: The Legend and Scientific Facts
valley of Kashmir, forming the temperate zone of Jammu and Kashmir state of
India, lies between 320-30' and 340-30' North latitude and
740 to 750-30' East longitude between the two branches of
the crystalline axis of the Himalaya-Zanskar in the north and the Pir Panjal in
the south. It is a slopy trough some 135 kms long (about 84 miles) and 40 kms
(about 25 miles) broad in its middle with an area of about 5400 sq.kms (2100 sq
miles). Its mean level (asl) is about 1580 meters (about 5200 ft). It is girdled
on all sides by the Himalayan and the Pir Panjal mountain ranges. It's surface
features, amply testify to the extensive operations of the mutually
complimentary processes of deposition and erosion. The river Jhellum (Vitasta),
originating in the Vernag spring (Nilnag) in the south-east of the
valley, runs throughout its length and forms its sole drainage. Before emerging
out as a mountain river at Khadanyar, near Baramulla (Varahmula) it
passes through one of the largest fresh water-body, the Wullar lake (Mahapadmas),
in the Indian sub-continent. It finally joins the Chenab (Chandrabaga) in
Pakistan quite some distance away.
Over the centuries, Kashmir has attracted the
attention of scholars in various disciplines for its literature, history,
culture, philosophy, geology, vegetation, and other fields. A number of works
have been published for centuries now, including an exhaustive and voluminous
account by Kalhana in 1148-49 AD, entitled Rajatarangni. This was
followed by updated editions by scholars like Jonaraja, Srivara, Prajyabhatta
and Suka. These later works cover the period from 1155 to 1587 AD. In addition
to the above treatises there are also erudite philosophical works of Somananda
(who wrote Agamas), Utpaladeva, Khemaraja, Abhinava Gupta and others
covering subjects such as Shaiva philosophy and its Kashmir recenssion.
Many celebrated scholars, travelers like Hiuen Tsiang (631-33 AD), Royle, Haider
Malik (Tarikhe Rashidi), Buhler, Aural Stein, Seven Hedin, Drew (1875),
Lydekar, Lawrence (1895), Stewart and others have given excellent accounts of
many aspects of Kashmir. Mulla Tahir Gani composed his famous Divan in
mid 17th century. More recently, attention has been focused on
subjects such as linguistics, palaeontology including pollen analytical study of
the past vegetation etc. Even a cursory knowledge of some of the basic works
stimulates interest in everything relating to the land its myths and legends and
what to speak of the philosophical works.
Most of us of the older vintage in Kashmir, are
aware of the legend - some might call it a myth regarding the evolution of the
valley. The source books of these legends are the Nilmat Purana**,
perhaps the oldest extant literary work of Kashmir (circa 500-600 AD,
some put it at 400 BC) and the Rajataranginis. These tell us that the valley
remained uninhabited by man for six Manvantaras (Manu) because there was
a body of water called Satisara. According to the Nilmat Purana each Manavantar
(Manu) is said to comprise 122,688,000 years. It was only in the later part
of the last and seventh Manvantar that the mountains near Varahmula (literally
pig's snout), the present day Baramulla and still called Varamull in Kashmiri,
was broken open by the plough of Ananta to let out the water and the valley was
reclaimed by man. The latest geological estimate state that this phenomenon of
the geological fault opening out at Baramulla - Khadanyar, sector occurred about
85,000 years ago; yet again a remarkable coincidence between the legend and the
The legend further has it that earlier the
valley was peopled by the Nagas who, perhaps for some time came under the sway
of the Daitayas. Subsequently Samgraha was killed by Indra,
the Aryan warlord. Former's son, Jalodabhava, (literally indestructible
so long as it remains in water) in revenge devastated the adjacent territories
and caused untold miseries to the inhabitants who had come to stay. Elimination
of this tyrant, Jalodahbahva was accomplished by invoking the deities by
sage Kashayapa, father of Nila who had sought his help. The former came and took
his position atop the Naubandana Tiratha above the lake of Kramsaras (Konsarnag
or Vishnupad), in south Kashmir, the source of the Veshav (Vishoka) river,
which comes out of the mountain range at Ahrabal (Akhurbil, the mouse
hole). The legend further has it that the demon was killed by the two Gods, Vishnu
and Shiva of the Hindu Trinity, viz; Bhrama, Vishnu, Maheshwara representing
the three aspects of the supreme Being or Paramatma. This in essence is
the legend relating to the origin of the land which came to be called Kashmir
after the name of the sage (Rishi) Kashayapa who was instrumental in
draining the water and reclaiming it. The Greek scholar Ptolemy called it Kaspeiria
situated below the source of Bidaspes (Vitasta). Whatever be the
basis of this legend, be it even the intuition of the seers or the Rishis,
in essence it indicates the course of events which have found strong basis in
various disciplines of science.
