A Brief Survey
by Dr. Ved Kumari Ghai
The Nilamata is a Kashmiri Purana referred to by Kalhana as one of the sources of the ancient history of Kasmira. Buhler, whom goes the credit of saving its manuscripts, states on page 41 of his Report, "It great value lies therein that it is a real mine of information regarding the sacred places of Kashmir and their legends which are required to explain the Rajatarangini and that it shows how Kalhana has used his sources". But as a matter of fact the Nilamata gives besides, the account of sacred places, a lot of information about the Kasmiri way of living. The picture of ancient 'Kasmira' presented by its study is not complete and compact, still it is significant for its value which is supplementary to that of the Rajatarangini. While the Rajatarangini acquaints us with kings, queens and ministers of 'Kasmira', the Nilamata generally speaks of common men in their homes, streets, gardens and temples. The life of the common people, the food and drinks they took, the amusements they resorted to, the currents of religious thoughts they followed and the rites and ceremonies they performed throughout the year are described therein. If the Rajatarangini is important from the point of view of the political history of 'Kasmira', the Nilamata is no less important for the cultural history of that part of the country.
Kalhana (12th Century A.D.) refers to it as a work of great antiquity. The absence of the term 'avatara' and the use of the term 'Pradurbhava' for incarnation of gods, non-mention of Kalki, Krisna's consort Radha and the sacred leaf of Tulasi, mention of Buddha as an incarnation of Visnu in a spirit of catholicity and the incorporation of its various verses into the Brahma Purana long before the time of Laksmidhara (1104-1154 A.D.) further indicate its early date. The textual study of the work shows that some alterations and additions have been made in it after the ninth or tenth century A.D. in order to incorporate into it the monistic Saiva Philosophy of Kasmira. Had the Nilamata been composed after the ninth century A.D. there would have been no scope for such change. The lower limit of the date thus may be eigth century A. D. and the upper one about the sixth century A.D. as Buddha began to be regarded as an incarnation of Visnu from about 550 A.D.
Out-line of the contents
The Nilmata opens with Janamejaya's enquiry from Vaisampayana as to why the king of 'Kasmira' did not participate in the war of Mababharata although his kingdom was not less important than any other in the country. Vaisampayana states that some time before the Mababharata war was fought, king Gonanda of Kasmira had been invited by his relative Jarasandha to help him in a war against the yadavas. Gonanda complied with his request and was slain on the battle field by Krsna's brother, Bala. In order to avenge his father's death, Gonanda's son Damodara went to Gandhara to fight with Krsna who had gone there to attend a Svayamvara. Krsna killed Damodara in the fight but taking into consideration the high sanctity of Kasmira, he coronated his rival's pregnant widow Yasovati. Damodara's Posthumous son Bala Gonanda was a minor at the time of the great war, so he did not join either the Kauravas or the Pandavas.
Vaismpayana points out the importance of 'Kasmira' by referring to its numerous charms and its identification with Uma. He points out further that the valley was originally a lake known as Satisaras. This leads to the question about the origin of 'Kasmira' to which Vaisanipayana replies by relating a dialogue held previously between Gonanda and the sage Brahadasva.
Brahadasva gives at first the account of the divisions of time, the destruction of the world at the end of manvantara, the presevation of Manu and the seeds in a ship, the birth of the land and the lake, of Sati, the origin of various tribes from Kasyapa and Visnu's allottment of Satisaras to the Nagas. Then follows the story of the demon Jalodbbava born in the waters and reared by the Nagas. Having obtained boons from Brahma, the demon began to destroy the descendants of Manu dwelling in the lands of Darvabhisara, Gandbars Jubundura, the Sakas, the Khasas etc. Seeing this devastation, Nila the king of the Nagas approached his father Kasyapa and prayed to him to intercede with the gods to punish the evil-doer and to save the innocent victims. He requested the gods, Brahma, Visnu and Siva to do the needful. Visnu followed by Brahma, Siva and various other deities, proceeded to Naubandhana to punish the demon. The demon was imperishable in the waters; so Visnu asked Ananta to make an outlet for the waters by breaking forth the mountain-barriers. He did accordingly. Visnu then cut off the demon's head with his disc. Now the dry land being available in the valley, Kasyapa expressed the desire that it should be inhabited by the Nagas as well as by the descendants of Manu. The Nagas, however, flatly refused to have Manavas as their co-habitants. Filled with rage Kasyapa cursed them to live with the Pisacas. At the request of Nila the curse was modified to the extent that the Pisacas would go every year for a period of six months to the sea of sand and the Manavas would live in the land jointly with the Nagas during that period. Visnu further assured the Nagas that the occupation of Kasmira valley by the Pisacas would last for four ages only.
