Monday, May 23, 2022

Kashmir: In the Ancient and the Medieval Periods

The name Kashmir is derived from the term “Kashyapa-mar” (Kashyapa’s Garden). Kashyapa is one of the seven sages (Saptarishis) mentioned in the Rig Veda. In ancient times and the middle ages, Kashmir was revered by the Hindus and the Buddhists as Bhusvarga (heaven on earth). 

In his history book Rajatarangini, written in the twelfth century, the Kashmiri historian Kalhana has described Kashmir as the place “where there is not a space as large as a grain of sesamum without a tirtha (site of spiritual learning and pilgrimage)". Kalhana was the son of Lord Champaka, a minister in the court of King Harsha of Kashmir. Rajatarangini has 7826 verses and is divided into eight books. These verses trace the genealogy and deeds of Kashmir’s Hindu kings from the Mahabharata age to the middle ages. 

The Rajatarangini contains descriptions of several temples built by the kings of Kashmir. One of these temples was the shrine of Martanda, built by King Lalitaditya Muktapida in the eighth century. This temple was destroyed by Sikandar Shah Miri in the early fifteenth century but its ruins can still be found near the town of Anantnag. 

Francis Younghusband, the British army officer, explorer and writer, who served in Kashmir in the late nineteenth century, wrote a book called Kashmir, in which he has reflected on Kashmir’s natural beauty and history. Here’s an excerpt from Younghusband’s description of the ruins of ancient temples that he discovered in Kashmir:

“All over the Kashmir valley there are remains of temples remarkable for their almost Egyptian solidity, simplicity, and durability, as well as for what Cunningham describes as the graceful elegance of their outlines, the massive boldness of their parts, and the happy propriety of their outlines. The ancient Kashmirian architecture, with its noble fluted pillars, its vast colonnades, its lofty pediments, and its elegant trefoiled arches, is, he thinks, entitled to be classed as a distinct style; and we may take it as implying the existence of just such a people as this mountain country might be expected to produce.”

Younghusband has compared the ruins of the temple of Martanda with the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal: 

“But it is at Martand that there is the finest, and as it is not only typical of Kashmir architecture at its best, but is built on the most sublime site occupied by any building in the world,—finer far than the site of the Parthenon, or of the Taj, or of St. Peters, or of the Escurial,—we may take it as the representative, or rather the culmination of all the rest, and by it we must judge the people of Kashmir at their best.”

In the ancient period, many Kashmir temples served as centers of learning. Between the sixth and twelfth centuries, the temple complex of Sharda (Saraswati) Devi, located in Kashmir’s Kisanganga Valley, had a temple university. The large library at this university used to attract researchers from all parts of India. The university’s teachers had developed the Sharda script (a writing system belonging to the Brahmic family of scripts). The use of the Sharda script was widespread between the eighth and the twelfth centuries in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Himachal Pradesh. 

The Prabhāvakacarita, a thirteenth century history text, contains an account of the role that the Sharda Devi temple university played in the development of Gujarati grammar. Here’s a summary of the story: 

The King of Gujarat Jayasimha asked the Jain scholar Hemachandra (1088–1172) to compose a system of grammar. Hemachandra replied that to accomplish the task he would need to consult the old textbooks of grammar which were available only at Kashmir’s Sharda Devi temple. The old grammar texts were obtained and Hemachandra wrote a treatise on Gujarati grammar, the Siddhahemachandra. Because of this work, Hemachandra is seen as the father of Gujarati language.

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