Posted on February 6th, 2016

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane   

 Kashmir has been referred to as Paradise on Earth” owing to its stunning natural beauty’. In the past, from the 3rd century BCE to about the 12 century CE, or for more than one thousand three hundred years, Kashmir wasinhabited by Buddhists. Ruled by illustrious Buddhist kings, most notably King Kanishka, the Buddhist Kingdom of Kashmir developed to be an exceptional Buddhist region marked by magnificent Buddhist shrines, monasteries, stupes, Buddha and Bodhisattva statues and their Buddhist monuments. It was a place adorned with exquisite Buddhist art, sculpture and architecture of high aesthetic and spiritual appeal. Besides, it was a renowned place of Buddhist learning and practice. It was inhabited by a large number of celebrated Buddhist scholar monks of high repute. Scholars and pilgrims came to Kashmir from many distant places in order to study the teachings of the Buddha, at the feet of these renowned scholars. It is reported that there were more than five hundred Buddhist scholars in Kashmir during the reign of King Kanishka in the 1st century CE.


Kashmir being part of his Maurya Empire, the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka (273-236 BCE) was instrumental in introducing Buddhism to Kashmir. It was in mid 3rd century BCE that Emperor Asoka sent Majihantiko, a Buddhist Bhikkhu, to propagate the Buddha Dhamma in Kashmir. Initially the Naaga king of Kashmir became a Buddhist and subsequently all 14 tribes of people in Kashmir became followers of Buddhism. Nagaas were among the earliest settlers of Kashmir.

Emperor Asoka visited Kashmir twice and founded the city of Srinagar which soon developed to be a fabulous city characterized by a uniquely Buddhist cultural landscape consisting of magnificent shrines, monasteries, leading Buddhist learning centres and other varied Buddhist monuments. Above all, the city had a Buddhist atmosphere resonating noblest of spiritual values. Emperor Asoka gifted beautiful Kashmir to the Buddhist Sangha considering it as an ideal place for the propagation of Buddhism.

Kashmir flourished under Buddhist kings such as Jalouk, Hushka, Jushka followed by  the great King Kanishka. The last three kings including Kanishka, belonged to the famous Kusana royal dynasty. This glorious Buddhist period in Kashmir was known as the Golden Age of Kashmir. By the latter part of the 1stcentury, during the reign of Emperor Kanishka, Kashmir became  the foremost centre of Mahayana Buddhism.

The introduction of Buddhism to Kashmir is of great historic importance because it was from Kashmir that Buddhism spread to the Himalayan region and beyond, to Quandhar, Kabul, Bactria and Tibet. Kashmir played an important role in spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and eventually China.


 King Kanishka ruled the kingdom of Kashmir during the period 78 to 103 CE.  Buddhist  intellectual and cultural development reached a peak during this period. Through inheritance and conquest King Kanishka built and enjoyed one of the largest empires both in India and Asia in ancient times. His Empire extended from Kashmir in the North, upper and lower Indus valley in the west, the Vindhya Mountains and Bihar in the South and South-East respectively. His empire extended outside the frontiers of India and included the whole of the Trans-Pamir region, such as Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan, the Oxus valley or Bactria and the territories between the Hindukush in Central Asia, Kabul and the Hemand regions. At present these territories between the Hindukush and the Indus fall within Afganistan as the Afghan Provinces of Kabul. Ghazni, Kandahar. Seisthan and Beluchistan. It was an extensive empire with Purusapura or Peshawar as its Capital City. At present this city is within Pakistan.

King Kanishka is regarded as the greatest king of the Kushan royal dynasty that ruled over the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, including  the whole of present day Afghanistan and large areas of Central Asia north of the Kashmir region. King Kanishka He is primarily remembered as a great patron of Buddhism. Most of what is known today about king Kanishka is derived from Chinese sources, particularly from Buddhist writings. King Kanishka  was drawn closer to Buddhism when he came in contact with   Asvaghosha, a most renowned Buddhist Scholar at Pataliputra. The king was so impressed with the teachings of Asvaghosa, he invited  Asvaghosa to Peshawar. It was  in his capital city Peshawar, that the king became a Buddhist.

He became a very dedicated Buddhist, but was quite tolerant towards other faiths. This is well reflected in the images of coins produced during his reign having figures of various Hindu, Persian and Greek deities. Images in these coins show his respect not only for the Buddha, but also Zoroastrian, Greek and Brahmanic deities. King Kanishka is known to have constantly sought advice and instructions from Buddhist monks. Overwhelmed by Buddhist teachings, the king virtually turned over the administration of his kingdom to the community of Buddhist monks.  At this time the spiritual leader was the great Nagarjuna who is considered as the most influential Philosopher of Mahayana Buddhism.  The main Buddhist Centre of Learning in Kashmir at this time was the ancient University of Taxila, which was known far and wide at that time. During the era of king Kaniska, many Buddhist  pilgrims and scholars from distant places were attracted to Kashmir to study Buddhism.