After the passing away of the four ages, the Manavas, as usual, had gone out for six months. An old Brahmana, Candradeva did not accompany them. Troubled by the Pisacas he approached the Naga King Nila and begged of him to ordain that 'Kasmira' might henceforth be inhabited by Manavas without the fear of emigration. Nila complied with this request on the condition that the Manavas should follow his instructions revealed to him by Kesava. Candradeva lived for six months in the palace of Nila and was initiated into the mysteries of rites or ceremonies prescribed by Nila. In Caitra, when the emigrant population of 'Kasmira' came back, he related the whole incident to Virodaya - king of Manavas. The lengthy dialogue held between Nila and Candradeva describes sixty five rites. ceremonies and festivals many of which are similar to those mentioned in other Puranic works and observed in many parts of India, while a few are peculiar to Kasmira only. At Janamejaya's enquiry as to what Gonanda had asked after listening to the teachings, another dialogue between Gonanda and Brhadasva follows. Gonanda expresses his desire to know the names of the principal Nagas dwelling in Kasmira and Brahadasva enumerates not fewer than Sir hundred Nigas. He expresses his inability to enumerate all the Nagas, as their number was too great. He further refers to four Nagas, the guardians of directions and relates the story of the Naga Sadangula and the Naga Mahapadma.
Then follows Gonauda's enquiry about the sacred places of Kasmira and Brhadasva's reply referring to various places dedicated to Siva and other deities. Two names Bhutesvara and Kapatesvara raise Gonanda's curiosity which leads Brhadasva to relate Bhutesvara Mahatmya and Kapatesvara Mahatmya. Then follows the enumeration of the sacred places of Visnu and other tirthas situated in the valley of Kasmira. Thereafter is given the eulogy of the river Vitasta and the work ends with the remark that, as this treatise in the form of a dialogue between Janamejaya and Vaisampayana was not useful everywhere (i. e. was of local interest mainly), Vyasa did not include it in the Maha Bharata lest that should become too exhaustive.
Birth of 'Kasmira'
The Nilamata legend of the origin of 'Kasmira' as a result of the draining off of the lake, occurs in Kalhana's Rajatarangini, and in a bit changed form, in the Mahavamsa, the Chinese Vinaya of the Mula Sarvastivadin sect and in the account of the travels of Hiuen Tsang. Whether it was the basin-like shape of the valley of 'Kasmira' which suggested this legend or the memory of some old age when the area of Kasmira under water was more than what it is now, was responsible for it, cannot be stated with certainty; but it is interesting to know that the geological observations made in recent times corroborate the assertion made in the Nilamata.
The lowest point in the valley with high mountain walls on all sides is 5200 feet high above the sea level, and the lowest pass in the Pirpancal range, forming its outer boundary, is 3000 feet above the valley. The only outlet for the drainage of the valley is the narrow rock-gorge at Baramula.
Now nearly half of the area of this basin-shaped valley is occupied by the Karewas (Flat-topped mounds composed of clay and silt with thin layers of greenish sand) and the present view to quote D. N. Wadia regards "the Karewas as the surviving remnants of deposits of a lake or series of lakes which once filled the whole valley basin from end to end". Of course it will be going too far to suggest that some geological tests were at the basis of this legend. The most plausible hypothesis is that the idea of the great lake was suggested by the basin-like shape of the valley and after this, it was just one step more in the making of mythology to attribute the drainage of water through an outlet in sandstone wall of the western corner of the basin, to a divinity like Ananta.
