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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Sanskrit Civilization of Ancient Kashmir


By Chaman Lal Gadoo

European scholars searched for histories of India , from eighteenth century onwards, but could not find any that conformed to the familiar European view of what a history should be. The only exception, according to them, is history of Kashmir-Rajatarangini, written by  Pandit Kalhana, a Kashmiri, in Sanskrit during 1149A.D.Rajatarangini-river of kings, is about dynasties of kings, culture, people and about Hindu civilization of India . Kalhana is often described as India ’s first historian. Kalhana consulted at least eleven Sanskrit compositions on the history of Kashmir , like Nilmat Purana, Kshemendra’s Nrapavli, chronicles of Padmamihira and Chavillakaran etc. while writing his own. These do not exist today, barring Nilmat Purana. The Mahatamayas of Kashmir are sources of early historical geography and describe the topography of the valley, also the various places of pilgrimage.  

Pandit Kalhana begins writing Rajatarangini with an account of king Gonanda I, who took part in Mahabharata war and was killed. Mahabharata runs around 100,000 stanzas, probably the longest book in the world and goes back around 3000 BC. By popular tradition, the Kali Age started with the death of Sri Krishna, 35 years after the War. The Kali calendar has a beginning of 3102 BC; therefore it is thought that the Mahabharata War took place in 3137 BC.

The two great Indian epics--- Ramayan and Mahabharata written in Sanskrit, speak volumes of histories of ancient kings, their dynasties, their kingdoms, wars they have fought, about people, their lands, culture and religion. Ramayan and Mahabharata are not only epics but are historical traditions in the epic form. The planetary positions narrated by Maharishi Valmiki in Ramayan, at different events in Sri Ram’s life, have stood the test of the times. Indian history has recorded that Sri Ram, born in 5114BC, belonged to the Suryavansh and he was the 64th ruler of Ayodhya of his dynasty. Professor Subash Kak of Lousiana University in his book,’ The Astronomical Code of the Rig Veda’ has listed 63 ancestors of Sri Ram, King Dashratha, King Aja, King Raghu, King Dilip and their predecessors.

The oldest records were not written on parchment or inscribed on stone, they were written in the memory of people, who handed down the precious heritage from generation to generation. The most vital part of Indian history is the race memory of the Hindu society, which gave birth to great treasure of ancient Sanskrit literature in the form of Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, full of spirituality and ancient wisdom. The earliest scriptures of Aryans are Vedas and Upanishads known as Sruti. Later scriptures are collectively known as Smrtis. Thomas Berry, a historian of cultures, made following remark about the Vedic heritage-- “In quality, in quantity, in significance for man’s intellectual, cultural and spiritual life, this literature in totality is unsurpassed among all other literary traditions of the world.”  

A Great Heritage

The Sanskrit civilization constitutes the great heritage of our country. It flourished mainly on the banks of great rivers, in different regions by socio-religious and cultural bonds. It was on the banks of the lost sacred river Saraswati, that the Vedic seers perceived the hymns of the Vedas, in Sanskrit. Similarly, the Vedic culture spread over the banks of Indus and Vitasta rivers and it became integral part of Aryan culture.  Sanskrit is the richest and most ancient language. Sanskrit language is the root of Indian culture. While speaking to the Asiatic Society in Kolkata on February 2, 1786, Sir William Jones made a statement;“…the  Sanskrit language, whatever is its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists”.

