Kashmir in Ancient Sanskrit Literature|
- Dr. B. N. Kalla
ACCORDING to the Nilmat Purana, the land of
Kashmir was occupied by a vast lake called "Satisara". Modern
geological observations have supported this legendary view. On the basis of this
fact, the word "Kashmir" is derived from Sanskrit "Kashyapa +
Mira" which means the sea lake or the mountain of sage Kashyapa. Kashyapa
was the originator of Kashmir. In Kashmiri, it is called "Kasheer" and
"Kashmir" in the Indian languages. Phonetically, "m" is
eroded here as we find erosion in the word "Samudra" (ocean). "Samudra"
changes into the form of "Sadur" (derived from Sanskrit Samudra in the
Kashmiri language and "Samandra" in the Indian languages.
"M" is retained in Hindi, Urdu, etc. but not in Kashmiri. Thus "Kashyapa
+ Mira" = Kashmir in the Indian languages other than Kashmiri and "Kasheer"
in Kashmiri. Mir in English means the sea as Mariner in Latin Marinus (more-
The name of Kashmir does not occur in the Vedic
literature. In the "Nadi Sukta" of Rig Veda, there is a hymn which
mentions the name of Vitasta (in Kashmiri Veth and modern Jhelum).
Among the grammarians, the earliest referenee to
Kashmir is found in Panini's (500 B.C.) "Ashtadhayi" and in
Patanjali's great commentary on it. There the term "Kashmir" and its
derivation "Kashmira" are stated as the name of the country and its
Among the epics, we find the name of
"Kashmir" in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata refers
in several passages to "Kashmir" and their king, but in a way which
merely indicates that the valley was situated in the hilly regions to the north
of India. Similarly, some of the Puranas refer to Kashmir in the list of
northern nations. The earliest Sanskrit literature of the valley so far known is
the Nilmat Purana. According to the opinion of Dr. Buhler, a famous German
Indologist: "It is a real mine of information regarding the sacred places
of Kashmir and their legends". Besides, the reference to worships
prescribed by "Nila" and observed by the people, the work dilates upon
such various topics as the Principal Nagas or sacred springs of Kashmir, the
origin of the "Mahapadamsara" (present Wular Lake), places dedicated
to Shiva and Vishnu, the sacred river confluences and lakes, the chief
pilgrimages of the land and in the end upon the sanctity of the Vitasta.
Varahmihra (C.A.D. 500), in his Brahtsamhita, includes
the Kashmiras in the north-eastern division of the other tribes who lived in
this region. He mentions the Abhisaras, Daradas, Darvas, Khashas, Kiras, etc.,
the tribes which are known from other sources to have inhabited Kashmir and its
neighbouring regions in historical periods. Harasha, a famous poet (7th Century
A.D.), in his "Ratnavali" (drama), refers to the saffron of the
Kashmira country, which was best of all types of saffrons, both in colour and in
Very useful information
The Nilmat Purana describes the tribes as Nagas,
Pishachas, Darvas, Abhisaras, Gandharas, Shakas, Khashas, Mundavas, Madaras,
Yavanas, etc. In the Atharvasamhita, we find mention of some northern tribes
like the Bahlikas, Mahavarshas, Gandharis and Mujavats. The Brahmnas and the
Upnishdas refer to some of the tribes who lived in the north-west, such as the
Gandharas, Kekyas, Madaras and Ambashthas.
Kshemendra, the polyhister, in his work, namely "Samyamatrika",
furnishes us with some useful information about the topographical details of his
country. His heroine, Kankali travels through the length and breadth of Kashmir.
To the poet we owe the first reference to "Pirpanchal" route (Panchadhara).
After Kshemendra, Somdeva, the author of the Kathasaritsagar, describes Kashmir
as a region in the south of the Himalayas by the waters of the Vitasta. He
mentions some of the holy sites of the valley, such as Vijayakshetra,
Nandikshetra, Varahkshetra and Uttarmansa and the town of Hiranypura.
The temple of Shivavijayesha or Vijayeshwara, since
ancient times one of the most famous shrines of the valley, has given its name
to the town in which it was situated, Vijayeshwara, the modern Vijabror 75¡9'
long, 33¡48' lat. "Bror" in Kashmiri means God, a derivative of
Sanskrit Bhattaraka, corresponding to Ishvara.
The name, Nandikshetra, is given by the Nilmata, the
Nandikshetra and Harmukta Mahatmyas to a high alpine valley at the foot of the
east glaciers of the Harmukh peaks which contains the sacred Kalodakalake,
popularly known as Nundkol. The Nanikshetra includes the ncighbouring site of
Bhuteshwara or Buthsher, in the Kankanai valley below Nandkol.
Varahkshetra is modern Baramulla.
Uttarmansa is meant the sacred Ganga lake situated
below the eastern glaciers of Mount Harmukh and popularly known as Gangabal.
Hiranypura, the town founded by Hranyaksha at Ranyal, a
village situated circ. 74¡52 long. 34¡12 lat. close to the high road which
leads from Srinagar to Ganderbal and the Sindh Valley.
