Sanskrit Literature in Kashmir
Kashmir was one of the main centers of Sanskrit literary production in the second half of the first millennium. But this literary culture suffered a sudden collapse around the middle of the twelfth century. Quite contrary to much dubious historical discourse, the collapse of Sanskrit literary culture in Kashmir had little to do with the establishment of Muslim rule in Kashmir and was likely caused by internal political instability and the lack of patronage to Sanskrit at the Kashmiri Court. Rather Sanskrit learning revived under Sultan Zainulabideen. Even though it might be argued that Sanskrit may have had a different itinerary if Persian would not have displaced Sanskrit as the language of the Court, it is difficult to not see Sanskrit come up against the same processes of vernacularization which led to its demise elsewhere in South Asia.
We are likely to learn more about the beginnings of Kashmiri literature and the history of its genres by examining Sanskrit literary and theoretical production in Kashmir. Kashmir was one of the privileged sites of the production of kavya, a genre often simply translated as poetics or literature. As is well-known, Kashmir is also the site of one of the first Sanskrit historical texts i.e. Rajatarangini. Sanskrit texts were composed in Kashmir as late as the nineteenth century (the Sanskrit translations of Lal Ded in the nineteenth century is an example which suggests that the relationship between Kashmiri and Sanskrit was not simply a one-way street). It is in the inversions and reconfigurations inherent in the vernacular moment of the transition from Sanskrit to Kashmiri that we can situate the rise of such spiritual movements in Kashmir as the Rishi Order of Kashmiri Sufism in the fifteenth century.
More than half the words in one of the first Kashmiri Sanskrit texts, Mahanaya Prakash, are in Sanskrit. A reading of poets such as Lal Ded, Nund Rishi and Rupa Bhavani suggests that Kashmiri evolved in a close relationship to Sanskrit forms and genres. But the vernacular tradition in Kashmiri also had much to offer to Sanskrit. Some of the leading scholars of Kashmiri Sanskrit literary and religious culture have argued that philosophers such as Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta drew on Kashmiri genres and traditions of scholarship. The first stirrings of Anandavardhana’s theory of dhvani were perhaps founded in Kashmiri texts. We should not see the relationship between Kashmiri and Sanskrit as that of a tension or struggle between a desi and a marga tradition but in a single historic continuity.
Even if Kashmir does not lay a claim on Kalidasa, the greatest of Sanskrit poets, it still can boast of Ksemendra and Bilhana. But perhaps Kashmir’s greatest contribution to Sanskrit literary culture is in literary theory. It is in Kashmir that Anadavardhana composed the Dhvanyaloka which revolutionized the Alankarasastra. The philosophical texts of Abhinavagupta and Jaideva put Kashmir on the map of Sanskrit philosophy in India. Abhinavagupta composed more than 30 works and also prepared a philosophic encyclopedia of Kashmir Saivism and a brilliant commentary on the Bhagvad Gita. By examining the corpus of Abhinavagupta’s works alone one can get a sense of the vitality and creativity of Sanskrit in Kashmir in the first millennium. For a collection of Abhinavagupta’s texts in Sanskrit, click here.
Perhaps we should not measure the decline of Sanskrit in Kashmir in the absence of kavya, but discover the continuities and connections between these texts and those of Lal Ded, Nund Rishi, Rupa Bhavani, Parmanand and Ahad Zargar.