Like other puranic works, the Nilamata also deals with geography of the world and mentions seven Dvipas, namely Jambu, Saka, Kusa, Kraunca, Salmali, Gomeda and Puskara. Of these seven, Jambudvipa as nine Varsas namely Uttarakuru, Ramya, Hairanvata Badrasva, Ketumala, Ilavrta, Harivarsa, Kimpursa and the last one i. e. Bharataversa alone seems to present India proper. More significant is the information about the tirthas particularly of Kasmira, mentioned in four lists occurring in the later half of the work. These lists are of special interest for the geography of Kasmira but it also deserves to be noted that the reference being too brief it is not possible to identify most of the place-names, especially those which are not mentioned in Kalhana's Rajatarangini or some other work of geographical value. It is also interesting to note the similarity of the nomenclature of Kasmira as found in the Nilamata with that of other parts of India. It seems that the people who had come from various parts of India to inhabit the valley of Kashmira named its beautiful spots after the tirthas farriliar to them, they thus recognized prayaga the holy confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna in the coofluence of the Vitasta and the Sindhu and regarded the area extending from Trikotisangama to Har and from the confluence of the Pavana and the Rajobinduvinimala to Ciramocana, as holy as Varanasi. The names like Sarasvati Rsikulya, Ramahrada, Bhrgutunga, Mundaprastha, Citrakuta, Bharatagiri Kamatirtha of Kasmira are also names of various tirthas of other arts of India.
About the inhabitants of ancient Kashmira, the Nilmata has preserved highly valuable information. The original inhabitants of be valley were the Nagas; then came the Pisacas and the Manavas. Being the original occupants of Kasmira, the Nagas did not like introduction of the Pisacas or the Manavas into the valley, but tbe selection was to be made between these two, they preferred Manavas to the Pisacas. The other tribes which are described occupying the neighbouring countries are the Madras (inhabitants the modern Sialkot and the surrounding regions between the Irava and the Chandrabhaga) the Darvas (inhabitants of Darva identified with the districts of Jammu and Ballavar) the Abhisaras (inhabitants of modern Punch and the area near it) the Gandharas (inhabitants of Peshawar, Rawalpindi etc.), Juhundaras probably same as Jaguda (inhabitants of Afghanistan), the Sakas, the Khasas, the Tarigams, Mandavas, the Antargiris and the Bahirgiris. Indirect mention of Yavanas is also made in the Naga name Yavanapriya.
Social, Political and Economic Life
Regarding social, economic and political life in Kashmira the Nilamata has brought to light a few interesting points. The Brahamanas, especially those who were "Itihasavidah" and "Kalavidah" were highly honoured, but the Sudras too were not considered degraded. The humane treatment mcted out to the servants is a pleasant feature of social organisation of Kashmira revealed by the Nilamata. The Nilamata often includes the servants also in the list of the persons in whose company the house-holder feasts and enjoys. The artisans like weavers and carpenters etc. commanded so much respect in the society as to exchange gifts with the higher varnas during the Mahimana celebrations. The very fact that the Nilamata describes the Sudras as taking part in the coronation ceremony of the king indicates that they were not cansidered debased.
Another enlivening feature of the Kashmiri social life as seen in the Nilamata is the position of women. Nowhere is she considered "the living torch illuminating the way to hell", or the devourer of the intellect of men. There is no reference to any veil worn by her and she moves quite freely in the society emulating as it were the free moving sparkling waters of the springs of the country. In the moon-lit night of Kaumudi Mahotsava we find her sitting beside the sacred fire in the company of her husband, children, servants and husband's friends, although it is not clear as to whether she is merely a silent spectator or she takes active part in the musical and dramatic performances given during this night. She is present in the common feast which takes place on the next day. Not only in the festivals celebrated at home, but also in the outdoor festivals, she is seen enjoying herself. The peasant's wife is lucky enough to participate in the joyous festival celebrated in the refreshing open fields of nature in connection with the ploughing of the fields and sowing of seed. The Nilamata does not deny water-sports to the ladies of Kasmira. The young maidens, it says, "should specially play in the waters" during the celebrations of Sravani festival. Playing with men folk is allowed to women. "The joyful ladies", it says "dressed in their best attire, perfumed with scents and decorated with ornaments should sport in the company of men on the last day of Mahimana celebrations." The ladies of the home are honoured on various occasions. On the full moon day of Margasirasa, the gift of a pair of red clothes is prescribed for a Brahmana lady, for the sister, for the paternal aunt and for the friend's wife. The mention of the presentation of gifts to friend's wife is quite significant as it could have been possible only in a free atmosphere where women were allowed to move freely with no restrictions on their receipt of gifts from their husband's friends.
