Tag Archives: shardapeeth

The Legend of Sarda, Shankaracharya and mysterious Sandalwood idol…

 

I had heard of the Mysterious  Sharda Temple at Village Sardi(P.O.K) many a times in the past. The word ‘Sarda’ itself is as mystical as is the Goddess Sarda. Kashmir in the past was a synonym to the Goddess. The ancient script of ‘Sarda’ that was once the vernacular of the Kashmiris ; or was widely spoken and written by the learned Scholars of Kashmir, clearly indicates that ‘ Sarda’ had a very deep impact on the lives of the Kashmiris and thus Kashmir.

Namaste Sarada Devi, Kashmira Mandala Vasini (Salutations to Goddess Sarada who resides in Kashmir’. This hymn unambiguously states that the Mystical Goddess was widely believed to live in Kashmir.

The Sarda temple was  just like any other venerated temple of KP’s for me and did not arose special attention, until I read the account of the pilgrimage of King Zain-ul-Abidin(AD 1420-70) to Sharda  possibly in the year 1422 A.D. I found the mention of the pilgrimage in Rajatarangini of Kalhan by  M.A.Stein, ” in the Chapter “The Shrine of Sharda”.

It was rather interesting to note that Sarda temple at one stage in the long History of Kashmir attracted many devotees and Scholars. The area where the temple is situated, was not under the sovereignty of the Rulers of Kashmir in continuity, and intermittently, the area of Sardi was out of bound  for rather long stretches of time. This political constraint dissuaded the Kashmiri Hindus to visit this place as frequently as they used to,  when it was a part of the Kingdom of Kashmir. The rough terrain  and the inclement weather too ensured that the Temple maintained its Aura of mystery , solitude and Spirituality.

For some reasons, I was intrigued to know that  there was a wooden(sandalwood) image of Goddess Sarda at Shardapeeth(Kashmir) and that the original idol was taken away by the Shankarachraya.It crossed my mind that If the original idol was taken away by Shankaracharya,; was the wooden idol of Sarda at the time of Zain-ul-Abidin, a different one then!

Traditionally, and may be historically, if we look into the past, we can easily conclude that the KP’s worshipped the God/Goddess mostly in their natural state/form. For example, KP’s worship Goddess Sharika as a ‘Srichakra’, believed to be inscribed naturally on a Boulder, smeared in vermilion. Again at Raithan temple, Goddess Ragya is venerated in the form of a natural Boulder. A Stone slab is revered as Goddess Bala Devi in Balhoma. Mata Jwalaji in the form of  an uninterrupted, continuous flame is worshipped at Khrew. There is also a stone slab, that too is venerated by the devotees. At other places, the object of worship is either a natural spring or a lake. The exception is for the Stone Shiva-Linga, which is widely worshipped throughout the state.

But a Wooden Idol, and that too of Sandalwood ! seemed incongruous. Before coming to any conclusion, some historical facts documented in the form of Books of History and legends can not be ignored.

The legend of Sharda

According to Mahatmaya, The sage Sandilya, son of sage Matanga, was practicing great austerities, in order to obtain the sight of the Goddess Sarda, who is a shakti embodying three separate manifestations. Divine advice prompts him to proceed to the place-Syamala. There at GHOSA, i.e ‘Gus’, appears to him ‘Mahadevi’, and promises to show herself in her true form( Shakti) in the Sarda’ forest. The Goddess vanishes from his sight at Hayasirsasasrama, (Hayhom), situated about 4 miles to the N.N.E of Gus.

The Sage next proceeds to the Krisnganga, a spring now usually known as Krishnganga, in which he bathes. Thereupon,  half his body becomes golden, emblematic of his approach to complete liberation from darkness. The Naga is situated above the village of Drang also known as Son-Drang. It is this appellation which the Mahatmaya wishes to reproduce by calling the place of Sage’s miraculous transformation ‘Suvarnardhangaka’.

