(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 51, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)
We Have Come a Long Way
Nothing is properly known about the religion of earliest inhabitants of this land. Historical accounts are silent and do not supply any concrete evidence of any such religious belief that might have left a mark for the historians to trace. However, the legends carried by Nilmatpurana and by the earliest Buddhist records suggest that the earliest race of this country was worshiping Nagas, which means snakes. The snake worship as per these legends has been a popular tradition of this land. The word “Naga” is, even today, very popular among Kashmiri people. By ‘Nag’ they mean a ‘spring’ while ‘Nagin’ refers to a small spring (consort of Naga).
There are plenty of springs found in Kashmir which can be classified as hilly and plain springs. Hilly springs are those which come out from the mountains while plain springs rise in the plain valleys. People still regard these springs in high esteem for the fact that many curious legends and events are associated with them. Many springs are dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and are held in high regard by the people of Shiva and Vishnu cult.
There is a spring in Kothair village (Achabal) where water was once believed to have the power to wash the sins of the mankind. This Nag was known as Papasudana Nag. There is a spring at Khiejugpura (Kulgam) again believed to have great healing powers. In year 1986 another spring at Parigam (Kulgam) diverted the attention of large number of its devotees when some mysterious plant emerged from its waters. The waters of Burzhama spring became famous in 2004 when its waters cured some diabetic patients, though no scientific and medical tests were conducted.
Although many springs have disappeared from time to time, almost every village and site houses a spring either small or large one even now. These days a Naga means a spring but during the earliest periods, as is mentioned in legends, Naga meant a deity believed to have been worshiped by the people of the ages. Kalahana says, Kashmir was a land protected by Nila,Somkha and Padma. PN Bamzai writes in his monumental book ‘The history of Kashmir’, “there are reasons to believe that in the fourth and fifth century BC, Naga worship may have been the principal religion in Kashmir”.
He further writes, “When Budhism was the predominant faith, one of the early Kings, Gonanda, is said to have revived the ancient form of Naga worship as prescribed by Nilmathpurna. We also have the legend of Susravas Naga and mention of Padam Naga, at the Wular Lake.” Kalahana mentions the annual festival of Takasaka- Naga at village of Zewan which was “Frequented by donnrs and strolling players and thronged by crowds of spectators”
Kshemendra also refers to Taksakayatra festival in Samyamatrika. The Mughal Period historian Abul Fazal writes, “there are 700 places of worship where there were carved images of snakes. No doubt the number of worship places may have been much more, one could not find many images of snakes carved on the rocks of this land”. So it can be said that little is known about the earliest religions beliefs of Kashmir.
Plenty of sources, literary as well as archeological, are available to us to believe that Budhism and Shivaism had been the ancient religions of this land. These religions may have been contemporaries to one another or one of them could have been successor of the other, many scholars however, believe that Shivism might have been the ancient one. As writers a scholar, “if the religious beliefs of the Kings and the royal families be regarded as a fair index of the popularity of a religious cult, Shivaism had been the predominant religion in Kashmir long before Budhism was introduced here.” Budhism, it is believed, was born out of it.
Buddhism is believed to have flourished here during Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Kushan periods. Maharaja Ashoka is learnt to have sent many machineries to this land to introduce the Buddhist philosophy. The most outstanding event of Budhism in Kashmir is related with the mystery of the council believed to have been held at Kundalvan in Kashmir during the period of Kushan King, Kanshika in about 1st century AD.
Greeks, Scythaines and Kushans cultivated it and the religion flourished under the Karkota Utpalas, Lohura’s and their successive period. Lalitditya, Avantivarmon, Shankarverman,Jayasimha and Queen Didda were the celebrated patrons of the Buddhist philosophy. There are a number of Buddhist shrines attributed to these rulers. There were hundred Buddhist monasteries in 631 AD as per the record of Haun- Tsian and Ou-Kung, another Chinese traveler who arrived during Karkota period Which makes it clear that during Karkota period, the graph of Buddhists increased heavily.
Haun-Tsiang, the Chinese Ambassador, who arrived here in 631 AD was the first historian to write about this wonderful historical event that had and were unfolding in this valley. He gives a vivid picture of the proceedings of the council collected from a study with its records and reports maintained in different libraries in Kashmir which were enclosed in stone boxes and deposited in a monastery built by King Kanshika. While more than two thousand years have passed, these could not be found anywhere in Kashmir. How could one find this treasure when there has not been any systemic hunt for treasure?
Although there is not any such Buddhist shrine in this valley, the ruins of many a Buddhist shrines in Kashmir can still be spotted across the length and breadth of the valley. The discovery of a Buddhist relic is the normal feature of this land as there is no such village which has not revealed any such artifact. However, lack of proper documentation and poor know-how has resulted in neglect of this Buddhist heritage.