Kashmiri Tirthas

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

- by Prathik Sudha Murali

Apart from foreign traveler accounts that give detailed information on Kashmir, indigenous sources about its history are not absent. Kalhana’s Rajatarangini forms a very important source to open gates to Kashmir’s history. This colossal work composed in the years 1148-49 is the oldest record of various dynasties which ruled Kashmir upto the author’s time. The chronicler quotes various works that were present in his time, but unfortunately we have lost all of them.

Apart from the information it supplies on dynasties and their kings, we can deduce various information such as religion, culture, topography, buildings, economy etc., about which future articles shall deal with.

Kashmir has always been a very important place of pilgrimage for Indians, both Buddhist and Hindu. Its importance is known from the fact that the stories of two important philosophers and religious leaders of India, Sankaracharya and Ramanuja contain narratives about their visit to Kashmir’s temples.

Religious places are called ‘Tirthas’ in Sanskrit. In the introductory chapter to Kashmir’s history, Kalhana conveys that there is not a piece of land that is the size of a sesame seed that is not a Thirtha (tilAmshOpi na yatrAsti prithivyAstIrthairvahishkruta:) All these Tirthas have many Puranic stories connected to them.

Kashmir’s origins as per Rajatarangini are shrouded in mythology. It is stated that the land of Kashmir, that is in the womb of the mighty Himalayas was once filled with water and was known as the lake of 'satisaras'. The gods then descended to kill a demon who was called ‘jalOdhbhava’, after which the inhabitable land mass of Kashmir was created. The gods were demanded to destroy the demon by a Rishi called ‘Kashyapa’. It is therefore presumable that the word ‘Kashmir’ is derived from the Rishi’s name (or ascribed to him later).

It is said that the state of Kashmir is protected by a Naga called Neela, who resides in a pond called Neelakunda, which is fed by the river Jhelum. The Vitasta (today’s ‘Jhelum’) river was considered a sacred water body by the Kashmiris. Goddess Parvati is said to have manifested as the river Vitasta.

Rajatarangini adds a very poetic touch to this personification of the river. The fact that the river Vitasta runs facing the ravines is conveyed with a dual meaning. The word for ravine in Sanskrit is ‘Guha’, which also refers to Parvati’s son, Kartikeya. Just like a mother looks always at her son, Vitasta (embodiment of Parvati) faces Guha (ravine/ Kartikeya). The river also feeds various lakes through mouths that are in the shape of snakes. This is compared to a young baby Ganesha, drinking milk from the bosom of Parvati through his snake shaped trunk. Thus, the river Jhelum is considered as the manifestation of the goddess Uma herself and hence, as is the tradition with many other rivers of India, it is evident that Jhelum was also a very sacred river .

Kalhana also gives an account of a Shiva temple in a Tirtha called Papasudana (Killer of sins), where the wooden image of Shiva (kAshta rUpam umApatim) is being touched and revered by devotees. This Shiva temple is also known to Al-Beruni (about whom the previous post speaks in detail), who refers to the temple as Kapateshwara. He mentions a festival where the lake near the temple has many wooden blocks floating on it.

Another lake at the base of a mountain called ‘Bhedagiri’ is mentioned. It is said that the goddess of learning lives as a in the lake. Probably, this was also a center of learning. The main place of worship of Kashmir, being the Sharada Peeta, which was visited by Sankara and Ramanuja is mentioned by Kalhana as well. She is praised as being praised by poets and learned people. She is given various names like vANi, madhumati etc.

The list of holy places concludes with a very interesting shloka that reads,

“vijIyatE puNya balairbalairyattu na shastrinAm | paralOkAttathO bhIti: yasmin nivasatAm param||”

The land of Kashmir is conquerable. It can be conquered by the merit of good deeds and never by the might of soldiers. Its inhabitants are hence not afraid of this world, but are afraid of the world beyond. (Therefore they do not indulge in activities that are ill in conduct).

We do recognize that a thousand years later, Kalhana’s words in this shloka did not remain true for a long time and do not remain true even today, where the wonder that is Kashmir is under threat from many forces. Along with the reading and understanding of her glorious history, let us also hope that peace is permanently achieved in the valley. The author can be reached at sahagamana@gmail.com

References: Kalhana Rajatarangini Moolam - Prathama Tarangini Al Biruni's India Photo Credits - Shruti Sivakumar

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