Buddhism in Kashmir : From Surendra to Ashoka, Kanishka and Megavahana

22 August 2019 - 336   - 1

The recent administrative changes and political developments in the state of  Jammu and Kashmir after the Indian government ended the State’s special status,Hindus and Buddhists there got an opportunity to follow their faith and to continue archaeological excavation freely.
The State which lies in the extreme north of India and is bounded on the north by China on the east by Tibet and on the south by Himachal Pradesh and Panjab of India and Pakistan.

By Upali Rupasinghe

The recent administrative changes and political developments in the state of  Jammu and Kashmir after the Indian government ended the State’s special status,Hindus and Buddhists there got an opportunity to follow their faith and to continue archaeological excavation freely.
The State which lies in the extreme north of India and is bounded on the north by China on the east by Tibet and on the south by Himachal Pradesh and Panjab of India and Pakistan.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had earlier been under Hindu rulers and Muslims sultans, became a part of the Mogul Empire under Akbar. After a period of Afgan rule from 1756, it was annexed to the Sikh kingdom of the Panjab in 1819.

After the decisive battle of Sabroon in 1846, Kashmir also was made over to Maharaja Gulab Singh under the treaty of Amritsar. British supremacy was recognized until the Indian Independence Act 1947.

When all the states decided on accession to India or Pakistan, Kashmir asked for stand still agreement with both. In the meantime the state became the subject of an armed attack from Pakistan and Maharaja acceded to India by singing the instrument of accession.

Since then, there were border disputes, armed struggles, wars and violations of agreements between India and Pakistan. Even though the states administration was under a governor appointed by the Centre in New Delhi, Muslim community and their leaders had a bigger voice in implementing the law and order. There were restriction for Hindus and Buddhists in land ownership, marriages and building places of worship, cultural and religious activities.

 However, the Archaeological Survey of India, during last two three decades carried out several archeological excavations with a lot of unofficial opposition from the interested parties.
The most successful was excavations carried out at the hamlet called Pamvarawan at Ambaran in Akhnur, about 28km northwest of Jammu on the right bank of river Chenab. There, the discovery of a tooth and other relics believed to be that of Buddha made the archaeologists and historians to focus their attention much deeper with the greatest interest to look into the existence of Buddhism and Buddhist culture throughout centuries in Kashmir Valley.

The above-mentioned discovery was made by the Srinagar Circles of the Archaeological Survey of India under the direction of Dr. Buddharashmi Mani, the then Suprentedemant archaeologist (later, Director General of ASI) for two sessions in 1999 - 2000 and 2000 – 2001.

 According to Buddhist scholars, historians and researchers in India and the west, Jammu – Kashmir may have been one of the major centres of Buddhism between the 2nd – 1st century BC and 7th century A.D.
Buddhism was prevalent in Kashmir, the “Happy Valley” or the “Paradise on the earth” in the time of the native king Surendra who ruled sometime after the Buddha but before Ashoka.

Kashmir’s connection with the rest of India was not confined to politics or ther ruling circles only. Kashmir, centuries ago enjoyed great importance as it lay near the trade routes which connected India with her neighbours in the north and the northwest.

Since Kashmir had intimate relations with Magadha, present Bihar and other states in mid-India from  remote antiquity it is only reasonable to assume that a number of Buddhist monks had found their way into Kashmir long before the arrival of Asoka and his missionaries and had succeeded in establishing Buddhism as one of the living faiths in the valley.

According to J.N.Ganhar and P.N.Ganhar, historians who made an extensive research on the existence of Buddhism in Kashmir suggest that Surendra is prehaps the first Buddhist ruler of Kashmir.
Surendra, the first royal patron of Buddhism in the valley belongs to a dynasty whose members were known for their religious endowments. Following the family tradition, Surendra erected first Buddhist temples in Kashmir. 

