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Kashmir : The Legend and Scientific Facts

A. N. Fotidar, Pune

The 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 scientific facts!

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 1535110BC to 2375210 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 stone.

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 investigation.

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, 1-4.

-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 Semthan excavations"

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, 1988.

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, 365-77.

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, Pune-411 042

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