Sharika Munshi

Elements of culture of the Indian civilisation have spread to other parts of the world. India has deeply affected in particular the religious life of most of Asia. No land has such a long history of cultural continuity as India where the Hindus still repeat Vedic hymns composed about 3000 years ago. In respect of these cultural achievements, Kashmiri Pandits have played a significant role. Their contributions have made the cultural heritage of India richer over the ages.

To start with the religious heritage, the Buddhist influence on Kashmir has been strong. Kashmiri Pandits' contribution to Buddhism is generally not recognised. Though their influence on Hindu thought and philosophy has been discussed very little is known about their impact on Buddhism. S. L. Shali's book 'Kashmir History and Archaeology Through the Ages' is in this respect an eye-opener.

The Sarvastivadin school of Buddhism is said to have flourished in Kashmir during the reign of Kanishka. The view of this school of thought originated in the 3rd century B.C.; indeed it may even go back to the time of the Buddha. For this realist school of thought the external world and its constituents have a real existence. In Kanishka's time a great council was held and a lakh of stanzas were written on the Sutra, Vinaya and Abhidharma. Shali says that Kashmir's contribution to Buddhist literature was immense and that this literature was very popular in China. According to him the first Chinese translation of gathas was made by Dharmatrata, a Kashmiri scholar in 221 A.D. Vinayapitaka was translated by Sanghabuti who himself visited China in 381 A.D. Several Kashmiri Buddhist scholars like Gautama Sanghdeva Dharmayasal and Buddhajiva visited China just as Chinese scholars Hiuen Tsang in 631 A.D. and OuKong in 759 A.D. visited Kashmir.

From the 5th century to the 14th century A.D. Kashmir was ruled by several Hindu dynasties. Their rule saw the flowering of Kashmiri Shavism, classical Sanskrit literature and hymnal literature. Ahribudhnaya Samhita which received a lot of attention in the early 5th century is believed to have originated in Kashmir in this period. The major part of it is devoted to 'kriya' and 'karya' as opposed to 'jnana' and 'yoga'. In one section, however, it presents interesting aspects on religion and philosophy.

Agamas or the Tantric texts belonging to the Shaiva sect originated in Kashmir around the 7th Century A.D. The twenty-eight Shaiva Agamas are believed to have emanated from the five mouths of Shiva. These texts were carefully preserved in the families of gurukuls who used them for their religious rites. The tradition of temple architecture and iconography as taught in the Shaiva Agamas is still living. The Agamas exercised a great influence in the ancient kingdoms of Southeast Asia.

Kashmiris like to believe that Patanjali, Charaka and Kalidasa were Kashmiris, though this is yet to be established. Patanjali is believed to have been born in Gudan in the 2nd century B.C. He was a Sanskrit grammarian. In his work Mahabhasya, Patanjali wrote commentaries on Panini who had brought together the phonetical and grammatical material relating to all the different Vedic schools. Patanjali was better known for his important work on the Yoga Sutras. His treatise on the Yoga Sutras has been translated in many languages across the world. It is said that no person can pursue yoga without a comprehensive knowledge of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

Charaka was the court physician to Kanishka. He had a marked influence on Arabic medical writers like Avicenna whose works in Latin translations were the standard authorities in medieval Europe. Charaka carried out extensive work on the respiratory system, the vascular system, diseases - their diagnosis and treatment, all of which have been included in the Charaka Samhita. Charaka was a highly respected member of society in the 1st and 2nd century A.D. He also laid down rules of professional behaviour for physicians to follow. These rules are found to be applicable to modern doctors as well.

Kalisasa (5th century A.D.) was essentially a lyric poet who also wrote epics and dramas. He was appreciated for the Vaidarbha style of composition and especially for the sweetness of his lines. His most quoted work is the lyric poem Megllasanciesha. His epics include Kumarasambhava which is a short epic and Raghavamsha which is comparatively longer. Malavikagnimitra is his best dramatic play. Abhijnanashakuntala has been admired for its lyricism while Vikramorvashiya is essentially musical. In 1789 Sir William Jones (1740-94), the pioneer of Sanskrit studies, translated Abhijnanashakuntala and astonished the western world. Wilson's translation of Meghaduta in 1813 influenced Goethe who made conscious allusions to the poem in his work. Goethe's enthusiastic admiration of Abhijnanashakuntala is well known: 'Wouldst thou the heaven and earth in one sole name combine? I name thee Shakuntala, and all at once is said!' Kalidasa's dramas, especially Abhijnanashakuntala, have been translated into every European language including Czech and Rumanian.

The Kashmiri king who enriched the country's culture most was Lalitaditya. Early in the 8th century an upstart named Yashovarman established an empire at Kanyakubja which for a while controlled much of the north, but which soon fell to Lalitaditya, the son of Pratapaditya. During his heyday (700-750 A.D.) Kashmiri Shaivism sprouted in the valley. He brought many poets and philosophers to Kashmir and turned Kashmir into a land of Sanskrit literature and learning. Attriya Gupt, the Brahmin scholar of Kanauj, was brought to and settled in Kashmir. Lalitaditya built many shrines including the Martanda shrine and the Muktaswamin shrine in Baramullah. He also built a Buddhist Chaitya.

