By Francis Younghusband, K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E.
Thus among the first authentic facts we can safely lay hold of from among mistry and elusive statements of exuberant Oriental historians, is the fact that Ashoka’s sovereign power extended to Kashmir – Ashoka, the contemporary of Hannibal, and the enthusiastic Buddhist ruler of India, whose kingdom extended from Bengal to the Deccan, to Afghanistan and to the Punjab, and the results of whose influence may be seen to this day in Kashmir, in the remains of Buddhist temples and status, and in the ruins of cities founded by him 250 years before Christ, 200 years before the Romans landed in Britain, and 700 years before what is now known as England had yet been trodden by truly English feet.
At this time Buddhism was dominating religion in northern India, and perhaps received an additional impulse from the Greek kingdoms in the Punjab, planted by Alexander the Great as the result of his invasion in 327 B.C. Ashoka had organised it on the basis of a state religion, had organised it on the basis of a state religion, he had spread the religion with immense enthusiasm, and in Kashmir he caused stupas and temples to be created, and founded the original city of Srinagar, then situated on the site of the present day Pandrathan, three miles above the existing capital. He had broken through the fetters of Brahminism and established a friendly intercourse with Greece and Egypt, and it is to this connection that the introduction of stone architecture and sculpture is due. The Punjab contains many examples of Graeco-Buddhist art, and Kashmir history dawns at the time when Greek influence was most prominent in India.
The first great impluse which has left its mark on the ages came, then, not from within, but from without-not from with Kashmir, but from India, Greece and Egypt. Little, indeed, now remians of that initial movement. The religion which was its mainspring has now not a single votary among the inhabitants of the Valley. The city Ashoka founded has long since disappeared. But the great record remains; and on a site beautiful even for Kashmir, where the river sweeps gracefully round to kiss the spur on which the city was built, and from whose sloping terraces the inhabitants could look out over the smiling fields, the purple hills, and snowy mountain summits of their lovely country, there still exists the remnants sign that at one time great men ruled the land.
The next great landmark in Kashmir history is the reign of the king Kanishka, the Indo-Scythian ruler of upper India. He reigned about 40 A.D., when the Romans were conquering Britain and Buddhism was just beginning to spread to China. He was of Turki descent, and was part of that wave of Scythain immigration which for two or three hundred years came pouring down from Central Asia. And he was renowned throughout the Buddhist world as the pious Buddhsit king, who held in Kashmir the famous Third Great Council of the Church which drew up the Northern Canon or ‘Greater Vehicle of the Law’. In his time, too there lived at a site which is still traceable at Harwan, nestling under the higher mountains at the entrance of one of the attracttive side-valleys of Kashmir, and overlooking the placid waters of the Dal Lake, a famous Bodhisattva, Nagarjuna, who from this peaceful retreat exercised a spiritual lordship over the land.
Buddhism was, in fact at the zenith of its power in Kashmir. But a reaction against it was soon to follow, and from this time onward the orthodox Brahministic hinusim, from which Buddhism was revolt, reasserted itself, and Buddhism steadily waned. When the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang visited Kashmir, about A.D. 631, he said, ‘this kingdom is not much given to the faith, and the temples of the heretics are their sole throught’.
About the author
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, KCSI, KCIE (31 May 1863 – 31 July 1942) was a British Army officer, explorer, and spiritual writer. He is remembered for his travels in the Far East and Central Asia; especially the 1904 British expedition to Tibet, led by him, and for his writings on Asia and foreign policy. Younghusband held positions including British commissioner to Tibet and President of the Royal Geographical Society.
During his service in Kashmir, he wrote a book called ‘Kashmir’ at the request of Edward Molyneux. Younghusband’s descriptions went hand in hand with his paintings of the Valley by Molyneux. In the book, Younghusband declared his immense admiration of the natural beauty of Kashmir and its history.
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