Indian History Part 47 KASHMIR: A KINGDOM APART Section I: The Karkota Dynasty


Canberra, 8 January 2016

The history of Kashmir is almost inextricably intertwined with the greater history of the broader region of which it forms a part—Central Asia, Afghanistan, China and Tibet—as much as it does of the Indian sub-continent. Kashmir by itself covers a large territory, which is mountainous, rugged and in places completely uninhabitable. The inhospitality of the terrain has always played a part in the history and development of the kingdom. The name ‘Kashmir’ is derived from the Sanskrit, ‘Ka’ meaning water and ‘Shimeera’ meaning to desiccate—‘Desiccated Land’. The archaic spelling of Kashmir is ‘Cashmere’, which is still used in some countries.

The Origin of Kashmir: Mythology

It is said in folklore that the entire valley was a great lake at the beginning of time. The great Rishi (sage) Kashyapa cut a gap in the hills at Varaha-mulla (today’s Baramulla) and drained the great lake. Kashyapa was the son of Marichi who was himself the son of Brahma and therefore almost a celestial personage. He went on to settle Brahmins in the drained valley, who were the original Kashmiri Pundits.

This tradition of originating through the efforts of Kashyapa is accepted locally and is celebrated in ‘Kashyapapura’ the chief town named after Kashyapa, which is identified with Kaspapyros mentioned by Hecataeus and Kaspatyros of Herodotus. Further, Kashmir is believed to be the country that Ptolemy referred to as Kaspeiria. Irrespective of the veracity of the claim, it is certain that Kashypa was part of the identity of Kashmir.

The earliest reference to Kashmir as an entity can be found in the description of the Great Kurukshetra War of Mahabharata. It is mentioned that the Kambojas who participated in the war ruled from their capital, ‘Karna-Rajapuram-Kambhoja-Nirjitastava’. The name was shortened to Rajapura and is known as ‘Rajouri’ in contemporary India. At a later date, the Sanskritic tribe of Panchala held sway over the region. The name ‘Peer Panchal’ for the local mountain ranges denotes this stage in the history of the mountain kingdom. The term ‘Peer’ is a much later prefix added by Muslim followers in memory of one of their sages, Sidha Faquir. Legend has it that in 14th century B.C. Raja Lambu Lochan was ruling the region and founded a city named after himself ‘Jamboo’, which in later years was corrupted to Jammu.

Sources of Information

The earliest written records that are available regarding Kashmir comes from the Puranic literature called Nilmata Purana, considered to have been compiled around 500-600 A.D, which contains bits and pieces of information regarding Kashmir’s early history. However, the reliability of this composition is questionable since there are a number of inconsistencies in the narrative, which itself is not chronologically continuous.

The more authentic source on information is the Rajatarangini—The River of Kings—which is a detailed history of Kashmir written by Kalhana in mid-12 century. The Rajatarangini contains 8000 Sanskrit verses, some parts based on the available material from the Nilmata Purana, while a major part is based on inscriptions available at that time as well as on coins and monuments. Kalhana also took into account stories that had been passed by word of mouth through generations in some families that corroborated some writings of earlier times. He also analysed the events through his own personal observations of the kingdom, its people and rulers. The second half of the book covers the 11th and 12th centuries, a timeframe that is contemporary to Kalhana. This part is authentic by all counts and provides a rational and critical analysis of events that are of great importance to the history of Kashmir and to the understanding of the broader history of the sub-continent. Kalhana is rightly considered India’s first historian.

Early History

The earliest Neolithic sites of Kashmir date back to 3000 B.C. and is located in the flood plains with two important settlements discovered at Burzhom. A few megalithic settlements have also been discovered in the same region. Although hunting and fishing were the primary modes of subsistence in the Neolithic period, the site reveals some signs of cultivation with mud-plastered pit dwellings and crude red ware pottery. The megalithic dwellers improved on this and burnished the coarse red ware pottery in grey or black. There is also evidence that the megaliths constructed massive circles the significance of which have not yet been satisfactorily explained.

