The Kashmir Valley

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The Kashmir Valley


Kashmir, the land of scenic beauty and sacredness, was Bhusvarga, heaven on earth. Kalhana, author of the Rajatarangini, described Kashmir as a place, where there is not a space as large as a grain of sesamum without a tirtha .

Since early times Kashmir was a principal seat of Hindu civilization. It was said that at the time of his initiation, every boy in north and south India had to take seven paces in the direction of Kashmir as a symbolic gesture that he had undertaken a pilgrimage to that land for learning. Kashmir was the setting of the revered Shardapitha, the eternally pure seat of Ma Sharda. 

Sir Walter R. Lawrence (ICS) recorded that the Valley of Kashmir was the ‘holy land’ of the Hindus, and he had rarely been to a village which could not show some relic of antiquity, "Curious stone miniatures of the old Kashmiri temples (Kulrmuru), huge stone seats of Mahadeo (Badrpith) inverted by Musalmans, Phallic emblems innumerable, and carved images heaped in grotesque confusion by some clear spring, have met me at every turn" [ref] 

Kashmir's contribution in the spread of Buddhism in China and Tibet

Kashmir contributed to the spread of Buddhism in foreign lands, particularly China and Tibet. Kumarajiva (334-413 cE), whose father was from Kashmir and mother from the kingdom of Kucha, was a renowned Buddhist monk and scholar. He studied Hinayana Buddhism, later turned to Mahayana Buddhism, and attained great recognition in India and China. He eventually settled in the latter country, and translated Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit into Chinese, during the time of the later Chin dynasty (384-417 cz). He was conferred the title Tungsheo, “although young in years he was ripe in the wisdom and virtues of old age.” He was referred to as “one of the four Suns of Buddhism,” and was credited with the introduction of a new alphabet.

Description of Kashmir to the western world

Kashmir’s beauty was first described to the Western world by Father Jerome Xavier who accompanied Emperor Akbar to the province, “...the Kingdom of Caxmir is one of the pleasantest and most beautiful countries to be found in the whole of India, we may even say in the East”.[ref]

The French physician and traveller, Francois Bernier (1620- 1688), who wrote an exhaustive account of the region, stated that Kashmir “surpasses in beauty all that my warm 
imagination had anticipated” (Bernier 1916: 393-442). Alberuni described a festival in Kashmir that celebrated victory over Turks, The second of the month of Chaitra is a festival to the people of Kashmir called Agdus (possibly a mispronunciation of Okduh, which in Kashmiri means the first day of a lunar fortnight), and celebrated on account of a victory gained by their king Mutai over the Turks.[ref]  

Histories of the Temples in Kashmir

The most authoritative account of ancient and medieval Kashmir was the Rajatarangini, composed by Kalhana in 1148- 49 CE. He was born in a family of Brahmin officials, and imbibed the traditions of the region from both oral and written sources.  

The Temple of Sharda in Kisanganga Valley

The shrine of Sharda Devi was at one time among the most revered in Kashmir. It was at the temple of Sharda that Shankaracharya was accepted as a religious scholar of the highest merit. Bilhana stated that it was because of Sharda that Kashmir was recognized as a centre of learning. 

The Prabhavakacarita (a work of the thirteenth century) narrated a tale about the temple. When king Jayasimha of Gujarat asked the Jain scholar, Hemachandra (1088-1172 cE) to compose a new grammar, the latter requested the king that he be provided with old grammars that could only be found in the library of the Sharda temple. These grammars were duly obtained, after which Hemachandra wrote the Siddhahemachandra.[ref]

Major Charles Ellison Bates, who wrote A Gazetteer of Kashmir, described Shardi as “a village of some importance situated on the left bank of the Kishan Ganga, at the northern extremity of Upper Drawar.”? He wrote of the temple, The temple, which consists of the usual cella surrounded by a walled enclosure, stands at the foot of a spur which rises above the right bank of the Madhumati stream. The temple is approached by a stair-case about 9 feet wide, of steep, stone steps, some 63 in number... In the middle of the wall on the northside is an arched recess, which contains a lingam...The cella, which is about 22 feet square, stands on an elevated plinth about 4 feet from the present level of the ground...The entrance is approached by a flight of steps. ... The interior of the temple is square, and perfectly plain; on the ground lies a large rough slab of unpolished stone, somewhat like a huge mill-stone, which, with the walls, is smeared in places with red pigment, and flowers are inserted in cracks. This stone is said to have been disturbed by Mansur Khan, Rajah of Karnao, in search of treasure, exertions, however, were unsuccessful). [ref]

Alberuni had heard of the shrine of Sharda during his stay in the Panjab. He described it as much venerated and frequented by pilgrims, and accurately gave its location,

"In Inner Kashmir, about two or three days journey from the capital in the direction towards the mountains of Bolor, there is a wooden idol called Sarada, which is much venerated and frequented by pilgrims". [ref]

From Abul Fazl’s account, it appeared that a miracle working image of Sharda, probably the same which Alberuni had heard about, was in existence in the sixteenth century. Abul Fazl wrote of the site:

"At two days’ distance from Haehamun is the river named Padmati which flows from the Dardu country. Gold is also found in this river. On its banks is a stone-temple called 
Sharada, dedicated to Durga and regarded with great veneration. On every eighth tithi of Shulkapaksha, it begins to shake and produces the most extraordinary effect". [ref]

Sharika Devi — Removed from Her shrine in troubled times

Sharika Devi (a manifestation of the eighteen-armed Durga) was regarded the presiding deity of Srinagar city. According to legend, Durga took the form of Sharika, or starling, and carried a pebble in her beak, which she dropped on the demon, Jalodbhava. The pebble grew into a mountain and crushed the demon, thus saving the city from his depredations. Since then the goddess was worshipped in the form of a rock which occupied the centre of the western hill facing the city. The rock was smeared with vermilion. Sharika was represented by a svayambhu, a naturally engraved Sri chakra on a green, circular shaped sapphire.