Sanskrit Literature in Kashmir

An early name belonging to Kashmir is Bharata Muni of the Natyashastra. The Natyashastra has a total of 36 chapters and it is suggested that this number may have been deliberately chosen to conform to the theory of 36 tattvas which is a part of the Shaivite system of Kashmir . The bhana, a one-actor play described by Bharata is still performed in Kashmir by groups called bhand pather (bhana patra, in Sanskrit).Some scholars and historians, record that Kalidasa, the celebrated Sanskrit poet-dramatist had his roots in Kashmir . In fact, Kashmiri scholars, writers and poets have made highly significant contributions to classical Sanskrit literature and religious thought. The dedication of Kashmiris to Shiva and his powers in their prose and poetic writings is a golden chapter in Sanskrit literature. The Shiva  philosophy of Kashmir, also known as Trika Shastra, flourished in South India ,and achieved an identity of its own. There are Sanskrit texts relating to Tantra, Kundalini Yoga, and Shaivism by Kashmiri scholars. Among the sages who propounded the Kashmir Shiva philosophy, the names of Vasugupta, Somananda, Bhtta Kallata, Utpal Dev and Abhinav-Guta, stand out as celebrated exponents. Both Vaishnava Agamas and Shiva Agamas have their source in Kashmir . So far as Sanskrit literature is concerned apart from Alankara Sastra in which Kashmirians seem to have excelled, the names of Somadeva, Kshemendra, Bilhana , Damodaragupta, and Kalhana stand out as a brilliant galaxy of genius adding lustre to the history of Sanskrit literature Kshemendra's   contribution to Sanskrit literature is unique in one respect. He introduced humor with social satire. According to Bhartrihari and other early scholars, Patanjali ,a Kashmiri, made great contributions to Yoga (the yoga-sutras) and to Ayurveda.

Kashmir has been on the threshold of foreign invaders, who not only destroyed most of its history but also adultered the culture and social values from time to time.Buddhism, Shaivism and Sanskrit learning flourished in the valley and produced a remarkably rich culture till the Muslim conquest in 14th century, overturned the social structure of Kashmir . Kashmiri scholars not only contributed original Sanskrit texts to Sarvastivadin schools of Buddhism but also to the development of Mahayana Philosophy.  One of the most remarkable books that Kshemendra, who was himself a Shaivaite, produced was on the Avadanas of the Buddha, a classic in later Buddhist literature.

Early History of Kashmir

Jonaraja’s Rajatarangini (1420—70), brought chronicle to the reign of Sultan Zainul-ab-din. Greater part of his chronicle deals with Hindu rulers from Jayasimha to Kota Rani. His pupil Srivara wrote four chapters about the events from 1459-1486AD. The fourth and last Sanskrit chronicle entitled Rajavalipataka, began by Prajyabhatta wrote till 1513-14 AD, and was completed by his pupil Suka, some years after annexation of Kashmir by Akbar in 1586AD.Narayan Koul Ajiz, wrote Twarikh-i-Kashmir in 1710AD, about reigns of Sultans and early Mughals. Pandit Birbal Kachuru wrote history of Kashmir in 1835, when Kashmir was under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, 1819-46AD. He wrote history of Kashmir under Mughal and Afghan rulers. In 1846AD, the valley came under Dogra rule. It was from this time onwards that scientific survey was conducted by archaeological experts using modern scientific tools regarding geography, history, and composition of its people. Archaeological discoveries have given new definitions about the history of Kashmir , its origin, people and ancient civilization.   

The legends indicate that Kashmir was once a vast lake known as Sati-Saras, the Lake of Sati . The lacustrine or lake deposits locally known as Karewas, spread all over the valley, substantiate this fact of history. According to a tradition the drainer of this lake was Rishi Kashyap, hence this land was called Kashyap-pur or Kashyap-mar and latter Kashmir . On the basis of scientific observations, Frederic Drew, a famous geologist, wrote,”The traditions of the natives---traditions that can be historically traced as having existed for ages---tend in the same direction, and these have usually been considered to corroborate the conclusions drawn from the observed phenomena.”

The Karewa formation occupies nearly half the area of the valley. Neolithic man settled on these Karewas, or Udhars in Kashmiri. Geologically, the Karewas provided natural settlements for earliest Kashmiris, as forests for hunt and lakes for fishing and fowling were in immediate vicinity. Neolithic period was followed by Megalithic period. This period is indicated by the erection of menhirs which are huge standing stones. The history of the development of human culture in Kashmir starts from hunting culture. Even as hunter the earliest form of religion was developed. The worship of rain-god, sun-god and Vedic fire-god, were earliest form of religion which were followed by Mother- Goddess, Shiva worship and by other Vedic gods.    

