Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kashmiris and Literature

KASHMIR and Kashmiris have a history of probably over 5000 years. In an age when there were no facilities for documenting events and storing books and writings, defining time is an eternal problem. But there is no denying the fact that Indian literature has a history of over 2000 years and the Epics "Ramaayana" and "Mahabharata" are at least over 2000 years old and well before the period of Jesus Christ.  The earliest known western epics of Mesopotamian era, "Epics of Gilgamesh" is believed to be at least 4200 years old, some two millennium before Christ. Greek epics Illiad and Odyssey are believed to be written around 8th Century BC.  Western scholars are not willing to accept that Ramayana and Mahabharata are earlier than 5th Century BC. The problem of arriving at a definite period in which such epics were written or evolved is in two dimensions - one due to non-availability of printing or storage facility for such valuable literary works and a reluctance on the part of the writers to record any information about themselves in their works. Nevertheless, proof of Pudding is in eating and the value of these invaluable literary works lies in in their context and content and not in their place and time.

History of Kashmiri literature also suffers from the same problems and it is difficult to pin point the exact evolvement of the tradition. The exposure of our lands to foreign invaders have confounded the problem as many valuable physical assets as well as works of literature were destroyed during such invasions. Sultan Sikandar Butshikan, seventh Muslim ruler and second sultan of Gabari Tajik dynasty especially ordered destruction of all Hindu places of worship and Hindu properties.   All gold and silver images were directed to be melted and the metal converted to coins.  Hindus were allowed the option of getting converted to Islam or flee from Kashmir.  Many valuable literary works were lost in the process.  History is a witness to burning of libraries by invaders who cared little for the treasures of wisdom.  We have to trace the history of Kashmiri literature within these limitations.

Kashmiri writers can be classified into four broad categories; Kashmiri Shaivism writers, writers who have recorded Kashmir's history, other prominent writers of old era and modern Kashmiri writers. Vasu Gupta, Abhinava Gupta, Kshemaraja, Utpaladeva, Lalleswari belong to the Kashmiri Saivism writers category. Kalhana, Jonaraja, Shivara and Pragna Bhatta are poets who have recorded the history of Kashmir in their works. Anandavardhana and Bilhana belong to the third category. Among the modren writers are Swami Lakshman Joo Raina and Shyam Lal Sadhu. Prof. Rahaman Rahi is a modern kashmiri poet and first recipient of Bharatiya Janapeeth award for the year 2004.

The above is a broad classification only and a writer may fall in more than one category due to multiple works. 

Anandavardhana is the earliest known Sanskrit poet and philosopher from Kashmir and is said to have lived in 9th century (820AD-890AD). He is the author of the celebrated work "Dhvanyaloka", a work articulating the philosophy of "Aesthetic suggestion". This is a "Aacharya Kruti" (reference/source book) for students of Literature and Alankara. The response of different persons to the same literary work differs. Why is it so? Anandavardhana has answered this varied response of different persons to the same literary work by creating the "Dhwani Theory", which stipulates that "when a poet writes, he creates a resonant field of emotions. To understand poetry, the reader or hearer must be on the same wavelength." It is well known that similar type of seeds sown in different categories of land give different yields.  Why?  The answer lies in the fact that the capacity of different types of land to respond to the same type of seed varies. Even the same piece of land gives different yields when the soil is prepared differently and with variation in the quality and quantity of manure and water provided.  Similarly, the capacity of the reader to receive and respond to a literary work defines the "Aaananda" or "Rasaanubhava" he derives from reading or viewing a literary work. The same reader can reach a higher level of appreciating the work with his own preparation reaching a higher level.  A student studying Kaalidaasa or Shakespeare while in school and reading the same works in old age will derive different "Rasaanubhava", kruti being the same. In this context, Ananda Vardhana has really been a Vardhaka (one who increases) of Aananda or Rasanubhava.