There is literary evidence that confirm the settlement of the Uttara Kurus in Kashmir during the Vedic period. Subsequently, Abisares, then king of Kashmir was requested by Porus for assistance against Alexander in the Battle of Hydaspas in 326 B.C. Abisares joined Porus and also suffered defeat, thereafter accepting Alexander’s nominal overlordship. The early history of Kashmir is one of repeated conquests by external forces. Asoka the Maurya conquered Kashmir and introduced Buddhism to the valley. He built the city of Srinagiri, the current capital Srinagar. The Kushan emperor Kanishka also overran Kashmir and established yet another city called Kanishkapur. As a result of Asoka’s concerted propagation of the religion, Buddhism became entrenched in Kashmir, which also resulted in a gradual erosion of Hindu influence in the country. Kanishka, by now a follower of Buddhism, held the fourth Buddhist council in Kashmir. By the 4th century, Kashmir had become a seat of learning of both Buddhism and Hinduism, indicating that even though Buddhism was firmly established in the country, Hinduism also continued to flourish. The spread of Buddhism to Tibet and China is believed to have originated from Kashmir and by the 5th century pilgrims from faraway lands were visiting Kashmir. A Kashmiri Buddhist scholar, Kumarajiva, visited China and is reported to have been a great influence on the Chinese Emperor Yao Xing. He lived in the Chang’an monastery and translated a number of Sanskrit works into Chinese.

The White Huns under Toramana conquered Kashmir and his son Mihirakula commenced his ambitious attempt to conquer North India from the outskirts of the country. However, after being defeated by Yasodharman in Malwa, he returned to Kashmir and took over the kingdom through a coup against the ruling king. He subsequently conquered Gandhara and carried out a number of anti-Buddhist activities to reduce the religion’s influence on society. Even so, the influence of the White Huns on both Kashmir and Buddhism in the region was short-lived and ended almost immediately on Mihirakula’s death. However, the Buddhist influence in the valley was limited to a few centuries and around the 7th century Hinduism was once again in ascendancy.

During this period a number of poets, artists and philosophers thrived in Kashmir and contributed directly to the revival of Hinduism. One of them, Vasugupta, wrote a large number of Shiva Sutras that went on become the foundation for what developed into Kashmiri Shaivism, a monistic Shaiva system that became dominant in the region by about the 9th century. The movement was strong enough to influence even the South Indian Shaivite movement.

Kashmiri Society in Medieval Times

During the transition from ancient to medieval times, around the 7th century, Kashmir was dominated by the upper layers of society populated by the three major Aryan castes—Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas. The lower strata of society consisted of a mix of Kayasthas and other groups along with the aboriginals of the region called Damaras—a grouping that did not yield any social or political influence at that time. The Brahmins were the acknowledged conservers of knowledge and learning, both sacred and mundane, and were generally government officials, a tradition that echoes in the Kashmiri Brahmin ethos even today. These ‘Pundits’ were ministers of religion, dedicated to the ruling dynasty, adept at revenue administration, and considered accountants of repute. The Kshatriyas, like in other north Indian kingdoms, were dedicated to the art of war and military service, although the profession was also open to Brahmins and Vaisyas.

There is a fundamental difference in the societal break down of Kashmir in comparison to the Punjab and other regions. In Kashmir agricultural activities were conducted mainly by the Sudras and the Damaras whereas in the other regions, the Jats and the Gurjaras, true Vaisyas of the Aryan culture, were the agriculturists. In other words, the societies of Punjab and other regions in North India were fully Aryanised, whereas Kashmir had opted to adopt the concept of a mixed society and societal norms.

The Karkota Dynasty

In the 7th century, Kashmir passed from ancient to medieval times with the establishment of a new dynasty. There is a vague and difficult to authenticate story of a long line of kings from the Gonardiya dynasty, which ended in 602, when the last king Baladitya died without a son to inherit the throne. His daughter was married to a capable officer, probably associated with the military with some claims that he was in charge of the fodder for the royal horses, called Durlabhavardhana who then founded a dynasty that came to be known as the Karkota dynasty. The major source of information regarding this dynasty is the Rajatarangini, which is corroborated in some areas by the writings of the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang.