From thence, Sandilya ascends the mountain range to the north, on which he sees a dance of Goddesses in a forest called Rangavati (Rangvor), immediately below the pass by which the route leading from Drang towards the Kisanganga crosses the watershed. He then passes the Gostambhana forest, i.e, the Marg Gthamman and arrives at TEJAVANA, the residence of Gautama, on the bank of the Krisnganga. The Mahatmaya describes at some length, the sacred character of the latter place which is identical with Tehjan(Thagain), a small hamlet on the left bank of the Kisanganga. It then relates how the sage after crossing on the way a hill, on the east side of which he sees the God Ganesha, arrives in the Sardavana i.e, at the present Sardi. After a Hymn in praise of Sarda in her triple form of Sarda, Narada(sarswati) and vagdevi, an account is given how the goddess at that sacred spot revealed herself to the Sage and rewarded his long austerities by inviting him to her residence on Srisaila.

Pitrs also approach there to Sandilya and ask him to perform their Sraddhas. On his taking water from the Mahasindu for the purpose of the Tarpana rite, half of its water turns into honey and forms the stream hence known as Madhumati. Ever since baths and Shraddhas at the Samgama of the Sindhu and Madhumati assure to the pious complete remission of sins, etc.

The mention of this confluence leaves no doubt as to where the Mahatmaya places the site sacred to Sarada. By SINDHU can be meant only the Kisanganga which, as in Kalhana’s days, is still locally known merely as ‘Sind’ , the river. Madhumati  is the name which local tradition gives to this day to the stream that joins the Kisanganga at Sardi from the south.

The temple is believed to be one of the Shakti-peethas(out of 51).It is believed that the right hand of Shiva’s consort-SATI-had fallen here.

 

 

The Mystical wooden(Sandalwood) idol of Sharda

A.Stein has mentioned that the Sharda temple is found in “Jonararaja’ Chronicle. The passage containing it belongs to those additions of the text with which Professor Peterson edition(1896) had first acquainted them. It is mentioned that the tolerant King Zain-l-Abidin(Bada Shah), whose attitude towards his Brahman Subjects was well Known, is believed to have accompanied the regular pilgrimage, apparently in the year 1422 A.D, in order to witness the miraculous manifestations of the Goddess. From the description in the  verse 1057, it seems that these were ordinarily the appearance of Sweat on the face of the image of the Goddess, the shaking of the arm, and a sensation of the Heat on touching the feet.

After bathing and drinking at the Madhumati Stream, the King seated himself at the Sacred spot which was thronged by pilgrims and Temple priests. Owing to the baseness, he witnessed in these people, the King is said to have displayed anger and to have lost faith in the goddess. Having failed to see her manifest herself in a visible and material way, which Jonaraja plausibly explains by a reference to the Kaliyuga and the want of faith in the worshippers, he then endeavored to obtain her sight in a Dream. For this purpose,   the King went to sleep on the night of the 7th day of waxing moon in the month of Bhadrapada in the court of the temple. Sarada, however refused to vouchsafe any sign of her presence to the King in his sleep either. From due regard for the prince’s high personal qualities, the author is forced to ascribe this disappointment to the Wickedness of his servants and the conflux of Mlecchas. Having thus disappointed, the virtuous Zain-ul-abidin, the goddess is said to have, herself, crushed her image to pieces.

It is mentioned unambiguously,  that the idol self-destructed itself. However much later, Alberuni , too has written that a miracle-working image of Sarada, was yet in existence in the early part of the fifteen century, and that its destruction, rightly or wrongly, was connected with a pilgrimage which Zain-ul-abidin made to this site.

In the Sixteenth century, the temple of Sarda must have enjoyed yet considerable reputation in Kashmir itself. This is proved by “ABU-L-FAZL’s” notice of the site(Ain-Akb.,ii.p 365): “At two days distance from Hachamun is the river named padmati(Madhumati), which flows from the Dard(Dard) country. Gold is also found in this river. On its Banks, is a stone-temple called “Sarda”, dedicated to Durga and regarded with great veneration. On every eight tithi of the bright half of the month, it begins to shake and produce the most extraordinary effect.”

Here Haehamn stands plainly for Hayhom: Padmati is an evident clerical error for Madmati, i.e, Madhumati. From the statement which makes this River come from the Dard country, it appears that there is here some confusion between the Madhumati and the Kisanganga, which latter alone can be described as flowing from that region. It must, however, be noticed that a not very clear passage of the Sardamahatmaya,120, seems to ascribe to the Kisanganga also the second name Madhumati.

