Sanjay Godbole

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   Kashmiri Writers

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Interview with Sanjay Godbole

Sanjay GodboleSANJAY GODBOLE  is a an institution in himself. He is an archeologist, historian, indologist, an author, publisher and owns a personal museum. Sometime back Sh. Kuldeep Raina had a long discussion with him at his Pune residence on different aspects of Kashmir History and Culture. In this part we are publishing the excerpts of discussions pertaining to Kashmir Archeaology.                                 

--The Editor

KR: When were first  Archaeological explorations  carried out in Kashmir?

SG:  In the year 1929 A.D., during the British regime, the first ever Archaeological excavation was carried out at Burzahom , a village 10 kms  to the north-east of  Srinagar. This exercise was repeated in 1959. at the same place. During the second excavation, the ancient remains which surfaced were subjected to carbon-14 test .These remains were found to be as old as 2375 B.C., belonging to ‘Neolithic’ period.

The residents of Kashmir during that period constructed underground Dwelling Shelters. The structure was erected with wooden rafters and a roof was provided over this frame of rafters. Steps and /or ladders were used to climb up and down. The fire hearth was placed near the entrance; the position of the hearth was permanently there only. At Burzahom black and gray and ash coloured pottery, Harpoons, Small hand axes, arrow heads, needles made of bones etc. have been discovered. In the subsequent phase the residents made houses of mud and raw bricks. The people at that time buried their dead in a folded posture,  with earthen pots buried by the side of the dead bodies. They buried dogs, wolves, deer (antelopes) also, besides humans. This habitation came to an end in the year 1400 B.C.

In the ‘Iron age’ the remains of the housing structures were found during excavations at the same place (Burzahom). The remains found at Burzahom are considered to be precious and important from archaeological point of view.

KR:  How do you perceive the augmentative additions to archaeological studies in Kashmir during recent times?

SG: There is a natural stream known as Shaliganga in the district of Budgam in Central Kashmir. On the left Bank of this stream, there is a place called Gurwait-Yarikhan. During an archaeological excavation in 1999 A.D. in a jungle, near Gurwait-Yarikhan the archaeologists came across a settlement  which was  spread to several terraces. This settlement also consisted of pavements of baked terracotta tiles. The size of the tiles was 36 cms x 40 cms each, and some numerals in Kharoshti script were found on them. These tiles had a symbolic mark of Swastika on their surface. In addition gray coloured pottery also surfaced at the site. During this landmark discovery, some potsherd pipes, deployed for conveying the potable water to human settlements were also reported.

The first ever Buddhist settlement was brought to light, in the year 1934, during an Archaeological excavational exercise, near Srinagar in Kashmir, at ‘Harwan’. Here, the Terracotta tiles, similar to those found at Taxila surfaced. Hence ‘Harwan’ was logically considered as a manufacturing hub for these tiles in Kashmir. Now, since at Hutmura, Pahalgam, Budgam, the Archaeological explorations have discovered similar tiles, it is now considered opinion of the experts that Kashmir  was the principal manufacturing hub for these tiles, with a high degree of craftsmanship.

Kutbal is a town in the district of Anantnag in Kashmir. From the findings of the archaeological excavations, it has been established that Kutbal was one of the most beautiful and well planned cities during the  rule  of Kushan kings. Stamped tiles from the remains of the old structures have surfaced  at  Kutbal. At Ballyar, remains of a Buddhist monastery have been found. Experts, therefore, have opined that during the 2nd century, the third world Buddhist conference was most probably convened in Kashmir.

Some Terracotta heads were discovered at a place called Lethpur, previously known as Lalitapur. Near the P.O.K. there is a  village known as Zirhama in the vicinity of the famous   village , Shardi. Here four unique Bronzes, belonging to the 9th century, A.D. have been found. Out of these four Bronzes, one is that of Lord Vishnu ascending on Garuda-the King of Eagles. This Bronze, undoubtedly is very precious from Art History point of view.

KR:  What type of ancient coins have been found  in Kashmir? Rather, how the science of Numismatics has fared so far in Kashmir?