The add-on title ‘vardhana’ to Durlabha indicates a Vaisya caste, which is highly probable. Perhaps because of this obscure origin of Durlabha, the court poets were encouraged to create a legend of his descend from the mythical serpent Karkota Naga (a snake deity worshipped in Kashmir and also other parts of India) in order to improve the stature of the king. Hiuen Tsang also reports that the Kashmir kings were protected by the heavenly dragon, obviously an allusion to the Karkota serpent. Irrespective of his less than glorious origins, Durlabhavardhana proved to be a good king and a prudent administrator, reigning for 36 years and founding a dynasty that ruled Kashmir for around 250 years, producing 17 kings. He spent most of time in consolidating the existing territorial holdings, and undertook few minor military expeditions to the Punjab while successfully annexing Taxila and Sinhapura. He also brought some minor hill states within the ambit of Kashmir. Although the king of Kanauj, Harsha Vardhana, is reported to have defeated the king of Kashmir, this battle and the purported defeat does not rate any clear mention and is not considered significant in a Kashmir-centric history.

By the time the Karkotas were establishing their sway, Buddhism was in disfavour in Kashmir. Once again, the orthodox Vedic sacrificial religion was the preferred practice. However, the sacrifices that were in vogue were not the bloody Vedic sacrifices but gentle allusions to sacrifices, which can be attributed primarily to the few centuries of Buddhist influence. Within this broad religious practice, the Karkotas were Shiva worshippers, somewhat sidelining the prevalent worship of Vishnu and Aditya.

Durlabhavardhana died in 637 and was followed on the throne by his son Durlabhaka, or ‘Durlabha the younger’, who adopted the name Pratapaditya, probably in a bid to reclaim the legacy of his maternal grandfather and further legitimise his claim to rule. Although it is mentioned in some sources that he ruled for 50 years, this span is highly unlikely and his reign should be considered to have been of a shorter duration. Pratapaditya also followed his father’s principles in ruling the kingdom and is reported as a meritorious king who kept the welfare of his subjects as the highest priority and endeared himself to the people through his just and pious rule.

From this period onwards there are accurate records available to authenticate the dates of a king’s rule and also recording in detail most of the events that took place. Pratapaditya had three sons—Chandrapida, Tarapida and Muktapida. Chandrapida succeeded his father to the throne and continued the enlightened rule of his father and grandfather. He ruled for eight years and eight months and is believed to have been killed by Tarapida, through the use of ‘magic’, most probably through surreptitious poisoning. Unexplained deaths, especially of kings and other nobles, were almost always attributed to ‘magic’ during these times. Tarapida came to power on the death of his brother and unlike his illustrious predecessors, turned out to be a tyrannical ruler. He was killed by the people, when he was six days short of completing four years and four months on the throne. The death is once again attributed to magic, which could mean that he was also poisoned. Tarapida was succeeded by the youngest of the three brothers, Muktapida, who assumed the name of Lalitaditya. He is considered one of the most illustrious kings of Kashmir and is commonly referred to as Lalitaditya-Muktapida.


Throughout history it can be seen that one of the major inputs to judging the greatness of a king is his battlefield military victories, conquests, and annexation of territory. In Indian history all great kings and emperors are seen to have been attracted to extensive conquests to an extent wherein some of them were at war almost throughout their rule. The quest for digvijaya or ‘universal conquest/domination’ is an age-old tradition in the Indian context.

Accordingly, Lalitaditya also set out on an ambitious campaign of digvijaya, to conquer the world across the four corners—East, South, West and North. The Rajatarangini provides detailed description of his extensive conquests, although in the mainstream narrative of Indian history there is almost no mention of Lalitaditya’s military conquests. The information provided by the Rajatarangini is also corroborated by a contemporary account in a foreign source—a descriptive letter written by Dahar, then ruling Sind, to his overlord Muhammad Kasim in 712. Besides this, Turkish and Tibetan legends also refer to Lalitaditya as a great conqueror.

Digvijaya – The Conquering March

The kingdom Lalitaditya inherited was large and resource-rich. Even more important was the fact that it had been well-governed by remarkably able kings for almost a century by the time he came to power. Therefore, Lalitaditya was able to embark on an aggressive campaign of conquest almost immediately on coming to the throne. He was a resolute king and combined his personal valour and vaulting ambition with the vast resources of the kingdom at his disposal to achieve great military successes.

