Sri Krishna and Kashmir
by J.N. Ganhar
SRI Krishna, together with Sri Rama, is one of the two most popular of our gods. Like Rama, Sri Krishna is an incarnation of God in human form. But while there are so many places known after Sri Rama, there hardly is a place in Jammu or Kashmir which has Krishna as part of its name. Nor for the matter of that are there any place of worship associated with the two gods; though in the Dogra times a number of temples to Sri Rama, or rather Rughnath temples, have been erected in Srinagar, Jammu and some other places. A few Radha Krishna temples were erected in Jammu city, Poonch and some other places. But no Radha Krishna temple exists anywhere in Kashmir. And this in spite of the fact that Sri Krishna has been very intimately associated with Kashmir at the very beginning of the valley's history.
Shri Abhinav Gupta, the greatest of the Shiva philosopher's of Kashmir, has written a brief and masterly commentary on the celestial song of Sri Krishna's - Bhagvadgita which is recited by Hindus of Kashmir on many occasions in their lives. In the 9th century, Avantivarman, the most illustrious and enlightened king of Kashmir, attained Nirvana after the recitation of Bhagvadgita got completed just before his death. After Abhinava Gupta, another celebrated Sanskrit writer, Kshemendra, has mentioned Sri Krishna as one of the incarnations of God in his Dasavtar Charita.
Sri Krishna's birth anniversary - Janam Ashtami - is celebrated with great pomp and religious fervour at scores of places throughout the valley, besides Jammu.
Artistically decorated tableaus depicting Sri Krishna's life are paraded at many places throughout the valley on the occasion of Janam Ashtami. In Kashmir, these yatras are known as Veda-Bhagwan. Besides some devout Hindus of Srinagar go to Guptganga at Ishber near the famous Mughal garden - Nishat Bagh to have a dip in the holy waters of the spring there. Some more ardent devotees ascend to the top of the steep mountain Sareshwari above Guptganga as part of the celebrations of Janam Ashtami.
During the Dogra rule, the birthday of Sri Krishna on Janam Ashtami day was announced by a gunfire from Hari Parbat Fort for the convenience of the devotees on fast. Besides, Ras Lillas and dramas were staged at many places in Kashmir.
The names of Sri Krishna and his consorts are very popular among Hindus of Kashmir. Even at present, we come across hundreds of Hindu males and females having these names.
Sri Krishna is an esteemed theme in the later day Kashmiri poets like Parmanand, Krishna Razdan, famous Radhaswami saint of Wanpoh Swami Gobind Jee and Harihar Koul. author of Harihar Kalyan, besides others.
The celebration of Sri Krishna's birthday in Kashmir dates back to the hoary past. Nilamata Purana describes the Janam Ashtami festival in verses 716 to 722. This ancient (sixth century A.D.) text informs us that the festival was to be celebrated on the eighth of the dark half of Bhadrapada. The images of Sri Krishna, his spouse and his mothers, Devaki and Yashoda, were to be worshipped. The next morning these were to be carried to the bank of a river or a lake for immersion. The ladies were to do so while singing and dancing. The occasion was to be observed as a fast and only barley food, along with preparations of sugarcane, pepper and ghee was to be eaten.
It has been stated above that Sri Krishna has been associated with Kashmir intimately at the beginnings of its rccordcd history. Readers will naturally like to know how this was so. There is a reference in Mahabharata of Panchal Naresh who was the father of Panchali (Draupadi). Some historians believe that the Panchal Naresh was the first king of the Pir Panchal belt which stretches from Kishtwar to Muzaffarabad in the Jammu and Kashmir State. Apart from the thought currents and religio- philosophical disquisitions originating on the banks of the sacred Ganga and the Yamuna, which found their echo in the far away valley, their ruling families were often connected by matrimonial alliances. This was the case at the beginning of the Mahabharata war. Accordingly, the Kashmir prince, Gonanda, went to help of his relative, Jarasamdha, with a large force, and laid siege to Krishna's city, Mathura. A grim battle ensued but ultimately when Sri Krishna's brother, Balbhadra, joined the fray, the brave Kashmir warrior, was killed.
Gonanda was followed by his son, Damodara. He was also a brave ruler who could not forget the fate his esteemed father had met at the hands of the Yadus. He, therefore, lay in wait for an opportunity to avenge the death of his father. This was not long in coming. Soon he learnt that the Yadus, including their chief, Sri Krishna, were invited to Swayamvara on the banks of the Sindhu (Indus) by the Gandharas. When the illustrious Damodara heard that the Yadus had come, he led an expedition against them but the proud prince met no better fate than his valient father; he too was killed.
Sri Krishna did, however, not incorporate Kashmir into his own domain. Kashmir then had a high reputation for sanctity; it was regarded as the manifestation of goddess Parvati. Sri Krishna, therefore, had Damodara's pregnant widow, Yashovati, installed on the throne. Yashovati is one of the first women to have occupied a throne in the history of the world. Naturally, therefore, many eye- brows were raised when Sri Krishna issued this unprecedented decree; but he calmed the grumbling advisers and asked them to look upon Yashovati as a mother and a goddess. And this is what the people did.
[The late Shri J.N. Ganhar was a member of the Central Information Service and a well-known author and columnist.]