After the death of Surendra, the Kingdom of Kashmir passed into the hands of Godhara who belonged to a different dynasty. Suvarna who succeded Godhara, was in turn followed by his son Janaka. He was also very favourably disposed towards Buddhism. He founded a temple at Jalora. After Janaka’s powerful son Shachinara, the kingdom of Kashmir passed into the hands of the illustrious Dharmashoka, popularly known as Ashoka the Great. Ashoka is a landmark in Indian history and the history of Buddhism. 
He was formally crowned at Pataliputra, present Patna, the Mauryan capital, four years after he had secured the throne on the death of his father in or about 273 B.C. He affected the epoch – making conquest of the rebellious Kalingas in 261 B.C. about twelve years after he had secured the throne.

Ashoka ruled over a vast empire covering the whole of India expect the extreme south. Parts of Afghanistan. Baluchistan and Kashmir formed part of his territories. Kalinga war which took place in the present state of Orissa proved to be a turning point in the life of the emperor and produced results of a far-reaching character in the history of the East. The widespread destruction and bloodshed accompanying this war produced such a profound impression on his mind that he gave up war altogether.

Finally, Ashoka is said to have converted to Buddhism by Upagupta, a  Buddhist monk. In pace of conquest by war the emperor adopted the method of “Dharmavijaya” – conquest by piety or Dhamma. Preachers were sent to different countries. The preacher sent to Kashmir was named Madhyantika or Majjhahanthika. According to Kashmiri historian Kalhana Pandith who wrote ‘Rajatarangini’, the Emperor himself undertook frequent journey to outlying provinces like Kashmir.

Kashmir appears to have enjoyed all the benefits of the great Emperor’s benign rule. In fact, it was Ashoka who had given the name “Srinagar” for the capital of Kashmir. Buddhism spread rapidly in Kashmir as elsewhere in India during his visit to Kashmir in the 7th century A.D. the celebrated Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang or Yuan Chwang noticed four Ashokan stupas – each of which contained Sacred Relics of the Buddha’s body. According to Hiuen Tsang the emperor built five hundred ‘Sangharamas’ or monasteries for the sake of ‘arahants’ and later gave the Valley itself as a gift to the Mahasangha.

The Tibetan writer Taranatha recorded that Madhyantika, sent by Ashoka as a Buddhist missionary to Kashmir spent over twenty years there. At time of his arrival Kashmir, he founded twelve Viharas in existence. According to taranatha, Buddhist monks living in Kashmir were stated to have been specaially invited to the Buddhist council which Ashoka called at Pataliputra towards the end of his reign to reconcile monks of different schools Buddhist thought such as Theravada and Mahayana sectors. According to Buddhist tradition Ashoka was more favorably inclined towards the Theravada sector in the later part of his reign.

Buddhism suffered a temporary eclipse in Kashmir during the reign of Ashoka’s successors Jalauka and Damodara.
With the help of Brahmans he got from the conquered territory he tried to reconvert the people shaiva, the old faith. Large number of Buddhist preachers were said to have been vanquished in argument by Jalauka’s ‘guru’Avadhuta.
Though at first hostile to Buddhists, Jalauka later became more friendly towards them and constructed a big vihara, ‘Krityashrama vihara’. In the vicinity of Baramulla, presently a district in Kashmir.

However, Jalauka’s mind chaned again. Once his sleep having been disturbed by the sound of clarions from some viharas he issued orders for their demolition. This greatly upset the Buddhists some of whom plooed to bring about his death. Later on the intervention of a “Buddhist witch” he revoked his orders and again built a big vihara in compensation.

Jalauka was followed by another Shaiva ruler Damodara. He was assassinated by some mendicants. After Damodara’s reign, north- western India once again passed under the away of foregners, including the Greeks. Once of the famous Greek monarch of the time was Menander, who was believed to have ruled towards the end of the second and in the beginning of the first centuries B.C. He was a great scholar inquirer after truth.
Greek rule in north-western India was followed by that of the Kushanas, a sub-division of the Yuch-chi nomads, who hailed from Central Asia.