Lalitaditya, the military commander, relied more on the cavalry rather than on the traditional Indian predilection to depend on the elephant corps as the main offensive arm of the army. This had the advantage of leveraging manoeuvre and flexibility during battles and also of rapid movement of forces to places that would otherwise have been beyond the reach of a more ponderous force. Lalitaditya’s first victory was over Yasovarman of Kanauj. At the end of a severe battle, Yasovarman fled the field handing over the sovereignty of almost the entire North India to the Kashmiri king. Kalhana’s epic, Rajatarangini, provides a great deal of information regarding the battle, but is contradictory regarding the fate of Yasovarman—it is unclear whether he was deposed or allowed to continue as a vassal. Irrespective of the final outcome, Yasovarman does not reappear in the political narrative of the sub-continent after this defeat.

The Rajatarangini provides a list of kingdoms that Lalitaditya traversed in his triumphant march but does not provide the names of the kings who were defeated or voluntarily submitted in the process. There is an opinion that since the names of the kings are not available, the list is suspect in its authenticity. However, it is felt that the list is in all probabilities true, since Lalitaditya was on a conquering march of digvijaya and not on a military campaign of annexation, much like the march undertaken by Samudragupta in a much earlier time that traversed almost the entire sub-continent. The list of vanquished kingdoms reads like the entire north and parts of peninsular India of the time—Gauda, Kalinga, Karnata, the Kaveri region, the seven Konkanas, Saurashtra, Dwarka, Avanti and Malwa. In this listing only the Gauda king is mentioned as being made to part with his entire elephant force, presumably because of opposition that he had put up against the Kashmiri forces. It is almost certain that the rest of the kings let the ‘digvijay’ process continue with the payment of token tributes, rather than fight the large force to the detriment of the people and the kingdom concerned.

After the southern sojourn, Lalitaditya returned to Kashmir and turned his attention to the north—Tibet and Turkestan. The Turks offered fierce resistance as is evidenced by the statement in the chronicle that they were defeated three times by Lalitaditya before Mumin the ruler finally submitted and paid the necessary tributes.

Al-Biruni’s Information

Lalitaditya’s many conquests are also mentioned in the chronicles of the distinguished historian Al-Biruni (973-1048). He notes that the triumph of the Kashmiri king Mutthai (Lalitaditya-Muktapida) over the Turks was celebrated annually for centuries in a festival that fell on the second day of Chaita (March).

He annexed the territories of Darad-Desha (today northern Pakistan and parts of north-eastern Afghanistan), Turkestan and Transoxiana (parts of Central Asia corresponding approximately to modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and southwest Kazakhstan).

This is the only instance of an Indian king going out into the territory of the fierce and warlike people of the Turan (Turkestan). This conquest is also recorded in the earlier mentioned letter from Dahar. Till this time, and subsequently too, India has always been invaded and conquered by the marauding hordes that came from the Central Asian steppes. Lalitaditya’s conquest is therefore a landmark achievement and deserves to be better highlighted in the annals of Indian history. Currently it does not get the prominence it merits in the broad narrative. There are also stories of his military movements further north, of his having crossed the Gobi Desert, but these have to be discarded as exaggerations by later-day courtiers exercising their right to lionise a legendary king.

At this time, Tibet was a strong and large kingdom intent on further conquest. There is evidence that the Tibetans had established a powerful empire and had emerged as a threat to both Kashmir and China. Wary of the Tibetan expansionist ambitions Lalitaditya sought the assistance of the Tang dynasty of China to contain it. The Tang dynasty annals refer to Lalitaditya as Mu-to-pi, obviously an aberration of the title Muktapida, the King of Kashmir who send an embassy to China seeking an alliance against Tibet. However, there is no evidence of any invasion of Kashmir by Tibet and it can be assumed that Lalitaditya’s military victories in the north against the ferocious Turks acted as a deterrent factor in staying the Tibetan hand.

