Kashmir: Garden of the Sages

Kashmir: Garden of the Sages

Origin of  Kashmir

According to Pandit Kalhan's Rajatarangini, the present Valley of Kashmir used to be an enormous lake called Satisar. The great sage Kashyapa prayed for a long time to Maheshwara to provide him dry land out of this lake. His supplication was accepted, and Lord Vishnu taking the form of a unicorn (varah) pierced the mountain at north-west at a place called Varehmula now Baramulla. The great volumes of water flowed down and the land emerged from underneath the sheet of water, now named Kashmir after the sage. Even in the earlier records like Nilamata Purana, the same story is told. The Hindus of India regarded the Valley to be the abode of Shiva and Shakti. It remained a place of great reverence, and Brahmins engaged in Vedic scholarship and lore came from all over and settled in the Valley. Thus the whole Valley was inhabited by Brahmins, giving it the name; 'Garden of the Sages' (Reshih-waer). It came to be regarded as the sacred land of Hindus -- what Jerusalem is to Christians and Jews." Varanasi and Kashmir are the High Schools of Hindu Science", wrote Medieval historian, Al-Beruni, 1017-1030.

Adi Sankaracharya

In tracing the cultural history of ancient India, no genuine scholar and researcher can overlook the importance of Kashmir. A vital clue in this connection is the developrnent of Sanskrit language and literature in Kashmir through its learned and puritanical Brahmins. It was this special feature which had attracted Adi Sankaracharya to do penance on top the Sankaracharya mountain in Srinagar, where his temple exists even to this day, though in recent times, Muslims have laid a claim to its foundation.


In the field of philosophy, Abhinav Gupta, the celebrity in his field remains the greatest propounder of Shaivism, the philosophy nurtured and perpetuated by a large number of Kashmiri Brahmin saints and scholars. Seldom has a deep philosophy of divine powers influenced a society as did Shaivism influence the Kashmiri mind. For Kashmiri Hindus, Shivratri, the night of union of Shiva and Shakti has immortal significance, for Shiva embodies in Himself, the power as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. On this trefoil hinges the entire concept of universe. In the system of Hindu philosophy, contributions of Kashmir Shaivites have a unique place.


In true spirit of tolerance and enquiry, Kashmiri Hindus became receptive to the message of Buddha when it was relayed. They accepted it, and accepted Buddha as incarnation of Vishnu. Buddhism found flourishing in Kashmir whose kings and lords diverted their attention towards the promulgation of Buddha's teachings. Ancient Kashmiris raised 'mathas' for the monks now called 'mar' ( as Zenmar = Jeevan + Matha or Ahlmar = Ahalya + Matha or Anzimar = Anjana + Matha) and 'viharas',the Buddhist temples, now reduced to 'yar' as suffix like Ganpatyar =Ganpati + Vihara, or Kralayar = Krareshwara + Vihara or Somyar = Soma + Vihara etc. They built hospices for Buddhist recluses like Bodgair = Buddha +Graha or Buddha's house.

The credit of carrying the message of Buddha to contiguous lands to the north-west and north, goes to Kashmiri scholars. Kamalshree, the famous Kashmiri Buddhist missionary in Ladakh, Tibet and Central Asian regions of Kashgharia etc. has found adequate notice in the chronicles of those lands. The Bodhis of Ladakh and farther used to visit the Jama Masjid site in Nowhatta, Srinagar until recent years and circumvent the mosque, which according to their accounts was a great seat of Buddhist learning in ancient times, and the famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hiun Tsiang had stayed in it. In the famous fire-temple of Balkh in Afghanistan ( Vedic name Bhakri) later on converted to Buddhist temple and given the name of Nava Vihara (Navbahar) in Persian histories, the Kashmiri Brahmins called Pramukh kept the candles burning.