Kashmir which was definitely included in their domain witnessed a great resurgence of Buddhism during their time. This revival began in the reign of Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan rulers.
Kanishka’s empire extended from Bihar in the east to the borders of Iran in the west.It was rich and prosperous. Kashmir which was at the heart of it naturally shared in this prosperity;more particularly because the valley was a favorite resort of the Kushan rulers who detested the heat of Indian plains.

The Fourth Buddhist Council held in Kashmir in Kanishka’s time is an event of great significance in the history of Buddhism and beside Hiuen Tsang other writers also have written about it. The Council which set for six months, collected all available sayings and teachings of the Buddha and the other masters of Law and drew up expository commentaries on the ‘sutra’ (sermons), the ‘Vinaya’ (discipline) and the ‘abhidhaamma’ (Metaphysics), three baskets of Buddhist scriptural writings. The Tibetan historians added that the Council was attended by five hundred ‘arahants’, five hundred ‘bodhisattvas’ and five hundred ‘pandits’. Ashvaghosha was sent for specially to put the commentary, Vibhasha, into proper literary form.

Kushan rulers had given the Buddhist monks a master hand in the administration Of their territory. According to Hiuen Tsang, Kanishka like Ashoka made a gift of Kashmir to Buddhist Sangha. Kashmiri historian Kalhana described the illustrious Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna who lived in Kashmir in the time of the Kushanas as 'the sole supreme rule of the land'. Under Nagaruna's guidance the Buddhist defeated in disputation all learned Brahmans in the land.

But nature helped the Brahmans and the Nagas living in the valley to recover their lost heritage. Kashmir at that time witnessed sever winter for a number of years in succession. There were excessive snowfalls in which large number of Buddhist-perhaps the once who had come from outside and settled in the handy Vallery-dide.  This occurrence the occurrence came in handy  to the Nagas and the Brahman clergy. It was also appeared certain that many must have left such winter. According to Kalhana, among these must have been a number of great Buddhist scholar monks like Nagarajuna.

Buddhism enjoyed considerable vogue in Kashmir in the beginning of Abhimamuy's reign which in Kalhana's chronicle, came after that of the Turushka kings Hushka, Jushka and Kanishka.
Buddhism entered its second period of decline in Kashmir in the  time of Gonanda, the successor to Abhimanyu. The traditional mode of worship, including, etc. was  completely re-established in the time of Gonanda.

After  Gonanda very little was known about the condition of Buddhism in the valley during the time of next four rulers. But in the time of Nara or Kinnara who came after them and ruled forty years, Buddhism in Kashmir suffered a major catastrophe. At the tale end of his rule, he developed provoking tendencies and became a great nuisance to his subjects. In revenge for his attitude, it was said, a Buddhist carried away his wife. This set the king aflame against the Buddhists and he destroyed a large number of Buddhist temples. This lustful king did not spare the Brahmans either. He was destroyed by a Naga when attempted to seduce a wife of a pious Brahman.

After Kinnara, his son siddha  occupied the throne. After Siddha,  Kashmira was for long under Shaivite ( followers of God Shiva) rulers' During this time Buddhism did not enjoy much royal patronage which in had enjoyed in such rich measure in the time of Ashoka and Kanishka.
Siddha was succeeded by Yudhisthira   and there was no mention about any developments concern with Buddhism during his reign.

The dynasty founded by Gonanda after Kushanas came to an end with Yudhisthira who, through his imprudence, was deposed by his minister to make way for Gupta dynasty, which was ruling northern India at that time. Pratapaditya was the first to bring into for Gupta a Dynasty to rule over Kashmir. During his time, in keeping with the time-honoured tradition of the Valley, all people enjoyed the fullest liberty to pursue the faith of their choice. He was followed by Tunjina and his death brought to the throne of Kashmir of a different dynasty. According to Kalhana, it may be due to the face that Tunjina died childlessly. Since then several others ruled over the Valley and most of them were followers of God Shiva.

