Part - II | Reconstructing the Ancient History of Kashmir

The first mention of ancient Kashmir is found in the records of King Darius. | He is recorded to have invaded the region of Indus some time in 518 BC.
Part - II | Reconstructing the Ancient History of Kashmir
Representational Pic

The term Younan is also very much popular here in Kashmir, not because Sikender belonged to this far-flung country, but because the Unani System of medicine was one of the medical systems followed here in Kashmir, till the first half of 2oth century; still it is one of the popular medical systems which provides the medical facilities in the distant villages of Kashmir.

In this way neither Sikinder-e-Azam, nor his homeland, Younan, were something new to Kashmieris. These names are very much preserved in the folk traditions of this land. He is also known here by the other names of Yavan Raza and Wan raz. These terms refer to a handsome prince with fair complexion and it was definitely none except some Grecian prince. May be it was either Sikinder-e-Azam or some other Greek prince like Demetrious or Manandera; both of them are also well mentioned in the local traditions.

Sikindera Nama

There are several copies of the manuscript Sikindernama mentioning the adventures of Sikinder-e-Azam preserved in various manuscript collections of the Jammu and Kashmir. The SPS Museum, Srinagar and Dogra Art Museum, Jammu also preserves wonderful copies of this manuscript. Besides, coins of Alexander have also been found in Jammu and Kashmir and a few of the ancient Macedonian coins are also housed in the numismatic collection of the Srinagar museum. One of the interesting things that the coins depict is the battle scene of Alexander and Porus; it is also preserved in the numismatic collections of the British Museum.

Historically speaking Sikinder-e-Azam is known by the name of the Alexander the Great; the already written history tells us that Alexander became the ruler of Macedonia in about 336 BC after the murder of his father Philip II. Ancient Macedonia was situated in the northeastern area of modern day Greece. Macedonia had grown strong under Philip II. Even though Alexander was only 20, he launched a massive military expedition against the Persian Empire.Mention of Kashmir in Greek records

The first mention of ancient Kashmir is found in the records of King Darius (542-586 BC). He is recorded to have invaded the region of Indus some time in 518 BC. In fact Alexander is recorded to have invaded India from its north western side defeated King Porus at battle of Hydapes in 326 BC. While invading the Indian parts he has adopted a route which historians believe comparatively laid near to the confines of Kashmir. Kashmir during the period, it is said, was under the rule of the chief of Abhisaras (Poonch and Nowshera). Alexander crossed the Indus near Ohind (modern Attock) in the spring of 326BC. Numismatists claim to have found a coin type which depicts motif of two rajas fighting one another, one of the rajas is shown on the elephant and other on the horse back. These are identified as Raja Porus and Alexander respectively.
Abhisara , the king of Poonch and Nowshehra, who is believed to have held Kashmir is recorded to have surrendered to the Alexander. Porus was made the in-charge of the whole area which Alexander conquered. The area lay between the Beas and the Jhelum. King of Texila, Ambhi was given the territories west of Jhelum while Abhisaras authority was extended up to Kashmir. Abhisara’s authority over Kashmir is not testified by any other source. However, Alexander’s numismatic finds in Kashmir justify his campaign of the areas bordering the beautiful valley and the possibility of his visit of the land which since times immemorial was attractive to its visitors Alexander ,before his return allowed his certain people which mostly consisted of Greek garrisons to settle in the land he conquered. Several frontier tribes of Kashmir who live on its bordering areas of northern and western sides are believed to be the descendants of Greece. Indian traditions have recorded them as Yavanas.

Yawan Raj Kingdom

The Indo-Greek Kingdom and locally known as Yawan Raj Kingdom, the {Kingdom of Yavanas} was a Hellenistic kingdom, which spread from Bactria, the modern day Balkh, extended on modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan , north- west India and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which existed during the last two centuries BC and was ruled by more than thirty kings, one after the other and sometimes as contemporaries.

The history of this empire and its rulers has almost been re -constructed by various sources. Numismatics and archaeology has been the main sources to the scholars involved in the reconstruction of history of this period. Although the sources pertaining to this period stands well explored and documented in the subcontinent, but in Kashmir these sources have not yet been properly explored and documented.

The chorological picture of this kingdom, which has been agreed upon, states, that the indo Greek empire was founded when the Graeco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded the subcontinent early in the 2nd century BC. The Greeks in the Indian Subcontinent were eventually divided from the Bactrin Greeks centered on Bactria (now the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan), and the Indo-Greeks in the present-day north-western Indian Subcontinent. The most famous Indo-Greek ruler was Menander (Milinda). He had his capital at Sakala in the Punjab (present-day Sialkot).

Local literary and folk records

In local literary records it is Kalhana’s Rajtarangni, which has firstly made mention of Yavanas and Melchas. He has referred them as foreign tribes, which have waged a war with the then Kashmeri Raja. These tribes have been identified, with Indo-Greeks and Bactrin-Greeks. The term yava has also been used in local Kashmeri folk literature and it is still very popularly pronounced in upper reaches of Kashmir valley. The term yava, literary means beautiful / handsome/ cute and when it refers to the people, it means people with fair complexion. Similarly, when they have to refer a fair complexion man or woman, they would say, he or she is Yava. For them yava is one who has got a fair complexion and has blue eyes which is the characteristic feature of Grecian people. The famous tribes of Gupis and Brokpas of Hunza are of this complexion. They are believed to be the descents from Greece.