SG: The Kushan kings struck several coins in Kashmir. These coins have on one side image of the king and on the other a deity . Such numerous coins often surface in good numbers in various parts of Kashmir. Two ancient kings of Kashmir namely Hiranyakul and Mihirkul had struck coins which showed the king in a standing pose  with a spear in one of hand and by his other hand, offering something to the Yagnya kund on the reverse side of the coin.A deity is shown at times with some inscription. The copper coins, belonging to the rulers of the Karkota dynasty had a mixture of copper and gold i.e. copper 88% and gold 12%. The Silver coins of ‘Tormana’ have also been found. In the ninth century A.D. Kashmir was ruled by Kings belonging to ‘Utpala’ dynasty. The coins struck by them are made of copper. These coins have a deity and legends on the obverse side  and the figure of the king on the reverse side . These coins have been found in hoards. The king ‘Harshadeva’ issued and brought into effect, in Kashmir, coins in gold and silver. These coins had an image of an elephant on the obverse side and an inscription in Devnagari script. Such coins continue to surface even today in Kashmir. In the district of Baramulla, at Dengiwacha (Rafiabad) some coins belonging to Kushan kings have been brought to light. So also, at a place called Watnar, about 1800 copper coins were found stacked in an earthenware pot. These coins belong to the eleventh century and were struck by the rulers of Lohara dynasty. This is how numerous coins from different rulers surface in Kashmir. The coins of medieval period, which surfaced at Srinagar, some years back, have a distinct reference  to  ‘Kashmir Mint’. Srinagar Mint was known as Kashmir then. The coins, brought in effect by the Mughal rulers were of different types. On one of the coins struck by Shah Alam the Second this Kashmir mint has been addressed as ‘Jammun’, i.e. Jammu. This coin belonged to the year 1195 Hijari.

Emperor Jehangir and Shahjahan also struck their coins from over here which also included ‘Nisar’.

Many Persian verses are found on the coins struck here  by Jehangir.

On one such coin, there is a Persian verse as follows:-

Jahan-e-Firuz gasht be Kashmir Sikkah-e-zar

Zi Nur Nam-e-Jahangir Shah, Shah Akbar

‘Money coined in Kashmir was made world conquering by the light of the name of Jahangir Shah-Son of Shah Akbar’.

Aurangzeb and subsequent Mughal emperors too struck coins  at  this place.

After Mughals, the Durrani rulers introduced and brought in effect, their coins in Kashmir.

KR: Why is the famous chronicle Rajatarangini by Pt.Kalhan held in high esteem by the Indologists and  other oriental  scholars ?

SG: The best example of regional histories in India  that can be cited is that  produced by Kalhan, known as Rajatarangini .This great chronicle dealing with the history of Kashmir was  written during  the year 1149 to 1150 A.D. by Kalhan. This  history happens to be the one and the  only one in the ancient literature. A Kashmiri Brahmin called ‘Pandit Kalhan’ went into minute details of the records and archives of the kings of Kashmir, made an in-depth study  of  the documents such as certificates, various declarations , charities  and other contemporary books. Some experts,  do not agree with  certain facts and notings, particularly those   to the period earlier to seventh century. The chronicles beyond the seventh century are, however, considered as authentic and credible. Had the historical account of other states been compiled in a similar manner, we would certainly be in a position to assemble a fairly accurate picture of Ancient India.

I have a  copy of Sanskrit Rajatarangini which was published by the East India Company in the year 1835. A copy of the above was presented by me to the Kashmiri Sabha of Pune. Rajatarangini has since been translated in to  several Indian languages. A special attention  needs to made  about  the translation of Rajatarangini into Persian by Dr. Sabir Afaqui ,of Muzzafarabad.It has been very  well received by the erudite scholars of Iran. The Sahitya Academy has published an english version of Rajatarangini.

This  chronicle by Pandit Kalhan,  is  very useful for students, scholars and experts of Indological studies.

KR:    After Swat Valley What remains belonging to ancient Greek Culture have been found in Kashmir?

SG: At a distance of 60 kms from Srinagar, there is a  place  called Semthan and  a hillock  known as  Chakdhar, originally Chakradhar. The original name of  Semthan was Sinhastan. There was a big- sized gate called Haathi Dwar on the Chakdhar hillock. King Jaun has made a reference to the temple of Lord Vishnu which existed there. During the regime of king Lalitaditya, Persian wheels were installed for supplying water to this area. On this hillock, there is a tomb of Totak Shah. In the vicinity of this area, terracotta pieces, ceramics and pieces of Earthenware pots were found. After the appearance of  an article in Srinagar Times, by Shri Arjun Dev ‘Majboor’, the Archaeology department undertook an excavation  work there in 1977 A.D. During this excavation, innumerable remains came to light.

In the 1982 issue of Man and Environment it is claimed that the missing gap between the Neolithic culture and the Indo-Greek culture has been aptly filled in by the discoveries of this excavation. The experts have surmised that the coins of Greek Origin and the Greek styled sculpture found here, indicate that Greek empire had definitely extended up to this part of the country. The ceramic industry was in full bloom and there was a huge forest of cedar & fir trees, perhaps beyond the reach of our imagination. The Staple food in Kashmir was wheat and rice  in those times. A seal indicating Greek connection has been traced. After the discovery of gray coloured N.B.P. pottery, saffron coloured and red coloured thin polished wares of Greek style and make were also found.