The Huns-a nomadic people from Central Asian steppes who overran western Asia and northwestern India in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. established themselves firmly in Afganistan and northern India. The sagacious Toranama who was responsible for the consolidation of the human power was succeeded by his son Mihirakula about 515 A.D. His sway extended over Kashmir. Hiuen – Tsang represented Mihirakula as a great persecutor of Buddhists. But he was of stern nature.

Mihirakula who wanted to devate his leisure time to the study of Buddhism ordered the Buddhist clergy in Kashmir to suggest a capable monks of the day declined this high honour as they were afraid of the king’s changing attitudes. Ultimately their choice fell upon one who had been a ser4vant in the king’s household. Mihirakula took this as a great insult and he ordered the utter extermination of the Sangha throughout the country. TYhis harash command evoked opposition from Baladsitiya, the ruler of Mangadha and it led to the Mihirihula- Baladitiya battle. At a latter stage mihirakula invaded Gandhara, exterminated the royal family, destroyed hundreds of Buddhist stupas and Sangharamas and put to death large number of innocent Buddhists.

On Mihirakula’s death, the Kashmir throne was occupied once again by a staunch Buddhist, Meghavahana. Meghavahana was living in exile at the Gandhara court when the Kashmir throne fell vacant. He was approached by Kashmiri ministers to occupy it.
Kashmiri scholars J.N. Ganhar and P.N. Ganhar say that Meghavhana’s zeal for Buddhism is indicated by the fact that at the very time of his coronation he issued a proclamation prohibiting the slaughter of animals- even sacrifice throughout the realm. In the cause of this ‘conquest of earth’ he subdued king Vibhisand of Ceylon.

His regards for the religious susceptibilities of his people was equally great. He also built a number of Buddhists foundation became well understood if he was paced after Mihirakua.

Meghavahana’s wives-he had about half a dozen-vied with him in his enthusiasm for the erection of Buddhist temples and monasteries. The chief among the King’s wives Amritaprabha, a princess of Assam built a lofty temple for the use of Buddhist monks. Another queen Yukadevi built a temple of ‘wonderful appearance’ at Nadavana in the northern part of Srinagar. Another Indradevi built a stupa and vihara known as ‘Indradevibhavana’.

With Meghavahana’s death, Buddhism in Kashmir was once again bereft of royal patronage. But there is no record anywhere of any persecution of its followers or of any discrimination towards them in the time of his successor. However, Buddhism as a distinct faith ceased to exist in Kashmir from the close of the fifteenth century.

From that time onwards there is no mention of the erection of Buddhist temples or of Buddhists inhabiting the valley. The exodus of large numbers of non-Muslims and the large-scale conversion to Islam of those that remained in the time of sikandar and other Muslim rulers left few Hindus and few Buddhists living in Kashmir.

(The writer is the former Editor of the Maha Bodhi Journal of which Anagarika Dharmapala was the founder Editor)


  Comments - 1

  • Becky Tenasarim Tuesday, 3 September 2019 02:55 PM

    Well-crafted material that I enjoy reading.

    Reply : 0       0

    Leave a comment

Top Stories

Two injured in gas cylinder explosion in Dematagoda

Two persons have been hospitalised following what is believed to be a gas cylinder explosion in Mahawila Gardens this morning. According to...

15 September 2019 - Views : 36

Shantha Bandara to fill Dissanayake's vacant seat in Parliament

15 September 2019

SL to ink MoU for ferry service with India

14 September 2019

SLFP suspends membership of five national list MPs

14 September 2019



Features & Analysis

Otara among 25 chosen personalities to name endangered baby gorillas in Rwanda

Sri Lankan entrepreneur, Otara Gunewardene was invited by the Rwandan Government as an honorary guest to name a ...

Environmentalists, conservationists gather for tropical biodiversity conference in Sri Lanka

The 12th Asia-Pacific Chapter Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) got underw...

Shakespeare Drama Competition to get underway this month

The All Island Inter-School Shakespeare Drama Competition is back for the 46th year. The competition is organize...

In Pictures: Annual congregation of the Dawoodi Bohra community

More than 20,000 people attended the annual worldwide Bohra convention being held at a community centre at ...