The notice of Gold being found in the river clearly applies to the Kisanganga, which drains a Mountain region known as auriferous to the present Day. The story told of the Sarada temple Shaking on the eight sudi of each month, is evidently a lingering reflex of the miracle ascribed to Sarda’s image in Jonaraja’s account.

The date indicated is that still observed for pilgrim’s visits to the Shrine, but when A.Stien visited the site in Sep 1892, The legend of the Shaking of limbs or sweat from the forehead of the idol of Sarda was unheard of. In fact, there was no idol of Sarada at all. Instead, a large rough slab on the ground which measures about 6 by 7 feet, with a thickness of about half a foot is worshipped as Goddess Sharda.This stone is believed to cover a KUNDA(spring-cavity), in which Sarada appeared to Sage Sandilya, and is the object of the Pilgrims’ special veneration. At the time of “Stein’s” visit to the temple, a red cloth canopy with plenty of tinsel surmounted the sacred spot. Conches, bells, and other implements of worship filled the remainder of the interior space.

Adi Shankaracharya’s visit to Sarda temple and Kashmir

Most of the Scholars believe that Adi Shankaracharya (A.D-788-820) visited Kashmir in the first quarter of ninth century A.D.

Adi Shankaracharya, a great philosopher is believed to have visited Kashmir in the first quarter of 9th Century (788-820 A.D) .According to writer of ‘Sankara Digvijaya’ — ‘Sankara visited Kashmir after giving a final blow to Buddhism in the rest of India”. PN Magzine,  a research scholar of repute, writes in ‘Shankaracharya Temple and Hill’ that Shankaracharya visited Kashmir with the intention of advancing Vedantic knowledge. That time Kashmiris were culturally and spiritually much advanced and believed strongly in the greatness of both Shiva and Shakti. Shankara did not, at that time, when he visited Kashmir, believe in Shakti cult . PN Magzine mentions that Shankaracharya with his party camped outside the city of Srinagar, without any boarding and lodging arrangements. Seeing the plight of visitors a virgin was sent to meet Shankara. She found the party uneasy and frustrated because of not being able to cook as no fire was made available to them. The first glimpse of Shakti was exhibited to Shankara by this girl, when Shankara expressed his inability to make a fire, in reply to girl’s question that you are so great, can not you make fire. The girl picked up two thin wooden sticks (samidhas) into her hand, recited some mantras and rubbed the sticks and fire was produced to the surprise of Shankara. PN Magzine further adds that later a Shastrarth (religious discourse) was arranged between Shankara and a Kashmiri woman. This discourse continued for 17 days. Shankaracharya yielded before the lady in discussion and accepted the predominance of Shakti cult (greatness of Devi).

According to PN Magzine, after accepting predominance of Shakti cult, Shankara wrote Saundarya Lahari, in praise of Shakti, at the top of the hill, known till then as Gopadari Hill. Pandit Gopi Krishan writer that Panchastavi–gamut of Shakti Shastra–a priceless gem — a peerless hymn of praise addressed to Kundalini. The work has been cited as source book by several eminent scholars, but the name of the author has remained undisclosed”. According to him the only other work in whole gamut of Shakti Shastra in the country, comparable to Panchastavi is Saundarya Lahari. PN Magzine says that Saundarya Lahari is acclaimed as master-piece in Sanskrit literature. After the visit of Adi Shankaracharya to Kashmir, he became staunch believer of Shakti-Shri Chakra – the symbol of Devi (Goddess) as mentioned in ‘Shankara Digvijay’ – Life history of Shankaracharya. Thus we know that even, a very knowledge philosopher, a Saint of greater order- Adi Shankaracharya – gained further depth in spiritualism and mysticism in Kashmir.Kashmiri Pandit – great ‘Mehman Nawaz’ – highly appreciative of knowledge (which has at time proved undoing for them), awarded a degree of the Sharda Peetha, the highest honour conferred on any dignitary of knowledge when Shankaracharya visited Sharda, a famous temple, Shrine of Goddess Saraswati and a famous university of learning.

