Anuradha Goyal: Ashish Kaul is the author of a beautiful book on ‘Didda-the Warrior Queen of Kashmir.’ I’ve been reading about Kashmir, and I realized that Didda ruled in Kashmir at my favorite time for India. The time when probably India was at its best. The invasions were yet to start. Our architecture, our military, our trade were at their peak. But we don’t know much about Ancient Kashmir. So, I took this opportunity to invite Ashish Ji to Detours and ask him a lot of questions on Ancient Kashmir.
Ashish Kaul: Thank you so much for having me on the show. I have heard a lot about your show. It is such a privilege to be speaking with you today especially about the topic that is of much interest to you and me as well.
Ancient Kashmir with Ashish Kaul
Anuradha: Our generation has heard of Kashmir only in terms of the conflicts that we have seen or heard, a bit about the touristy part of it. Thanks to Bollywood a lot of 60s & 70s films that were shot there. But we hardly know about the history of Kashmir. I read a lot, so I have read a little bit about its traditions, Sharada Peeth and Abhinavgupta. So, I’m going to ask you about 10th century Kashmir and its landscape, how did it look like, what are landscape features defined Kashmir, what different Kingdoms surrounded it, and take us physically to that 10th century Kashmir.
Ashish: The point that you have mentioned is so pertinent that Kashmir the way we understand Kashmir today is only from a touristic destination. Which Kashmir was never intended to be. Injustice has been done to Kashmir in terms of diluting its history, its political landscape, its socio-cultural importance in the right from the Vedic times even pre-Vedic times to the modern times.
It’s important to understand that when we talk about undivided India, Kashmir played the most important part. It is such a travesty of history that something which should be a beacon of excellence in spiritualism, in knowledge, in learning, in politics, and in tremendous incredible contributions that people of Kashmir, especially the women of Kashmir who have made it to the entire world, not just India, that whole part has been eradicated by Western historians over time.
10th Century Kashmir
Ashish: The history of Kashmir is almost 10,000 years of continuous history. The history of Kashmir is the only surviving piece of history that has continuously been written. It starts from the time when Pharaohs in Egypt had not even decided to make pyramids. If you see the 10th century not just in the Indian context, it was a moment that redefined the whole world, not just Asia, and undivided India. When we are talking about 10th century Kashmir, we are talking about undivided India, about kingdoms that even touch the borders of Iran-Iraq. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and everything else was a part of this country.
In the 10-century the middle-east was at war with the European nations. There was the battle for Jerusalem happening, crusades were happening. Islam had established itself and it was fighting with Christian dominance in the Plains of Central Asia. Kashmir was the borderline state, it was the entry to India then.
On the left-hand side of Kashmir was the great and mighty Kingdom of the Lohara dynasty. Today’s people will not understand Lohara for the simple reason that, it is no longer known as Lohara. Such a travesty of history that once a great Kingdom which had the mighty capital called Lauren, today is a very insignificant and small village on the Indo Pak line of control. People will not be even knowing that this is the history of that great place.
Lohara Kingdom – Ancient Kashmir
Lauren was the capital of the Lohara Kingdom. It included entire West Pakistan, it included Poonch Rajouri on both sides of the border. Also includes today’s Punjab and Haryana to give you an impression that how prosperous this nation in the 10th century. It shared its borders with the kingdom of Kashmir. Right in front were the Central Asian kingdoms which were ruled by the Shahi dynasty. If people have seen the Oscar-winning film ‘Argo’ it has a slice of that history. Then a transition happened from the Shahi Kingdom to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Shahi kingdom’s king Bhimshah was the last Hindu Shahi family king that ruled the Central Asia plains.
