The historical sense of societies from our epics and other earlier writings are important, as records of history are embedded in them. This aspect is fully made use of by the author of this book, who is eminently suitable for writing a book of this particular genre. Brigadier Kaul, a retired army officer, whose knowledge about Kashmir is both cerebral and visceral, records the history of Kashmir that may not be recognised as an academic exercise in its true sense, but originates from his passionate desire to know about the place he was born in and the community to which he belongs. In that sense the author has done a remarkable job in bringing together information from various sources in an enjoyable and readable manner.
Divided into 10 chapters, readers will find this book more informative than many other historical works of eminent authors as this contains almost everything written about Kashmir from ancient times.
The foreword by Lt. Gen. (retd) S. K. Sinha is most appropriate as one who has been associated with Kashmir from October 27, 1947, when the Indian Army went to rescue the people of Kashmir from the brutal invasion launched by Pakistan and who served as the Governor of the state in turbulent times.
One of the earliest references to Kashmir by a western observer is in the Periplus of the Erythraen Sea: “Through this same region and from the upper country is brought the spikenard that comes through Poclais; that is, the Caspapyrene and Paropanisene and Cabolitic and that brought through the adjoining country of Scythia …” Caspapyrene here means Kasyapapura or Kashmir. Since the Periplus was written in the first century CE, we can assume the land of Kashmir was well advanced even in the first century CE and traded through the ports of today’s Gujarat. The evolution of such a place needs to be recorded and the author has done it with sincerity of purpose it.
The historical traditions of North India are analysed and the author takes the reader through times of Aryan migration, especially the origin of Saraswat Brahmins and their entry into Kashmir. Quoting from Nilamat Puranam, the author says that the original inhabitants of Kashmir were Nagas. He then narrates the genesis of Gotras. Similarly, the author quotes extensively from Rajatarangini, an important source book for history of Kashmir and a treatise of the 12 century. According to Rajatarangini, the name of Kashmir means ‘desiccated land’, a place got out of a water body. While discussing Rajatarangini, there is a critical examination by the author that is worth noting.
As early as from the 1 century, three distinct historical traditions note Kashmir, that of Ithihas- Purana, Buddhist and Chinese notices and popular Bardic. The author has laboriously gone through all these traditions and narrates the stories that would make even a lay reader to sit up and think. This can be considered the most important aspect of the work.
The book in two main parts covers the history of the Kashmir valley from the earliest times to the present and the philosophy and religious beliefs of the people of the land. Starting from an account of the ancient rule, of Gonanda I the narration goes through the period of Ashoka when religious conversions took place. Since the Nilamat Puranam holds that Buddha is an avatar of Vishnu, the author asserts, not only Vishnu worship preceded Buddhism in Kashmir, but also the Buddhism practised then was a mixture of Vishnu worship and what was propounded by Gautama Buddha. King Gopaditya (417-357 BC) was a Vaishnavite and it was only during Emperor Ashoka’s time that Majjihantika was sent to Kashmir to preach Buddhism.
The author does not contribute to the belief that Ashoka visited Kashmir and Srinagar was named by him. A temple popularly known as Paan Mandir is the Pandrethan temple near the Jhelum (vitasta) bank on the main highway, about five km from Srinagar city, is recorded by the English as probably belonging to 10 century whose ruling deity is Meruvardhanaswami. Pandrethan is a corruption of Puranadhisthan (old capital) and appears to be the capital in Ashoka’s time. This temple figures in an archaeological report by Henry Hardy Cole. According to the author, Ashoka’s reported visit to this place is just a myth and he seeks to establish this with his findings from various sources. It is true that Kalhan does mention Ashoka in verse 102, but if Ashoka had indeed founded the place, he would have dealt with him in detail, which he has not. Therefore, the author concludes that Ashoka never visited this place.
Buddhism continued in the valley till the end of 100 AD when the Karkota dynasty came to power. Rajatarangini narrates the story of the kings and Hindu dynasties started ruling only from first half of the 7 century. This is corroborated by Huen Sang’s notices. The author traces the history through the Utpala, Gupta and Lohara dynasties and quotes from Somadeva’s Kathasaritasagara, a collection of various stories and legends, which has been translated into English by C. H. Tawney as The Ocean of Story. Drawing particular attention is a chapter in which periods of ancient Hindu rule, and the advent of Islam are discussed. This is followed by accounts of the Moghuls, Afghans and Sikhs, and close on the heels of such analyses comes the Dogra rule period which is really from 9 century.
The traumatic times of Kashmir after Hari Singh and the assessment of the Dogra rule is worth reading. A very important and interesting chapter of the book is Manifestation of Kul Devis, in which the author takes pains to go into the depths of mother Goddess worship. An outcome of industrious research and deep passion, the book is a welcome addition to the volumes on Kashmir.
HISTORY OF KAS’MIRA (KASHMIR)
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