During his reign a school of Shaivism arose in Kashmir known as Trika or triad from the fact that the sect has three chief scriptures. This school unlike the Tamil Shaivasiddhanta was idealistic and monistic and shared Shankara's doctrine of the unreality of the phenomenal world which, it is declared, only existed because the soul failed to recognise its true nature. Vasogupt may be said to have formded this school of thought with his work Spand Karikai or 'Verses of Activity' in the Sth -9th centuries. Kallata Bhat wrote the Spanda Vritti in the 9th century which was discussed in detail by Shaivites later. Siddha Somananda, probably a student of Vasogupt, is credited with an elaborated treatment of his views and is known to be the founder of the logic of the Pratyabhijna Shastra ('Manual on Recognition') or the philosophical branch of the Trika. He wrote the Shivadrishti which serves as the foundation of this branch. His pupil Utpala wrote a summary of the philosophy of his master in his work Pratyabhijua. He also wrote the Shivastotravali and a commentary on his own work in the Vritti.

The greatest name in Kashmiri Shaivism is, however, that of Abhinava Gupt (lOth C. A.D.). He was a brilliant theorist both in theology and in poetics. He taught his twelve hundred disciples various subjects. He also contributed to Sanskrit literature by introducing the concept of ecstasy in poetry and drama, whether comedy or tragedy. Its works include Tantraloka or 'Lights on the Doctrine' (10th century) and Pratyabhijnavimarshini or 'Reflections on Recognition'.

Khemendra (990 A.D.) was a Kashmiri literary figure in the time of the king Anant Raja. His works dealt with various topics such as the life of various avataras aspects of human behaviour, rhetoric, and the social and economic problems of his time. He abridged classical works, discussed the Sanskrit alphabet, metre and symbols in detail. While educating new poets he gave them a code of conduct which was followed by poets across the country. He wrote the Shiva-Sutravimarshini or 'Reflections on the Aphorisms on Shiva'.

In Kashmiri Shaivism, Shiva is seen as the sole reality and his power is known in five aspects: 'chit' or 'consciousness', 'ananda' or 'bliss', 'ichha' or desire, 'juana' or knowledge, and 'kriya' or 'action'. For the adherents of Kashmiri Shaivism, liberation comes about through intense meditation on the Lord and recognition of the identical nature of the individual soul and the Lord.

It is believed that many folktales of the world have come from India. Indeed they have and have found a place in the Arabian Nights Boccaccio's Decameron and other such works down to the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and fables of Jean de la Fontaine. It is well known that the tales from the Panchatantra found their way into the West through translations into Persian, Arabic, Syrian, Hebrew and Latin - most medieval literature possessed their own versions of it. It is now recognized that the principal work done in this tradition is the Brhatkatha which found its important Sanskrit version in the Katha-sarit-sagar.

Two metrical Sanskrit adaptations of the Brhatkatha were written in Kashmir - Brhatkathamanjari (Khemendra) and Katha-sarit sagar written in 1050 A.D. by Somadeva. Somadeva's Katha-sarit-sagar or 'Ocean of Stories' is a piece of narrative poetry written in simple but polished verse. There are countless stories in the collection yet Somadeva retains the continuity of the main story to a great extent. Somadeva has incorporated a large variety of stories, justifying the title 'River of Stories Forming an Ocean'. These stories combine simplicity with many touches of humour and pathos. The book is an unrivalled repository of stories of extraordianary quality and vigour, attractive, elegant and unpretentious. It has 124 sections called 'Taranga' or waves. Folktale writers have adopted the stories across the world.

Two literary figures of classical Sanskrit became famous in the 11th and 12th centuries - Bilhana and Kalhana. Bilhana, the poet, wrote Vikramadevacharita on a Chalukya emperor. This piece has been admired as a purely literary classic. His piece Chaurapanchashika or 'Fifty Stanzas of the Thief, is a beautiful elegy. It describes the secret love of a bold housekeeper and a princess. As Basham says, the piece is 'full of intense emotion recollected without tranquility' it is supposedly autobiographical, about a liaison with a princess that almost cost the lover his life.

Kalhana born around 1148 A.D., utilised the Nila Purana's contents in writing the ancient history of Kashmir in Sanskrit. He thought it fit to write the history of his native land in verse, Rajtarangini. This work is highly interesting from the point of view of the history, legendary lore and topography of Kashmir. Rajatarangini is divided into eight chapters. The first three cover fifty-two fabulous kings of whom there is no previous record. The next two cover the Naga and Utpala dynasties. The rest discuss the Lohara dynasties. In those days, a poet was supposed to be adept in several arts and sciences. Kalhana was a good poet. He vvas well versed in the Mahakavyas, historical kavyas, astrology, administration, law, poetics, geography, economics, epics, and legendary lore. He drew upon literary texts, living traditions, folkore, coins, inscriptions, and records of land grants. The Rajatarangini provides us with valuable data for reconstructing the cultural life of Kashmir. Kalhana's pupils and their pupils in turn continued to write accounts of Kashmir till 1586, when Kashmir was annexed by Akbar. Ancient Indians were poor historians but Kalhana's great chronicle of Kashmir is an important source of history.