There is credible evidence to suggest that Lalitaditya also defeated the Arab Governor of Sind, Junaid, who had embarked on an ambitious invasion of the sub-continent. It is also mentioned in the Persian chronicle ‘Chachanamah’, the history of Sind translated to Persian from the original Arabic by Ali of Kufah around 1215-16, that Dahar, the ‘king’ of Sind had warned his overlord Muhammad Kasim of the prowess of Lalitaditya, stating ‘…the king of Kashmir who is the mighty possessor of a crown, kettledrums and standards, on whose threshold the rulers of Hind and even the country of Makran and Turan [submit], whose chains a great many noblemen and grandees have willingly placed on their knees…’.

It is also authenticated that Lalitaditya embarked on a conquest of the East, in accordance with the concept of digvijaya, and reportedly subdued a number of kingdoms. The names listed correspond to Assam, Manipur and even possibly Burma (Myanmar). However, once again the actual facts and how far into the east he travelled in conquest is still speculative. The first English translation of the Rajatarangini by M. Aurel Stein (1862-1943) published in 1900, dismisses some of the claims in the book for lack of historic detail such as names of the rulers who were defeated, the actual dates of battles and the effervescent nature of the descriptions regarding the king. He confirms only the victories over Kanauj and Gauda. However, the descriptions of Kalhana regarding the conquests of Lalitaditya have been confirmed as actual fact subsequently through corroboration with foreign sources.

Lalitaditya died while campaigning in the north, reportedly somewhere in Aryanaka (Eastern Iran), in 736 bringing to an end 36 glorious years of rule. There are no authentic or corroborative information of the cause of death or its circumstances available in any source. Folklore is that a messenger came from the king’s northern military camp proclaiming that the king is unable to return and asking the ministers to crown his son as king.

Lalitaditya – The King

Through a combination of great military strategy, steady governance and astute diplomacy Lalitaditya transformed Kashmir into one of the most powerful and wealthy empires of the time in the Central and South Asian region. At the end of his reign, the boundaries of his empire stretched from Iran in the west to Tibet in the East, from Turkestan in the north to the Gangetic Plains in the south and to Bengal in the south-east. This was no small kingdom.

The conquests brought immense wealth to Kashmir, which the king used judiciously to build temples, monasteries, and welfare houses for monks and ascetics. Temples with immense wealth accredited to them were built to Shiva, Vishnu and Aditya, who were considered the primary family deities. The idols were made of gold or silver and studded with precious stones, perhaps starting a trend that saw the establishment of a Hindu custom of creating idols from precious metals and stones. [This trend was to have a great impact during the Islamic onslaught of the sub-continent by making the temples the primary targets for loot and plunder by the invaders. In turn the avarice of the Muslim invaders in destroying religious institutions for profit in the thinly veiled guise of religious compulsion made the Islamic religion completely unacceptable to the Hindu population, sowing the seeds of discord and mistrust that lasts to this day.] Rajatarangini states that ‘the wealth offered and dedicated to temples could not be counted’, which may have been catering to the religious craving of an extremely prosperous state and people. Lalitaditya was a tolerant monarch who also created Buddhist temples, especially in the northern part of his kingdom where the Turks had ben Buddhists before their conversion to Islam.

Lalitaditya enlarged an existing temple into what came to be known as the Great Martanda Sun Temple. The ruins of this temple remain the most striking example of ancient Hindu architecture in the Kashmir valley. Kalhana mentions the prosperous town of Martanda near the temple, although there is no trace of the town can be found now. Lalitaditya was a welfare-oriented ruler with a humane disposition. He built a large number of buildings in the core kingdom for the comfort of travellers and also instituted a system for feeding the hungry across the kingdom. An important indicator of the scale and extent of the building activities are the ruins of Parihaspura that he built as his capitol. The rule of Lalitaditya is correctly considered the ‘Golden Age’ in Kashmir history. He is considered one of the greatest kings to have ever ruled Kashmir and is even today revered as a hero. In spite of his great achievements, comparable to that of Alexander the Macedon, he does not rate a mention in the contemporary narrative of Indian history. This relegation of an effective and efficient Hindu king to the ranks of obscurity continues to be an enigma.

