Kashmir has not only been one of the most beautiful places in the world, it has also been one of the most creative lands in the fields of philosophy and intellectual activity. Unfortunately, little is known about this celebrated land beyond the media tales of violence. That may be the recent history, but it is not the whole of the over 5,000 years of uninterrupted history of Kashmir. It is time to know more about the land of Kashmir and acquaint ourselves with its past glory, which was unmatched and unparalleled not very long ago. Kashmir has been the keystone of India’s heritage through the millennia. It is not just a piece of land. It has been and is the abode of the soul of India. It is the fountainhead from which flowed India’s culture, nay, everything that defines India’s identity.
Sharada Peeth, today lying neglected even in ruins across the LoC in Neelam village was like Harvard of today where students from far and wide would come to seek education in the 8th century. This is listed by Al Beruni as among the top three shrines of “Al Hind” (India) in the 11th century. Great Indian philosophers like Nagarjuna and Shankaracharya taught at this hallowed seat of learning, which again made Kashmir famous as an educational hub.
Nilmata Purana (500 c. to 600 c.) is the earliest written account of Kashmir's history. However, being a Puranic source, doubts have been raised about its total authenticity and reliability. In contrast, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (River of Kings), comprising in all 8000 Sanskrit verses which were completed by 1150 c.e., chronicles the history of Kashmir's dynasties from mythical times to 12th century. It relies upon traditional sources like Nilmata Purana, inscriptions, coins, monuments, and Kalhana's personal observations borne out of political experiences of his family. As the recording of the events progresses, mythical explanations gradually give way to rational and critical analysis and rationale of events that occurred between 11th and 12th centuries. For this reason is Kalhana often accredited as India's first historian.
The most outstanding contribution of Kashmir to the rich and varied cultural heritage of India has been the development and spread of the Sanskrit language and literature. Almost the entire body of Sanskrit literature has had its origins in Kashmir. Kashmiris labored hard and took pains "in keeping the Sanskrit language pure and perfect". They considered it their sacred obligation to render correctly and accurately the letter and sense of their Vedic texts, which naturally involved a good deal of serious grammatical and etymological study. Whether they believed it at that time or not, the serious study of the grammar took care of adherence to and correct interpretation of these texts. As a result, they held the entire Sanskrit language and literature in their firm grip.
Sanskrit has always been an important language in intellectual communities. Despite its ancient origin, the language has some amazing characteristics that are considered helpful in different fields. It is also used for therapy sessions in psychology and for spiritual remissions. But its recent involvement with artificial intelligence is an honor proving its power for being a valuable course of literature. Sanskrit has a rich history and was used for early Indian mathematics and science. The grammar of Sanskrit is rule-bound, formula-bound, and logical, which makes it highly appropriate to write algorithms. The grammar also makes Sanskrit suitable for machine learning and even artificial intelligence. For historians and regular folks, the possibility of using Sanskrit to develop artificially intelligent machines is inspiring because it exploits the past innovatively to deliver solutions for the future.
Around 500 BCE, the early philosopher Panini systematized the grammar of Vedic Sanskrit, including 3,959 rules of arrangement, symbolism, and morphology. Panini’s Astadhyayi is the most salient of the surviving texts of Vyakarana, the scientific division of Sanskrit, consisting of eight chapters placing out his rules and their sources. By this monotony, Panini helped formulate what is now known as Classical Sanskrit. That Kashmiris were keen to remain masters of Sanskrit grammar is shown by the number of works authored by them on this subject. Candracarya for instance founded through his work Candra-Vyakarna, a school of Sanskrit grammar called Candra, second in importance only to that of Panini. Another commentary on Panini's work, Kasikavriti, written jointly by Jayadata and Vamana, two Brahman grammarians, has been mentioned by I-tsing in the seventh century A.D.
While it may not be possible to trace the origin of this ancient language, the word Aryan which appears in the Vedas, however, gives a clue inasmuch as the Vedas embrace a body of writings the origin of which is divine and surpass in antiquity any other document in human civilizational history. Sanskrit in turn held key to most of the other fields of learning like humanities, philosophy, astrology, astronomy, religion, medicine, history, law, polity, etc. in which Kashmiris became highly proficient and made a name for themselves.
