Buddhism in Kashmir

Buddhism in Kashmir

by Dr. R. L. Aima

'Nilmata Purana ' (the Purana of Kashmir) refers to the gaity with which the Vaishakha Purnima-the day on which Buddha was born, attained 'Bodhi' and ' Mahanirvana ' - used to be celebrated in the picturesome vale of Kashmir. Buddhist Chaityas - Stupas ' used to be decorated with flowersand paintings. Lord Buddha's statues used to be decorated with Aushdhis and Ratan. This tradition continued almost to the eleventh century A. D. Kshemendra (10th-11th A. D.) started the writing of his famous treatise ' Avdhankalaplataon' on this auspicious day. Somdeva ( 1027 A. D. ) has brought out this fact as under -

  • Samvatsare Saptavinshe
    Vaishikhasya Sitodaye
    Kriteyam Kalpalatiki

The history of Buddhism in Kashmir has not been much different than its history in the rest of the country. Before the advent of Aryans in the valley, it is said, it had already seen the rise and fall of Nagas, Pishachas and Yakshas. Of these, Nagas are supposed to be of great historical and cultural value. It is believed that Kapil the propounder of ' Sankhya Darshana and the author of Parmarthasar-Patanjali were Nagas. Likewise, it is again believed that the famous Buddhist philosopher-thinkers Nagarjun and Naga Budhi, both were Nagas. It appears that after the induction of Aryans, these aboriginies of Kashmir accepted the Vedic religion and thereafter the Buddhism. Buddhism has played one of the most important roles in the making of Indian mind, culture, religion and civilization.

Thiksey Monastaries
Thiksey Monastaries

When did actually the spread of Buddhism start in Kashmir? Historians have various theories and ideas. Kalhan's Rajatarangni has it that even before Ashoka ( 3rd Century B. C. ), Kashmir had many Bauddha Viharas. According to the Chinese Sources, Buddhism has spread in Kashmir just fifty years after the Mahaparinirvana of Tathagata.

Most of the authorities agreed on this fact that Mogaliputra Tissa, the Buddhist minister of the Ashoka the great sent Majhantika, the famous Buddhist authority of Varanasi to spread Buddhism in Kashmir and Gandhar. Gandhar, according to some Greek historians and Jakatas, probably included Kashmir also. But no stone-eddicts of Ashoka the great, has so far been found in Kashmir. Chinese scholars believe that Madhyantik (Majhuntik ) disciple of famous Buddhist scholar Anand, was the first man to preach Buddhism in Kashmir. This very Buddhist preacher is supposed to have introduced the forming and also the cultivation of world famous Kashmir saffron in the valley.

After the Mahanirvana of Tathagata Buddhism got divided into various schools of thought. All these scholars were followers of Buddha and all of them considered ' Moksha ' to be the ultimate aim of life. Various interpretations of ' Vinaya ' and ' Abhidharma' led the various schools of thought in Buddhism. Amongst the oldest and the holiest philosophies of the various Buddhist philosophy is supposed to be Sarvastivada. Famous Tibetian scholar Rahul Bhadra is supposed to be the father of this philosophy. But generally Upgupta of Mathura is supposed to be the propounder of this theory. Some scholars believe that this philosophy originated from Kashmir and Maghantik was its preacher. Whatever the case may be Sarvasttvad was the most prestigious philosophy of northern India and it was deeply connected with Kashmir, even if it was born in Mathura. It is said that famous Buddhist thinkers in order to safeguard the original thinking of Sarvastiuad came to Kashmir and it was here only that its purest form was decided upon. It was only in Kashmir that a detailed and authentic commentary of this philosophy by the name ' Vaibhashika ' was written. ' Sarvastivadi ', Abhidharma's basic scripture is supposed to have been divided into six volumes. This monumental work was completed, by Vasubandhu, son of Katyayani, in Kashmir. It is said that it was translated into Chinese in year 383 A. D. Parmartha, writes in the biography of Vasubandhu that Vasubandhu in order to get Vibasha written Abhidharama, invited famous Sanskrit poet Ashvaghosh from Sakat ( Ayodhya ) Ashvaghosh lived in Kashmir for twelve long years and prepared the literary forms of ' Vibasha ' in ten lakh cantos. This work is known by the name ' Abhidharma Mahavtbhashashastra. '

The famous Chinese traveller Huang Suang ( 7th Century A. D. ) says that during the period of Kanishka there were five hundred Buddhist scholars, inclusive of Vasumitra who after detailed discussions on ' Pitakas ' following which ' Sutrapitaka ' ' Vinayapitaka' and ' Abhidharma Pitaka ' were written down, which are known as ' Upadeshashastra', ' Vinaya Vibhashashastra' and ' Abhidharma Vibhashashastra ' respectively.

