We cannot change our history. It could be glorious or shabby; aggressive or suppressive; about people with high or low morals;charismatic or mundane; rich in culture or culturally bereft – all weaved in the fabric of time and space. Being our history,we have to accept it withoutfeeling guilty, demoralized or boastful. But, we must know it,(without biases and tampering to the extent possible) and takeaway from it whatever may help us to build our present and future.
In the history of Kingdoms, kings have come and gone. What they have left behind are legacies. Kashmir is no exception. Kashmir Desha was ruled by strong and weak kings; intelligent and dumb ones; benevolent and tyrannical ones; by the kings ambitious to conquer lands and kings who focused on the welfare of their subjects; by kings who came here from other Deshas and Kings who expanded their Kingdom.In my opinion, It didn’t matter wherefrom a king came and who were his subjects. What mattered was how he impacted the subjects and their future generations.
Many times history isinterwoven with legends, but that has not made it to lose its sheen or significance.When history and legends are weaved together, history does not become myth. In fact, legends enhance the beauty of history. Theseconvey the essence of the story and at the same time captivate the imagination of the reader.
We will have to bear in mind that our present way of looking at things is different from what it was during different historical eras. Our interest here is to find how various events unfolded in the past in our part of the geography, and what is our take-away from these.
Kashmir got its name from Kashyap Rishi, who on the plea of his son Nila (chief of Nagas) extended his pilgrimage to what used to be then a huge lake, Satisar. After seeing the ravage caused by Jalabhudava who had obtained boon not to get killed under water, Kashyap Rishi by his supernatural powers caused breach of the mountain to drainoff the water of Satisar. It was only then Jalabhudava got exposed and finally killed after a fierce battle. Subsequently, Manushas were brought in the valley, who after some initial strifelived there along with Nagas, Yakshas and Pisachas. Manushas cultivated lands. The land that had emerged from Satisar, turned out to be the best place in Himalayas with bountiful of natural beauty – “saffron fields, iced water and grapes …. rare(even) in Heaven.”
Nothing much seems to be known about the era between Nila, the Chief of Nagas and King Gonanda. In ancient times, historians used to be generally poets and scholars of substance, and would not consider it worthy to record verbally or in writing the history of uneventful times.Though, it may not be exactly the reason why history is blank for this era and few other eras subsequently.
King Gonanda of Kashmir belonged to Mahabharat era. Kashmir Mandla was a strong and glorious Kingdom that time. King Gonanda, ally of King Jarasandha, got killed in the battle between Jarasandha and Yadvas in Mathura. King Gonanda’s son King Damodar could not reconcile to the defeat at the hands of Yadavs and wanted to take revenge of his father’s killing. On knowing that Shri Krishna was invited to Svayamvar ceremony of the daughters of Gandharvas, the king marched there with his massive army to kill Shri Krishna. He killed many Gandharvas on his way, but ultimately got killed by Shri Krishna’s discus. It was Shri Krishna, who made Rani Yashovati (widow of King Damodar) to ascend the throne of Kashmirand was personally present for her coronation, keeping in mind the sanctity of the place. When many ministers of Krishna opposed this move, he silenced them by saying that “the ladies of Kashmir are Parvatis.” This was the level of adoration that Kashmir enjoyed from the Kings of Bharat Desha, showing the eternal connection of Kashmir Desha with the rest of Bharat Varsha.
There are about 35 kings after King Gonanda II (posthumous son of King Damodara) who ruled Kashmir till Samrat Ashoka’s reign. Ashoka (273-232 B.C.)made Kashmir (which was already part of Maurya dynasty) seat for spreading Buddhism. In spite of Ashoka being an outsider, the people of valley prospered in his era. Both, Hindu and Buddhist philosophies co-existed and flourished. Ashoka is known to have built many sutupas and viharas in Kashmir. He renovated many Hindu temples also and is known to have built Srinagar city with 96 lacs of beautiful houses.