Excavations at Burzahom

The extensive excavation conducted at Burzahom was the first of its kind in Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of stratified cultural deposits. Burzahom karewa is about 25km. north of Srinagar and about 3km. from Telbal Nala. It is a megalithic site situated on the   Yendrahom Karewa (table land) revealed that earliest settlers were pit-dwellers. The dwelling pits generally had a central post to support the roof. The pit chambers also showed partitions.  Burzahom in Kashmiri means the place of birch, which was available during Neolithic times, is proved by burnt birch found during the excavations. Apart from the stone tools found at site, there were bone tools also. Twenty four soil samples from different levels of the Neolithic period were got examined and the plant remains so recovered belonged to the ancient crop of wheat, barely and lentil. The tools needed for digging, planting and thrashing of crops were found. Tools for hunting, bow and arrow were found. A stone slab bearing the hunting scene was also found.                          

“The stone slab obtained from Burzaham is rectangular in shape. Most of the stone slabs were plane without any engravings. Among dozens of such slabs, only two bore the engravings. Even among the two, only one slab with a base width of 70 cm portrayed the most impressive expression of art in relation to Neolithic settlements. The engraved portion is divided into two parts. The top  part  shows  an  animal  on  the  right  and  on  the  left  are  depicted  two  suns,  one complete with  sixteen radiating lines and the other one is slightly damaged. it seems that picture depicts the hunting scene but it is postulated that this is not  a  terrestrial  hunting  scene  but  represents  actually  a  sky map  giving  location  of prominent  constellations  and  the  moon  on  that  day  during  which  Supernova  was observed (Joglekar 2006).One of the hunters on the figure is same as Orion, the central animal is same as the Taurus. The hunter on the right may have been formed from stars of Cletus and the other animal on the right may be Andromeda and Pegasus. The  position  of  Supernova's  (HB9'S)  is  indicated  by  a  spot  in  the  upper  part  of  the picture and moon's position in the carving is indicated by a bigger spot at the centre of the picture. The long curved line in the carving, traditionally interpreted as spear, may be an arc of bright stars. Also the location of HB9 fits perfectly with the left object in the  picture, with  a  supernova  of  -9.6 magnitudes  in  the  close  vicinity.  It  is  already assumed  that  the  figure  on  the  left  is  Orion  and  to  check  this  relative  distances  of various star locations in the figure were measured with the angular separation of stars in the sky. The fitting of these various stars to different points in the figure is reasonably accurate with some error (Joglekar 2006).These predictions reasonably assume tobe an astronomical event which has taken place some 5,000 YB. The event is assumed to be a Supernova (Joglekar 2006).” This is extract from a research paper of (Dept. of Physics) Kashmir University .

Hand made pottery in crude form also was dug out at Burzhom. A pot with 950 beads was fond in a pit, sealed by a hard layer of mud. Some of the beads have parallels in Harappan beads. There are other common features in Harappan ivory combs and other objects found in Kashmir . Also cult objects found in Semthan ( Kashmir ) are similar to those found in Moenjodara. In their book ‘Moenjodaro: a 5000 year old legacy’ by K.H. Shaikh and S. M. Ashfaque, Department of Archaeology and Museums(Pakistan) write; “The cult objects show little change from Kot Dijian elements and include the motif of peepal leaves (Sanskrit asvattha or niagrodha. ficus religiosa), fishes and fish-scale patterns, swastikas, hatched circles, rhombs, wavy lines and other geometrical patterns. A large variety of ‘mother goddesses’, phallic symbolism, tree spirits, and a homed deity recognized as ‘proto-Siva’.“

“The radiocarbon evidence suggests movement and development of the Neolithic Culture in the Kashmir valley. It seems that central Asian neolithic tradition entered the Kashmir valley in the second half of the fourth millennium BCE when the Neolithic Settlers occupied the western part of the valley around Kanishkapura and then moved towards central Kashmir as the dates from Burzahom indicate the occupation around 2881 BCE onwards. The neolithic settlements occupied further south-eastern part of Kashmir in about 2347 BCE onwards around Gufkral. It was during this phase when chalcolithic contacts might have developed between the neolithic settlements of Kashmir in North and Harappan civilization in the Punjab-Haryana region in South which is indicated by the co-existing Harappan settlement at Manda (Akhnur) in Jammu on the right bank of the Chenab and Malpur, a Neolithic site partly excavated during 1994–96, located very close to the former, but on the left bank of the Chenab .” Extract from a research paper on Kanishkpura by Archaeological Survey of India (1998-99).