 

It is believed that was  Adi shankaracharya entered the Sarda temple from its Sothern gate and had a debate with the Scholars of that Area/Temple. He emerged as a winner and was conferred to sit on Sarvanjnanapeetham or Sarvajna peetha(Throne of Wisdom).In his Honor, the southern gate of Sarda temple was closed for ever. The Śāradā image at  Shringeri Shardamba temple was once said to have been made of sandalwood, which is supposed to have been taken by the Shankaracharya from Sarda temple Kashmir.

Adi-Shankaracharya according to Sringeri Sharda peetham

Jagadguru Sri Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada established the first of the four Amnaya Peethams at Sringeri more than twelve centuries ago to foster the sacred tradition of Sanatana Dharma.

Hallowed for all times by Sage Rishyashringa who stayed and performed Tapas here, Sringeri attracted the great Acharya with a remarkable sight.

Tradition has it that after the Acharya had dispersed all the non-Vedic creeds prevailing in the country, He was on the look-out for a convenient and holy place where he could establish an institution to spread the truths of Advaita Vedanta. When the Acharya came to Sringeri, he saw an unusual sight on the banks of the Tunga. A cobra was seen spreading out its hood over a frog in labour pains, to give it shadow from the scorching mid-day sun. Struck with the sanctity of the place, which could infuse love between natural adversaries, the Acharya chose this very location to establish His first Math.

The Madhaviya Shankara Digvijayam describes that the Acharya came across many virtuous people at Sringeri and taught them the doctrine of Advaita. He then invoked the Divinity of Knowledge, Goddess Sharada and consecrated an icon of the Goddess. Thus the Peetham He founded at Sringeri in South India for fostering the Vedas and the sacred tradition of Sanatana Dharma came to be known as the Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham.

The Acharya appointed his prime disciple, Sri Sureshwaracharya as the first Acharya of the Peetham. Since then, the Peetham has been blessed with an unbroken Guru Parampara, a garland of spiritual masters and Jivanmuktas representing Sri Adi Shankaracharya. The succeeding Acharyas have led a life of such austere penance that it has led disciples to adore in them the radiance of Sri Adi Shankara Himself.

Sandalwood Idol of Sarda Mata at Sringeri

 

The ancient temple of Sri Sharada, the presiding deity of Sringeri has a glorious history that begins with the setting up of the Dakshinamnaya Peetham by Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada. Originally it was an unpretentious shrine with the Murti of Sharada made of sandalwood, installed over the Sri Chakra that Sri Adi Shankara carved on a rock. Subsequently Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya had a temple built in the Kerala style, with timber and tiled roof. Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha substituted the sandalwood idol with the present golden idol.

However, it is not clear whether, the installed idol was the same Idol, that Adi Sankara had allegedly brought with him from Kashmir.

Geographical Availability of Sandalwood in Kashmir and Karnataka

The availability of Sandalwood is abundantly found in and around the district of Chikmaglur (Sringeri comes in this district) in Karnataka. While as, it is hardly found in and around Kashmir valley. But, before coming to any conclusion; it will be pertinent to discuss again, here, the Temple and Legend of Kapteshwar Temple of Kashmir Valley; where, a mysterious Sandalwood idol of Siva used to emerge from a pond.

The legend of Kapatesvara(From Rajatarangini)

The valley of the Arpath or Harsapatha, which opens to the east of Anantnag, is also known as Kuthar. The name is in all probability connected with that of the ancient Tirtha of KAPATESVARA, situated on the Southern side of the valley close to the village of Kother. The name of the latter is undoubtedly a derivative of Kapateshwara as the analogy of Jyether<Jyeshthesvara, Triphar<Tripuresvara, etc. clearly shows.

The place of pilgrimage is the sacred spring of PAPASUNDA(Sin removing), situated a short distance above Kother near Acchabal. In it Lord Shiva is believed to have shown himself in the disguise(Kapata) of pieces of wood floating on the water. The legend is related at length in the Nilmata, and the author of the Haracaritacintamani devotes to it a separate canto which has now become the Official Mahatmaya of the Tirtha.