Now coming to the generally accepted scientific
theory that over millions of years a great revolution in the physical geography
of India occurred. There has been a series of earth movements, which proceeded
from outside India. The origin of the Himalayan chain is a result of the lateral
thrusts acting from the north or Tibetan direction towards the peninsula of
India. In the process several plications, fractures and overthrusts have
resulted. These show very clearly in outer Himalaya and are prominent from
Kashmir Himalaya all through to eastern Assam including north eastern states.
This great fault or fracture is known as the Main Boundary Fault. This Himalayan
mountain range is estimated to have sprung sixty million years ago. Among other
phenomenon associated with this drift and the collusion has been the movement of
the southern landmass (Gondwana) to the northern landmass (Angaraland) which
were separated by the Tethys Sea. The two are characterized by their floras
respectively. It is for this reason that the range of Himalaya is taken to be
the youngest in the world. Further, as the force of the resultant collision has
not been fully neutralized, this mountain range is still rising.
A look at the map of India will show that
Kashmir in the north-west and Assam, including the North Eastern states in the
east, are the two promontories which have been the first points of contact for
these colluding landmasses and, therefore, assume importance for providing
necessary scientific evidence to prove the validity or otherwise of the
phenomenon indicated above. Restricting our remarks to the valley of Kashmir
alone, all indisputable evidence has come to light in support of it.
Remains of a large number of sea animals, sea
fishes and skeletons of fossilized form in various old rock formations, clearly
suggest that these came from a marine habitat. Similarly a variety of plant and
animal fossils present an intermingling of the characteristic ancient floras of
the southern and northern landmass, respectively. The best and widely known
exposure is found at Risin spur, Vihi valley near Zewan, Srinagar. Subsequent to
the formation of the continental landmass and upliftment of the Himalayan
mountain range, there have been further occurrences which have resulted in the
uplift of the Pir Panjal range in the south of the valley. It impounded the
Himalayan drainage in early Pliocene times, giving rise to a vast lake in the
Kashmir valley called the Karewa lake (Satisar of the Nilamat Purana).
This lake was finally drained out by opening of a geological fault as mentioned
earlier, when it emerged as the Jhellum river (Vitasta) after which there
remained only clay deposits in the exposed lake sediments in the valley.
During this process several upheavals have
resulted in the ancient Karewa (Satisar) lake bed having been thrown up
the rising Pir Panjal. Proof of this phenomenon is provided, among other things,
by the occurrence of the fossilized fruits of waternut (Trapa bispinosa)
at Botapathri near Gulmarg and other places at an altitude of over 3000 meters.
Most importantly, this plant does not grow outside a fresh water body and that
too not above an altitude of 1700 meters. The upliftment of Pir Panjal range to
its present mean height of about 4,270 meters (the highest peaks in the range
being Tatakuti and Brahma Sakal about 4,727 meters) has occurred in stages over
a long period of time. The resultant vegetation following such climatic
oscillations have left adequate evidence in the form of fossils and clear
impressions on the sedimentary deposits, called the Karewas (Uddaras in
Kashmiri). In addition this range has been an effective barrier to the warmth
and moisture of south-western monsoons having their full play in the valley.