Vasu Gupta said to have lived in the 9th century (860-925 AD) is credited as the founder of "Kashmiri Shaivism".  His followers believe that being a ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, he was directed by the Lord who appeared in his dream to go to a place called "Havan" and there he found a rock on which the "Shiva Sutras" were inscribed. There is a ring of Moses and Ten Commandments to this story. This rock is known as "Shankara Pal" or the Rock of Shiva. Even now his followers offer prayers at this place called "Havan". (If the followers are still allowed to live or go to this place).  Vasu Gupta is also said to have written "Spanda Kaarikas" as a commentary on the Shiva Sutras.  Some are of the opinion that the "Spanda Kaarikas" are written by a student of Vasu Gupta by name Bhatta Kallata.

Abhinava Gupta is one of India's greatest philosophers and a mystic poet. He was a multi-faceted personality, a poet, dramatist, musician and philosopher and lived during 10th century (950-1020 AD). His Abhinavabharati is a commentary on "Natyashasta" of Bharatamuni, based on which various dance forms and Rangakritis (Dramas etc.) in India are derived.  He is the author of the concepts of Trika (Trinity) and Kaula.   Trika concept stipulates that Siva (Supreme Power), Shakti (Creative Energy) and Anu (Spiritual Atom) form the basis of creation. Kaula or Kula describes a Family or Group, something similar to a Gotra. The surname of KAUL sported by many kashmiri Brahmin families appears to have been derived from this Kaula concept. 

Kshemaraja, who lived in 10th century and a disciple of Abhinavagupta has written "Pratyabhignana Hridayam", an expansion of the sutras of Kashmiri Shaivism. Utpaladeva, who also lived in 10th century, is said to be the author of "Shivastotravali"  and "Ishwara Prayabhignana Kaarika", further expanding the vistas of Kashmiri Shaivisam. Bhaskara Bhatta, again a person who lived in 10th century, has written a commentary by name "Shivadristi Vartikka", a commentary on Shivasutras of Vasugupta. Somaananda, believed to be the teacher of Utpaladeva and a contemporary of Bhatta Kallata, has written a devotional poem by name "Shivadristi". 

Kalhana has made invaluable contribution to Literature and History. He was the son of Canpaka (or it should be Champaka ?) who was a minister and served King Harsha of the Lohara dynasty.  Kalhana himself does not appear to have served any King and lived in 12th century. His "Raajatarangini" is a invaluable book detailing the history of Kashmir and Kalhana is among the greatest historical poets of our country.  The book is in eight parts and is the first available recorded chronological history of Kashmir. 

Bilhana is a poet who is a source of various stories and multiple interpretations.  He is said to have hailed from Madhya Pradesh and migrated to Kashmir.  He was assigned to educate and tutor a princess by name Yamini Purnatilaka, daughter of King Madanabhirama.  A young poet, he ended up reading love lyrics to her, was caught and jailed. Not knowing what will happen to him and expecting a death sentence, he wrote a 50 lines love song by name "Chorapanchashika".  One story is with a happy ending and says that moved by his love and his talent for poetry, the King gave his daughter to him in marriage!  He later migrated to Gujarat and finally ended up in Karnataka.  His "Vikramaankadevacharita" is a 18 canto epic written in praise of the life and achievements of his patron, Chalukya King Vikramaaditya VI.

Jonaraaja of 15th century continued the tradition of Kalhana and is another noted historian from Kashmir. He wrote "Dwitiya Rajatarangini", the second Rajatarangini.  He vividly describes the decline of the Hindu Ruling Dynasty and the uprising of the Muslim rulers in the valley.  Shivara, another poet of the same period is also said to have added to the writings on the history of Kashmir. Pragna Bhatta of 16th century continued the traditions of Kshemendra, Jonaraja and Shivara. His "Raajavali Pataaka" continues the history of Kashmir till Moghal Emperor Akbar, to the end of 16th century. 

Lalleswari (1320-1392 AD) is a noted poetess of Kashmir. She was a Kashmiri Shivite and was aslo considered a Sufi saint. She is one of the earliest composers in Kashmiri and her verses are also known as Lalla, Lal Ded or Lal Arifa. She set a trend for writings in the form of Vatsun or Vakhs. There are many stories about her encounters with Sufi saints. She is believed to have lived near Srinagar and after an unhappy early marriage moved out and became a disciple of shivite Guru Siddha Srikanta. Her story bears a remarkable resemblance to Akka Mahadevi of Karnataka who lived in 12th century. Lalleswari's Vakhs are also very similar to Akka Mahadevi's Vachanas. Vakhs also means "Speech" or Vachana. One of her vachanas and its English translation is as under:

Yi Yi karum suy artsun,
Yi rasini vichorum thi mantar,
Yihay lagamo dhahas partsun,
Suy Parasivun tanthar.