According to Nilmata; Once many sages stood in great penance on the sacred bank of Drsadvati in Kurukshetra to have a sight of Rudra-the lord of the Gods. Impressed by their Devotion, Shiva told them in a Dream to go soon to Kasmira where there is a spacious and immaculate abode of the Naga. He told them that there he would be visible in Disguise. Having heard him in a dream they all reached the abode of the Naga. They could not see even a little water, for the water was all covered with pieces of wood. Moving the wooden logs with their hands, the best sages obtained Rudrahood with their bodies by merely taking bath.

However, one vasistha Brahman, named Graparasar neither took the bath nor touched the wooden logs. He went on prolonged fasting and made his body decay. Rudra then spoke to him in a dream and advised him to obtain Rudrahood quickly by taking bath and touching the wooden logs.  Gauraparasara persisted, ‘that you can be visible after the attainment of Rudrahood is a fact, ‘O father of the world! But my mind is not satisfied without the sight of the lord of the Gods. You have said that you would be visible in disguise in the abode( of the Naga).

The Brahman refuses to leave and continues fasting, Sankara replies:  I have already provided them, my manifestation in the form of the wooden log. Merely by seeing me, they attained Rudrahood, O twice-Born! Now, due to your penance which is greater, I give you the desired boon. Ask for what you desire and Obtain Rudrahood.

The Brahman demands that Mahesvara should manifest in the form of a wooden log, to all the human beings, as it did to the sages. Mahesvara agrees and remarks, ‘O best among the twice-born, all those people who will see(the god) standing in the form of wood, (will see the gods) not always but only occasionally. With a desire to do favor to them, my gana-the Nandi in the form of wooden log shall always be visible to the human beings. And having seen (him) they would attain Rudrahood with their bodies. As I shall appear before men, so I shall obtain the name, Kapatesvara.

Alberuni too had heard of the Kapateshvara tirtha and its legend. He writes ‘ a pond called Kudaishashr(Kapatesvar) to the left of the source of the vitasta, in the middle of the month of Vaisakha, Mahadeva appears annually.’

AB-L-FAZL, Ain-I Akb, ii, p.358, mentions “in the village of Kotihar, a deep spring surrounded by stone temples. When its water decreases, an image of Mahadeva in Sandalwood appears.”

The sacred spring rises in a large circular tank which is enclosed by an ancient stone-wall and steps leading into the water. According to Kalhana’s account this enclosure was constructed, about a century before his own time, at the expense of the well-known king Bhoja of Malava.The latter is said to have taken a vow always to wash his face in the water of the Papasundana spring.

Connection between Sarda temple and Kapteshwar temple

Though, the architecture of Sharda temple (POK) resembles to that of the Kashmiri architecture , which can still be found in the ruins of Naranaag or the the Sun temple of Martand, But for some reasons, Sir A.Stein thought that the ruins of Sarda resemble most to that of Kapateshwara temple.

Also, it is intriguing,   to note that the famous travelers and Historians of the past, like Alberuni and Ab-L-Fazl, both have written that there was the legend of the mysterious and venerated Idol of Sharda at the Temple (POK). Pertinently, both have mentioned that the wooden idol of Mahadeva would emerge from a pond at Kapatesvara, when its water receded.

This clearly indicates, that in Kashmir, there was use of Sandalwood for making Idols of Gods/Godesses; although it is not clear, how it came into existence for religious purposes and how it ended .But, as of today, The Redoubtable temples of Kashmirian architecture, be it Sarda, Martand, or Naranaag are at the brink of extinction and need immediate attention from the concerned authorities. The hoary legends, that once reverberated in the cradle of Kashmir valley, are reduced to dying  echoes .

However, some of the sacred Hymns like- ‘Kashmir Purvasini, Vidhya Dieyinam Shawetambuj Viharinam, Chaturbuj Dharini… Shattantriveena Vadini… Mokshadayini, Papanashneemam … Vitasta Rupenam … Himachidit Girishshobinam … Kalashamrit Dharayae. Translated this means;Residing in Kashmir from ancient times..giver of knowledge.. seated on a white bird {Swan}..having four arms, carries hundred stringed veena.. giver of moksha and forgiver of sins.. just like with grace of Vitasta {Jhelum River}.. gracing a snow clad mountain..carrying a pot with holy nectar-    will remain immortal. And with it, will live- ‘the legend of Sarda ‘ forever.