Enough evidence is now available regarding the gradual and progressive evolution
of the present valley flora having occurred before the advent of man. As a
consequence of the climatic changes, broadly speaking the vegetation has also
progressed from sub tropical to the present temperate and alpine. This change
has occurred over a considerable period of time. Subsequently the valley
vegetation was greatly affected by the extension of agriculture and
domestication of cattle sheep and goats by the early man. With reclamation of
marshes and small waterbodies, settlement and extension of agriculture, the
natural tree vegetation got firmly established by the time and after the advent
of man about 6,000 years ago.
The five fresh waterbodies, the Dal (Mahasarit)
which was 23.4 sq. kms. in 1856 and shrunk to 10.56 sq. kms in 1977, Nagin,
Anchar, Manasbal and the Wullar (Mahapadmas) the biggest such fresh water
lake in Asia, with an area of 153 sq kms, have been subject of detailed studies.
These lakes of the valley are considered to have formed mainly during the recent
geological period and are not the remnants of the Karewa lake (Satisaras).
These lakes carry the usual mix of rooted and free floating species mainly
rushes and reeds, lotus (Nelumbuim speciosam), Salvinia, green
algae, etc. In shallow waters large quantities of the floating and also the
rooted plants are brought together and tied up to form thick floating beds
covered with layers of lake mud. These are firmly anchored with wooden poles to
the lake bottom and are used to grow vegetables, watermelons and a large number
of other vegetables. These constitute the famous "Floating Gardens"
(locally called Raad) of Kashmir. Large areas around these lakes were
covered with willow mainly Salix wallichiana and poplar (Populus
ciliata). However the latter species has completely disappeared now and has
been replaced by a number of exotic species, leaving only a few well grown
specimens in the low lying pine forest.
Adequate data strongly suggest that the valley
excluding the mountain ranges carried a broad-leaved mix of vegetation
comprising mainly elm, horse cheastnut, walnut, Crab apple, Mulberry and many
other broad-leaved tree species. Extensive forest associations of Pinus
wallichina are found on plain and gently sloping Karevas. In addition
there has been an extensive shrub growth. Large-sized relics of elm, mulberry
and also exotic trees like Plane (Platanus orientalis L) called "Buin"
in Kashmiri, are still found in Muslim and Hindu shrines as objects of
veneration. In addition to the indigenous species, in recent centuries many
exotic tree species have taken firm roots in the valley.
On the basis of accumulated data in various
fields of science like geology, palaeobotany, palynology and archaeology, first
human settlers of Kashmir valley were of the Neolithic period who were not
familiar with the use and manufacture of pottery. These suggest that the earlier
man lived only summers in the valley and shifted to warmer climes in lower
altitudes during the harsh winters. No human remains have been found in earlier
such climatic changes at around 18000 years ago. The first site where systematic
excavations were conducted is Burzahom (lat 34 10' North and long 73 54' East)
located on a high table land under the shadow of the Mahadev peak, about 16 kms
north-east of Srinagar, Kashmir. Even though the site was first located long
time back, the early workers like R.C.Kak and De Terra and Patterson, 1939, who
collected some bone and stone tools in a short excavation, designated it as a
Megalithic site because of the occurrence of large menhirs to indicate common
burial grounds. However during 1960-71, the Archaeological Survey of India
carried out extensive excavations and discovered a series of human cultural
levels. These were divided into four periods out of which the first two belong
to Neolithic culture the third to Megalithic and the last being the early
historical. The 14C levels of the Neolithic age are from 1535±110BC
to 2375±210 BC. The earliest period was marked by two types of dwellings viz;
the large circular pits broad at the base and narrow at the top, like truncated
cones. In some cases a hearth at the bottom floor was found and in others the
walls were plastered with clay. Above ground around the margins of the mouth of
such pits, post holes were found suggesting the existence of wooden
superstructures supporting roof of thatch or leaves. In one case adjacent pits
were connected by an opening for intercommunication. The second type of
dwellings were square or rectangular chambers cut into the ground (Loess) to a
depth of 50 cms to 1 m. There are indications that such dwellings were
surrounded with mud walls reinforced with timber. These also yielded some
artifacts, such as crude forms of house hold goods and tools like scrappers of
