The Dharmic Past of Kashmir

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Surya Martand Mandir Anantnag, Kashmir Valley. Pic by S Nayyar
  • This article tells you about Kashmir Valley’s deep association with Indian philosophy.

Kashmir Valley, the crown of Bharat is Sharadakshetra, the land of Goddess Sharada who presides over knowledge and wisdom. It has long been an important centre of learning and eulogized as a paradise on earth because of its alluring beauty.  

 

“Namaste Sarada Devi Kashmira mandala vasini.”

I bow to the Goddess Sharda, who lives in Kashmir.

 

The ancient culture that cradled the ultimate strands of quintessential wisdom, based on the Vedic ontology, never refrained from debating, challenging and amalgamating, if found befitting, the various convictions and beliefs. The onslaught in the medieval era struck hard at its very identity which resultantly created a sustenance problem for the prevailing ethos. But despite all odds it marked its presence in the Valley by some or the other way, till recently when deliberated efforts were made to completely cut it off from its very root.

The reinvigoration efforts need to be built on the bedrock of hoary culture and heritage. The herculean task must start with reclaiming our lost integrity over this crown of our motherland, the Punyabhoomi Kashmir.

This article tells you about Kashmir Valley’s deep association with Indian philosophy.    

 

The name Kashmir derives its origin from one of the revered rishis namely Rishi Kashyap. It was the land of serenity, splendid beauty and wisdom. These characteristics of Kashmir symbolize the ultimate goal that is preferred in this classic culture, the spiritual upliftment or the transcendental ascendency. The Punyabhoomi Kashmir has been an abode of this ultimate divine wisdom which got manifested in the teachings of the great seers from time immemorial.

 

Noted art historian Benoy K Behl wrote, “Kashmir has always been a renowned centre of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. It was here that the Indian philosophy of aesthetics was developed in great detail by the philosopher Abhinavagupta in the 10th century. It is in Kashmir that Shaivism rose to its fullest heights. The manifestation of Shiva in the beauty of the world around us was worshipped as Shakti. From the 1st to the 12th centuries, the Valley of Kashmir was one of the most important centres of Buddhist learning. Here Buddhist thought constantly interacted with Kashmir Shaivism.” 1

 

“The formidable mountains that ring the Valley did not prevent Kashmiri monks from traveling constantly to Tibet, Central Asia and China. Between the 4th and 10th centuries they took the teachings of Buddhism far and wide. Kumarajiva was the son of Kumarayana from Kashmir. He is one of the greatest names in Chinese Buddhist history.” 1

The tradition beginning with Rishi Kashyap, matures in the time of Adi Guru Shankaracharya, one of the greatest Guru of Adavita Vedanta and then reaches at the vertex during the period of Abhinavgupta. The stream of Jnana that had been flowing since ancient times in Kashmir became a gigantic river, with the dissemination of the sagacious thoughts and ideas of these two great saints on the mystical and spiritual aspects of life.

 

Shankaracharya, the profound Yogi travelled the length and breadth of Aryavarta to promote and propagate his philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. In the course, he challenged all the major philosophers of Buddhism, Mimamsa scholars etc., defeated them in debates and resurrected the flag of Santana Dharma by his ideals of non-dualism. Shankar’s philosophy was founded on the principles laid down in Prasthan Trayi i.e. the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Gita. Shankara's efforts introduced vitality into the slumberous public of Bharatvarsha and made them zealous about reinvigorating the almost dead tradition of the classic Dharma. 

At the time of Adi Guru's arrival in the mystic land of Kashmir, Shaiva-Shakti Tantrism which recognizes Lord Shiva as the Supreme and Absolute Consciousness with Shakti as His dynamic energy was prominent. Besides Buddhism was also dwindling as the Buddhists had forgotten the esteemed teachings of Lord Buddha and were engaged in the practice of tantra. Benoy wrote in the same article, “The complex rituals, chants and mudras or gestures of Vajrayana Buddhism were codified in the form of tantras. Tantra literally means to ‘carry on knowledge.” 

