a looking-glass; as you see me, so I shall appear to you. Be friendly and I will be friendly, and the other way round.

About the Source

The author of the book that these proverbs are taken from, quotes John Beames: "Proverbs teach the real people's speech, and open up the hitherto sealed book of the native mind." That may be so.

As a missionary, on arriving in the Valley, the rev. J. Hinton Knowles at once started to collect Kashmiri proverbs and sayings and later translated them as literally as possible. In 1885 his book of "nearly all the Proverbs and Proverbial sayings now extant among the Kashmiri people" was published. They were gathered from various sources:

"Sometimes the great and learned Pandit instinctively uttered a proverb in my hearing; sometimes I got the barber to tell me a thing or two, as he polled my head; and sometimes the poor coolie said something worth knowing, as carrying my load he tramped along before me. A few learned Muhammadan and Hindu friends also have very materially helped me in this collection and its arrangement."

"With regard to the "point" of the different proverbs and sayings, I have been through them all, as here written, with a little council of learned Muhammedan and Hindu Kashmiri friends, and not allowed one to pass, until I got their full and undivided sanction to my explanation of it."

"If any reader is pleased with this book, and thinks fit, he will kindly recommend it to others."


Kashmir proverbs, Literature  

J. Hinton Knowles. A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings. Bombay: Bombay Education Society's Press, 1885.

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