Similarly, some designs of pottery and ornamental beads have shown resemblance to the Greek styled designs.  Few vases have flowery designs and motifs on them. Some of the Greek and Roman patterns, introduced in pots and vases at that time continue to exist even today. A guidebook was printed in German language, giving details of Kashmir. In that guide, a photo showed Kashmiri nomads still using Indo-Greek type of utensils.

KR:    What are ‘Kashmir Smast’ Caves?

SG: These caves do not have anything to do with Kashmir as such. These exist in North West Frontier Province in Pakistan. Kashmir Smast caves are a series of natural limestone caves- artificially expanded, from the Kushan to Shahi period. These are situated in the Babozai mountains in Mardan-N.W.F.P. Smast is the word used for Cave in Pashto. These caves are known as Kashmir Smast caves because of the fact that the network of the rock cut caves is so vast that it stretched from Gandhara to the Kingdom of Kashmir. Sir Alexander Cunningham described them as Cave Temples. These caves have chambers 322' x 100' x 80' in size. Waleed Ziad found a surprising treasure trove of antiquities belonging to the period 300 A.D. to 800 A.D. These included Kushan and Sassanian Bronzes, Kedar Kushan coins, Nozek Bronzes and Shahi Kings’ coins. Menander was an Indo-Greek Ruler and he struck his own  coins. The Huns of Swat and Kashmir had imitated his coins. Such imitated coins were also found in the said hoard. An article on these coins was published in O.N.S. England

KR:How do you view the art of painting in Kashmir through history ?

SG:In the month of August 2007, a painting of Lord Avalokiteshwa rcame to light in a cave called Dungkar in Tibet. This ancient painting done by Kashmiri artists shows the Lord with ‘eleven heads’. This painting has been lauded as the best specimen of Kashmir school of painting.

The oldest available evidence of the existence of the art of painting in Kashmiri style dates to 8th Century .These specimens have been traced at ‘Gilgit’. It is believed that the painters and artists from Kashmir were specially invited to Central Asia and Tibet at Buddhist monasteries for various painting assignments.

Rinchen Sangpo (950 AD to 1055 A.D.) an erudite Tibetan Scholar visited Kashmir thrice and  engaged 75 Kashmiri artists and technicians .With their co-operation and assistance, he got the artwork of paintings in 108 Buddhist Monasteries done. Even  to   this day, any one who looks at few specimens  of  this work, stands simply amazed .

A Buddhist Lama, Taranath arrived in Kashmir from Tibet in the 16th Century A.D.  He has made a specific mention of a school of painting and metal casting,  which  flourished under the guidance of Hasuraja of Kashmir. He  informs that the the styles  practiced  in the art school of central India and the school established by Shringadhari in Marwar had a dominating influence of the art of Kashmir.

The paintings in the manuscripts at Gilgit have faces in line with Gandhara style,the rest being in accordance  with the  Indian style. The figures in the manuscript are conspicuously muscular ,with sturdy built up bodylines. All these contributing factors seem to converge in the painting style of Kashmir .This could be identified as a special feature of Ancient Kashmiri painting style. The experts also opine that even the sculptures of Lalitaditya’s times have a similar impact. King Avantivarman (855 A.D. to 883 A.D.) was a great connoisseur and patron of arts. During his  reign, various concepts of Gandhara Greek, Roman, Central Asian and Chinese styles converged into a unique combination reflected in Kashmir style of painting. This peculiar style was also followed in producing Kashmiri Bronzes. Not only that, this style was also successfully employed for wall paintings in Tibet in the 10th century.

Only natural colours were used for paintings in Kashmiri style. The green pigmentation was made from Turquoise found in Ladakh and the blue one was made from Lepis Lazuli from Gandhara. The attention of experts is always focused  on the  unique features of the art  of  Kashmir  e.g. the technique, the colour scheme, the blend of various art styles etc..

This art of Kashmiri painting lost its patronage from the 11th century A.D onwards. The changed socio-economic and political situation in Kashmir added further to its decline. This  led to change in  the Kashmir style of painting. Since the times of Mughals  , there was a more forceful impact of Iranian art style on Kashmiri painting. This  can be  discerned in the paintings and pictures in manuscripts.

KR:What is  the importance of  Gilgit manuscripts ?