And so will the mystery…

 

( by:Sandeep Raj koul)

 

 

 

 

 

sharda1 sharda2

(Photo courtesy: Rukhsana Khan)

 

 

References:

the shrine of Sharda-note B-I 37-Kalhana’s Rajatarangini(M.A.Stein)

tirtha of Kapatesvara,p-467,Kalhana’s Rajtarangini-ii volme(M.A.Stein)

http://www.ikashmir.net/saints/shankracharyavisittokashmir.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharada_Peeth

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandalwood

http://www.sringeri.net/history

http://www.sringeri.net/history/sri-adi-shankaracharya/biography/abridged-madhaviya-shankara-digvijayam/part-5

http://panunkashmir.org/kashmirsentinel/maya1999/4.5.html

http://koausa.org/temples/sharda3.html

 

Advertisements

Kashmiri Pandits and saraswat Brahims

by P.N.K. Bamzai
Koshur Samachar

The Valley of Kashmir is known among the Kashmiri Pandits or Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir as Saradapeeth or the Abode of the Goddess of Learning and Fine Arts. During their five thousand years of history, they have made colossal contribution to world civilization in the field of Religion, Philosophy, Sanskrit literature, medicine, history, aesthetics, etc. As models of non-violence, they have never handled lethal weapons or spoken harsh words. Devoted to the study of Vedas and other Sastras in all their aspects, the essence of these studies has been coursing in their blood-stream from generation to generation. In peaceful or turbulent times they were protected under their spiritual umbrella by a large number of highly advanced saints and sages who flourished in the Valley from time to time.

No wonder they preferred death to change in their religion and withstood stoically the ruthless masters for five hundred years of Muslim rule. And when pushed back to the wall, they migrated to places of safety in the hot plains of India.

This process has been repeated in 1990 but on a vaster scale. Threatened with annihilation by Islamic Fundamentalists and gun-toting terrorists, the hapless Brahmins migrated en masse to Jammu and other places in the hot plains of the rest of India, leaving behind their hearths and homes, movable and immovable properties, their jobs and business, even the education of their children. The treatment they received from the State and Central Governments is perhaps the most bitter instance of this nature in the world. As refugees in their own country, their governments treated them with disdain. Instead of giving them comfort and solace, their attitude towards them was callous and inhuman.

How and wherefrom did the Kashmiri Pandits or Vedic Aryans enter and settle in the Valley is an interesting episode in the early movement of people from place to place.

The main theory about the Aryan settlement in Kashmir as advanced by Dr. Grierson was that they formed a part of the stream of Indo-Aryans from Central Asia, but did not share the migration to India via the Kabul River Valley to settle in the Punjab. They broke away from the mainstream while crossing the Hindukush and entering the Valley via Dardistan settled there.

But after deep research for the last 15 years the writer has come to the conclusion that Dr. Grierson’s Theory was erroneous. Actually they came to the Valley from the Punjab centuries after the first settlement of Aryans there.

Briefly speaking, the earliest stream of Aryans who entered India, found the banks of the River Saraswati in the Punjab fertile and conducive to easy cultivation, and settled there.

Described in the Rig Veda as “the mother of rivers”, scholars have debated for centuries whether Saraswati is a myth or has been a reality at some distant point of time.

Fortunately a team of archaeologists, geologists, geographers and historians led by the famous archeologist Dr. V.S. Wakankar, began their quest of the river in 1985. Armed with high-tech facilities like landsat and multi-spectoral scanner (MSS), the team began the quest from the believed source of the river at Adi Badri in the Shivalik Hills in Ambala They sieved through the whole area notably 150 prominent sites along the route in the Thar Desert ending at Somnath in Gujarat.

At the end of it all they had solid evidence to prove the existence of a highly developed culture on the banks of a mighty river which they say was Saraswati.