Bharata Muni, author of the Natyashastra, is the name figuring among the early Kashmiris. The Natyashastra, which comprises of 36 chapters, is believed to have been deliberately chosen to conform to the theory of 36 tattvas which is a part of the Shaivite system of Kashmir . The bhana, a one-actor play described by Bharata is still performed in Kashmir by groups called bhand pather (bhana patra, in Sanskrit).In fact, Kashmiri scholars, writers and poets have made highly significant contributions to classical Sanskrit literature and religious thought. The dedication of Kashmiris to Shiva and his powers in their prose and poetic writings is a golden chapter in Sanskrit literature. The Shiva philosophy of Kashmir, also known as Trika Shastra, flourished in South India ,and achieved an identity of its own. There are Sanskrit texts relating to Tantra, Kundalini Yoga, and Shaivism by Kashmiri scholars.
“Aucitya‟ of Kshemendra is the Indian equivalent of Decorum. It is the principle of propriety in the Sanskrit literature. “Aucitya” emits its charms in the process of aesthetic experience, being the very life principle of RASA. Decorum is a state of propriety expected in all literary compositions according to western poetics. In the field of literary criticism it is used in the sense of the appropriateness or propriety or fitness of any element of a literary work, such as style or tone, words, actions, mannerisms, volume and general delivery to its particular circumstance or to the composition as a whole may it be in poetry or drama. He had discussed the concept of Aucitya in his treatise “Aucitya Vichara Charcha” which consists of 39 Karikcis and 105 examples. Kshemendra also composed plays, descriptive poems, a satirical novel, historical lineage, and possibly a commentary on the Kama Sutra. Kshemendra‟s contribution to Sanskrit literature has recently been fully cherished; the first of the 34 works attributed to him was discovered in 1871. Eighteen have been found in total, of which several are technical and devotional works and four satirical
Another Kashmiri, Acharya Abhinavagupta, much like Sankaracarya in the realm of Vedanta, made the whole system more intelligible like so many writers of the period. He is a voluminous writer on several subjects ranging from Dramaturgy, Rhetoric, the Philosophy of Poetry and on Philosophy itself. Abhinavagupta (c. 950 – 1016) was a philosopher, mystic and aesthetician and was also considered an influential musician, poet, dramatist, exegete, theologian, and logician – a polymathic personality who exercised strong influences on Indian culture. He was born in a Kashmiri family of scholars and mystics and studied all the schools of philosophy and art of his time under the guidance of as many as fifteen (or more) teachers and gurus. In his long life he completed over 35 works, the largest and most famous of which is Tantrāloka, an encyclopedic treatise on all the philosophical and practical aspects of Kaula and Trika (known today as Kashmir Shaivism). Another of his very important contributions was in the field of philosophy of aesthetics with his famous Abhinavabhāratī commentary of Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata Muni. Acharya Abhinav Gupta, wrote 46 literary classics, including the renowned Abhinav Bharti and whose principles of Raas are being taught in 80 universities around the world. But whatever he wrote, in all that runs the under-current of spirituality culminating in that 'Brahmasvada' the idea of which he has made so popular.
Among the other sages who propounded the Kashmir Shiva philosophy, the names of Vasugupta, Somananda, Bhtta Kallata and Utpal Dev stand out as celebrated exponents. Both Vaishnava Agamas and Shiva Agamas have their source in Kashmir. So far as Sanskrit literature is concerned apart from Alankara Sastra in which Kashmiris seem to have excelled, the names of Somadeva, Kshemendra, Bilhana , Damodaragupta, and Kalhana stand out as a brilliant galaxy of genius adding lustre to the history of Sanskrit literature Kshemendra's contribution to Sanskrit literature is unique in one respect. He introduced humor with social satire. According to Bhartrihari and other early scholars, Patanjali, a Kashmiri, made great contributions to Yoga (the yoga-sutras) and to Ayurveda. Sharangdev, considered the father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music, was also a Kashmiri. Even Kalidasa, acclaimed as the greatest of Sanskrit poets and renowned for his works like Meghaduta (The Cloud-Messenger), his drama Sakuntala, Raghuvansha and Kumar Sanbhavam had Kashmiri descent.
Kashmir may have been ravaged over the past several centuries; but, that would not rob it of its huge contribution, among other things, towards enrichment of Sanskrit language and its literature, recalling which will always make all Kashmiris proud.
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.