SG: In the year 1938 A.D., Pt. Madhusudan Kaul,then Head of State Archaeology Deptt.  discovered these manuscripts at Gilgit in a small excavatory project. These manuscripts are preserved at Srinagar in the Pratap Singh Museum. One manuscript is written on palm leaves while the otheris  on birch bark. The first manuscript is of the size 6cm. x 30 cm. It is written in a script called Northern Cursive Script. This script  has descended from the Late Gupta Script. The second manuscript is of the size of 7.5cm x  30cm. Both there manuscripts have wooden covers. There are icons drawn on them. The first cover has a picture of Lord Avalokiteshwar sporting ornaments. Two disciples are sitting at the feet of the lord. The disciples have put on the local attires of the elicit. On the inside cover of the second manuscript  the picture of Lord Buddha sitting on a Lotus in a meditative posture is depicted.

In the opinion of experts both these paintings of Lord Avalokiteshwar and Lord Buddha belong to a period between 7th & 8th century A.D. Further these pictures are akin to and have similarity  with the traditional art of painting from Foundkistan in Gandhara.

According to experts the pictures of Lord Avalokiteshwar and Lord Buddha on the covers of 2nd manuscript belong to the 9th century. These are in typical Kashmir style of painting. These show convergence of Gandhara, Indian & Central Asian Styles.

Gilgit manuscripts are masterpieces in the history of Ancient India so far as the art history is concerned. These manuscripts are important for studying the  evolution of the Kashmir School of painting and the onward journey of the same up to Tibet.

KR:Which religious sect in Kashmir was in existence during the rule of the Kushans?

SG:During the 4th century B.C. a religious cult called ‘Nagpuja Cult’ i.e. serpent worshiping existed in Kashmir. During the reign of Emperor Asoka, a Buddhist monk named Majjahantika was sent to Kashmir for  propagation of the faith. When Majjhantika  arrived in Kashmir, he performed certain miracles by the grace of heavenly bliss . Araval, the Naga King of Kashmir, was highly impressed and he surrendered before Majjahantika along with his followers and  converted to Buddhism, shedding his earlier strong opposition.

Hieun-Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller, visited Kashmir in the 7th century .According to him, as per the ‘native record’, Kashmir was known as Dragon Lake. During Hieun-Tsang’s stay in Kashmir, he says there were about 500 Buddhist monks in Kashmir.

According to ‘Neelmatpurana’ Land was created out from water and thus Kashmir came into being. Kashmir was under the control of people called ‘Naga’. Kashyap, the son of Nila was the commander of this Land. The word Kashmir is derived from ‘Kashyapmir’ (Land of Kashyap’)   

Once this King Nila was pleased by the blessings of a Brahmin called Chandradeva Nila acceded to the request of Chandradeva and permitted human beings to live in Kashmir during winters. The Naga King also disclosed to him the rites, which were to be followed, by the future human inhabitants if they were to live permanently in the valley. These rites included devotional worship of certain deities and festivals of ‘Nag Puja’. During the first snowfall in the valley, the Naga king Nila was worshipped. In the month of Bhadrapada during the Varun Panchami festival, the serpent King Nila was worshipped. Similarly, during the month of Chaitra in the festival called Irmanjiri Nila and serpents were worshipped. In accordance with ‘Neelmatpurana’ the ‘Nagas’ had their settlements near lakes and springs. Therefore, many places of worship are found in the vicinity of these places. Names such as Vernag, Anantnag,  etc. have been in vogue due to this ‘Naga belief’. There is a reference in ‘Nilmatpurana’ that 527 principal Nagas were worshipped in Kashmir. Pt. Kalhan has written that during the month of Jyeshtha a festival for the great serpent king Takshaka was celebrated and many dances were performed during the festival.

This Nagpuja being practiced in Kashmir since the times prior to the Christian era, seems to  have continued right up to the Medieval period.

In the 16th century, Abul Fazal has written that in Kashmir, Lord Vishnu was worshipped at 64 places, Lord Shiva at 75 places, Lord Brahma at 3 places and Goddess Durga at 22 places and Nagas were worshiped at 700 places. These idols are carved out and the residents worship them all. After the death of Emperor Asoka, in the 1st century A. D. King Menander of Indo- Greek descent came to rule Kashmir. The Vihar built

by him in Kashmir is called Milind Vihar. During the rule of King ‘Kanishka’ when Kashmir was a prominent hub of Buddhist religious activities, many Buddhist  scholars were staying in Kashmir. During the Kushan regime three cities - Kanishkapur (Kanispur), Juskar( Inskar), Huvishkapur (Huskkur) - were established in Kashmir. In the 1st century A.D. in the reign of king Kanishka, many chaityas & stupas were erected. The sermons and dictates of Buddhist religion, carved out on a copper plate were  kept by Kanishka in a stupa erected in Kashmir.                 ( To be continued ) 

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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