The Successor Kings

Lalitaditya was followed on the throne by his son Kuvalayapida, who had an extremely sensitive nature and was therefore unfit to rule even a small principality, let alone the vast empire that was his inheritance. There is a story that one of his ministers disobeyed him and so the king spent an entire night unable to go to sleep, an indicative example of the personality of the king. In any case he abdicated the throne after one year, apparently stating that being a king was full of ‘disquiet and difficulties’!

He was succeeded by his younger brother Vajraditya whose temperament was the complete opposite of his sensitive brother. He ruled purely for his own pleasure and gradually plunged the kingdom into difficulties while he indulged in all the customary kingly pleasures. Vajraditya died after seven years and was followed by his brother Sangramapida who also ruled indifferently for another seven years. The fourth brother Jayapida assumed the throne and as predicted by Lalitaditya was a good and great king. His mostly brilliant rule was bettered only by that of Lalitaditya’s own reign.

Jayapida – The Learned Warrior

On coming to the throne Jayapida embarked on a digvijaya campaign, which has to be considered the favourite pastime of all powerful Indian kings. His first conquest was once again the kingdom of Kanauj although the name of the vanquished king is lost in antiquity. He is reported to have proceeded all the way to Prayag at which point his army refused to march any further east or south, forcing the reluctant king to return to Kashmir. [This is reminiscent of the plight of Alexander of Macedon after he crossed the Indus River.] It is reported that Jayapida went east into Bengal single-handedly to scrutinise the lay of the land for a later invasion.

A Fable Regarding Bengal

There is a fable regarding the personal valour of Jayapida, which is based on the assumption that he travelled into Bengal on his own. It is said that while he was wandering incognito in Bengal territory he arrived at a town called Paundra Vardhana then ruled by a prince/chief called Jayanta. There Jayapida killed a tiger that had been troubling the town for some time. The grateful chief, Jayanta, gave his daughter Kamaladevi in marriage to Jayapida. Further, Jayapida took up arms on behalf of his father-in-law and subdued five Gauda princes who had been antagonistic to Jayanta. Thereafter he returned in triumph to Kashmir with his bride. It is also stated that along the way he carried the precious throne of Kanauj back to Kashmir.

The story of his individual sojourn in Bengal may be an embellished version of actual events. It is certain that Jayapida along with a small band of military followers was absent from Kashmir for an extended period of time, and that during this time his brother-in-law, Jajja, usurped the throne. On his return Jayapida overthrew Jajja and reclaimed his rightful inheritance.

Jayapida continued his foreign expeditions, although they were not as successful as that of his illustrious forbearer Lalitaditya. During an invasion of Nepal, Jayapida was defeated and taken prisoner by the king of Nepal, Artundi. He was saved by his principal minister who brought another army to Nepal and freed Jayapida, losing his life in the attempt. Jayapida, now at the head of a fresh army, defeated the Nepalese king and returned to Kashmir in triumph.

While a lesser commander in terms of military exploits in comparison to Lalitaditya, Jayapida rivalled him as a man of letters and patron of learning. He was the patron for a large number of distinguished ‘pundits’ and he himself was considered a man of great learning. Through his tireless support for education, Kashmir became firmly established as a centre for learning. Even though Jayapida was an acknowledged and accomplished warrior, he assumed the name of Vinayaditya, meaning the ‘sun of education/humbleness’ that is indicative of the importance that the king laid on learning and education. The Rajatarangini states, ‘Equally divided between valour and learning, as if placed between two reflecting mirrors, the king seemed not doubled only, but made hundred fold.’

For some inexplicable reason, this benevolent and learned king became despotic and turned into a tyrant towards the end of his reign. Even though he was victorious in many battles, the kingdom is believed to have become poor and faced a scarcity of gold, leading the king to become oppressive towards his subjects. Gold was the primary ingredient that contributed to the overall wealth and prosperity of a kingdom in medieval India. The main target of his oppression were the Brahmins whom he suspected of hoarding wealth, presumable by accumulating it in the temples under their control. It is believed, although not proven beyond doubt, that the oppression was engineered by Kayastha officials in the king’s service who had gradually become powerful courtiers. Over a period of time, the once much-loved Jayapida became despised by the people and he died of injuries sustained when a tent pole ‘accidentally’ fell on him in 782, having ruled for 31 years.