 In 1170 cz, at a turbulent moment in Kashmir’s history, a glazed black stone murti of Sharika Devi was taken from her abode on Hari Parbat in Kashmir Valley to Sarthal Kistwar by king Ugra Dev. She was brought via Singhpora pass to the cave where the temple remains situated (Pushkar). Subsequently, the site was attacked by Shamsu’d Din 
Araki, an Iranian Shia Muslim missionary, who visited Kashmir after the death of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, “to pull down the idol houses of infidels and polytheists and to put an end to the customs, traditions and habits of the kafirs (infidels)...”  [ref]

Martanda Temple

The tirtha of Martanda was mentioned in the Nilamata Purana (verse 1036) as among the places sacred to Surya.’ The Martanda temple was commonly called Pandu-Koru, house of the Pandus and Korus. It was the most described site of Kashmir. G.T. Vigne, the Englishman who came as a private traveller and not as an employee of the East India Company, wrote of the temple ruins that indicated its scale and architectural beauty. 

The British army explorer, Francis Younghusband (1816- 1942) pronounced the temple as “... the finest structure, typical of Kashmir architecture at its best, built on the most sublime site occupied by any building in the world — far finer 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”. (Younghusband 1917: 135-136).  

Parihasapura

The temple of Parihasapura, also constructed by Lalitaditya, and the deities enshrined in it; “the glorious silver [image of Visnu] Parihasakesava [which] shone like the god [Vishnu]...;” “the famous [image of] Vishnu Muktakesava, made of gold; the [image of Visnu] Mahavaraha.” The king also instated a silver image of Govardhanadhara. He raised a great stone pillar and placed a representation of Garuda on top (Rajatarangini Vol. I: 142). 

The Austrian noble, diplomat, and explorer, Charles Baron Hugel (1795-1870) described Parihasapura, "It was adorned with many fine temples and monuments; among others, with a pillar cut out of one stone, twenty four yards high, at the top of which stood the image of Garuda, half-man and half-eagle (Hugel 1854: 159)".

During his visit to Parihasapura (Paraspor) in September 1892, Aurel Stein was able to trace the ruins of the buildings that Kalhana had described (Pl. 12). Stein believed that the ruins contained the five great shrines Lalitaditya had built - Parihasakesava, Muktakesava, Mahavaraha, Govardhanadhara, and Rajavihara. The first four were temples dedicated to Vishnu, the fifth a Buddhist vihara (Rajatarangini Vol. Il: 300- 302). 

Sikander Butshikan and the mass destruction of Kashmiri Temples 

Many revered temples of Kashmir were destroyed by Sultan Sikander Butshikan, the Idol-breaker (1389-1413). Alexander Cunningham observed that the tomb of his own queen in Srinagar was built on the foundation, and with the material, of a Hindu temple. The wall that surrounded the tomb of his son, Zain-ul-Abidin, was once the enclosure of a Hindu temple, and the entrance of a masjid in Nowa-Shehra (Srinagar), was formed of two fluted pillars of a Hindu peristyle. These examples showed that at least three different temples in the capital alone “must have been overthrown either by Sikandar or by one of his predecessors” (Cunningham 1848: 5). 

 The Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India recorded, "The process of destruction and denudation started in the later part of the reign of Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413) who earned the epithet Butshikan (idol breaker) by virtue of his breaking the images and demolishing the temples. Almost all the temples of the country are stated to have been desecrated and pulled down (or badly shattered) and the images were broken, mutilated, or thrown away from the temples. The destruction of the temples is believed to have been effected by piling heaps of timber in the temples and setting fire to these heaps". [ref]  

Hindu Persecution in Kashmir (fourteenth century)

It is a generally accepted fact that up to about the beginning of the fourteenth century the population of the valley was Hindu, and that about the middle and the end of the century the mass of the people was converted to Islam, through the efforts of Shah-i-Hamadam and his followers, and the violent bigotry and persecution of King Sikandar, the Iconoclast. Tradition affirms that the persecution of the Hindus was so keen that only eleven families of Hindus remained in the valley (Lawrence 1895: 302). 

Mass murder of Hindu Brahmans

There was a certain method in the mad zeal of Sikandar, for he used the plinths and friezes of the old temples for the embankments of the city and for the foundation of the Jama Masjid. Having glutted his vengeance on Hindu temples, Sikandar turned his attention to the people who had worshipped in them, and he offered them three choices, death, conversion or exile. Many fled, many were converted, and many were killed, and it is said that this thorough monarch burnt seven mounds of sacred thread of the murdered Brahmans. All the books of Hindu learning which he could lay his hands on were sunk in the Dal Lake and Sikandar flattered himself that he had extirpated Hinduism from the Valley (Lawrence 1895: 191)

There was noticeable relief in the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin, who ascended the throne in 1417, by when it is said all Hindus, except Brahmins, had accepted Islam (Lawrence 1895: 191- 192). 

And Ma Sharda, Surya (Martanda), Avantisvamin, Avantisvara, Varahmool, Meru Vardhana Swami, and deities of innumerable other shrines were banished forever from their 
sacred abodes.[ref]

 

 

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