Insightful book on shrines of Kashmir

K N Pandita
Name of Book: Kashmir the land of Rishis
Author Name : Brig. A P Singh
Publisher : Akshaya Prakashan,
New Delhi, 2023, hard bound,
Pages: 160
Kashmir is called the Garden of Rishis (Reshiver). Kashyapa Rishi, considered the founder of Kashmir mandala, is one of the Saptrishis mentioned in the Rig Veda. He is considered to be the Prajapati or progenitor of mankind. The pristine nature of Kashmir nurtured a host of sages or rishis in its bosom like Bharat Muni, Utpaladeva, Panini and many others who carry the credit of making Kashmir the land of Vedic knowledge and the ancient centre of learning. The rishi tradition in Kashmir has been very powerful and continued to be inherited by the Hindus of the valley until the advent of Islam in the 14th century.
Rajatarangini, the celebrated history of ancient Kashmir brought down up to CE 1149, gives excellent account of the impact of Rishi teachings on the people of the land, the foremost of which was non-violence and peaceful coexistence. Rishi teachings and their lives were the role model for the people of ancient Kashmir to be tied down to the unwritten constitution of nature which means that their teachings had gone into the blood and become part of entire social structure. The fact is that the teachings of those rishis can be called the foundation on which the huge edifice of Kashmiriyat was raised.
The advent of the Islamic faith in Kashmir through the Muslim missionaries of Iran and Central Asia is a unique phenomenon in the history of mankind. Firstly, the entire basis of the religion brought from Arabia was in no way similar to those that had flourished in Kashmir for centuries. Secondly, the tribal culture which had shaped the religious construct of the Muhammadans was fully alien to the culture of the people in ancient Kashmir. Thirdly, and very significantly, the Iranian or Central Asian missionaries who brought the Islamic faith to Kashmir were the progeny of proselytised ancestors of Aryan stock and not of Semitic stock. Psychologists and anthropologists tell us that a society entirely converting to a new faith, for whatever reasons, generally panders to extremism in the new faith just because either it wants to convince the conqueror of its faithfulness to the new civilization or vies with the conqueror to prove that he is a better adherent to the new faith brought to him. This is exemplified by the animus and hatred which today’s Iran nurses against the Israelis.
This is a book in which, the author has inserted photographs of numerous temples, shrines (asthapans), viharas, stupas, ponds, water bodies, hillocks, structures etc. most of these in dilapidated condition owing to the vagaries of weather and eccentricities of human nature. The author has visited most of these places personally and described how arduous journeys he had to undertake to get their photographs and make a small note culled out from books of history or from the stories collected from the local elders who have inherited the stories from their elders. Being a retired military officer, he thankfully acknowledges the logistic support he received from his friends in the services and which helped him immensely in writing this account.
We have many books on the ancient heritage of Kashmir. The Western scholars particularly the British scholars have written their travelogues of Kashmir which carry valuable information on the ancient structures. Apart from them several books on temples and temple architecture have also been published. The author fully agrees with his predecessors in the field that ancient Kashmir needs to investigated and re-investigated because there is such a huge fund still undiscovered and once it is done, it will add immensely to the value and dimensions of ancient Kashmir civilization.
The book carries its Foreword from the pen of former COAS of India, General V.K. Singh. The impression one gets after going through the pages of the volume has been very faithfully and rather poignantly scripted by Prof Rajat Mitra, in the Preface to the book. I cannot resist the temptation of quoting him here: “The book raised many an emotion within me. It is a deeply evocative book. I stayed with the pictures for a far longer duration than I thought I would. They evoked in me sadness, and nostalgia, but above all a sense of rootedness and connection which seemed to connect me to a past of myself that I knew little about.”
I am sure that any Kashmiri or anybody espousing interest in his past will get the same impression which Prof Mitra has expressed. I am reminded that when my friend Dr Agnishekhar read my English translation of Tohfatul Ahbab, he came to me and asked me what impressions I had got after I read the Farsi text first. In all sincerity I told him, “Dr Sahib when I first finished reading it, I almost went into a daze and felt my limbs one by one to convince myself that I am alive after wriggling out of what my ancestors must have felt.”
This is what I would call a handbook of the cultural history of the land of Rishis that is ancient Kashmir. Kalhan says that the number of the temples, shrines, viharas, stupas in Kashmiri of his times would be computed in lakhs and not thousands. We, who are brought up in a myopic age, have reservations to accept the statement. But the facts of history cannot be disregarded or falsified. The ruins tell the story. Let me repeat the verse of a great Iranian poet when he speaks of the lost grandeur of the Zoroastrian Empire of Iran:
Az naqsh o nigar-e dar o diwar shikasteh
Asaar padeedast snadeedih Aja ra
(tr: From the remnants of paintings and carvings still visible on the dilapidated walls (of palaces), one can vividly visualize the images and icons reflecting the grandeur of ancient Iran)
In our case Martand, Avantiswami temple, Shankaragaurishvara Temple at Pattan, Parihaspora, Wangat in Laar, Koti tirtha in Baramulla, and hundreds of the ruined icons are there to makes us remind of our glorious past. Brig A P Singh has rendered valuable service to the Indian civilization by writing a short but insightful book on ancient temples and shrines in the land of the Rishis meaning Kashmir.