Apart from this evidence, the existence of a mighty river, matching the Vedic description of Saraswati, has been scientifically proved. The multi-spectoral scanner (MSS), a widely used and relied upon equipment in archaeology, indicates various channels of the river in the region.

According to MSS observations of various channels, Sutluj was the main tributary of Ghaggar (the present name for Saraswati, now in Pakistan). But tectonic movements forced Sutluj to flow in different direction (at right angle to its original channel), thus leaving Ghaggar dry.

A study of the landsat imagery of Ghaggar (Saraswati) reveals that the river had a constant width of six to eight kilometres from Shatrana in the Punjab to Marot in Pakistan.

The waters of the river spread prosperity all around and the settlers passed centuries there in peace, building well-planned towns and cities to live in. The Aryan society was by and by stratified into classes according to the kind of their work and profession or varna. But as ill-luck would have it, the life-giving river changed its course several times and ultimately dried up. Known as Saraswat Brahmins, Kshatryas and Vaisas, they left the Punjab in search of equally good if not better land in the rest of the sub-continent. An enterprising batch went back to the mountains in the north to reside in the Kashmir Valley of whose beauty and salubrious climate they had heard from their forefathers who used to go there during summer. They sought the protection of Nila, the Lord of the Nagas and begged his permission to settle in the Valley permanently as his subjects.

Nila listened to their tale of woe sympathetically, but promised the requested permission on condition that they conformed to the social usages and customs of the Nagas. The Saraswats agreed to these conditions when the Naga chief permitted them to reside permanently in the Valley.

Aryan Entry Into The Valley

At what point of time this important immigration into the Valley of Saraswat Aryans (comprising Brahmans, Kshatryas, Vaisas and Sudras) took place is not possible to say. However, the beginning of the Saptarishi or Laukika Era seems to be the time when the Sarswat Aryans entered into and settled in the Valley, after getting permission from Nila, the lord of the Naga tribe who were already settled there. The beginning of this era nearly coincides with Mahabharata war. The date of the coronation of King Yudhishtra is given as Kaliyug Samvat 653. Kalhana too begins the Rajatarangini from this time as is evident from the description of the installation by Lord Krishna of Queen Yasomati on the throne of Kashmir as the guardian of her son King Gonanda II.

The Saptarishi or Laukika era is still in current use among the Brahmin population of Kashmir. Buhler was the first to prove from the extant tradition of Kashmiri Brahmins and other evidence that the commencement of the Laukika Era is placed on Caitra Sudi 1, of Kali Samvat 25 (expired) or the year 3076-75 B.C. Since his discovery correct accounts of the Laukika reckoning are to be found in all handbooks of Indian chronology.

That the Kashmiri Brahmins have held on to and followed this calendar tenaciously for the last 5066 years is a strong point in favour of assuming their entry in the Kashmir Valley round about the beginning of this era.

The various exigencies of time and division of labour gradually differentiated the priestly Brahmins from other castes. And when the Saraswat Aryans entered the Valley, the Brahmins were in a dominating position and laid down rules and regulations for the other castes to follow in accordance with the agreement with Nagas. From that time begins the emergence of the Kashmiri Pandits or the Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir as a distinct community in the all-embracing comity of people called Hindus.

Profoundly learned, it was only the Kashmiri Pandits who were capable of expounding the Vedas, the Vedanganas, the Itihasas, the Puranas and the Mimamsa. They were well-versed in various orthodox and heterodox philosophic systems. Jurists, astrologers, mathematicians, poets and philosophers were from this community. Even the less educated among them did fairly well, for they could act as Kathavacaks or reciters of sacred stories and performers of various domestic rites. Sanskrit was their mother tongue and both men and women spoke it fluently.

Society took good care of the Brahmins, for they received land gifts and money. There is mention of many grants or agraharas in literature and epigraphs. Villages were transferred to the Brahmins with pastures for cows, with lands, water and trees, fruit bearing or otherwise.

A class that helped in the preservation of Dharma and contributed much to cultural progress, naturally enjoyed some privileges in a society dominated by it. Smritis and the Puranas speak of the Brahmins as being exempt from taxation and capital punishment. The ancient Dharmasastras lay down that a Brahmin should not be given any corporal punishment. Many other Smritis speak of exile as the maximum punishment for a Brahmin.