In fact the history of Buddhism in Kashmir, is not clear after downfall of Maurya dynasty. But it seems that Buddhism continued its progress here. Here one needs to refer to the main character ' Menandara ' of famous book, ' Milindapanha '. Greek Menendar ( Minander ) was the King of Gandhar and his capital was Siyalkot. It is said that at a place Twelve Yojanas from Kashmir there was a discussion on Buddhism between Milind or Menender and Nagsen following, which Milind embraced Buddhism and he became an ' Arhata. ' Milind is supposed to have lived in Second Century B. C.

King Kanishka is the person who gave a firm footing to Buddhism in Kashmir. Before him there is a mention, of Kashmiri king Sinha or ' Sudershana '. It is said that it is only with the contact of this king, Kanishka embraced Buddhism as a faith. Kanishka is remembered in the history of Buddhism like the great king Ashoka. He is suppossed to be responsible to have organized the fourth and last Buddhist council at Kundal Vanvihara. Some of the scholars feel that this place is what is known at present day as Jullunder. But most of the scholars are of the view that Kundal Vanvrhara is the present day ' Harwan ' in Kashmir. The chief aim of this council was to collect, collate and finalize the fundamental Buddhist principles and get a commentary written on them in accordance with the 'Sarvastivadi' Buddhist thought. Where else could this council have taken place other than in Kashmir -- the fountain head of Sarvastivadi philosophy - this council was chaired by Vasumitra and its Vice Chairman was the famous Sanskrit poet Ashvaghosha. The three main treatises of Sarvastivadi were written here. Of these ' Maha Vibhasha Shastra ' is still in existence today in Chinese. After the council was over, King Kanishka donated entire Kashmir to ' Sangha.' Kanishka made many ' Viharas ' and raised ' Stupas ' here. He raised a city ' Kanishkapur' which is today known as ' Kanispur ', which falls in the district Baramulla.

' Turushka ' King Kanishka is succeeded in Kashmir by two Buddhist Kings ' Hushaka ' and ' Jushaka '. Both of these raised two cities by the name ' Hushakpura ' and ' Jushakpura ' respectively. ' Hushakpura ' is ' Ushkar ' of Baramulla district of today and ' Jushakpura' is ' Zakura ', a few kilometers away from Srinagar.

According to Kalhana ' Kushana' Kings in Kashmir were followed by Abhimaniyu. It is said that because of Nagarjun's tremendous scholarship and preaching, Kashmir's traditional Naga cult of Nagas was almost wiped out. In fact at this time the revival of Naga cult was the result of tremendous hard work by a Brahmin named 'Chandadeva.'

The first organized crusade throughout the Buddhism in Kashmir was made by Raja ' Nara.' It is said that he harassed and terrorised Buddhists to such an extent that famous Buddhist Scholar Nagarjuna had to run away from Kashmir to south. In the sixth century A. D. Mihirkula (or Mihirula) the legendary terrorist king of Kashmir harassed Buddhists here. He devastated Buddhist Viharas, Chaityas and Mathas and killed Buddhists ruthlessly. But even under such terrorism Buddhism in Kashmir remained alive. In fact the famous Chinese traveller Huang Suang (631 - 633 A. D. ) stayed as a state guest. While staying here, he studied the ' Sutras ', ' Shastras ' and other Buddhist scriptures. Raja Durlabhawardhana provided him with twenty clerks who copied the religious scriptures for him. The chief Buddhist scholar of that time declared Huang Suang as a great intellect and said, Huang Suang is one of the greatest Buddhist scholars in the tradition of great Acharya Vasubandhu.

Buddhism was almost wiped out from whole of India by the efforts of Jagadguru Shankaracharya, But in seventh-eight century A. D. Buddhism had official protection in the time of great Kashmir King Lalitaditya Muktapeeda. Lalitaditya served both Hindus as well as Buddists in Kashmir. After this, Buddhism because of its inherent weaknesses started decaying in Kashmir. Kalhana writes that Raja Shankara Varmana's wife Sugandha was nurtured in the Nishpalaka Vihara. Maharaj Kshemgupta ( 950-958 A. D. ) was a famous Shaivaite and he raised the Jaindera Vihara to ground and with its stones he built a massive temple to lord Shiva. Acharya Abhinavgupta, the famous scholar of Kashmir Shaivism and Indian literary criticism was one of the most important Shaivist scholars of this time. Queen Didha and the kings who followed her did very little to promote Buddhism in Kashmir. Buddhist Viharas had already started decaying morally. During the reign of Lohara dynasty in Kashmir, there was a brief attempt to revive Buddhism in Kashmir. But by the time of King Harshvardhan the Buddhist sun in Kashmir had set. Kalhana ( who seems to have had great respect for Buddhism) calls Harshvardhan as a ' Malecha. ' Kalhana's history has shown a lot of respect for Buddhist rule in Kashmir. Buddhism had come under the influence of Kashmir Shakatmata and slowly it was breathing its last. One can have ample references about this fact in the literary writings of Kshemendra and Somadeva.