Similarly in our folk lore there is repeated mention of yavana raza, that literary means a handsome prince. Raza in Kashmeri refers to raja or king, and yavana means beautiful. So yavana raza means a handsome prince. Kamdeva is another name mentioned in our folk lore, which also refers to some fairly complexion prince, which has travelled to the hilly and forest areas of Kashmir. The terms of yavan raza and kamdeva looks like a reference to some Grecian princes or satraps, who might have undertaken their expeditions of these far-flung lands.

Obverse;- helmeted bust of Menandra

Reverse; Pallas holding lions skin (Greek deity)

Evidences of Greek princes

Another invasion recorded in the local records of Kashmir is of Malechas who are identifies with Bactrian Greeks. There is mention of two famous Greek princes, one is Demetrous and the other is Manender. Demetrous has been described as the king of the empire, which included Southern parts of Kashmir while as Menander is recorded to have held discussions with the Buddhist monk at a place which was only 12 Yogenas from Kashmir which means that the place was only 12 yogenas from Srinagar, (because in ancient times Srinagar was known by the name of Kashmir). The unit for yogenas is not known, it can be more than a mile or less than a mile, however, the Menandra’s discussion with Nagasena (the Buddhist saint) recorded in the Milndaphana is believed to have taken place in the laps of Zabarwan hills near present-day Harwan, which is about 19 km from Srinagar. The other Greek princes whose evidences have been found here included: Demetrous, Eukritidus, Appollodotus, Menandar, Strato, Zoiles, Hippostrates Antialkadas, Helikels, Agathoceles, Pantaloon, Hermous, Antimachu, Archibus, Laysis, and Hippostratus.

Villages with Hellenistic names

Apart from these evidences, there are several villages and places which are believed to have still carried the names of Hellenistic order, in this connection mention may be made of these places, the Damudar wouder, Nics in Pulwama District, Memender, Harman and Munand in Shopian district, Mendar in Poonch District, Lious in Kulgam District. These places or villages represent the corrupt form of the names of the indo-Greek princes like Demetrious, Nicias, Menander and Lyasis respectively.

Motif of dancer in a Hellenistic style, on a tile discovered way back at Harwan Srinagar.

Hellenistic art records

Since I have attempted to study the ancient coins and artifacts which pertain to ancient Kashmir and also studied the terracotta artifacts found at Ushkar Baramullah, Harwan and more recently at Kotbal in the Anantnag District; the motifs of dancing girls in few of these tiles depict the influence of Hellenistic art. The ancient Grecian influence is also evident on the early terracotta, stone and bronze sculptures found from various places of Jammu and Kashmir which included the terracotta of Ambren-Akhnoor in Jammu province and terracotta, stone and bronze sculptures of Ushkar- Baramullah, Parihaspora, Semthain –Bijbehara and Deveser – Kulgam.

Queue of columns of ancient sun temple at Martand, influenced by ancient Greek architectural style.

Ancient Kashmir architecture

Most of the stone temples and monasteries built in ancient period in highly finished blue lime stones are almost in ruins. These are locally called the Pandav lari, means the houses of Pandavas. Historically speaking these are basically the remains of the magnificent palaces, temples and monasteries built here during the historic period. Some of these buildings date as high as the end of eight century AD and there are others that must undoubtedly be much or more ancient perhaps even as old as the beginning of the christen era. The archaeologists have felt strong Greek architectural influence on these ancient kashmiri stone architectures. Alexander Cunningham who made the first on the spot study of the ancient stone architectural remains of Kashmir, had also felt the strong Greek influences. He wrote a detailed article on ancient temple architecture of Kashmir titled, ‘An essay on the Arian order of architecture as exhibited in temples of Kashmir’.

In his detailed article he at one place writes, ‘even the temples themselves, with their porches and pediments remained one more of Greece than of India and it is difficult to believe that a style of architecture which differs so much from all Indian examples and which has so much in common with those of Greece, could have been indebted to chance alone for this striking resemblance.Generally speaking, with in the sub continent these types of architectures look quite different and indigenous and have got any resemblances with the other monuments found in the other parts of India and Pakistan. Although these most of the ancient stone built remains are in ruins, but the grace and splendor of these wonderful constructions is still visible even through their ruins at their respective sites.’ In fact, when one enters these ruined complexes; it feels as if you are walking through the lanes of ancient Grace and Rome. These wonderful ruins can be experienced in the lower and upper Jhelum valley of Kashmir from Bunyar in Uri upto Martand in Anatnag. The most remarkable included the stone formed monuments at Bunyar, Rampur, Pattan, Prashpura, Takhta -i-Suliman, Pandrathan, Avantipura and Martand.

One wonders how in ancient times when no such building equipment and technology was available to the builders, the massive stones were lifted and laid in position with great precision. The stones had been brilliantly carved and laid in tiers in manner even joints of these stones are invisible. Although Kashmri architect could not have copied the same Greek and Roman styles as Roman arches or segmented arches, improved upon earlier arches to build strong bridges and buildings, evenly distributing weight throughout the structure. But there have been very superb and gracious architectural wonders, not less than what one comes across at Athens and Italy, which to a very extent looks the imitations of Greek and Roman styles.

Iqbal Ahmad is a Senior archaeologist and numismatist.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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