bone, antlers, and polished axes, adzes, borers, scrappers, chisels, etc made of
Other excavation sites studied in some detail
have been at Semthan and Gufkral. The excavation site at Gufkral (Lat 350
54' N.Long 750 60'E) is located on an extensive upper Karewa deposit
45 kms from Srinagar near the township of Tral. These have revealed three main
periods of occupation similar to the one at Burzahom. These range from Aceramic
Neolithic, characterized by a total absence of pottery with settlement pattern
consisting of large and small dwelling pits cut into loessic deposits circular
and oval in plan with narrow mouth and wide bottom. Occurrence of post holes
indicates a superstructure of grass and reeds. The artifacts recovered include
stone and bone tools. The inhabitants depended for their food predominantly on
wild game. The dwellings were further improved with a sudden spurt in
domestication of animals like sheep, goats and cattle and some early crop
husbandry. The excavation site at Semthan in Anantnag district has revealed five
periods characterized by successive floor levels. The artifacts recovered range
from terracotta and bone beeds and a piece of copper. In addition the pottery is
represented by a sturdy red ware to hand made, ill-fired and crude ware made of
clay containing stone grits. There is no evidence of painting. Wheat barley and
rice, appear to have been cultivated on a small scale. The timbers used were
mostly blue pine. The latter periods have given red ware pottery and included
cast copper coins from the upper levels. In later periods the wares and their
types continued with the addition of large number of terracotta figurines, clay
seal depicting an Indo-Greek deity. The last period belongs to the time of
"prolific temple building and flourishing sculptural art". In
addition to the above mentioned sites about a dozen more similar sites, have
been located throughout the valley which have confirmed the findings at the
earlier three sites. Some of the well known new sites are at Begagund, Brah,
Hariparigom, Jayadevi- Udar, Thajwor, Waztal, Olichibag, Pampur, Panzgom and
Sombur. All these sites are located on the Karewas, especially in the
S.E. parts of the Kashmir valley.
From the data collected at various sites of
excavations it is firmly established that in the Neolithic aceramic period the
early man took up agriculture on a limited scale but he depended mostly on
fishing and hunting. The data on this subject is still insufficient but
domestication of animals and agriculture developed step by step out of food
gathering and hunting. It appears to have been an outcome of the continuing
increase in the extent and manipulation of natural ecosystem by the Neolithic
man. In early agricultural activity, crops like buckwheat, barley, wheat, etc.
were cultivated on a limited scale. It remains still to be sorted out as to who
they were and where from these early settlers came to Kashmir. Some earlier
workers had suggested a correlation of Neolithic cultural level with that of
south Tadjikistan and some other central Asia locations. But the skeletal and
other human remains found in Kashmir have not shown any similarity to the
Mongoloid or central Asian. It has, however, been shown that they resemble the
adjoining Punjab in India and Pakistan.
The earliest level of Burzahoma is dated to 2400
to 1800 BC. The lower age aceramic period has been pushed back at Gufkral to
2400 BC. obviously at this stage man had not come up in cultural evolution to
reach the stage of settled economy. It appears that there followed a long Dark
Age of 10-15 centuries till the appearance of the historical Kushans in the
latter half of first century AD or in early second or first century B.C. The
legend given in the Nilamat Purana mentions strong rivalry and fighting
between Daitayas, Nagas, Picacas and Manus (Aryans) till the last
race prevailed. Not much is known about these early people, as to who they were
and what their ethnical affiliations were. However enough evidence has been
found of the incursions by the Indo-Greek and Indo-Parthians, who ruled over
north-western India and Pakistan. Similarly the association of the Mauryan
emperor Ashok with Kashmir is notable. Still there remains a gap of one
millennium and more between the terminal phase of the menhir Neolithic at
Burzahom and the early Iron age of Semthan and there after, which is still under
Even though the archaeological site at Gufkral
has given enough evidence of human culture going up to the stage of "Prolific
temple building and flourishing sculptural art", yet no structure going
to 1300 BC has so far been discovered archaeologically. The earliest such
structure at Harwan near Srinagar, has been assigned to the Kushan and later
periods about fourth and fifth century AD. Similarly the Buddhist establishment
at Ushkur (Huviskapura) near Baramulla is of the Gandhara period again of