Temple Architecture

Perhaps the most important and laudable contribution of ancient Kashmiri Hindus to Indian civilization is in the field of temple architecture and iconography. The ruins of stone temples at Martand (the Sun Temple) at Avantipora, at Pattan, Tapar and Boniyar in Baramulla eloquently speak of skill and craftsmanship of master architects and sculptors. The life size statues of Buddha in various 'mudras' (poses) preserved in the State Museum in Srinagar, the Boddhisattvas and terra-cotta artifacts of Buddhist character have added dimension to Indian civilization. If these temples had not been subjected to wanton destruction in the name of Islamic religion, and if the icons had been spared the wrath of fundamentalism and fanaticism, then of course, Kashmir would have been foremost as a great centre of iconographic and temple architectural excellence.

To this should also be added the bronze work of idols that is recovered from private collections from time to time. In the British museum in London. there is a separate section of Kashmir art-finds in which materials from Ushkor in Baramulla and Pandrethan (Purana-adhishthana) near Srinagar have been preserved. The wonderful architecture at Wangat in Lar valley is unique in itself. On the foundation of these temples, and with their huge stones, the Muslims conquerers later have built their mosques.

Medical Sciences

In the field of surgery and veterniary science, ancient Kashmiris had made contributions and Al-Beruni writes in Indica (Matil-Hind) that Kashmiri surgeons and physicians were compelled to accompany Greek troops of Alexander when they were returning from their Indian campaign. In the of Gundishapur in Iran, there was a department of Indian medicine and surgery in which the texts of Susrud, Wagbhatta and Charak were taught. These also carried the prescriptions of Kashmiri physicians and surgeons including veterniary doctors. Their important contribution lay in their use of local herbs for medicinal use. Persian histories tell us that Zainul Abidin, Bud Shah, was afflicted wilh some serious disease in his youth, and it was saint-physician Shri Bhatt who cured him.


History tells us that it was Suyya, the marvellous hydraulic engineer who conceived the idea of drudging river Vitasta at a particular place to clear obstruction to its rapid flow and save the land from floods. The place has come to be known after him, viz. Suyyapur or Sopore of present day. King Lalitaditya ordered the digging of several canals to bring water to paddy fields; the Tsaont Kol is among his works. The Hindu rulers built hundreds of hamlets, bridges and temples, many existing after their names like Letpur by Lalitaditya? Renwor (Raina Wari) by Ranaditya, Tapar by Tapaditya, Harwan by Shadrawahan, Kanispora by Kanishka, Ushkara by Hovishka and so forth and so on.

General Scholarship

Modern Indian historians have paid glorious tributes to the celebrated Kashmiri historian Kalhan Pandit for writing the first detailed history in Sanskrit. His is a pioneering work-Rajatarangini. Of course, many historians preceeded him, like Chhavlakar and Khemendra. Nilamata Purana and mahatmayas are of tremendous value as historical geographies produced by Kashmiri Hindus. Under the Mughal and Afghan occupation of Kashmir, the Hindus learnt Persian language with earnestness that soon they began producing excellent prose and poetry in it. They translated many Sanskrit works into Persian, and as skilled calligraphists, prepared illustrated texts of some major Persian works like those of Ferdowsi, Nizami and other romantic poets.

Modern India

Coming to more recent times, it needs to be mentioned that Kashmiri Pandit families who migrated to parts of India as a result of political oppression in Kashmir, took keen interest in the political affairs of the country, The houses of Nehrus, Saprus, Kathjus, Kouls, and Kaulas and dozens of others are of considerable significance in Indian history. There have been eminent public men, lawyers, judges, soldiers, scientists and artists among them. Some surgeons and physicians have made their name. Bansi Koul, thc famous contemporary artist carved out a place for himself among the celebrities of this land.

The Present Plight

In short, it has to be said that this community has had a glorious past when they were allowed to live in peace and strive in the Valley. They contributed in almost all walks of life, arts, language, literature, religion , philosophy, natural sciences etc. etc. Today, history has brought them to the brink of destruction as victims of Islamic fanaticism and terrorism. India has to uphold the banner of secular rule in Kashmir so that Democracy and Secularism in the rest of the country may prosper.

Published by:
World Vision 2000
Understanding our Heritage
Indo-American Kashmir Forum

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