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The History of Kashmir - A Snapshot

Chashma Shahi, example of Mughal architecture in Kashmir

The history of Kashmir is complex and layered, and due to its fabric laced with turmoil in the last decades, the narratives are never free from personal bias and judgement. We are not historians, nor do we have the expertise to unpick the layers or untangle the complexities. The below is only intended to provide a historical snapshot to provide some context to the reader on the history of Kashmir in a story format.

With that disclaimer, let’s start off this story which dates back to over 5000 years! So, warning - this one is LONG!!

The earliest documentation comes from Nilmata Puran (6th to 8th century CE - Common Era. The Nimata Purana, also known as Kasmira Mahatmya, can be considered as an epic and provides us the lens to get a glimpse of the cultural history of those times. The other important document is the ‘Rajtarangini’ written by Kashmiri scholar and historian Kalhana in the 12th century CE. Rajtarangini consists of 8 books called the ‘tarangs’ meaning waves and ‘raj’ means related to Kings. Rajtarangini can be considered Kashmir's ‘political’ history, though the initial three-four books intertwine the folklores, epics and legends with the political landscape, as Kalhana used the Nilmata Puran as his source when he wrote the Rajtarangini. Kalhana's father and uncle were both in Kashmir courts and the unbiased approach to his writings, made him well equipped to document the details and his work becoming one of the most referenced work of its kind.

After Kalhana, there have been Rajtarangini’s by other historians (Jonaraj, Srivara, Prajyabhata and Suka) which documents the history until the 16th century.

The word ‘Kashmir’ in Sanskrit means desiccated or dried out land (ka meaning water, and shimeera meaning dried out). As per Nilmat Puran, Kashmir was created by the ‘draining of the lake’ by a sage called Kashyap. Kashyap is believed to be the grandson of Hindu God Brahma (his son being sage Marichi). This 'drying out' is needed because earth is submerged in water and therefore every species needs to be rescued (similar to Noah’s arc). This region surrounded by the Himalayas, seems to fit the bill perfectly for this mission, but there already exists a lake which needs to be drained out. In order to drain out the lake a kind of canal 'the Vatista' is created, which is said to be the present-day Jhelum.

Kalhana's accounts starts with the Gonanda dynasty which spanned the reign of around 47 kings. This was followed by his accounts of Ashoka’s rule in the 3rd century, and it is debated whether Ashoka’s reference by Kalhana was a Gonanda dynasty king or the great Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty who helped propagate Buddhism, but also constructed Shiva temples. It is believed that Buddhism and Shaivism flourished side by side in Kashmir during this 'Ashoka's' time. He also set up the old capital of Srinagari. After the decline of the 'Mauryan dynasty', Ashoka’s son Jaluka became the monarch of Kashmir and revived Hinduism in this region.

The Mauryan dynasty led way to the Kushan dynasty. The Kushan's descended from the Yuezhi people who ruled over most of the northern Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia during the first three centuries of the common era (CE). This dynasty saw the reign of kings Hushka, Jushka and Kanishka. Buddhism strengthened its roots and branched out further with the King Kanishka adopting Buddhism and thus taking Buddhism to its pinnacle in Kashmir. The Fourth World Conference of Buddhism was held in Kashmir during the Kushan dynasty’s rule.

Ruins of Parihaspora build by King Lalitaditya Muktapida of the Karkota dynasty

Kalhana also mentions about the restoration of the Gonanda dynasty. The last ruler was Baladitya married his daughter Ananglekha to Durlabhvardhan who founded the Karkota dynasty - one of the most notable dynasties in the history of Kashmir. The Karkota dynasty ruled over Kashmir for 600 years by 17 kings the 3rd century.

Ananglekha and Durlabhvardhan had 3 sons, Vajraditya, Udayaditya and Lalitaditya. Of them, Lalitaditya was determined to expand his empire and therefore underwent strenuous training. He was cognizant of the impending Arab attack. It is believed he also joined forces with Mewar’s ruler Bappa Rawal and they fought side by side several times. Lalitaditya went on to defeat the Tukharas (Turks of Turkmenistan and Tocharas from Badakshan) Bhutas from Baltistan and Tibet and also went on to gain territory upto the Narmada river. He also attacked Ladakh and other western provinces under the Tibetan rule. He also found an ally in the Tang dynasty in his fight against Tibetans and Arabs which brought today’s Bangladesh and other eastern provinces under his regime. His territory extended over central Asia too, comprising of today’s Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and eventually Turkistan extending his empire to the Caspian sea. He is also famed to build the Martanda temple or the sun temple.

After an impressive 600 years of reign, Karkota dynasty collapsed in the mid-9th century. The last king Jayapida in his last days married the ordinary and poor but young and beautiful Jayadevi and died soon after. Jayadevi was then approached for marriage by her stepson, and she agreed. However, he was less focussed on the management of the empire, which was mainly under the control of Jayadevi and her five brothers, Finally one of her brothers, Avantivarman Utpala rose to the throne and founded the Utpala dynasty and thereby ending the Karkota dynasty.

