THE HOME OF SANSKRIT LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
N. K Bamzai
most outstanding contribution of Kashmir to the rich and varied cultural
heritage of India has been the development and spread of the Sanskrit language
and literature. Besides, it was through this medium that humanities, philosophy,
religion, medicine, history, law and polity, in which Kashmiris made a mark,
were propagated not only in the rest of India, but in Central and Southeast Asia
too. With the development of Mahayan through the efforts of Kashmiri Brahmans
under the rule of Asoka and Kaniska, Kashmiri Buddhist monks, missionaries and
philosophers travelled in their hundreds over China, Korea, Japan and Tibet to
propagate Mahayan Buddhism and Indian culture among nearly half the population
of the world.
It is not possible to pierce the veil of time to trace
the origin of this ancient language. However the word Aryan which appears in the
Vedas perhaps gives a clue. The term Vedas embraces a body of writings the
origin of which is ascribed to divine revelation and surpass in antiquity every
other literary document belonging to the Aryans.
How and when Kashmir became the centre of Sanskrit
learning may be traced to the Aryans settled for ages on the banks of the mighty
Vedic river Saraswati in the Punjab which branched off to Rajasthan and
Saurashtra. With Sanskrit as their mother-tongue their society comprised the
four Varnas or Castes - Brahman, Khashtriya, Vaisas and Sudras.
About five thousand years ago the mighty Saraswati
changed its course and finally dried up. The Aryan settlements on its banks got
dispersed to different regions of India. One enterprising batch under the
leadership of the Brahmans went to nearby Kashmir and sought shelter from the
Naga ruler of Kashmir who allowed them to settle in the delectable Valley on
condition they adopted some of the festivals and usages of the Nagas.
Carrying with them Sanskrit, the repository of their
cultural heritage, they passionately devoted themselves to its study, enriching
it further through the writings of poets, dramatists and Vedic philosophers.
Sanskrit became the language of religion and polite literature and in the words
of Bilhana who lived as late as the 9th century A.D., even women in Kashmir
spoke Sanskrit fluently.
Kashmiri Pandits took pains "in keeping the
Sanskrit language pure and perfect." The Brahmanical religion finds its
practical expression in sacrificial performance. And the sacred obligation
incumbent on the Brahmans of rendering correctly the letter and sense of their
Vedic texts necessarily involved a good deal of serious grammatical and
They believed that grammar was the only instrument
which could take care of adhering to these texts and holding the entire Sanskrit
language and literature in their firm grip.
Hence Panini's monumental work on Sanskrit grammar, the
Ashtadhyayi became the object of their special study. This great work marks the
culminating point of grammatical research and besides treats chiefly the
post-Vedic or classical speech. Ashtadhyayi came ultimately to be looked upon as
the representative of grammatical science, and has ever since remained the
standard authority for Sanskrit grammar. For comprehensive grasp of linguistic
facts, and a penetrating insight into the structure of the language, this work
stands probably unrivalled in the literature of any nation.
An equally important contribution to Sanskrit grammar
was Mahabhasya, a commentary written in the second century B. C. by a Kashmiri
grammarian Patanjali. According to the Kashmiri tradition upheld by several
scholars, he was born in the village of Godra in the South of the Valley.
The Mahabhasya too has been commented upon by Kayatta
in his Bhasyapradipa.
That Kashmiris were keen to remain masters of Sanskrit
grammar is shown by the number of works authored by them on this subject.
Candracarya for instance founded through his work Candra-Vyakarna, a school of
Sanskrit grammar called Candra, second in importance to that of Panini.
Another commentary on Panini's work, Kasikavriti,
written jointly by Jayadata and Vamana, two Brahman grammarians, has been
mentioned by I-tsing in the seventh century A.D.
Kalhana refers to the study of Patanjali's grammatical
work Mahabhasaya under Jayapida towards the end of the eighth century A.D. His
teacher in grammar, Kshiraswamin, wrote his well-known commentary on Dhatupatha
or the study of verbs. That Kshiraswamin was a Kashmiri Pandit is proved by a
passage in the Vamastuty appended by Rajanaka Ananda to his commentary on
Naisadcarita, where he is claimed to be one of the great scholars produced by
the Rajanaka family of Kashmir.
