P. N. K Bamzai

The 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 etymological study.

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 Amarasimha.


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 "Semantics".


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 uncommon zeal.

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 early writers.

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.


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 and anthologies.

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 Banal

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 Sundarasimha's Natyapradipa.

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 poem Kumarasambhava.

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 Subhasitavali.

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 Kumkum (Saffron)".

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'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 stay".

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".

Kashmiri Overseas Association