The kingdoms that ruled Kashmir at that time were some of the greatest kingdoms in the whole world. From an Indian context, the Karkota dynasty ruled a major part of India. Lalitaditya was among the greatest ruler that ruled India. He had Kashmir as a part of his kingdom. After Lalitaditya’s death, roughly around 200-300 years certain kingdoms had broken away. It had come down to the rule of Sang Ramdev in Kashmir. He was there in the last of the dynasty and various historians have documented his rule as among the cruelest of the rules. Kashmir was brought onto the verge of integration, the entire political landscape was struck by the civil wars.
Those were the times when Kings did not have an army the way we understand the army today. Those days the concept of the army has had a handful of guards who will protect the king and the Fort area. When the King needed to vanquish some other kingdom, they would rally a force. It was the ancient times when the armies after the mission are over, would resort to plunder and looting, and whatever they could get that was their wages. In Kashmir, stronger armies were what today we call Jaghirdar. The fertile lands and the army was controlled by Jaghirdar at that time. Sang Ramdev was the least interested in governance and he had unleashed king of terror across the valley.
When we talk about palace politics we probably talk about Delhi, Rajasthan. But the palace politics of Kashmir was far complicated than any Kingdom in India. So back in the 10th century what had happened was the group of courtiers they convenience Parva Gupta who was among the other courtiers in Sang Ramdev’s court that, this is the time that we need a shift of governance in Kashmir because the King was unable to provide any meaningful and just governance.
Parva Gupta was a very loyal courtier at that time he was caught between what he was witnessing that kind of terror that King Sang Ramdev had unleashed on the poor people of Kashmir. People had hardly anything to eat, they have no money, they had no food and kind of extravagance the King was indulging; therefore, he was caught in a million dollars question was a loyal courtier like Parva Gupta will indulging something like a mutiny or not?
Eventually, the Parva Gupta decided and on one of those fateful nights a pursuit lead by his band of soldiers attacked the palace and took over the entire Kashmir Palace. Sang Ramdev was so drunk that he did not even know what was happening, by the time when Sang Ramdev gathered his conscience he found himself on a boat in Vitasta; Now people do not know what Vitasta? Vitasta is the true name of the Jhelum river; he was tied to a chain and the chain was in turn tie to a very huge older stone.
When he comes to his senses, he began arguing with Parva Gupta that how could he do this and he cursed Parva Gupta and he said that, ‘If you think you will inherit this kingdom in peace! No that will not happen you and your family will also die by antagonizing death’ and when he said that he was pushed into the Vitasta by Parva Gupta and that was the end of a Sang Ramdev he went down to the bottom of Vitasta. That was the first time that revolution had occurred in the history of Kashmir.
New King of Kashmir
Parva Gupta, was, then crowned the new King of Kashmir and with him, the new dynasty began in Kashmir. The same morning his wife gave birth to the hier of the Kingdom which was named Kshama Gupta. This is the 10th century Kashmir and likewise in Lohara what was happening was Kings Simharaja’s birth to a beautiful daughter and her name was kept Didda. These are the two people who were born almost during the same timeline. Didda had a very different destiny. Her father and mother tried to kill her. They threw her into the water, fortunately, her basket got entangled with robes of the King.
Somehow the King did not have the heart to let her go. He got her back to the palace nut she was raised by a maid. King did so because the Didda was born disabled she had deformed legs, possibly she was affected by polio.
At that time Kashmir had to suffer from two diseases one was polio, which was quite rampant in Kashmir and the other was typhoid. Most of the deaths in Kashmir would happen rather because of polio or because of typhoid. These were two diseases that were rampant in Kashmir. Kashmir in ancient times had faced severe famines. It has a low water table Valley and during certain times it faces flooding. It is common knowledge that once you have flooding you face a period of famine because the soil is rendered infertile.
Today nobody will even imagine that the paradise that we know the Kashmir of today with great weather full of vegetation and fruits, how can It face famines but, the fact is that Kashmir has faced tremendous famines.