In PROSODY and METRICS Kashmiri authors have made
valuable contribution to Sanskrit language and literature. Pinglacarya, the
author of the well-known work on METRICS, Pingala, was a Kashmiri and so was
KEDARA BHATTA who wrote Vrittaratnakara, used widely after Pingala. Tradition
makes the Chhanda-Sutra of Pingala, the starting point of Prosody. Another work
on Metrics was Suvritta-tilaka of the well-known Kashmiri author, Kshemendra.
Mamatta, his later contemporary, wrote a book entitled Savdavyaparacaraca. In
the field of LEXICOGRAPHY also Kashmiri Pandits' contribution is considerable.
The Anekarthakosa of Mankha is of special importance and is an improvement
ALANKARA SASTRA OR POETICS
Both according to their own account and according to
the admission of the learned in India, the Kashmiri Pandits were formerly as
distinguished in the 'Alankara-Sastra', or poetics, as in poetry and produced a
long series of writers on this subject.
There is nothing surprising about it for, in a
beautiful valley like Kashmir, the account must necessarily have been on the
pursuit of beauty in all its aspects. The Kashmirian writers did not only
develop some of the earlier schools of poetics that were born in other parts of
India such as a Rasa, Alankara, Riti, Vakroti and Aucatya but made original
contribution to this art with their theory of Dhvani.
The first propounder of this theory was Anandavardhana
who in his Dhvanyaloka asserts that it is Dhvani that is the soul of poetry.
According to Kane, "the Dhvanyaloka is an epoch-making work in the history
of Alankara literature. It occupies the same position in poetics as Panini's
Ashadhyayi in grammar and Sankracarya's commentary on Vedanta".
Anandavardhana's literary activity falls within the
years 860-890 AD, which almost coincides with the reign of King Avantivarman. It
may well be described as the most prosperous age in the political and cultural
history of ancient Kashmir. It was in this atmosphere of creative endeavour when
sculpture, music, architecture and poetry reached new heights, that
Anandavardhana found the inspiration for his epoch-making theory. His works
reveal the vast range of his studies. His interests were varied - poetry, drama,
philosophy, theology, ancient lore, Buddhist classics, he was equally familiar
with them all.
Anandavardhana's masterpiece, Dhvanyalok or the
"Light of suggestion" marks the beginning of a new age in aesthetics.
During the hundred years between his exposition of the theory and its final
establishment by Abhinavagupta, writers on aesthetics continued to devote their
attention to it. Inspite of the geographical isolation of Kashmir, the theory
was quickly noted by scholarly circles all over India, and we hardly come across
any important writer on aesthetics who could ignore it.
The first among the Kashmiri successors of
Anandavardhana in aesthetics proper was Mukla Bhatta. Apart from other problems,
his book on Dhvani contains a discussion on the use of words in their various
primary and secondary senses, a branch of speculation that has today come in for
a good deal of emphasis at the hands of European writers on
It was, however, Abhinavagupta, the famous poet,
critic, philosopher and saint of Kashmir who wrote profusely on aesthetics. Like
a drama moving to its climax, aesthetic thought in Kashmir moved to its highest
pitch in the writings of Abhinavagupta, undoubtedly the greatest figure in the
history of Indian aesthetics.
In a family full of traditions of scholarship,
Abhinavagupta was born some time between 950 and 960 A.D. In his childhood he
faced a calamity in the death of his mother and then renunciation of this world
by his father. But being gifted with a strong will, he pursued studies with
Then began his own creative activity. He studied all
the Tantric texts from the point of view of Kashmir Saivism and the result of
his labours was his famous work, Tantraloka. In his second phase he made a study
of all the schools of poetics and produced his famous work on aesthetics,
Abhinavabharati and Locana a commentary on Anandavardhana's Dhvanyaloka. In the
third and final phase he was drawn towards metaphysical problems and made his
own important formulations which raised Kashmir Saiva philosophy to its highest
level and secured for it a permanent place in the history of human thought.
Apart from this, his own contribution is the
enunciation of Shanta Rasa, the mood of serenity and peace, as the ultimate end
of art. In his own words, "all emotions, when their exciting conditions are
present, emerge from Shanta, and when these conditions are withdrawn they again
merge into Shanta".
Mamattacarya, his disciple also made considerable
contribution to poetics. He took his early education at Banaras. His famous
Kavyapraksa possesses such merit that it has been commented upon by more than
seventy ancient and modern scholars. It covers the whole ground of rhetoric,
deals with the merits and demerits of poetry, the functions of different words
and their sources and the figures of speech.