The Kayasthas

Kayasthas claim to be a sub-sect of Kshatriyas (although there are also arguments put forward that they were originally Brahmins) who by virtue of their increasing numbers and the pursuit of non-warlike professions evolved over a period of time into an independent caste. It is certain that they were of mixed blood. However, it is also palpably visible that they continued to harbour the primary traits of the Kshatriyas—intelligence and diligence—although having surrendered the sword for the pen. Their late arrival in the Hindu societal space as a separate entity is attested by the fact that they are not mentioned in any of the earlier Smritis, being listed only in the two later ones.

The customary occupation of Kayasthas was writing (account keeping) within the government service, which made them natural rivals to Brahmins who were the traditional government officials as well as the religious teachers and the keepers of the combined wisdom of the society. The Kayasthas are found mainly in Kashmir, UP and Bengal with the Khatris fulfilling the same job and function in Sind and Punjab.

It is often mentioned in medieval texts that the fundamental difference between Brahmin and Kayastha officials was the proclivity of the latter to side-step their integrity to suit the emerging circumstances unlike the Brahmin officials who were renowned for their impeccable integrity. Because of this unfortunate flaw in their collective character, kings with unsavoury inclinations tended to favour Kayasthas over their more deserving Brahmin officials. Jayapida was no exception. Under the circumstances it is also no surprise that Kalhana speaks of this caste with contempt and disapprobation.

The Demise of the Karkotas

After Jayapida’s accidental death, there followed a string of incompetent rulers, who accelerated the decline that had already started to become visible. This is a repeated spectacle in the history of great dynasties—towards the end of their dynastic rule, one finds worthless sovereigns of the erstwhile great dynasty being set up on the throne and deposed at will by ambitious but unscrupulous officers of the realm, belonging to families that had for generations served the ruling dynasty with élan and loyalty. The Karkotas, who had ruled Kashmir for over two centuries, making it into one of the most powerful empires in the sub-continent, and who had held in check both the Arabs and the Tibetans, also suffered the same fate. By mid-800s, Avantivarman, the grandson of Utpala, a powerful maternal uncle of Jayapida, seized the throne and rung down the curtain on the great Karkota dynasty.

Kashmir under the Karkotas

The Karkotas brought Kashmir out of darkness and obscurity making it a politically powerful kingdom in the Indian context, enjoying the stature of an undefeated empire. Twice they became overlords of the entire North India, even though their control was more in the form of tributes and acceptance of overlordship by the ‘conquered’ kingdoms, in keeping with the customs of the tie and the concept of digvijya. However, a large part of the Punjab formed the core part of the Karkota kingdom for most of their rule. The Karkota administration for the most part of their reign was fair, having divided the kingdom into several rajyas (provinces) for ease of administration and provision of speedy redress to crime.

The primary religion of the people was Hinduism, with an equal mix of both Vaishnavites and Shaivites, even though the ruling family was fastidious Shaivites. The small but thriving minority of Buddhists indicate a level of visible religious tolerance that the valley has not seen for a long time in the modern day. Oppression by the ruling elite was applied across the board when it happened and done purely for financial reasons, religion does not seem to have been a factor in the forced collection of taxes or in the distribution of largesse. Generally the Karkota rule was enlightened and Kashmir reached the zenith of its renown as a place of learning and for the patronage of art and architecture. The Karkotas were responsible for providing the appropriate atmosphere for Sanskrit scholars and writers resident in the court to purse their profession towards individual and collective excellence.

The Karkota dynasty was as illustrious as, and at times even greater than, any other ‘great’ dynasty that is celebrated in ancient and medieval Indian historical narrative. The reasons for their neglect in the telling and retelling of the greater history of Indi remains a paradox, with no ‘official’ correction being initiated at the moment. While such ignoring of great dynasties is plainly visible within the history of Peninsular India, ignoring a ‘Hindu’ dynasty of the north somehow does not fit the common flow of accepted Indian history. The question remains, unanswered.


© [Sanu Kainikara] [2016]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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