In about 8000 B.C. the Valley of Kashmir was a vast lake surrounded by the lofty mountains. The Nilamatapurana of Nila-nage is the earliest sources of information about the origin of Kashmir, its earliest inhabitants and its tirthas. It tells us  to how Shiva drained off the lake by striking the mountains with his trisul, how the Nagas succeeded in killing the Jalod, the ruler of the clan inhabiting the lake and the details about the fourteen tribes, which later on settled in the Valley. Kashmir then came to be known as Satidesha, and people by various tribes, such as Nagas the Pishachas, the Gandhravas, the Sakas, Tunganas, and the Yavnas. The Nagas, who were of Turanian stock were the first inhabitants of the Valley, were in majority  and they were the first to accept the doctrines of Buddhism. They were the sun and the serpent worshippers of the pre-historic times.

The earliest references to the Valley of Kashmir are contained in the Greek classic of Ptolemy, Dionysios, Hekataios, and Herodotos. The Chinese have also referred to Kashmir and there are  clear references to the Valley in the Annals of the ‘T’ang dynasty, but these pertain to the 6th Century A.D. the Arabic works of Al Masudi, Al-qazwini, Al-Idrisi and Al-Beruni also contain references to the Valley of Kashmir and in this connection, Al-Beruni’s India is most authentic.

Excavations conducted at Burzahom have revealed that the earliest inhabitants of the Valley were cave-dewellers or pit-dewellers. It was in about 3300 B.C. that eth people of Kashmir chose the various Krewas or uplands for their residential purposes. The ancient  site has yielded a large number of bone and stone tools, in the shape of harpoons, needles, arrow-heads, spear heads, axes, chisels etc. Of  unusual interest are the burials of human being and animals  so far located in the habitation chambers. The excavations also revealed the first ever found rock painting, depicting a hunting scene during day, illuminated by the two shinning suns, which is perhaps the earliest specimen of primitive art in Kashmir.

During the 6th Century B.C. the Achaemenian Monarchy rose to power in Persia, Afghanistan and other regions of the Northern India under the leadership of Cyrus the Great. The Valle of Kashmir, which formed a part of Gnadhara, came under the influence of Bactrains, the Scythians and the Parthias. Alexander the Great marched his armies into India in the beginning of 326 B.C. After his departure, may small Greek  chief-ships arose in the North Western region of India and Demetrious become the ruler of a big kingdom,w hich included Kashmir also.

Among the Greek Rulers, whose coins have been located in the Valley are Euthydemos I Apollodots, Menandrou, Antimachos Nikephoros, Hippostratos, Azez, Azilises, Vonones, Spalagadames, Spalirises and Maues. It was Menandro, who after having been defeated by Nagasena in a religious discussion, became a Buddhist. It was during the Greek period that the cultural traditions in Rome, Byzantium, Syria and Persia travelled to the Valley and its influence can be traced in the archaeological style of the Sun temple of Martanda. Similar foreign influences can be traced in the constructional style of Takhat-i-Sulaiman and the Buddhist terra-cottas of Harwan, Ushkar and Akhnur.

The Yu-echi tribes of the Kansu region in China occupied Gandara in about 177 B.C. and they are known as the Kushanas. Kalhana in his Rajatarangini provides historical evidence about the three Kushana rulers – Hushka, Juskha and Kanishka, who ruled over Kashmir in about the first century A.D. and founded many towns, Viharas and Buddhist stupas in the Valley.

During the powerful reigns of the Kushana Kings, the people of the Valley adopted Buddhism as their religion. It was during the reign of Kanishka that the 4th Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir. the final decisions of the Council were engraved on copper plates and deposited in a Stupa in the Valley. Henceforth, the Valley became the fountain head of the Mahayana Buddhism, which was popularized by the Kashmiris in Central Asia, Tibet, China and South-East Asia. Vairochana was the first Kashmirian Missionary, who built the first Buddhist Vihar at Khotan in the Central Asian Region. Most famous among the Kashmirian Monks, who introduced Buddhism in China, are Kumarajiva, Buddhayasas, Sanghabhuti, Vimalaksha and Gunavarmana. The latter is renowned for his missionary activities in Java, Sumatra, Bali, Borneo and other islands in the South-East Asia. It was in the 7th Century that Buddhism lost its popularity in the Valley and Hindusim asserted its dominant position due to the patronage extended to it by the King of Kashmir. it was Nara, who started the process which eventually resulted in the extinction of Buddhism from Kashmir.

During the period of the Karkotas, Kashmir developed a humanistic philosophy of its own, known as the Kashmir Shaivism. The Agamas, which gives a description of dialogues between Shiva and Parvati, were compiled with suitable interpretations by Soma-nanda in the 8th Century. Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta further developed them with detailed commentaries likeIshvara Prays-bhijna and the famed Tantraloka. The Kashmirian scholars worked out a monistic philosophy, which is quit distinct from the Advaita Vedanta. They taught that phenomenal existence, though transitory in nature was not unreal and manifested in its phenomental aspect. It continues to be what it has been eternally, the limitless, all inclusive, blissful and external consciousness.

The Kashmiris excelled in architecture during the period ending the 12th Century A.D. The Archaeological remains at Awantipur, Martand, Taper, Mattan and Parihaspur are the most remarkable existing monuments in India. The Kashmiris rearranged the motifs they had ready at hand into a new artistic combination which was so  beautiful and at the same time so dignified that it fixed for all succeeding centuries the ideal of what a temple for the God should be. This splendid architecture of Kashmir is our most treasured heritage.

About the Author
FM HassnainF.M. Hassnain, a graduate from the University of Punjab, Lahore completed his  Post Graduation Studies in History and Law from the Muslim University, Aligarh.  He began his service career as a professor in 1948 and retired as the Director of Archives Archaeology, Research and Museums, Jammu & Kashmir State in 1980. He is an author of about two dozen book on history, culture and mysticism. He is the first Kashmiri writer whose books have been published in Poland, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Information Courtesy: Gulshan Books. From the pages of “Heritage of Kashmir” edited by F.M. Hassnain

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