Avantivarman’s reign saw restoration of the economy of the region and was also a patron of art and literature. His engineer Suyya carried out desilting of the Jhelum river and averted floods and boosted irrigation. The Suyyapura is devoted to Suyya and is the present day Sopore. He built the Avantiswami and the Avantishwara temple in Avantipura. He died peacefully listening to recitals from the Bhagwad Gita and was succeeded by his son Shankaravarman, who unlike his father was more focussed on conquests and hence imposed taxes. He moved the capital from Avantipura to Shankarapattana, which is the present-day Pattan. After another few kings the Utpala dynasty came to an end after ruling Kashmir for over 80 years, in the 10th century.

After the Utpala dynasty, came the Gupta Brahmin dynasty, which ruled over Kashmir for over 70 years through its 10 rulers, starting from Yashaskara Deva and ending with Didda, a woman ruler and the last one of this dynasty.

Queen Didda was a daughter of the Lohara King Simharaja. Her maternal grandfather was the Bhima Shahi, one of the Hindu Shahi of Kabul. After the death of Queen Didda, the Lohara Dynasty ruled Kashmir for over 300 years from the 10th to the 14th century and spanning 23 kings. This dynasty saw the rise of feudal lords, making it increasingly susceptible to foreign invasions.

Jamia Masjid of Srinagar, build during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Shah Kashmiri from Shah Miri dynasty

During the reign of the Lohara King Suhadeva, Sufi missionaries from the Middle East and Central Asia had started arriving in Kashmir bringing Islam to the region. Suhadeva had also appointed Shah Mir, a Muslim from Swat (now in Pakistan), as a minister. During the same time, Rinchan, a Ladakhi prince of Tibetan origin entered Kashmir as a refugee with a handful of followers was given shelter by Ram Chandra, minister and commander in chief of King Sahadeva. Rinchan and Shah Mir became good friends.

Thereafter, the Mongols invaded Kashmir and Suhadeva was defeated and fled to Tibet. They appointed a Buddhist master as the governor of Kashmir and Ramachandra occupied the throne and appointed Rinchan as an administrator, but Rinchan betrayed him and following the coup, took over the throne of Kashmir and employed Shah Mir as his most trusted courtier.

In an attempt to win over support from Kashmiris, he appointed Ramachandra’s son as his chief advisor and married Ramachandra’s daughter Kota Rani, he also tried to convert to Hinduism, but the Kashmiri Brahmin community refused to accept him due to his involvement in Ramachandra’s murder. It is believed that Shah Mir arranged Richen’s meeting with a Sufi mystic, Syed Sharaf-ud-din Bulbul Shah, popularly known as Bulbul Shah and Richen converted to Islam and adopted the title Sultan Sadr-ud-din Shah. After only 3 years of rule, Richen was killed in rebel attack and his wife Kota Rani married Suhadeva’s brother Udyanadeva but was practically ran the show. She also managed to fight and defeat invasion from Mongol-Turk Achalla, and after the death of Udayanadeva, Kota Rani became the ruler of Kashmir. However, Shah Mir then staged a coup, killed her prime minister and offered to marry her. According to the historian Jonaraja, Kota Rani committed suicide and offered her intestines to Shah Mir as his wedding gift. Shah Mir established the sultanate with the title of Sultan Shams-ud-din. The Shah Mir dynasty ruled for over 200 years and spanned 18 rulers.

Hazratbal dargah, example of Mughal architecture in Kashmir

Then, Mughal emperor Akbar invaded Kashmir in the late 16th century and ruled for a period of 166 years.

After the Mughals, came the Afghans, who exercised sovereignty through Governors. Ahmed Shah Durrani was the first ruler to set Afghan dynasty in Kashmir in the mid-18th century. For over 60 years, several governors exercised sovereignty on behalf of the rulers.

The Afghan rule was followed by Sikh rule in the early 19th century, established by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Sikh rulers like the Afghans, exercised Sovereignty through Governors for 26 years. By this time the British had also turned up uninvited, and history witnessed the first Anglo-Sikh War between the Sikh Empire and the East India Company, between 1845 and 1846. A treaty was signed by the Sikhs and the British, called the Treaty of Lahore, which marked the end of the war. As per the treaty, the Sikhs were required to pay an indemnity of 15 million rupees to the East India Company. However, in lieu of the money, the Sikhs agreed to cede Kashmir, along with other areas and territories, to the British. Within a week, in the Treaty of Amritsar, the East India Company sold Kashmir for a payment of 7.5 million rupees to the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh and granted him the title of Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. The Dogras then ruled Kashmir for 101 years until 1947, when the last Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh was raided by Pakistan and he signed an Instrument of Accession with India on 26 October 1947.

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