Jaluka – Ashoka’s brave son who had unprecedented skills – was the next king of Kashmir. He pushed foreigners beyond the western sea and conquered Kanuj in the Eastern side. He was worshipper of Shiva, and brought people of all the four castes (well versed in laws of religion and rites) into the valley. Just prior to the rule of Maruyas, Kashmir was a poor country with weak justice system in place. He established seven new offices – Offices of Chief Justice, Chancellor of Exchequer, Treasurer, Commander in Chief, Ambassador and Royal Priest. He entrusted the governance to his queen, Ishana Devi and spent his last days in devotion.
A number of kings followed Jaluka, some exemplary and some not so good. Hushha, Jushka and Kanishka ruled Kashmir together. They built three cities bearing their names. Thereafter, Abhimanyu reigned Kashmir without opposition. He gave permission to grammarian Chandricharya to write history of kings. All along this time Buddhists had become very strong and oppressive. They had defeated Pandits in their arguments and made the people discontinue the practices and rites prescribed in Nilapurana. There was Naga uprising. It is said that Naga killed many people by rolling down ice from the mountains. Ultimately, a pious Brahmin, descendant of Kashyap (who had earlier stopped massacre of Yakhshas) prayed to Shiva, prevented rolling down of ice and restored rites of Nila Purana.
It was Gonanda III, who on ascending the throne re-established the rites of Nilapurana and ceased the oppression by Buddhist. He was considered as the greatest king of his dynasty like Ram was considered in his lineage. He and his progeny ruled Kashmir for many years till Nara I. Nara I was overpowered by his lust for wife of a Brahmin, who happened to be the daughter of Nagas. This enraged Nagas and they destroyed the whole city by setting it on fire. Many people got killed and the king was engulfed too.
Nara’s son Prince Sidda was saved as he was elsewhere that time. He took the reins of the ravaged kingdom and started rebuilding it. He was a religious person and upasaka of Mahadeva. He ruled for 60 years peacefully, till he attained Nirvana. It is said that he went bodily to Mahadevloka along with his servants. There is not much written about the Kings succeeding him.
Kashmir subsequently came under the rule of Huns. Mirakula who belonged to Huns of China took refuge in Kashmir claiming as an ardent Shavite. He ultimately seized the throne of Kashmir, and turned out to be one of the cruelest Kings. He got 100 elephants pushed down from Pirpanchal, just to entertain himself. That place came to be called as Hastivanj. He killed a large number of women and their families on the pretext that they were not chaste.He destroyed many Stupas. Kashmiri Brahmans refused to take land grants from him. He, ultimately is believed to have burned himself on pyre which he lit himself.
A number of Hun rulers are supposed to have followed Miharakul. King Aksa founded Aksvala town – modern Achabal. Gopaditya built temple of Jyesteshwara on Gopa Hills. Khinkhile built consecrated shrines. He under the guidance of his spiritual guru dedicated one shrine to Matrcakra. Yudhisthira I fell into bad company and turned out to be a debauch. He despised learned people. On learning that the Nobles were going to dethrone him, he escaped with his wives.
Nobles invited Pratapaditya I to rule the kingdom. He “ruled the people lovingly like son of the soil.” His son Jalauka was also a just king. He founded temples and town and provided patronage to learning and fine arts. A number of rulers followed. King Hiranya had no son. On his death, Vikramaditya Harsh of Ujjain was approached to take Kashmir under his protection. He deputed Matrigupta (a Kashmiri Brahmin poet – some also believe that Matrigupta and Kalidasa were same) as the Governor of Kashmir. Matrigupta had come to Ujjain earlier and earned respect and patronage of the Ujjain king. Matrigupta was just, liberal and successful ruler. But, his rule lasted very brief period. On demise of his patron King Vikramaditya, he abdicated his thrown and went to Banaras to spend rest of his life in devotion.
Pravarasena II learned about Vikramaditya’s death and the abdication of Kashmir throne by Matrigupta, marched in his army to seize the thrown of Kashmir. He is recorded as brave and virtuous king. He returned back the conquered territories to the kings. He built famous city of Pravarasenagar – believed to be the present Srinagar. The last king in his lineage was Baladitya, who had a beautiful daughter Ananglekha. He got his daughter married to a horse keeper to falsify the prediction of an astrologer that the next ruler will be his son-in-law, which he did not like. Durlabhavardhana – the horse keeper, was in fact the son of Nagakorkata – a born prince. Thus, Karkotadynasity came in power in about A. D. 600.