The most important evidence of skeletal remains of Neolithlc man from Kashmir and the Harappans bring out that they belong to the same stock. The earliest results which radio carbon dates indicate are before 2357BC.In the exhaustive report submitted by the Anthropological Survey of India, which was published in the form of book ‘Human Remains of Burzhom’ . The authors are of the view,” We are inclined to assert that Burzhom crania are closer to Harappa R37 crania than to Neolithic crania of southern India . The skeletal evidence points towards ethnic affinity between Harappa and Burzhom series and suggests ethnic continuity, in spite of cultural differences”.

Structural remains at the both sites of Burzhom and Gufkral during the megalithic period are marked by rubble stone constructions, a change from earlier Neolithic level. A new wave of installing menhirs at community functions have been seen densely distributed in the valley.

Beginning of Indus Civilization

The Saraswati-Indus-Vitasta cultural tradition represents the begging of the Indian Civilization. This tradition has been traced back to about 7000BC. In the remains that have been uncovered in Mehrgarh and other sites. Its first phase was during the Harappan period of 2600-1900BC.Harappan culture had extended to Lothal in district Ahmedabad.  The first Harappan cemetery was excavated at Rupar (Haryana) and second at Bara ( Gujarat ). Indian Archaeology produced further remnants of Harappan culture including steatite seals with the typical Indus script and motifs during excavation at Lothal during 1955.The Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilizations spread over more than 250,000 square miles, and included over1600 sites. Most of the villages and cities were laid out on an exact north-south grid on sites west of the river, and were built with kiln-fired brick of uniform size. Sites have been found dating from 6,500-7,000 BC Systematic town planning was also brought to light. Its inhabitants followed the same tradition of town planning and public hygiene for which the Harappans are famous. The ancient architectural system of Sthapatya Veda prescribes detailed principles of construction of homes and cities. One of the main principles of Sthapatya Veda is that cities be laid out on an exact north-south grid, with all houses facing due east. Another is that the buildings be oriented to the east with a slope to the east and any body of water on the east. Most of the cities of the Saraswati and Indus valley followed these principles exactly.

Professor Renfrew argues, there is no internal evidence from the ancient Vedic literature that Vedic civilization originated outside India . The verses of the Rig Veda, the most ancient songs of Vedic tradition, detail many aspects of daily life of the people. There is no hint in this vast literature of a migration or of a history that lies in a homeland beyond the mountains of northern India . All evidence from archeology, anthropology, and Vedic literature indicate that Vedic civilization was indigenous to northern India . Geological data now explains the demise of the Indus and Saraswati valley civilizations in terms of climactic change, bringing an end to the outside invasion theory.

There has been no Aryan-Dravidian divide as perpetrated by some historians. Dravidians and Aryans, even a little physically different in appearance, are not different racial people in blood group or other genetics of importance. Rishi Agastya, a South Indian seer, is the reputed author of several hymns of Rig Veda. Adi Sankaracharya is the chief exponent of Advaita philosophy of Vedanta. Dark skinned Sri Krishna is worshipped most by Hindus across whole of India .

Saraswat Brahmins

The Vedic civilization of the legendry river Saraswati flourished in the close vicinity of Kashmir . There is little doubt left now about the historicity of the Saraswat people. Geological evidence has come to surface which establishes beyond doubt that the river Saraswati flowed down from the Himalayas in a north-westernly course, to Rann of Kutch . Archaeological excavation along the course of the ancient river has revealed sterling facts about the civilizational linkages between the Harappan and the Saraswat people. David Frawley, a leading US Indologist has reported, that a Committee of geologists, historians, geographers and other experts appointed by Government of India, under the chairmanship of Dr. V.S.Watankar, conducted a survey of 150 archaeological sites, over a stretch of 3500 kilometers along the course of the river Saraswati. They used latest techniques such as Multi-Spectral Scanner (MSS) and land sat imagery. The Committee concluded that the river Saraswati dried up gradually between 1800 BC and 800 BC due to tectonic movements which caused change in the course of river Satluj. The Committee discredited the theory of Aryan invasion of India and rejected the sociological divide between the pre-Aryan India and the Vedic India of the Aryan origin. It refused to recognize that the Harappan and Mohenjodara cultures represent the pre-Aryan, Indus Valley Civilization. The Committee concluded that the discovery of the dried channel of the river Saraswati, east of river Indus and the location of more than 260 archaeological sites which showed civilizational similarities to Harappan and Mohenjodara cultures provided evidence of the historical continuity of the Sind Valley Civilization and the early Vedic civilization of India .                 

