Harsha of Kashmir

Harsha (ruled AD 1089-1111) was a king of Kashmir who is frequently mentioned because of his unusual conduct. William Dalrymple in a review of "The Buddha and the Sahibs" by Charles Allen published in "The Guardian" [Saturday September 28, 2002] writes:

:"It was because of this persecution, several centuries before the arrival of Islam, that the philosophy of the Buddha, once a serious rival to Hinduism, virtually disappeared from India: Harsha Deva, a single Kashmiri raja, for example boasted that he had destroyed no less than 4,000 Buddhist shrines."

This would appear to support the view that Buddhism and Hinduism were enemies in ancient India. This is however not supported by available evidence. Harsha's conduct has recently been a subject of discussion.

Harsha started out as a capable and noble king, then ran into financial trouble because of his spending habits. For the gold, he started raiding temples and destroying statues.

From Contemporary Text: "Rajatarangini"

Kalhana's "Rajatarangini" gives an interesting account of Harsha. Note that Kalhana's father Champaka was a minister of Harsha. Harsha wrote during the time of Jayasimha (AD 1127-59).

He destroyed both Hindu and Buddhist temples, and is credited with creating an office of "devotpaatana-nayaka", destroyer of gods. In Kalhana's time, Buddhism was flourishing in Kashmir, and was not considered a distinct religion from "Hinduism". He refers to Buddhists' idols just like Brahmnaical ones. Kalhana was very familiar with Buddhism, and mentions Buddhist concepts accurately. Buddhism appears to have survived in Kashmir for a long time. It has been suggested that somewhere at Baramulla a Buddhist monk was present until 14th century. Abul-Fazl, author of "Ain-e-Akabari" was able to locate Buddhists in Kashmir.

King Harsha appears to have become insane. From Taranaga VII (Stein's translation):

:"1128: Other parasites plundered him by showing an old woman and saying "There, we have brought your mother Bappika from heaven".

:1129: Others brought slave girls before him and said they were goddesses. He worshipped them, and abandaning his exalted position and wealth was laughted at by people.

:1148: He had carnal intercourse with his sisters, and angered by a harsh word he punished and violated Naga, the daughter of his father's sister."

It has been suggested that he had been influenced by Turushkas:

:"1149: While continually supporting the Turushka captains-of-hundreds with money, this perverse-minded [king] ate domesticated pigs until his death."

Here Kalhana appears be to stating that Harsha did not even followthe religion of the people he was favoring. He however does call Harsha "that Turushka":

:"1095. There was not one temple in a village, town or in the city which was not despoiled of its images by that turushka, king Harsha.

:1096. Only two chief divine images were respected by him, the illustrious Ranaswamin in the City, and Martanda [among the images] in townships.

:1097-97. Among colossal images, two statues of Buddha were saved through requests addressed by chance to the king at a time when he was free with his favors, namely the one a Parihasapura by the singer Kanaka, who was born there and other in the City by Sramana (monk) Kusalsri."

The statue at Parihaspura was built by Lalitadity-Muktapida.

:"IV. 203: .. he made the glorious [statue of] the Great Buddha which reached up to the sky."

Abul-fazl mentions that the temples of Parihasapura were finallydestroyed by Sikandar "Butshikast" (1389-1413).

There was a great fire in Srinagar during the reign of Sussala. All the buildings were burnt except the colossal Buddha:

:"VIII 1184: In the City, which was reduced to a heap of earth, there remained visible and aloft only the great Buddha, which blackened by smoke, and without its abode, resembled a burned tree."

That reminds one of the Great Buddha of Kamakura, the wooden temple of which was destroyed by a tidal wave. The temple of the Great Buddha of Nara was similarly destroyed by fire, but was later rebuilt. a colossal copper image of Buddha once stood in Nalanda, said by Hsuan-Tsang to have been 80 feet (24.6 m) tall. The great Buddhas of Kashmir may have been similar. [Article taken from a note by Y.K. Malaiya, used with permission]

Notes

ee also

* Buddhism in Kashmir
* Sharada Peeth

References

* Rajatarangini, translated by Stein, M. A. 2 vols. London, 1900.


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