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Kashmir and Tamil Nadu, an ancient link

A Kashmiri bronze of Murugan on display at the MET museum in New York.

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Was there any cultural link between Jammu & Kashmir, the northernmost state of India and Tamil Nadu, the southernmost? Yes, according to young research scholar Prathik Murali. “Kashmir was a centre for the study of philosophy having close connections with two of the greatest Indian philosophers from the South. Both Kancheepuram and Kashmir were known as ‘Ghatikasthanas’ and were frequented with scholars from many regions who came to study various disciplines,” he said.

The hagiography of Ramanuja in Manipravalam (a hybrid language, written in the Grantha script, which combines Sanskrit and Tamil) details his travel to Kashmir to consult some manuscripts on the Vedanta. “To write his thesis on the Vedanta doctrine, he had to travel, mostly by foot, to the northern Himalayas so that he could consult a text titled Bodhayana Vrtti to cite in his work. It is interesting to also note that the hagiography of Sankaracharya, who lived prior to Ramanuja also points to the fact of his travel to Kashmir to interact with scholars of that region,” said Prathik, while speaking on “Cultural and Historical Similarities between Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir at Indian Institute of Technology, Jammu under the “Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat” initiative of the Union Government on Monday.

The talk began with the discussion of the availability of sources, wherein the nature of historicity of literature such as Sangam in Tamil Nadu and “Nilamata Purana” and “Rajatarangini” in Kashmir was discussed. Prathik spoke of narratives in 12th century text “Rajatarangini” that mentioned Chola land and its people.

“The Rajatarangini speaks about a king named Mihirakula, who was offended by his wife adorning a garment carrying the imprints of a Ceylon king. An angry Mihirajula is said to have invaded Sri Lanka and conquered the king. Rajatarngini also speaks of his victory over the Chola land,” he said.   

The “Nilamata Purana” (6th to 8th century AD) contains information based on the history, geography and religion of Kashmir. Written in Sanskrit by Kalhana, a Kashmiri historian, during the 12th century AD, “Rajatarangini” is a historical chronicle of the north-western subcontinent, particularly the kings of Kashmir. “We also get stories such as a Kashmiri king Ranaditya who travelled to Chola land to marry the princess Ratisena, who was born from the sea. Though these stories are present in Kashmiri sources, there is no corroborative evidence from the south to substantiate these claims,” he said.

The nature of epigraphical sources from Tamil Nadu that mentioned travellers from Kashmir donating to temples of Tamil Nadu during their pilgrimage shows there was a strong cultural exchange between TN and Kashmir. “Two inscriptions, one from Tirunelveli and another from Krishnagiri, speak of Kashmiri people travelling to Tamil Nadu. A 13th-century inscription details a Kashmiri person belonging to Atreya Gotra with a Tamil name ‘Ekambamudaiyan’, which is intriguing,” said Prathik. “Another inscription records the grant made by Somadeva and his wife to a temple called Kailasanatha temple near Tirunelveli. The couple had travelled from Kashmir and had made donations to the temple, to which the trustees of the temple had made an inscriptional edict to record the grant. Such religious and cultural interactions are gleaned from epigraphical sources.”

Contributions of both Kashmir and Tamil Nadu to the field of art and poetics, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism and Sufism were topics that were touched upon. The lecture gave an introduction to the origins of Trika Shaivism of Kashmir and Siddhanta Shaivism of Tamil Nadu apart from introducing the listeners to the debate on the origins of Pancharatra Vaishnavism if it is in Tamil Nadu or in Kashmir as there is evidence to argue on both sides.

Speaking about the mentions in Mahabharata, Prathik said, “There is a conspicuous absence of any mention of the Kashmiri kings in the narration of the war in the epic of Mahabharatha. The literature speaks however of Tamil kings such as the Pandyas, who are said to have fought with the Pandavas.

Historical sources of Pandyas such as copper plates and other lithic inscriptions also continue to claim that they were part of the famous war as narrated in the Mahabharata.”    

In the later Kashmiri sources from the “Nilamata Purana” and the “Rajatarangini” of Kalhana, it is said that Gonanda-I, who was ruling Kashmir, fought alongside Jarasandha (father-in-law of Kamsa who was slain by Krishna) at Mathura. Jarasandha had called for help to fight Krishna’s army at the banks of Yamuna, to which Gonanda had responded. It is narrated by Kalhana that the Kashmiri king was killed by Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna in a tough battle.

Upon Gonanda’s passing away, his son Damodara ascended the throne of Kashmir. An aggrieved Damodara wanted to take revenge on the Vrishnis (a Vedic clan believed to be the descendants of Vrishni) for killing his father and had an opportune moment for it when the king of Gandhara called for a swayamvara ceremony for his daughter. The Vrishni army who had come to attend it was attacked by Damodara. In the ensuing battle with Lord Krishna, Damodara was killed.

Back home in Kashmir, Damodara’s wife Yasovati was pregnant. Krishna made the pregnant widow sit on the throne and crowned her the queen by making the Brahmins acknowledge her reign. “Since her son, the king, was a child during the war he could not participate in battles. It is also interesting to note that Greek writer Megasthenes in his work on India observes that Madurai was ruled by a woman named Pandeo. It is hence known that at least as a legendary figure, a woman was celebrated as a monarch in both these regions,” he added.

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