Udbhata and Mammat were two other Kashmiris who made a mark on the cultural history of India. Udbhata, who lived earlier on (774-813 A.D.) was the teacher of the theory of the three vrittis. He worked on the Bhasyas of the Vedas and the Pratishakhas. Udbhata developed the Rasa aesthetics by adding to it the ninth rasa with calm as its basic emotion. Mammat who was born in the beginning of the 12th century A.D. came from Galandar near Pamper. He wrote the Kavya Prakasha on which eighty-seven commentaries have been written. He also wrote the Shabdavyapara-vichara where the usage of words has been discussed. He too was an upholder of the Rasa theory.

Hymnal literature produced by the Kashmiri poets include: Stava Chintamani of Bhatta Narayan (9th century), Shiva Stotravali of Utpala Deva (10th century), Bhavopahara of Chakraparinantha (11th century), and the Ardhanarishwarastotra of Kalhana (12th century). The Samba-panchashika hymn to the Sun God, traditionally attributed to Krishna's son Samba, is also probably the work of a Kashmiri poet. Exceptional among bhaktahymnodists, Kashmiri poetess Lal Ded was a Shaivite mystic belonging to the 14th century. Lalleshwari, reverentially and affectionately called 'Lal Ded' or 'Lalmoj' by Hindus and Muslims, preached through vakhs. She preached love, equality of all men and women, non-violence and most of all search for the ultimate truth. Lal Ded was a Shaiva woman-saint. She was born in 1335 during the reign of the last Hindu king Udayana Deva. She probably died either in 1383 or in 1385. She had a very unhappy married life and took to 'sanyas' at a young age. Having become a sannyasini she moved about the country singing little poems of her mystic perception of Shiva, the Supreme. It is believed that she met Shah Hamdani, who was the first Sufi saint and preacher of Islam in Kashmir. Lal Ded and Shah Hamdani were mutually appreciative of one another's mystic qualities. The Hindus called Lal Ded 'Lal Yogeshwari' and the Muslims called her 'Lal Arifa'. In her verse there is a fervent appeal for human brotherhood, social equality, and spiritual oneness, cutting across all dogma, caste and creed.

A curious fact of Kashmiri literature is that the three greatest poets were women - Lal Ded of the 14th century, Hubb Khotun of the 16th and Arnimal of the 18th.

Hubb Khotun (1551-1606) was educated in Persian. Although she was not born into a Kashmiri Pandit family, no discussion of Kashmiri poetry is complete without a mention of her name. She was a good singer and she composed 'lot' or songs of yearning. Fler first marriage to an ordinary villager was unhappy. Later Yusuf Shah Chak, Sultan of Kashmir, captivated by her beauty had her divorced and married her. He changed her name from 'Zun' meaning 'moonlight' to Hubb meaning love. After Akbar's conquest, Yusuf Shah was taken away and not allowed to return. Hubb Khotun passed the rest of her life in separation from her husband. During this period she composed exquisite lyrics of love and life.

Arnimal and Hubb Khotun had similar tragedies in life. Their outpourings in verse projected the feelings and the ethos of Kashmiri women in general - yearning for freedom, equality and intellectual liberty. Arnimal was born in the second half of the 18th century. She was the wife of Munshi Bhavanidas Kachru, a Persian scholar and writer. Her married life was unhappy. She poured forth her heart in a series of poignant but exquisite poems of love in Kashmiri. These are comparable with the finest love poems in any language.

This article has dealt with the contributions of Kashmiri Pandits up to the late eighteenth century. It is only an overview of what they have achieved, not a full detailed account. There are others who have played important roles, among them, notably, Parmananda (1791-1879) and Dinanath Nadim. Kashmiri scholars of Persian and Urdu settled in Delhi, Lucknow and Allahabad have made significant contributions, especially Brij Narayan 'Chakbast' (1882-1926) who has an important place in Urdu poetry and criticism. It is believed that no less an Urdu poet than lqbal himself had Kashmiri Pandits as his ancestors who had converted to Islam and settled in Punjab. It can be clearly seen thus that the cultural history of Kashmir is ancient and rich. Of late the state has been going through trouble and turmoil due to political reasons. History tells us that the Kashmiris were never isolated from the rest of India. It is remarkable how such a small community has made such a lasting impression on the country's cultural heritage. It is for us to learn from our predecessors and continue along these lines. I would like to close this article with these words from 'Chakbast'.

bulbul ko gulmubarak gul ko chaman mubarak
hum bekason ko apna pyara watan mubarak

(Original in Hindi/Urdu)

Kashmiri Overseas Association