4th to 5th century AD. Kalhan in his Rajatarangni states
that a large settlement or a city was located around Gopadari, the present day
Shankaracharya hill in Srinagar. Kalhan also mentions a large city (Chandra
Pura) submerged under the Wullar (Mahapadmas). Since this lake has
been assigned to the Holocene period, this statement requires further
confirmation. The only old structures near the latter hill are the four sided
temple atop it and an ancient structure near about the present day Chashmashahi,
now called Parimahal. The temple with its square plan with recessed sites and
circular garbhagrha would seem to indicate that it is the oldest
surviving Hindu shrine in Kashmir, representing a very early stage of
development. But no date or period has been assigned to it. It is not known
what image or statue it housed. The present Linga has been installed in
the late 19th century. Another small old temple is still extant near
Pandrethan (Puranadishthan) which is of 8th or 9th
century the exquisite images and statues of the temple are now kept in the
Srinagar Museum and are considered to cover several centuries. There are many
more exquisite temple sites now only at ground level, like Awantipur, Parihaspur,
Sun temple at Martand and others. All these are dated from 4th to
about 11th century. The earliest exquisite Kashmiri bronze is the 6th
century image of Vishnu now in Berlin. The latest Kashmiri crafted image
of Lokeswara was dedicated during the reign of Queen Didda (c 980-1003
AD), large number of exquisite bronze and other images of Vishnu, Shiva,
Bodhisatvas and others made during the Gupta and Karkota periods are now in
many museums in U.S.A., England and with many private collectors mainly from
Europe and the U.S.A. The most prolific periods of temple building and artistic
images and statue making have been during the reigns of Laltaditaya Mukhtapida
and Avantiverman. From 14th to 19th centuries, Iconoclasts
and vandals destroyed many monuments and fine statues and other pieces of art.
These are all lost to the posterity.
Historicity assumes terra firma with the
Kushan king, Kanishka, who ruled Kashmir in first century AD. It is quite
possible that he was preceded by other Kushans, Hushka and Jushka, who occupied
Gandhara in about 177 BC. They all had embraced Buddhism. It would appear that
from about 1300 BC to about 100 BC so far no evidences of any large scale human
settlements have been found archaeologically. Even the Kushan period, especially
that of Kanishka, has not left any credible archaeological evidence. Kalhan
mentions a number of cities and settlements of his own time (12th
century AD) and of earlier periods also. Apart from the monumental stone temples
and structures still existing at ground level at many places in the valley and
also in Srinagar and its surrounds, are just represented by very large square or
rectangular building stones, now strewn all over the places where they once
stood. One such piece has been found to be 4.4 x 4.3 x 1.7 m weighing
approximately 65 tonnes. In certain places these have been used as foundations
for new shrines.
We now come to yet another interesting subject
to close this paper. Appearance of the Neolithic man and later, starting with
about 5000 to 6000 years ago, bears an extraordinary correlation with the Laukika
or Saptarishi era according to which the current year is 5077-78.
This almanac is followed even today in Kashmir, for purposes of horoscopes,
religious functions and ceremonies of the original inhabitant Hindus of the
valley. This calendar, according to the great oriental scholar, Buhler commences
from Caitra Sudhi 1 of Kali Samvat 25 (expired) or the year 3,076-75 BC.
According to a recent study of Vedic cosmology, the present Kali-Yuga is
said to have begun on Friday, February 18th, 3102 BC. This
correlation appears to be extraordinary and cannot easily be brushed aside. How
and why this calendar was evolved and used even today will remain a mystery to
be unfolded. Kalhana has used this calendar in his Rajatarangini and so have
Jonaraj, Srivara, Prajyabhat and Suka. Similarly all the other ancient
manuscripts and books written in Sanskrit have followed it. However, further
research and discoveries may relegate the era of social man's appearance, on the
scene still further back. Advances in science and discovery of new, better
and more accurate methodologies, would surely throw further light on this
interesting subject. One is struck with awe and admiration for the seers and the
intellectuals of the bygone age who gave the sequence of the events leading to
the emergence and evolution of the Kashmir valley including the appearance of
early human settlers, in such works as the Nilmat Purana and the Rajatarangnis,
and which have broadly been found to correspond with the facts established by
the present scientific investigations.
