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April 09, 2006
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April 09, 2006

Page: 33/36

Home > 2006 Issues > April 09, 2006


Kashmir in ancient Sanskrit literature

By Dr B.N. Kalla

Varahmihra (A.D. 500), in his Brahtsamhita, includes the Kashmiras in the north-eastern division of the other tribes who lived in this region.

He mentions the Abhisaras, Daradas, Darvas, Khashas, Kiras, etc., the tribes which are known from other sources to have inhabited Kashmir and its neighbouring regions in historical periods.

According to the Nilmat Purana, the land of Kashmir was occupied by a vast lake called ?Satisara?. Modern geological observations have supported this legendary view. On the basis of this fact, the word ?Kashmir? is derived from Sanskrit ?Kashyapa + Mira? which means the sea lake or the mountain of sage Kashyapa. Kashyapa was the originator of Kashmir.

In Kashmiri, it is called ?Kasheer? and ?Kashmir? in the Indian languages. Phonetically, ?m? is eroded here as we find erosion in the word ?Samudra? (ocean). ?Samudra? changes into the form of ?Sadur? (derived from Sanskrit Samudra in the Kashmiri language and ?Samandra? in the Indian languages. ?M? is retained in Hindi, Urdu, etc. but not in Kashmiri. Thus ?Kashyapa + Mira? = Kashmir in the Indian languages other than Kashmiri and ?Kasheer? in Kashmiri. Mir in English means the sea as Mariner in Latin Marinus (more- sea).

The name of Kashmir does not occur in the Vedic literature. In the ?Nadi Sukta? of Rig Veda, there is a hymn which mentions the name of Vitasta (in Kashmiri Veth and modern Jhelum). Great Grammarians
Among the grammarians, the earliest reference to Kashmir is found in Panini?s (500 B.C.) ?Ashtadhayi? and in Patanjali?s great commentary on it. There the term ?Kashmir? and its derivation ?Kashmira? are stated as the name of the country and its inhabitants, respectively.

Among the epics, we find the name of ?Kashmir? in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata refers in several passages to ?Kashmir? and their king, but in a way which merely indicates that the valley was situated in the hilly regions to the north of India. Similarly, some of the Puranas refer to Kashmir in the list of northern nations. The earliest Sanskrit literature of the valley so far known is the Nilmat Purana. According to the opinion of Dr. Buhler, a famous German Indologist: ?It is a real mine of information regarding the sacred places of Kashmir and their legends?.

Varahmihra (C.A.D. 500), in his Brahtsamhita, includes the Kashmiras in the north-eastern division of the other tribes who lived in this region. He mentions the Abhisaras, Daradas, Darvas, Khashas, Kiras, etc., the tribes which are known from other sources to have inhabited Kashmir and its neighbouring regions in historical periods. Harasha, a famous poet (7th Century A.D.), in his ?Ratnavali? (drama), refers to the saffron of the Kashmira country, which was best of all types of saffrons, both in colour and in scent.

Very useful information
The Nilmat Purana describes the tribes as Nagas, Pishachas, Darvas, Abhisaras, Gandharas, Shakas, Khashas, Mundavas, Madaras, Yavanas, etc. In the Atharvasamhita, we find mention of some northern tribes like the Bahlikas, Mahavarshas, Gandharis and Mujavats. The Brahmans and the Upanishads refer to some of the tribes who lived in the north-west, such as the Gandharas, Kekyas, Madaras and Ambashthas.

Kshemendra, the polyhistor, in his work, namely ?Samyamatrika?, furnishes us with some useful information about the topographical details of his country. His heroine, Kankali travels through the length and breadth of Kashmir. To the poet, we owe the first reference to ?Pirpanchal? route (Panchadhara). After Kshemendra, Somdeva, the author of the Kathasaritsagar, describes Kashmir as a region in the south of the Himalayas by the waters of the Vitasta. He mentions some of the holy sites of the valley, such as Vijayakshetra, Nandikshetra, Varahkshetra and Uttarmansa and the town of Hiranypura.

The temple of Shivavijayesha or Vijayeshwara, since ancient times one of the most famous shrines of the valley, has given its name to the town in which it was situated, Vijayeshwara, the modern Vijabror 75?9´ long, 33?48´ lat. ?Bror? in Kashmiri means God, a derivative of Sanskrit Bhattaraka, corresponding to Ishvara.

The name, Nandikshetra, is given by the Nilmata, the Nandikshetra and Harmukta Mahatmyas to a high alpine valley at the foot of the east glaciers of the Harmukh peaks which contains the sacred Kalodakalake, popularly known as Nundkol. The Nanikshetra includes the neighbouring site of Bhuteshwara or Buthsher, in the Kankanai valley below Nandkol.

Varahkshetra is modern Baramulla.
Ganga Lake
Uttarmansa is meant the sacred Ganga lake situated below the eastern glaciers of Mount Harmukh and popularly known as Gangabal.