As regards their place in the religious life, they are not only allowed to accompany their husbands in the performance of various rites and ceremonies but are also enjoined upon to perform singly some rites specially prescribed for them. The predominance of the Goddesses in the religion depicted in the Nilamata is another factor pointing to the high status of women. The very land of 'Kasmira' is a mother Goddess 'Kasmira', a form of Uma. Numerous references are made to courtesans in connection with the description of festivals. The use of a simile comparing 'Kasmira' with a temple due to the presence of tender ladies indicates the popularity of the institution of Devadasis or temple-dancers.
On the whole, the Nilamata offers a pleasant picture of women of 'Kasmira'. As a daughter she was trained in fine arts and was allowed to move freely in the society. By giving her in marriage, the father obtained religious merits. As a wife she was loved and honoured by her husband and as a mother she shone with her sons who revered her highly. A would be mother could even be installed on the throne on the demise of her son-less husband-king.
This unconventional account of the women of 'Kasmira' is quite different from the account available in other Puranas and so it gives a distinctive character of the Nilamata.
Entertaining of guests is another notable feature of the social life of Kasmira depicted in the Nilamata. Even the king is enjoined upon to honour the immigrants from all the quarters.
The people were fond of music, dancing, drama and other means of recreations, which indicates their general prosperity depending upon agriculture aod trade. The general terms used for the musical instruments are Vadya, Vaditra and Vadyabhanda. We find reference to Vina (the modern hundred stringed Santoor of 'Kasmira' is probably satatantrivina or Vana referred to in the Taittriya Samhita), Venu (flute) Sankba ( conch), Pataha ( Drum ) and Muraja ( tambourine ). Dances were performed on religious occasions and in social gatherings held in honour of seasonal and agricultural festivals. The words "Preksa" mentioned in the Nilamata refers to the tricol performances. The Nilamata mentions also a peculiar Phrase "Preksadana" literally meaninp "the gift of a dramatic performance". It seems to have denoted "a gift made for the arrangement of a dramatic show". There may have existed some dramatic clubs which have such shows on demand and the injunction of "Yathavidhi preksadana" i. e. the gift for the arrangement of a dramatic show made in the proper procedure, may have been made with reference to them.
As regards the art of image-making, the Nilamata refers to images made of stone, clay, gold, silver, copper, brass, wood, sand, straw and ghee. References are made to printings on the cloth, the wall and the ground. The people are directed to decorate the Caityas with beautiful paints on lord Buddha's birthday. A circular pattern is drawn on the ground on which a 'Kashmira' bridegroom had to stand before entcring for his marriage the house of the bride. This is a direct descendant of bhumisodha mentioned in the Nilamata.
Of the items of dress, mention may be made of pravarana which seems to be the same as pravara mentioned in the Mahabharaata as a cloth offering protection against cold. Kashmiri pheran is most probably derived from pravarana.
Meat seems to have been a popular item of diet otherwise there would have been no necessity of prohibiting strongly the eating of meat for five days dedicated to the worship of Visnu. Wine is recommended as a drink on new snow-fall day and Iraman Jari Pujana.
In the sphere of political thought, there existed a belief in the divinity of kingship along with the theory that law is superior to the king. It is stated in a verse that the king of 'Kasmira' is a part of Hara and should not be disobeyed. The same verse is quoted by Kalhana with the significant expression "even a wicked one" added to the king. Compared with Bhisma's statement in the Mahabharata that a virtuous king is truly a god, this difference of statement of the Rajatarangini from that of the Nilamata shows a gradual development of the theory of absolute monarchy. The survival of a few republican elements is also indicated by the terms pradhana and ganamukhya.
Concerning religious life it shows not only the other cults adopting the Naga deities but also the Naga cult bringing the deities of other cults into its fold. Bhava Mahadva and Sambhu which are names of Siva, Guha and Kumara which are names of Siva's son, Narayana and the four yuhas Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Anirudha and Pradyumna, the epic heroes Rama, Lakshmana and Yudhisthira all appear in the Naga list of the Nilamata. On the whole the Nilamata reveals the spirit of compromise and synthesis in the field of religion. The Brahmanic deities, the Nagas, tbe pisacas, the Buddha all receive their due share of worship from the inhabitants of 'Kasmira'. The followers of cults are stated to be free to worship their respective deities but the different deities are described as honouring one another and thus creating an atmosphere in which various cults are united.