The most impressive king of Karkota dynasty was King Lalitadiya Muktapeda. Under Lalitaditya’s (A. D. 724 -61) rule, who was a great warrior and administrator, Kashmir reached pinnacles of prosperity and glory. He was the great strategist and an ambitious King, who wanted to rule the World. During his rule, Kashmir was a powerful kingdom with its boundaries up to Bihar and Bengal in East, extending deep into South covering Karnataka. In the West, kingdom covered Central Asia and in the North it extending upto Tibet and beyond. He would induct finest Generals into his army from any region based on their talent. He had an extraordinary talent to keep his army motivated even during very long war expeditions. Unfortunately, he lost his life also during one of such expedition somewhere in North.
Lalitaditya’s war exploits did bring prosperity to Kashmir, which lasted several centuries beyond his rule. But, at the same time, he was ahumane conqueror. In many Kingdoms,people gladly welcomed him. The people of Punjab were delighted to have him as their king. His army moved through the Southernpasses with almost no resistance. He found friendly allies in Challukyas of South and defeated the Tyrannical Rashtrukutas, who had abducted Princess of Challukyas.
Lalitaditya built several temples, vihars and towns demonstrating exemplary sense architecture. The world famous temple – Martand Temple- was built near Martand Tirtha, and was known for Hindu art and architecture world over for several centuries after the rule of Lalitaditya; till this impressive, massive and magnificent temple was destroyed by a Muslim ruler, which he could only partially succeed. The town of Parihaspur built by him also commanded fame.
Lalitaditya did commendable development work in Kashmir Desha, which involved flood control works like desilting and raising bunds of rivers; irrigation works like building canals and using water mills to lift water. These development works alleviated the sufferings of the people of Kashmir, who would face frequent floods followed by famine.
He had intense love for learning and great respect for learned people. It is during his time, he inducted in his Court two poets Bhavabhuti and Vakpatiraja from Ujjain after defeating Avantivarman. The lineage of various scholars, which settled in Kashmir during his era, kept the learning and spiritual spirit of Kashmir alive, which could not be destroyed even under tyrannical Muslim rulers. Atri Gupta , ancestor of Abhinav Gupta – a legendary figure of Kashmir Shaivism, is believed to have come to Kashmir from Madya Desha on the request of King Lalitaditya.
Though the King was a Hindu, he respected followers of other philosophies. Both Hinduism and Buddhism prospered during his times.He had Buddhist Generals in his army and Buddhists appointed as high officials. The morale of the people of Kashmir was high and value system was restored back to its pinnacle.
No person is perfect in this world, and kings should not be expected to be perfect either. A few instances have been reported by historians when he is believed to have made absurd decisions under the influence of inebriation, andthese decisions were thwarted by his wise Ministers. One bizarre incident, which did not go down well in the history of Lalityaditya was when he did not keep his promise to protect the Prince of Guad, while he was on his way to Kashmir.
Lalitaditya’s rule was again followed by instability, strife for throne and succession of weak kings who did not live up to the prestige of Karkot Dynasity. The following rulers indulged in conceit and connivance, plundering of the money and wealth amassed by Lalityaditya.
After several short, tyrannical reigns, the grandson of Lalitaditya ascended the throne of Kashmir. He first restored order and provided able administration. Then he set out for the expedition of conquest with a massive army. He was a brave person and is believed to have fought single handedly with a tiger. He conquered several territories and then returned to his kingdom after three years to find his brother-in-law having captured the throne, whom he easily dislodged from the throne. Like other kings, he built temples and cities. Jayapuracity and a strong fort was built by him near Wular lake. He brought learned men from other Deshas and restored the study of Mahabhashya, which had taken a back stage during strife ridden period post Lalitaditya. One of his Ministers, Vamana was one of the two authors of the famous commentary written on Panini grammar. During his reign, learned people were elevated to higher positions.