After going through this bird's eye view of the deveiopment and decay of Buddhism in Kashmir, one is supposed to conclude that amongst the main centres of Buddhist learnings, Kashmir has an important place. It was through Kashmir that Buddhism spread to Ladakh and Tibet. Pt. Rahul Sanskrityayana writes about a tell-tale episode about this fact. Tibetian King Shiyan Shung's son Jnanprabha was a Buddhist and he did not see eye to eye with the Tibetian form of Tantarika Buddhism. He selected twenty one intelligent, young scholars and taught them Buddhism for ten years. Then he sent them for higher education to Kashmir. But during the hard winters of Kashmir, these scholars, except for Rattanbhadra Suprajnya could not survive the rigours of winter. Rattanbhadra is still remembered as one of the greatest translators and scholars of Tibetian Buddhism. Acharya Vasubandhu, known as second Buddha-author of Abhidharma Kosha reached the pinnacle of his fame only when he came to Kashmir. It is said that he came to Kashmir to study one of the main Buddhist philosophies Sarvastivada. He belonged to Peshawar and his Abhidharma Kosha is still safe in sixty volumes in Chinese language. Likewise the other famous Buddhist scholar by name Vasubhadra is also referred to. It is said that he entered Kashmir as psuedo insane and learned by heart Vibhasha Shastra of Saravastivada and then went back to Ayodhya, where he made his knowledge known to various Indian scholars.

Kashmir has been the birth place of many Buddhist scholars. One of the eight main scholars of famous Buddhist Vihara, Vikramshila, was Smrityakara Siddha, who was Kashmiri. Who spread ' Madhyamika', ' Satyashidi ' and Nirvana forms of Buddhism in China was Pt. Kumar Vijaya - a Kashmiri, who was disciple of famous Buddhist scholar Bandhudutta. There is a long list of Kashmiri scholars who were either connected with Buddhism or influenced by it like Jayanta Bhatta, Vamana Bhatta, Damodaragupta, Kshirswamina, Bhatta Udbhatta, Vasugupta, Bhatta Kalata, Kayyata, Abhinavagupta, Kshemaraja, Mammata, Kalhana, Yogaraja, Bilhana, Somdeva etc.

The influence of Buddhism on life is very deep. Buddhism, though born in India could not wipe-out Hindu religion from Indian life, instead it itself got so deeply enmeshed up in Hindu religion and philosophy that it is difficult to isolate it, and it also gave Hinduism a new shape. In fact Dr. Radhakrishnan has said that Buddha was born, reared up and died as a Hindu. ' Tathagata ' actually was a reincarnation of highest ideals and philosophies of India and Aryans. He was not born to vanquish, but to nurture. One can very safely say that Buddha was the prepounder of modern Hinduism and it is probably because of this that he was included in the Hindu pantheon.

With reference to Kashmir, even the Shaiva philosophy of this state has been influenced by Buddhism. It is said that when Kanishka donated the entire Kashmir to 'Sangha', the Brahmins rose against it. Kalhana says that it was at this that Nagarjuna with the use of his official support and scholarship tried to spread Buddhism far and wide in Kashmir. He opposed the various religious cults of Neelmata Purana and defeated in discussion the Shaivite Brahmins. This resulted into fierce struggle between Shaivites and Buddhists. One of the major results of this struggle went in favour of Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmiri Shaivism was till then a knowledge carried from teacher to disciple by word of mouth only. It was at this time that the first written document of this philosophy was born. It is said that this first written form of Kashmiri Shaivism was prepared by a famous Brahmin, 'Yogi Chandradev' (1st Century A.D.). In fact according to Mr. K. C. Pandey's Abhinavagupta, this is the only historical fact in Kalhana's Rajatarangani. This fact has been supported by Vardharaja who wrote a commentary on Vamagupta's famous treatise ' Shivasutra'. In fact all the three main forms of ' Trika ' philosophy - ' Agam Shastra ', ' Spanda Shastra' and ' Pritivhijna Shastra ' have been tremondously influenced by Buddhist Philosophy.