Bilhana, the contemporary of Kalhana, lived during the
reigns of King Kalsha and Harsha. He also left an account of his native valley.
In his Vikramandekadeva Charita, he gives us a vivid picture of the Kashmirian
capital and the village of Khonomusha (present Khonmoh) where he took birth. His
account, apart from its poetic beauties, is full of local details. In addition
to it, he has given the description of the language of his time. As per his
version, Sanskrit and hakrit were in use like their mother-tongue.
For the history, as well as for the early geography of
the valley, Kalhana's Rajtarangini is a very important historical document. In
the first Taranga of his work, he gives us an account of the legends relating to
the creation of Kashmir and its sacred river, the Vitasta, and refers, besides,
to the most famous of the many Tirthas in which Kashmir was abundant. For the
historical geography of Kashmir is the mass of incidental references of
topographical interest scattered throughout his work.
Ancient Kashmir was really rich in holy places and the
objects of pilgrimages were planted throughout the valley. According to the
Rajtarangini, Kashmir was a country where there was not a space as large as a
grain of sesamum without a Tirtha. The springs (Naag in Kashmiri), which had
their tutelary deities in the form of Nagas, the streams and the rivers, in
particular sacred legends attached to each of them, innumerable places connected
with the worship of various gods and goddesses - all these and many more have
been frequently mentioned by Kalhana. They have some topographical importance as
they enable us to trace with more or less certainty the early history of most of
the popular places of pilgrims visited up to present day. The marvellous
accuracy of Kalhana's topographical knowledge about some of the Tirthas tends to
show that he visited them personally.
A number of feferences made by Kalhana regarding the
origin of towns, cities, villages, estates and shrines are also of topographical
importance. His knowledge about the birth of these towns and shrines seems to
have been gathered from the inscriptions, recording the consecration of temples
and grants of land by former kings.
The system of nomenclature followed in ancient Kashmir
preserved a genuine tradition regarding their founder. In the cases of towns and
cities, the appellation "Pura" is attached to the name of the founder.
In the cases of religious structures, terms indicating the deity or the object
to which the building was dedicated follow.
The notices for the foundations of the towns, etc. made
by Kalhana, are sometimes accompanied by accurate description of the sites
chosen and of structures connected with them. Mention may be made in this
connection about his descriptions of the towns of Pravarapura, Parihaspura and
Jayapura Dwarvati. It is Kalhana's accurate dcscription which alone has helped
future scholars to idenlify some of the ruined sites of present times with the
famed cities of the past. The seventh and eighth Tarangas of Rajtarangini are
full and elaborate with detailed topographical intormation. Kalhana,
incidentally, tells us so much about the various localities connected with those
events - we can clearly trace them from the map. His topographical exactness is
strikingly revealed from such accounts as the regulation of the waters of the
Vitasta by Suyya, the sieges of Shrinagar under Sussala, the battle on the
Gopadari hill in the same period, the blockade of Lohara and the siege of the
Description of Kashmir
The poet, Mankha, was a contemporary of Kalhana. In the
third canto of his work - Shrikanthacharita - he gives an account of Pravarpura,
the capital of Kashmir.
Among other texts of topographical interest, mention
may be made of Haracharitachintamani of Jayadratha. Jayadratha belonged to the
end of the 12th century AD or the beginning of the 13th century AD. In his 32
cantos, he deals with a number of legends connected with Shiva and his Avatars
Of these, eight legends are centred round well-known Kashmirian Tirthas and
afford the author an opportunity of describing various sacred sites of Kashmir,
connected directly or indirectly with them. Jayadratha's detailed description
shows the gradual development of legends connected with different places of
pilgrimage since the days of Kalhana.
The numerous Mahatmyas of Kashmir are also interesting
sources for early historical geography. Thus the fole of Mahatmyas in describing
the topography of the valley cannot be ruled out. They give us a good
intormation regarding the ancient nomenclature of Kashmir. Among the 51
Mahatmyas, the Vitasta Mahatmya is a big one which is divided into 35 Patalas.
They generally set forth the different legends connected with various places of
pilgrimage, the merit to be appeared by their visits and the rites to be
performed in each of the sites. They contain many early materials and local
traditions and are thus vaiuahle for a systemalic study of the old topography of
1. The Nilamat Purana Vol I; Dr. Ved Kumari
A Sanskrit scholar and linguist, Dr. Kala is presently
with the Department of Sanskrit, Delhi University.
2. Early History and Culture of Kashmir: Dr Sunil
3. Panini's Ashtadhyayi (Ganapatha)
4. Rajtarangini's English (translation): M. A. Stein.
5. Kashir Dictionary. vol IV, published hy Jammu
& Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture & Languages.
The author has given an etymology of 40,000 words of
Kashmiri language up to the last volume - Vol VII of Kashmiri Dictionary
published by Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy, Srinagar.
6. Webster's Encyclopaedia Dictionary of the English