However, his expeditions turned out to be beyond his resources. To feed and maintain his huge army, he started squeezing money from the poor people. He turned into a tyrannical king. Because of his tortures, it is said that the Brahmins of Tula Mula cursed him, and he got killed by golden pole hitting his head.
With the end of Karkota dynasty, a great era of Kashmir history ended. History of this era is woven with legends, giving it a flavor of times when dharma played an important role. These were the times Kashmir prospered under pious, virtuous and learned kings, who made Kashmir seat of learning. Many of these with spiritual bent of mind were free from base human tendencies, which reinforced good values in the society also.
Then there were also few kings, who fell from grace like Nara I, and became instrument for the destruction of their Kingdom. It was his religious son, Sidda who restored the sanctity of the Kingdom. Tyrants like Mirakulade spised learned ones and made the people of Kashmir to suffer. Even though, he claimed to be Shaiva follower, his deeds were sinful. Under the weight of his sins, he eventually killed himself.
During this era of history, by and large, different races and followers of the two prevalent religious philosophies – Hinduism and Buddhism, peacefully coexisted. Just after land was reclaimed from Satisar Lake; Manushas, Nagas, Yakshas and Pisachas after initial strife learned to peacefully co-exist. During the reign of Jaluka, Lalitaditya and many other kings, both Buddhism and Hinduism prospered.
The Kings were fond of learning and had deep respect for learned ones. They invited the learned scholars and poets from Madhya Deshas to settle in Kashmir, and gave them due respect by inducting them in their courts. Scholars from Kashmir also went to other Deshas and were very well received by the Kings of those Deshas. This kept temper of learning intact and Kashmir continued to be the seat of learning. Most of the Kings were patron of learning and art. They respected learned ones and valued their advice. They built great temples, towns, cities of great Architectural splendor.
The kings built temples, stupas and Vihara for both Buddhist and Hindu followers, irrespective of which philosophy or religion they themselves followed. Supremacy of philosophy was left to Pandits to debate over. There is no reference of a king meddling in these debates.
Foreign Kings conquered Kashmir or were invited to rule Kashmir Desha. Under Emperor Ashoka, Kashmir prospered like nothing before. Pratapaditya, who was invited by nobles of Kashmir to rule the country, looked after the “subjects lovingly as the sons of soil.” People of Kashmir were happy and prosperous under his rule. The people whole heartedly supported such kings. When Emperor Ashoka made Kashmir seat of Buddhism, Kashmiri Buddhist travelledto distant lands to spread the message of Buddhism.However, when Brahmins were forcefully made to discontinue the practices and rites prescribed in Nilmatpurana, there was Naga uprising, who killed many people by rolling down ice from the mountains.
Like kings of other Kingdoms, Kings of Kashmir went for conquering expeditions to expand their Kingdoms. Obviously, it entailed a lot of bloodshed and suffering of people. Generally, a good King having conquered a country would appoint a vassal and expect good governance from the vassal. This was politically prudent also and followed by the kings of Kashmir, like Lalitaditya.
Having vast kingdoms was considered a sign of glory and splendor. Probably, there were other reasons also for conquering countries – such as, pre-empting future war threats from other countries and creating capability to counter aggressions; get war exploits to fill the treasures; to generate revenue for maintaining huge armies and/or carrying out development in their own countries. Whatever the compulsions, very often the kings in lust of power carried these expeditions too far. These vast kingdoms later succumbed under their own weight. Emperor Lalitaditya got so much addicted to these expeditions that he lost his life in one such expedition before passing over the reign to a matured successor. His vast emperor later disintegrated. His grandson Jayapida, initially a very just and righteous king, could not sustain the huge army and expedition costs. He later turned into tyrant who squeezed his own subjects and made them suffer immensely.
Essential take away from the history of this era is that when a King followed Dharma, the Kingdom prospered, good values were instilled in the people and Kashmir Desha retained its position as seat of Learning.
- Nilamata Purana, Punjab Sanskrit Series, Motilal Benarsi Das, 1924.
- Rajataranggini by Kalhana, JogeshChander Dutt, 1879.
- Cultural and Political History of Kashmir, P. N. K Bamzai (Vol. 1)