Flipping through the pages of history, one finds an unfortunately large number of monarchs whose reigns have been more a curse than a boon for the people of Kashmir. But one name stands out, shining in its purity. That name is of Sultan Zain ul-Abideen, popularly known as ‘Bod Shah’, meaning Great King. This title is both appropriate and accurate. Zain ul-Abideen is generally considered the greatest Sultan to ever rule our Valley.
He is remembered as a capable administrator, a secular ruler, a learned and religious man. What is striking is his deep interest in the arts, and the important role he played in their propagation in Kashmir. He is believed to have initiated the making of Pashmina shawls in Kashmir. He is even accredited with the introduction and advancement of carpet weaving, wood carving, papier-mâché and many other industries. Zain ul-Abideen is also known for his love of education and literature. He had quite a collection of books and even penned a few works himself.
As a monarch, Zain ul-Abideen was a rare mixture of competence, intelligence and benevolence. His policies were focused on the betterment of the populace. He decreased the tax, abolished religious taxes and built irrigation canals, dams and bridges (notably Zainakadal). He improved the agricultural and industrial sectors. As a result of his policies, economic activity boomed in the valley.
One example of his ingenuity and humanity is his policy of never executing thieves. Instead, they were forced to work on public buildings or crop lands. To prevent burglary, he decreed that if a robbery was committed, the chief men of the village were to pay a fine. Incidents of thievery certainly decreased.
The Great King, a devout Muslim, had an exemplary and liberal attitude towards his non-Muslim subjects. He took practically no ‘jaziya’ and allowed Hindus complete freedom of worship. He even rebuilt and endowed temples, and took part in Hindu festivals. During his rule many Brahmans who had fled from Kashmir, fearing religious persecution, returned.
When he died in the year 1470, his body was buried to the sound of a thousand lamentations. The whole valley grieved.
His whole reign was a period of activity and amelioration. His legacy is that of administrative, economic and cultural improvement. What made him a great king, was the fact that he was a great man.