In this regard, we must refer to Shankaracharya ( 8th Century AD ). He had come to Kashmir and was deeply influenced by the Shaiva and Buddhist philosophies, Buddhist religious power, Sangha system and the idealistic ' Matha' system of this place. Shankara's theory of Maya and different aspects of truth seems to be the influence of Buddhism. Some scholars say that Kashmiris are basically non-vegetarian, but it is the influence of Buddhism that has made them strict vegiterians on certain important days of the year like ' Ashtami', 'Amavasya ', ' Ekadashi ' and 'Khirbhawani Mela. ' Besides this, muslims of this place also have vegeterian days on the Rishi Molsaheb and ' Batmalu Saheb's day in Anantnag and Srinagar district respectively. But this could be the influence of ' Vaishnavite ' because almost the whole of Buddhist world is non-vegeterian today. Buddha himself died of eating pork. Buddha in fact did not approve of killing. He even disapproved of the watching of killing, but he never forbade eating meat.

Buddhism influenced the religious rights of Kashmiri Hindus. Even today during ' Yajnas ' and ' Pujas,' Buddhist ' Trirattanas' are propritiated. The Kashmiris like' Prajnaparmita ', 'Tara' 'Buddhamata ','Jineshwary', ' Jinmata ', ' Vajrahasta ', ' Lochana ', etc. Even today the tradition of presenting scrolls to their ' Jitmana ' by Kashmiri on New Year's day - ' Navreh ' is a Buddhist tradition.

One of the most important influence of Buddhism in Kashmir is on muslims of this place. Buddhists had a tradition of 'Chaityas' and ' Stupas'. But once they were raised to ground, the muslims have continued the tradition in their own Islamic manner. Although Islam prohibits such religious cults, muslims of Kashmir still continue to follow the Buddhist tradition. One of the world famous mosque ' Hazartbal ' has a relic, the sacred hair of Prophet Mohammed. It seems that it was mostly Buddhists who got converted to Islam in Kashmir. Buddhism influenced the Kashmiri literary and philosophical traditions also. One can very easily point it out in Kashmiri sufi and sant poets. Dr. S. C. Roy believes that bead-telling, ' fan of philosophy ' and different postulates - ' Makamat ' etc. of sufism are heavily influenced by Buddhism and Indian philosophies. Kasmiri folk literature too is influenced by Buddhism.

Buddhism has influenced to a large extent Kashmiri architecture. Buddhist architecture in Kashmir has three clear divisions - First is the architecture of Harwan ( Srinagar ) of third century B. C. This belongs to Indo-Parthian style. After this we have the architecture of Kushana king Hushka in first Century A. D., who raised the city of ' Hushkapura.' In this Gandhara style was followed. The architecture and sculptural remains found at Pandrethan near Srinagar belongs to Gupta style. There the sculpture of Mahamaya ( Buddha's mother ) along with her sisters before the birth of Lord Buddha is a significant find. In this, she is wearing in her ears an ornament ( Dejeharu ) which is worn even today by married Kashmiri Hindu women. This special type of ear ornament is supposed to be the influence of Naga tradition in Kashmir. This fact leads to the conclusion that Buddhism came under local influence.

Kashmir was under the influence of Buddhism for almost a thousand years. That is why we have even today the remains of Buddhist influence. Most of the Viharas about which Kalhana has given details have not been located so far. But it is certain that they are spread over the whole of Kashmir valley. There are certain Viharas whose locations have been pin-pointed. Some of them are-' Jalora Vihara ' at Zalur Zainageer (Sopore in Baramulla Dist.), ' Vitastatra ' is today's ' Vyathavotur ' in Anantnag district. King Ashoka (different from the great King Ashoka of Maurya dynasty) had built a' stupa' in today's Budgam; queen Shukdevi had built a Vihara in Srinagar at a place named ' Nadvana '. Vihara is not seen today, but the word ' Nadvana ' got changed into ' Narvora ' which is one of the oldest parts of old Srinagar City. Huang Suang has written about a ' Jainder Vihara ' near Srinagar City, which had a huge Buddha idol in it. Huang Suang had stayed in this Vihara, but its place is still a matter of dispute. Besides these there are many places in Kashmir which remind us of Buddhism and its influence on Kashmir like, ' Parihaspora ', ' Anderkut ', ' Ahen ' (Sumbal), ' Khandhbhawan ' (Srinagar), 'Rattani Pura ', ' Harwan ' , 'Raithan ', etc. etc.

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