Its English translation:
Whatever work I did became worship of the Lord,
Whatever word I uttered became a prayer,
Whatever this body of mine experienced became the saadhana of Shiva Tantra,
Illuminating my path to Paramashiva!

Compare this with the essence of Advaita of Aadi Shankaracharya:
अत्मात्वं गिरिजापतिः  परिजनाः प्राणाः शरीरं गृहं
पूजा ते विषयोपभोग रचना निद्रा समाधि स्थितिः 
संचारः पदयोः प्रादक्षिण नमस्कृतिः  स्तोत्राणि सर्वागिरः 
यद्यत  कर्म करोमि तत्तधखिलं शम्भो तवाराधनम्

Aatma twam Girijapatihi parijanaah praanah shareeram gruham
pooja te vishyopabhoga rachana nidraa samadhi stitihi
Sancaarah padayooho pradakshina namaskrutihi stotraani sarvagirah
Yadyat karma karomi tattadhakhilam shambhio tavaaradhanam

He Aatman! you are the Lord Shiva himself, My (panch or five) pranas are voluntary servants, this body is the temple,
whatever comforts given to the body is your pooja, my sleeping is penance or samaadhi,
walking around is pradakshina namaskara, whatever is spoken is your prayer,
whatever I do, Oh my Lord, is your worship.

Among the modern writers of Kashmir Swami Lakshman Joo Raina (1907-1991) and Shyama Lal Sadhu are known for their contribution to Kashmiri and English literature.  Swami Lakshman Joo Raina is known as Lal Sahib, meaning Friend of God, is a revered personality and has translated a number of  Sanskrit and Kashmiri books to Hindi and English. Shyam Lal Sadhu. Professor of English, wrote in Kashmiri and English. His collection of stories "Folk Tales from Kashmir" are famous and well received by readers in India and abroad. His book in Kashmiri Vutsa Prang has received an award from UNESCO.  Prof Rahama Rahi is a well known modern Kashmiri Poet and  the first Kashmiri poet to receive Bharatiya Jnanapeeth award for his writings in Kashmiri language, for the year 2004.

The above is a summary of the major contributors to Literature from Kashmir.  There are many other writers and it is not possible to recall all their contribution in this small space.  Posterity will remember the contribution of all these scholars and writers with due gratitude and affection they richly deserve.


  1. it is a pity that many extremist leaders hyave attitude of destroyinhg the contemporary literature works like hitler did in nazi rule.Kashmir is deprived to look into the great works from their own ancestors

  2. Great work

    R Jagannathan,

  3. Nice to know about Kashmiri writers and their contribution in Indian literature

  4. It is interesting to note that some Hind rulers like Vinayadithya, Jayapeeda, Avantivarma and Samkavarma caused the exodus of Kashmir Sccholars to south because of their tyranny. In the 9th century 3000 of these scholars came and settled in Chidambaram. Cola King Parantapa -I gave them a village and they built a Thilla, the place where they practiced their Prrathybhijna philosophy with the hihgest form of yoga practices. They kept what is today known as COLA Bronze Idol 'Ananda Tandava Murthy' as their Dhyna Murthy for their meditation and practices. Cola Queen mother Sembian Devi became an ardent devotee of this beautiful idol and started building many temples all around what is known tooday as Tamil Nadu write from 9th cen. through 10 th Cen. and that is how the cult of Nataraja developed in the South more specially in Chidambaram. Some of them went to what is today known as Karnataka and Basavanna's philosophy is supposed to be influenced by Prathyabijna philosophy.

    Mr. Keshava Murthy you have as usual written a very well researched blog. I just thought I would add a little of what I knew to it.

  5. Nice to read about Kashmiri Literature greats at a time when that land is into such serious problems. Today Kashmir is known for exactly different reasons. People like me are afraid of visiting that place.Will Kashmir remain with India as its Crown is a big question. Lakshminarayana K