Hiranypura, the town founded by Hranyaksha at Ranyal, a village situated circ. 74?52 long. 34?12 lat. close to the high road which leads from Srinagar to Ganderbal and the Sindh Valley.

Bilhana, the contemporary of Kalhana, lived during the reigns of King Kalsha and Harsha. He also left an account of his native valley. In his Vikramandekadeva Charita, he gives us a vivid picture of the Kashmirian capital and the village of Khonomusha (present Khonmoh) where he took birth. His account, apart from its poetic beauties, is full of local details. In addition to it, he has given the description of the language of his time. As per his version, Sanskrit and hakrit were in use like their mother-tongue.

Historical document
Kalhana?s Rajtarangini is a very important historical document. In the first Taranga of his work, he gives us an account of the legends relating to the creation of Kashmir and its sacred river, the Vitasta, and refers, besides, to the most famous of the many Tirthas in which Kashmir was abundant. For the historical geography of Kashmir is the mass of incidental references of topographical interest scattered throughout his work.

Ancient Kashmir was really rich in holy places and the objects of pilgrimages were planted throughout the valley. According to the Rajtarangini, Kashmir was a country where there was not a space as large as a grain of sesamum without a Tirtha. The springs (Naag in Kashmiri), which had their tutelary deities in the form of Nagas, the streams and the rivers, in particular sacred legends attached to each of them, innumerable places connected with the worship of various gods and goddesses?all these and many more have been frequently mentioned by Kalhana. They have some topographical importance as they enable us to trace with more or less certainty the early history of most of the popular places of pilgrims visited up to present day. The marvellous accuracy of Kalhana?s topographical knowledge about some of the Tirthas tends to show that he visited them personally.

A number of references made by Kalhana regarding the origin of towns, cities, villages, estates and shrines are also of topographical importance. His knowledge about the birth of these towns and shrines seems to have been gathered from the inscriptions, recording the consecration of temples and grants of land by former kings.

Accurate description
The system of nomenclature followed in ancient Kashmir preserved a genuine tradition regarding their founder. In the cases of towns and cities, the appellation ?Pura? is attached to the name of the founder. In the cases of religious structures, terms indicating the deity or the object to which the building was dedicated follow.

The notices for the foundations of the towns, etc. made by Kalhana, are sometimes accompanied by accurate description of the sites chosen and of structures connected with them. It is Kalhana?s accurate description which alone has helped future scholars to idenlify some of the ruined sites of present times with the famed cities of the past. The seventh and eighth Tarangas of Rajtarangini are full and elaborate with detailed topographical information. Kalhana, incidentally, tells us so much about the various localities connected with those events - we can clearly trace them from the map. His topographical exactness is strikingly revealed from such accounts as the regulation of the waters of the Vitasta by Suyya, the sieges of Shrinagar under Sussala, the battle on the Gopadari hill in the same period, the blockade of Lohara and the siege of the Shirahshila castle.

Description of Kashmir
The poet, Mankha, was a contemporary of Kalhana. In the third canto of his work?Shrikanthacharita?he gives an account of Pravarpura, the capital of Kashmir.

Among other texts of topographical interest, mention may be made of Haracharitachintamani of Jayadratha. Jayadratha belonged to the end of the 12th century AD or the beginning of the 13th century AD. In his 32 cantos, he deals with a number of legends connected with Shiva and his Avatars Of these, eight legends are centred round well-known Kashmirian Tirthas and afford the author an opportunity of describing various sacred sites of Kashmir, connected directly or indirectly with them. Jayadratha?s detailed description shows the gradual development of legends connected with different places of pilgrimage since the days of Kalhana.

The numerous mahatmyas of Kashmir are also interesting sources for early historical geography. Thus the role of mahatmyas in describing the topography of the valley cannot be ruled out. They give us a good information regarding the ancient nomenclature of Kashmir. Among the 51 mahatmyas, the Vitasta Mahatmya is a big one which is divided into 35 Patalas. They generally set forth the different legends connected with various places of pilgrimage, the merit to be appeared by their visits and the rites to be performed in each of the sites. They contain many early materials and local traditions and are thus valuable for a systematic study of the old topography of the valley.

  1. The Nilamat Purana Vol I; Dr. Ved Kumari
  2. Early History and Culture of Kashmir: Dr Sunil Chandra Ray
  3. Panini?s Ashtadhyayi (Ganapatha)
  4. Rajtarangini?s English (translation): M. A. Stein.
  5. Kashmir Dictionary. vol IV, published by Jammu & Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture & Languages.
    The author has given an etymology of 40,000 words of Kashmiri language up to the last volume?Vol VII of Kashmiri Dictionary published by Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy, Srinagar.
  6. Webster?s Encyclopaedia Dictionary of the English Language.

(The author is a Sanskrit scholar and linguist and is presently with the Department of Sanskrit, Delhi University.)
Source: Koshur Samachar

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