Education

The Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir were models of simplicity, purity, truthfulness, ascetic tendency and compassion. All these traits of the highest human culture were built-up by Rishis and Maharishis who, in their secluded Ashrams performed austere penances and at the same time taught a large number of students who stayed in the Ashrams and led a life befitting Brahmin Brahmacharin. Thus the Guru-Shishya Parampara was established. The children of a house-holder lived with Acharyas (teachers) in the latter’s home. There they used to serve their teacher by gathering fuel for homa and offered morning and evening prayers. The recitation of the Vedic hymns with their proper accents, preceded by the syllable OM took place at day-break. Early morning was the time set apart for studies.

Consequently, Upanayan Sanskara, which literally means taking the child to the Guru, was the most important in one’s life. The Brahman, the Khatriya and Vaisa boys were initiated when they were 8, 11 and 12 years respectively. This initiation of a boy into the three R’s took place on an auspicious day in a festive atmosphere. Gods were propitiated, feasts arranged and presents offered to the teacher before entrusting the student to his care. A very disciplined life was laid down by the medieval digests for students receiving Brahmanical education. By the time the boy attained the age of sixteen years, he was expected to be the master of all sciences and arts.

The educational course naturally differed according to the needs of the student. A Brahmin learnt the four Vedas, the six Angas, the various scripts, Mimamsa, Smritis, Puranas, Karmakanda, Jyotish, Ganita, Music, Sciences, etc.

The education of a student did not end here. They took inspiration from the Rishis and Paramrishis who in their ashrams and seats of learning propagated gems of philosophy, art, literature and history. Apart from imparting education to hundreds of Kashmiri students, they instructed numerous scholars from distant lands, who braving long and arduous journey came to Kashmir to drink deep from the well of knowledge at the feet of the masters. No wonder that from remote ages Kashmir became the seat of learning, and earned for itself the appropriate name of Saradapeeth or the seat of Sarada, the Goddess of Learning and Fine Arts.

Apart from performing rites and rituals as prescribed by the Sastras, the Brahmin householder worshipped the Hindu Triad, namely Siva, Vishnu and Brahma and their Consorts – Parvati or Uma who has a variety of other names such as Kali, Durga, Mahadevi (the Consort of Siva); Sri or Lakshmi (the Consort of Vishnu) and Vagheswari or Saraswati (the Consort of Brahma)

In later times a special sect who were devotees and worshippers of Sakti – the manifestation of power and energy of Siva – came into prominence and were known as Saktas. Their rites and rituals and the mode of their performance differed basically from the mainstream of the Kashmiri Pandits.

The snow-capped mountain peaks around the Valley evoked the image of Siva with Ganga coming out of His locks and gushing down in streams to the plains below, spreading life all around. Hence, Kashmir has, from time immemorial, been known as the Land of Siva (Sivapuri). The worship of Siva and the study of Saivism is, therefore, a predominant theme in the religious and philosophic practices of the Kashmiri Brahmins. Though the Trikka philosophy popularly known as Kashmir Saivism took shape in the 8th Century A.D., Sivasana or Sivagama, that is Saivism as such, is far older than this date. Indeed we can trace its beginning in the Vedic Revelations.

The origin of the earliest works on Saivism in Kashmir is lost in antiquity. It is said that originally there were sixty-four systems of philosophy covering every aspect of thought and life, but they all gradually disappeared and the world was plunged into spiritual darkness. Then Siva, goes the legend, moved by pity for the ignorance and sufferings of mankind, appeared on the Kailasa mountain in the form of Srikantha. He commanded the sage Durvasa to spread true knowledge among men. Durvasa created three sons by the power of his mind and to one of these, Tryambaka, he imparted the knowledge of monistic philosophy.

So Brahmanism diluted with the animistic faith of the indigenous Nagas and influenced by the Saivite faith, formed the religion of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley from their settlement there till the appearance of Emperor Asoka in the middle of 300 B .C. along with a contingent of 5000 Bikshus whom he settled in the Valley to study and propagate Buddhism.