Thus, Acharya intended to revive the Vedic tradition and kept having debates and discourses with Shaiva and Buddhist scholars. While resting in the Valley, the learned Brahmans told Sankaracharya that unless he defeated the knowledgeable members of Sarada Pitha, they would not accept the supremacy of his philosophy. With his arguments, he defeated all the learned men at that high seat of learning, including Jains and Buddhists.

 

Shankaracharya’s Digvijay rose to crescendo in Kashmir, where he got plenty of new insights that helped give a new paradigm to his Vedant philosophy. Therefore, this holy land became the melting point of all these schools of thought which culminated into splendiferous typical culture of Kashmir.

The King of Kasmira or Kashmir had made arrangements for Sankaracharya’s stay at Srinagar but he chose to stay near an ancient Siva temple overlooking the city. Since then, the temple has popularly been known as the Sankarcharya temple. Adi Shankaracharya’s stay at the Siva temple made him feel the subliminal ambience of the place and he got more and more rooted into the Self. 

 

While conversing with the Shaivite saints in Kashmir, he came to know about a misconception pervading among them regarding the disbelief of the Adavitins on Shakti.

In order to remove this misbelief, Acharya Shankar composed amazing hymns dedicated to Shakti called Soundaryalahari. Amidst the ethereal beauty of the snow-clad mountains of the Himalayas, Adi Shankar became a perfect devotee of the Divine Mother. He describes the Shakti as Purushika, the one who has Paurasha. She is the Chidanandalahari that stirs and arises like a wave out of Siva, the turiyavastu. So she is the Akhandakaravrtti.

Shivaakare manche Parama-Shiva-paryanka-nilayam Bhajanti tvam dhanyah katichana chid-ananda-laharim/

"On the all holy seat of the lap of the great God Shiva, Sits she who is like a tide in the sea of happiness of ultimate truth, And is worshipped by only by few select holy men.” 

This excellent composition by Adi Shankar pertinently proves the sacredness of the land of Kashmir, having the strong presence of Sharda, the goddess of learning, predisposed him to write an enchanting composition about Shakti which in fact turned to be a blessing for the revivalism of the Vedic Sanatan Culture in Bharat.

This rapprochement of Shakti and Shaivism with Advaita in Kashmir resulted into philosophical osmosis and gave birth to the Smarta tradition in the fold of Sanatana Dharma. Adi Shankaracharya established the nondualist interpretation of the Upanishads as the touchstone of a revived smarta tradition.

Shankara proclaimed, “It is the one Reality which appears to our ignorance as a manifold universe of names and forms and changes. Like the gold of which many ornaments are made, it remains in itself unchanged. Such is Brahman, and That art Thou.”

In Kashmir, we have two schools of Saivism, the Spandasastra and the Pratyabhijnasastra. The former was founded by Vishnugupta, to whom Siva revealed the Sivasutra. The important works of the latter are Sivadrishti and Pratyabhijnasutra composed by Somananda and his pupil Utpala. In Paramarthasara, Abhinavgupta, has combined the teaching of Advaita with the practices of Yoga and the Bhakti of Saivism and Vaishnavism in such a manner that it can be said to strike a new path altogether.

Kshemendra, the 11th century poet of king Ananta of Kashmir, gives us the epitomes of two great epics in his Bharata-manjari and Ramayana-manjari. His Dasavatara-charita describes the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The Haracharitachintamnai by Jayadratha is important to the extent that it embodies some and new Saiva practices and legends, some of which are directly linked to the places of pilgrimage in Kashmir.

The above description of the eternal Jnana Parampara of Kashmir is suffice to corroborate that,  loss of this treasure has resulted in Kashmir's brutal encounter with predicaments and plights. 

It is time to revive this destroyed ethos of Kashmir Valley and enliven the wisdom of these ancient geniuses.

 

By scrapping Article 370 the first step towards such revival is now undertaken. However, Kashmir Valley needs to be integrated into India, not just politically but culturally too.

Author has obtained M. Phil and Ph. D. in History. She has published articles on a variety of historical, Dharmic and Samskritic aspects.

To read all articles by author

References and read 

1 Ancient Legacy of Kashmir

2 Tantra and the teachings of Abhinavgupta

3 The History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan.

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