From very ancient Mesolithic implements discovered in the valley of ‘Sohaan’ river (District Rawalpindi), in the Valley of Baanganga   (near Kangra), in Pahalgam (Kashmir), in Peshawar and in Dholbaha (District Hoshiarpur), some historians conclude that Punjab may have been the home of the first humans born on this earth.

Neelmat Era in Kashmir

The Neelmat period, which commenced with the induction of the Calcolithic tools or metals into Kashmir, most probably from the surrounding Sind Valley civilization, indicates a cultural change, which was not dictated by any race movement. The people living in Kashmir , from the time of the Neolithic age of Burzhom, have been of a single racial stock. The Nagas and Pisachas were also people of the proto-Aryan racial origin.  There is hardly any anthropological evidence to prove that ancient people of Kashmir were racially of a different stock than the people inhabiting the Burzhom settlements.

Evidence is also available of the close contact between the people of the Saraswati civilization and people of Kashmir which flourished along the river Vitasta (Jehlum).


The Mahatamayas are an eloquent testimony of basic unity that permeates the religious culture of the Hindus of Kashmir and the Sanskrit culture of the Hindu India. The most interesting aspect of the Mahatamayas is that they represent the quest of the Hindus of Kashmir to recreate a universe of spiritual experience, which is Sanskrit in outlook and composition. The Mahatamaya reveal a continuity of the Harappan, Burzahom and Saraswat cultures. This is an indicator that Nilmat, while keeping the Nagas in view has (mentioned) specific rituals connected with the Gods and Goddesses, who manifested specifically in Bharatvarsha and Aryas. 

Nilmat era of the Hindu history of Kashmir followed the disappearance of the river Saraswati. Nilmat Purana narrates; “sixty five rituals and festivals, were celebrated with great devotion, faith, pomp and show. Some of the rituals and festivals find mention in other Puranas also. Some of these are celebrated even today in Kashmir , like Kaw Poonim and Yaksha Mavas (Kechi Mavas). It is generally thought that the Purana talks of rituals and festivals of Nagas only, and these being adopted by Aryan Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir, which is not so. Many of the rituals, festivals and days are common with those followed by Aryans in Bharatvarsha or emanating from Vedas.”

 The ritual culture of the people of Kashmir grew from its Burzahom past and is, therefore, formed of several sediments; the basic sediments have their origin in the ritual structure of the Burzahom people and the people of Kashmir who lived through the Neelmat period. The Vedic Grah-Sutras and Kalpa- Sutras were adopted for the Kashmiri Pandits, by Laugaksha Muni, a great sage, sometime in the first millennium B.C. Before the adaptation of Sanskrit scriptures, Kashmiri Pandits had already a highly evolved and intricate ritual structure, which symbolized their proto-Aryan origin. A part of the pre-Laugaksha ritual was integrated into the Laugaksha adaptation. The rest lingered on and survived and in due course of time became a part of the religious culture Kashmir . These rituals are still extant, and preserved and practised by the Kashmiri Pandits even now. A vast number of rituals are practiced by Kashmiri Pundits, in their birth, death and marriage.  There are numerous rituals, traditions and festivals of proto-Vedic origin which the Kashmiri Pandits follow. There are Vedic, Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Shakta religious performances in Kashmir , but Vedic ceremonies play prominent part. In performances of Shradha rites, the Vedic deities receive worship through fire, Shaivite through phallic emblem of cooked rice and Shakta through a lamp. Rituals have a phenomenal identity and theological content. On the marriage or Yajnopavit ceremonies of Kashmiri Pandits, ladies sing Kashmiri songs in Vedic accentuation even now. Kashmiris are singing people, even in exile; they sing the glory of their sacred land. Their songs are full of love, beauty, freshness and with fragrance of our fascinating valley.

The Vedic civilization of Kashmir is represented by the rich geological, historical and literary contestations. These are interwoven and deeply interacted in the deep socio-cultural identity of the people and ancient civilization of Kashmir.

Source: Naad, April 2012 issue, and Koshur Samachar, March-April 2012 issue

Kashmiri Writers Chaman Lal Gadoo


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