Anuradha: I agree with you as I spend a couple of years of my life in Nowshera Rajouri. I had no inkling of its historical importance till a couple of years back when I read about it. You have ave mentioned in your book that this was also the time when Abhinav Gupta lived and he played a role of a mentor to the kingdoms which would have existed then. You also mention that Kashmir was a great learning center. We, of course, know that Sharada Peeth, the goddess of learning she has her Peeth in Kashmir. So, tell us a little about the spiritual heritage of Kashmir.
The spiritual heritage of Kashmir
Ashish: It is another interesting part. A great disservice has been done to the entire history of Kashmir either out of ignorance or by mandate and they started promoting it as a tourist destination. But to Sanatan Dharma to Vedic Hinduism; what Macca is to Muslims and what Jerusalem is to Christians; Kashmir is to Sanatan Dharma and Vedic Sanatan Dharma. It was never meant to be a tourist destination. Kashmir was the greatest seat of learning and spiritualism.
Kashmir is the only place in the world that has the longest surviving continuously written history in the whole world. The first University, the first great seat of learning was Sharada Vidya Peeth. It evolved at two levels, there is the spiritual story to Sharada Vidya Peeth that how Sharada Vidya Peeth came into being and why only Kashmir?
Kashmir was essentially known as Satisar. It was entirely submerged. Water bodies like Dal lake, Wular lake, and all those water bodies are what remains of a larger water body that existed. Eventually, it was drained and it was called Varahmula, now known as Baramulla. The valley is slightly shifted towards Pakistan the water drained out from that part and beautiful Kashmir emerged. The first King was King Neel who was the eldest son of Kashyap Rishi or in history is also known as the sage of the Caspian.
Nilamata Purana – Ancient Kashmir
Anuradha: So, does Nilamata Purana has anything to do with?
Ashish: Nilamata Purana begins actually from the day Kashmir was born when the land emerged when water was drained out. Kashmir comprised of two civilizations. One was the civilization that lives on the edges of Kashmir that surrounded the one’s great water body. During the winter months, they would come down to the Valley. Today you must be knowing that Kashmir has a culture of Darbar move. The 6 months the capital goes to the winter capital Jammu and the summer capital is Kashmir. This is so interesting it has been right from the time that Kashmir was born.
People who live in the upper reaches would come down in the winter because the upper reaches would be completely engulfed with snow. They would come down to King Neel and settle down in Kashmir. King Neel arrived at the rules that 6 months you will come down and we will serve you otherwise you will not trouble us. Kashmir continues this culture today as well.
Unique traditions of Kashmiri culture
The Kashmiri culture has certain unique traditions like there is a tradition of which is in Kashmir it is called Hatseyamavasya. Amavasya means the night and Hatsey word that has a sort of evolved from Yaksha Amavasya. Why we would call them Yakshas? Because if you see the ancient scriptures how of Yakshas been found. They have small little hair flowing from their chin and almond-shaped eyes. Those were the typical futures of the civilizations which are living in the upper reaches especially alongside Kashmir like Tibetan people or Ladakhi people.
They have those very typical features that can be matched with Yakshas features in the scriptures. We will feed them during winter months when they will not get food so they would come down the concept of the tradition was of peaceful coexistence. In that time Sharada has always existed, it existed even beyond this time. This is why it is important to understand the real significance of Sharada.
We all know the story of Sagar Manthan. Many things came out of Sagar Manthan including Amrit. It was consumed by Devtas. What happened with the remaining Amrit? Nobody knows. At that time, Brahma Ji told Vishnu Ji to please go and establish this Amrit Kalash in the land of Kashmir. Then Vishnu Ji came to Kashmir and he establishes the Amrit Kalash at the confluence of Krishna and Ganga. Today in Muzaffarabad or Pakistan occupied Kashmir they know of it as Neelum Valley. The Amrit Kalash was established their and Brahmaji manifested Sharada on top of that Kalash. With time that grew into a land of spiritual learning.