The writer is thankful to (late) Dr.
Vishu-Mittre for discussions on investigations carried out in the Kashmir
valley. He is also thankful to the authorities of the Deccan College and Post
Graduate Institute, Pune, for making available some literature and maps. Lastly
he heartily thanks Archana Fotidar and Amit Koul, for their help.
**According to the great modern Indian
philosopher S. RadhaKrishnan, "Puranas contain the truth dressed up in
myths and stories to suit the weak understanding of the majority" Indian
philosophy, Vol. 1, p 25.
Some Select References
Agarwal, D.P. : "Environmental changes in
India during last 4 million years." J.Palaeonto Soc. of India, 1987, 32,
-do- et al : "The Plio-Pleistocene record
of Kashmir Valley, : A review". 73, 267-86, Elsevier Science Publishers,
1989, 73, 267-86.
Agrawal, D.P. : "Legends as models of
science." Bull. of the Deccan College and Post-Graduate & Research
Inst. 1990, 49, 41-42.
Bamzai, P.N.K. : "Culture and Political
History of Kashmir." 3 Vols. M.D. Publishers, New Delhi, 1994.
Bisht, R.S. : "Reflections on Burzahom and
Central Asia and Western Himalaya-A forgotten
Link. Scientific Publishers, Jodhpur, India, 1986.
Fotidar, A.N. : "On the occurence of Platanus
orientalis L in Kashmir." J.Econ. Tax. Bot. 1987 Vol. 11,
No. 2, pp. 425-432.
Fotidar, A.N. & Kango, G.H. : "Mountain
ecosystem of the Dal lake." Abst. of papers, National Workshop on
conservation of Dal Lake R.E.C., Srinagar, Kashmir, 1983.
Ghosh, A. : "Encyclopaedia of Indian
Archaeology, New Delhi, 1989, Vol. II"
Hedin, Sven : "Through Asia", Harper
Brothers, London, 1899.
Husnain, F.H. : "Heritage of Kashmir."
Gulshan Publishers, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1980.
Kak, R.C. : "The ancient Monuments of
Kashmir." The India Society, 3, Victoria Street, London, 1933.
Kumari, Ved, : "Nilamat Purana", Vols.
1&2, Jammu & Kashmir Academy of Arts & Culture Srinagar, Kashmir,
Lawrence, W.R. : "The valley of
Kashmir." Henry Frowde, London, 1895.
Lodha, G.S., et al. : "Characterization of
Loess-palaeosol sequence in Kashmir" Proc. Indian Natn. Sci. Acad. 1988, 54,
Lone F.A. : "An early archaeological
evidence of Plane tree (Platanus orientalis L) in Kashmir valley. "Palaeobotanist,
1990, 37(3), 389-391.
Puri, G.S. : "The flora of the Karewa
series of Kashmir" Ind. For., 1948, 74(3), 105-122.
Purkayastha, S.K. & Lal, B., : "Plant
remains from Burzahom, Kashmir." Ind. For. 1976, 102(11), 781-85.
Sankalia, H.D., : "New evidence for early
Man in Kashmir. "Current Anthro. 1971, 12, 358-362.
Vigne, Godfrey, : "Travels in Kashmir,
Ladakh, Iskardo." 1842.
Vishnu-Mittre, : "Some aspects of
Pollen-Analytical investigations in the Kashmir valley." Palaeobotanist,
vol. 15(1-20) pp. 147-175.
Wadia, D.N., : "Geology of India."
Tata-McGraw Hill Publication, New Delhi, 1984.
The author, formerly of the Indian Forest
Services, (IFS), has been the Chief Conservator of Forests, Srinagar, Kashmir.
Mailing Address : 38, Guru Nanak Nagar,