The tenth chapter of his Kavyaprakasa has been
continued by his pupil Manikyacandra. He has written the first and most reliable
commentary on Kavyaprakasa. Rajanaka Kuyaka, who lived in the twelfth century
A.D. wrote among several books Alankarasavasav and summarised the views of the
This does not, however, exhaust the list of Kashmirian
writers on poetics which would run into hundreds. It is obvious that the whole
literature of Sanskrit poetics has been permeated by their contributions of
original works in this field.
POETRY AND PROSE
Kashmiri writers have produced a galaxy of poets and
dramatists in Sanskrit. Influenced by the natural beauty of their homeland, its
lofty mountains, lakes, waterfalls and charming flowers of multitudinous colours,
they wrote dramas, epics, lyrical as well as dialectical poems, essays, fiction
It would not be out of place here to say that writers
on Poetics and Saiva and other philosophical schools wrote both in prose and
verse. Although poetry is more closely related to music than to any of the other
arts, yet the power over verbal melody at its very highest is so self-satisfying
that absolute music becomes a superfluity. This is a common feature of all the
Sanskrit writers in Kashmir who have attained such mastery over prose and poetry
as to achieve this rarest miracle of art.
It is indeed a pity that Sanskrit compositions of
Kashmirian poets and authors prior to the sixth century A.D. have not been so
far discovered. The Rajatarangini mentions a number of poets and dramatists who
flourished long before the beginning of the Christian era.
One, named Chandaka is said to have been a great poet.
Kalhana records that he flourished in the reign of Tunjina (C-319 A.D.) and his
plays attracted large audiences.
Another poet mentioned by Kalhana is Bharatrmenth who
was honoured by Matrigupta, himself a poet, for writing the famous poem
Hayagrivavadha by "placing below the volume a golden dish, lest its flavour
might escape". This famous poem is lost but is mentioned by Kshemendra and
by Mankha in Srikanthacarita. The latter places him by the side of Subhandu and
That Matrigupta who ruled Kashmir for some time as the
nominee of Vikramaditya of Ujjain was a poet and a historical character is
proved by his commentary on Bharata's Natyasastra which is referred to in
It would fill a volume to even record the names of
writers in Sanskrit after the sixth century A.D. To mention the names of a few
outstanding writers would suffice to bring out the deep interest in literary
activities of Kashmiri Brahmans.
The first name would be of Damodargupta a famous poet
and moralist and the chief councilor of Jayapida. Most of his poetical
compositions are lost, but he is quoted in several anthologies.
King Jayapida was also the patron of Bhatta Udbhatta,
his court poet known chiefly for his writings on aesthetics. He also wrote the
Kalhana mentions the names of Manoratha, Sankhdatta,
Cataka and Samdhimat who also flourished at his court.
Another famous poet of the eighth century A.D. was
Sankuka who composed a historical poem depicting the fierce battle between Mamma
and Utpala, the maternal uncles of Cipatta Jayapida.
Some of the Karkota Kings were poets themselves. We
find fragments of poems written by Muktapida and Jayapida preserved in
Against the background of royal patronage and deep
interest in literary activities of Kashmiri Brahmans, it is not difficult to
believe Bilhana's remark that "in Kashmir poetry grew as luxuriantly as
Having achieved a high distinction in Sanskrit language
and literature, some of the poets and writers made a mark in the rest of India
where they were welcomed with honour, For instance BILHANA who left Kashmir in
the reign of Kalasa (1063-89) rose to great prominence at the "court of the
Calukya King Parmadi Vikramaditya Tribhavanmala who appointed him as the chief
pandit and when travelling on elephants through the hill country of Karnataka,
his parasol was borne aloft before the King". He has immortalised his
patron in his Vikramankadeva Carita which is perhaps one of the first Sanskrit
poems having a historical approach.
MANKHA the renowned poet who served under Jayasimha is
known by his poem Srikanthacarita written between the years 1135 and 1145 A.D..
The subject of the poem is the Puranic legend of Siva's overthrow of Tripura.
When he completed the poem he put it before an assembly of thirty contemporary
scholars, poets and officials where it was publicly read. The list of poets and
scholars given by Mankha shows that Kashmir of twelfth century continued to be a
centre of Sanskrit learning.