Kashmiri pandits were the first ones who became the servants of Maa Sharada. Even after the 18th century, we have an incidence where the goddess was seen out of a white Swan around that area. Even when the Turks and Muslim invasion happened when the Muslim commander placed dynamite inside the temple and he blew the temple. The temple had a top of it and the original ‘Shree Yantra’ was inscribed on this. It is about some 300-400 meters away from the Sharda Maa’s temple and it was still there.
Ganesh Ghat – Ancient Kashmir
There is a place called Ganesh Ghat. It is a huge mountain cliff with a natural form of Ganesh is Pratima on it. All the Kings and queens including queen Didda and Kota Rani they were a student of Sharada. Gopaditya and other people from many parts of the world came and they learn spirituality from Sharada and they went back and started their respective cults. It is also believed that even Jesus Christ had visited Kashmir. There was an established trade rule between Central Asia and the Indian heartland which went through Kashmir.
So, Kashmir was a facilitator of sales silk spices, and all of that used to come from Central Asia into India through ancient Kashmir.
Anuradha: That brings me to the final and wrap-up question for you to talk a little bit about the trade that was enabled by Kashmir. What are the things that were traded out or traded in Kashmir?
Ashish: Kashmir was not a market. It was never conceived as one. Before Turks and Afghans vandalized, Kashmir was the only Centre for Salvation. Kashmir was not a kingdom that would exist for any commercial games. Kashmir during Didda’s time and even before that was the facilitator of trade to the greater India. Whatever you see today the silk and the saffron. Kashmir is among the 3rd largest producers of saffron in the world. Saffron is produced only in Spain, in some parts here and there in Kashmir. Kashmir is considered to be the best in the world. But all of that has come to Kashmir because of this trade. Kashmir in itself was not trading either as producer-consumer.
People who lived in Kashmir were temple keepers. Kaul Samhita is treated as the scripture that is dedicated to the Tantra Shakti that exists in the world. We were the custodians of that knowledge. Our job was to upkeep that tradition of tantra. Likewise, all Kashmiri pandits and natives of Kashmir were the servants of various places of historical Vedic worship in Kashmir. That included places like Tulmul which is also known as Kheer Bhavani, and other centers like Amarnath, Sharada Vidya Peeth. They were the biggest employer for Kashmiri pandits and their existence was meant for upkeeping the Vedic traditions, up keeping the spiritual aspect of Vedic Dharma.
Sharada University – Ancient Kashmir
Sharada was the first University in the world to offer degrees, diplomas, conduct workshops, do seminars so people from all over the world can come and acquire knowledge. People were also coming from Europe and from the various Central Asian Kingdom. For example, Adi Shankaracharya and Huan Tsang came to Kashmir. Ashoka conducted his court in Kashmir.
Buddhism was a gift from ancient Kashmir. How did Buddhism go out of India? It went through Kashmir. There were always Buddhists and Kashmiris who did not trust each other. Kashmiris thought that Buddhists were spies. People who were practicing Buddhism went out of Kashmir.
Anuradha: This is so fascinating. I have so many more questions and I’m sure we can do a series on Kashmir with you and what you told me today. I am sure it’s not common knowledge. People need to know this heritage of ours and the heritage of ancient Kashmir which kind of gets forgotten or lost in the present day.
Ashish: I can take two names Sarangdev and Sushrut who created music and medicines, do people know that they were from Kashmir?
Anuradha: No, I didn’t know that itself.
Ashish: I will wrap up with Abhinav Gupta. Today’s generation has to understand that the Abhinav Gupta is a billion times more powerful than anybody else. He was called Ajanma, somebody who was never born. His birth was from Bhagvati’s yoni. He was so powerful that he could control the 5 elements with the gestures of hands and facial expressions. Whenever his facial expression changed, the weather changed.
Anuradha: You must come back and talk to us about Abhinav Gupta one day. Thank you so much Ashish for this wonderful insightful talk.
Ashish: Thank you so much for having me. It was such a lovely talk that we had about Ancient Kashmir which is a part of my life, thank you so much.
Transcribed by: Megha Vyas as part of IndiTales Internship Program