In the field of philosophical thinking the Nilamata presents the same theistic samkhya which appears in the epics and other Puranas. It would be going too far to suggest that it contains the tenets of the Moniastic Saiva philosophy of 'Kasmira'. It is clear that the cult of Visnu, Brahman, Siva, Surya, Durga, Nagas, Buddha etc. flourished side by side in the time of the Nilamata Vaisnavism no doubt occupies a prominent place in this work but there is no indication of the creator of the creator, illuminating Brahma. Uma is the mother antagonistic attitude towards other cults. In the field of philosophical thoughts the Nilamata presents also a compromise regarding the problem of creation; it uses the terminology of the Samkhya referring to Indriyas, Indriyarthas, Mababhutas Manas, Buddhi, Atma, Avyakta and Purusa; but it does not accept its atheistic metaphysics. The five gross physical elements-Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether - which may stand for the solid, liquid, gaseous, aerial and ethereal states of matter, are stated to be the supporters of the world, but behind these is seen the working of the force of the Supreme Spirit. The epithet "Cause of the causes of the world" applied to Visnu and Brahma indicates that along with the Supreme Spirit, the final cause, there is also Prakriti, the immediate cause of the world. At one place, Shiva's epithet "Saksivat sthitah" sounds like that Sankhya Purusa but unlike the latter He is regarded as the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer of the world. Three qualities of Rajas, Sattva and Tamas are also referred to and are associated with the power of creation, protection and destruction.
The theology of the Nilamata is replete with numerous gods and goddesses. The trinity of Brahma, Visnu and Siva plays due role but there are others like Indra, Varuna, Yama, Karttikeya, Baladeva; Asvina, Martits, Visvedevas, Vasus, Yaksas, Nagas, Gandharvas, Prthivi, Surabhi, Sita, Saci, Laksmi, Uma, Syama, Bharati, Prajna, Mati etc. The tendency of describing one deity as the highest among others at one time and transferring the same epithet to the other at another time is clearly perceptible in the praises of Brahma, Visnu, Siva, Nila and the goddesses Uma and Laksmi. At some places, Visnu is praised as the best amongst the gods, unfathomable, the highest, the eternal, the refuge of all gods, the lord of the gods, cause of the causes of the world, the lord of three worlds, worshipped by Siva, praised by Brahma, but at other places Brahma is described as the cause of the causes of the world, the lord of three worlds, the lord of the god of the gods, the lord of all, the omniscient, the real force behind all the elements, the preceptor of the world and the sustainer of the world. Siva is also eulogised as the preceptor of the world, the lord of world, the lord of the gods, the lord of the god of the gods, and the highest lord.
Even the Naga deity Nila is described as the lord of the gods, the creator of the creator, illuminating Brahma. Uma is the mother of all gods, higher than Sarva, and Laksmi is raised to the highest position by saying that all the goddesses are her forms.
The idea that the whole world is God or a manifestation of God is also present in the Nilamata. The whole earth is a form of the goddess Sati. The earth, the water, the air, the sky, the fire, the sun, the moon, and the sacrificer, all these are regarded as eight forms of Siva.
The doctrine of monism, according to which there exists only a single principle from which everything is evolved, is also found in the Nilamata, Brahma in the Nilamata seems to have been identified with the Brahma of the Upanisadas, for He is recognized as the only element in the universe except whom there exists nothing. He is the knower and the thing to be known, the body and the soul, the meditator, the object of meditation and the meditation itself.
He is also of unknown birth. In the eulogy of Nila there is a reference to Brahma in the Upanisadic style. This Brahma is indivisible, imperishable and the highest. Due to its minuteness it is called Ether. The statement that it is minute as well as great, uncreated as well as possessed of limbs reminds one of similar statements found in the Katha and the Svetasvatara Upanisads. Of course, the Nilamata does not give us clear-cut monism; it has just paved the way for the Monistic Saiva Philosophy of Kasmira.
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