KSHEMENDRA - FATHER OF SOCIAL SATIRE
Kshemendra's contribution to Sanskrit literature is
unique in one respect. He introduces social satire, mixed with humour and
sarcasm. His Samayamatrika is a poem of eight chapters narrating the story of
the wanderings of a courtesan in the Valley. It is an interesting specimen of
satire rarely found in Sanskrit literature, on strolling musicians, women
beggars, shopgirls, saints, thieves and other classes of people. His kalavilasa
depics various occupations and follies of the people of the time, such as
physicians, traders, astrologers, goldsmiths, harlots and saints. His
Darpadalama condemns pride which is said to spring from birth in a good and rich
family, wealth, learning, beauty, valour, charity and asceticism.
Kshmendra's Desopadesa exposes all kinds of sham in
society through the caricatures of the life of various depraved sections of the
community, such as cheats, misers, prostitutes, bawds, voluptuaries, students
from Gauda (Bengal), old men married to young girls, degraded Saiva Gurus, etc.
Sanskrit poetry continued to flourish in Kashmir even
in the thirteen century, Jonaraja mentions a poet Saka who flourished at the
court of Samgramadeva (A.D. 1235-52).
The deep religions tendency among Kashmiris inspired
them to write devotional songs. Some of the famous poems of this category are
Vakratipancasika of Ratnakara, Devisataka of Anandavardhana, Stutravali of
Utpala, Sivamahimah of Pushpadanta and Stutikusmanjali of Jagadhar Bhatta.
Kashmir has a long tradition of story - telling that
goes back to dim antiquity. One may speculate as to why such a tradition should
have developed in the Valley to an almost incredible extent. Is it because a
peaceful atmosphere and secluded existence encouraged talent in this direction?
Was this talent further strengthened by the long winter months of inactivity,
with men having the leisure to weave fact and fancy together?
Whatever the reason might be, many of the world's
best-known tales have originated in Kashmir. Apart from Gunadhya's legendary
Brihatkatha, which is no longer extant, and
SOMADEVA's Kathasaritasagara, many other collections of
stories were produced.
Written in flowing narrative style which makes
delightful reading, Kathasaritasagara has reached the remotest corners of the
world in one form or another. Somadeva wrote it for edification of queen
Suryamati, the wife of King Ananta (1028-63 AD). Without doubt it is the largest
collection of stories in the world, the number of stanzas alone being more than
22,000. It is twice as big as the Iliad and Odyssey put together.
The huge mass of Sanskrit manuscripts found all over
the state in recent years, shows the extent of the scope and variety of Sanskrit
texts and studies and their diffusion among the people.
George Buhler who toured the state in search of
Sanskrit manuscripts in 1875 when Sanskrit was at its low ebb after the earlier
destruction of huge masses of manuscripts by unscrupulous conquerors and
tyrannical rulers, found an incredibly large number of works on Vedas, Puranas,
Mahatmyas, Poetry, Plays, Fables, Poetics, Grammar, Kusas, Law and Polity, Saiva
Philosophy, Astronomy, Astrology, Vaidya Sastras, etc. The discovery of
manuscripts on such varied subjects left him amazed. "I must premise",
he records, "that I do not pretend to give all that is valuable in them,
and I even doubt if any man can sufficiently become master of all the Sastras
represented, in order to estimate the books at their proper value".
Another feature of Sanskrit learning in Kashmir was
special and exclusive recenssions of some famous and important classics like the
Mahabharata and Kalidasa's Sakuntala. Similarly with regard to Bhagwadgita many
Kashmiri Pandits wrote commentaries on it. It was in 1930 that Dr. Sherader
published a paper on the Kashmirian recenssion of the Gita which evoked
considerable interest among scholars. The controversy has in the words of Kunhan
Raja, "assumed in the region of Indological studies an importance too big
in dimension to be ignored by any serious student. The problem has come to
Not only did the Kashmiri Scholars comment upon the
classical works like those of Kalidasa, but they also studied, and wrote
commentaries on, important works produced in Sanskrit in the rest of India. For
instance the Yudhishtiravijaya, the premier 'Kavya' of Vasudev Bhattatiri of
distant Kerala was commented upon by Ramakantha of Kashmir.
No wonder the learned Pandits of Kashmir and their
works were in demand at the courts of several enlightened princes in India, at
important assemblies of thinkers and writers and at the Sanskrit Universities in
the rest of India. And it was the ambition of every student and lover of
Sanskrit language and literature and Indian philosophy to go to Kashmir to drink
deep at the fountain of knowledge and wisdom that gushed forth from the
"Land of Sarada, the Goddess of Learning".