Kanishka was a great lover of education and many learned men received his patronage. Often, he surrounded himself with men of letters and scholarship. Galaxies of great scholars adorned the court of King Kanishka, including Asvaghosa the Buddhist Writer, Nagarjuna the philosopher,  Vasumitra  the Buddhist scholar,  Charaka the physician,  Samgharaksha the chaplain, Mathara  the politician and Agisala the engineer.  Learning and literature greatly expanded due to the patronage of king Kanishka. He gave his royal patronage to the Sanskrit language which virtually disappeared after the Mauryas, was restored to its former glory.  All the Mahayana scriptures during this period were written in Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit literature was highly developed and both religious and secular literatures were equally enriched under the congenial atmosphere of royal patronage. Several eminent Buddhist scholars wrote outstanding books in Sanskrit during this time Among the many highly learned men and scholars who gathered around  king Kanishka were Aswaghosh, Nagarjuna, Vasumitra, and Charaka. .


The most famous among the Buddhist writers of this time was Aswaghosha. He was a philosopher, intellectual, preacher, moralist, an accomplished poet, musician, dramatist and author in both prose and verse. He wrote the famous epic  ‘Buddha Charita’ in Sanskrit.  This book is the complete life story of the Buddha. He was the author of the Soundarananda Kavya” written in Kavya style or as poetry. This book deals with  various episodes of the life of the Buddha. He was also the writer of the Vajra Suchi” the book  which condemns the Brahmanical caste system. He wrote the famous play called ‘Sariputta Parkarana’. .


The Next important Buddhist writer of this period was Nagaijuna who was born in Vidarbha in Southern India. He mastered the Vedas and other Brahmanical works.  After he became a Buddhist; he expounded the philosophy of relativity or the ‘Madhyamika Darsan’ which finds expression in his book called the ‘Prajna Paramita Sutta Sastra’. This philosophy postulates  that everything exists in relation to other things and there is no independent existence of anything. He was a great teacher and exponent of the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy.

Vasumitra was another great scholar and monk, an outstanding Buddhist intellectual of this period. He presided over the fourth Buddhist conference held at Kashmir. He contributed a lot to the Buddhist theological literature and was the author of the famous commentary–VibhashSastra.

Charaka was the court physician of king Kanishka and made lasting contributions to the field of the Indian Ayurvedic Science. He was the author of Susruta”,   Ayurvedic Science in India. ‘


King Kanishka was an ardent and devoted Buddhist. He was instrumental in organizing and holding a Buddhist Council or Conference at Kundalvana vihara in Kashmir, under the leadership of  famous Buddhist scholar monks such as  Vasumitra and Asvaghosha. Several leading scholars and monks like Parsva, Asvaghosh, Nagaijuna and many others attended the conference.

In order to safeguard the original thinking in Buddhism which the Mahayana school refers to as Sarvastivada” or Vaibhashika” reputed Buddhist scholars at the time came to Kashmir and compiled a detailed and authentic commentary of this philosophy. This monumental work was completed in Kashmir and was known by the name ‘ Abhidharma Mahavtbhashashastra .’  (This was translated into Chinese in year 383 CE).

A fundamental concept in Buddhist metaphysics stipulated in Sarvastivada”  is the assumption of the existence of dharma’s, cosmic factors and events that combine momentarily under the influence of a person’s past deeds to form a person’s life flux, which he considers his personality and career. Differences arose among the various early Buddhist schools concerning the ontological reality of these dharmas. While, like all Buddhists, the Sarvastivadins consider everything empirical to be impermanent, they maintain that the dharma factors are eternally existing realities. The dharmas are thought to function momentarily, producing the empirical phenomena of the world, which is illusory, but to exist outside the empirical world. The elements of the Sarvastivada school came to influence Mahayana thought.

There appears to be a controversy between the Mahayana and Theravada schools whether the Fourth Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir or Aluvihara in Sri Lanka. According to the Mahawamsa, the Aluvihara Buddhist Council, was held in the 1 century BCE and according the historical records of the Mahayana school, the Fourth Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir in the 1st century CE during the reign of King Kanishka.


The conference codified the Buddhist Sutras in the Sanskrit language. This conference also gave birth to the new School of Buddhism called the Mahayana Buddhism, which soon became widespread in Tibet, China, Burma, Japan and many other Far Eastern and Central Asian countries.  As proposed in this conference, King Kanishka declared Mahayana Buddhism as the state religion of his empire.

At the Council or Conference held in Kashmir, according to Chinese sources, authorized commentaries on the Buddhist canon were prepared and engraved on copper plates. These texts have survived only in Chinese translations and adaptations.
The Convocation of the first Buddhist council marked the ascendancy of Mahayana Buddhism with Sanskrit as its vehicle of propagation. The religious policy of Kanishka stated that Bodhisatva would work for the salvation of all beings. Hence during the reign of Kanishka, people did not need to undergo hardship and penance in order to attain salvation. Kanishka replaced the worship of Buddhist symbols like Buddha`s footprints, Dharmachakra, stupa or Bodhi Tree by initiating the worship of Buddha and Bodhisattva

  1. The cult of Bodhisattva and the worship of Buddha images became widely prevalent in the Kushana period during King Kanishka’s reign.


Much like Emperor Asoka, King Kanishka resorted to missionary activities for the spread of Buddhism outside India. King Kanishka undertook the policy of propagating Buddhism  to distant countries including Tibet, China, Burma and Japan. Historians have later presumed that since King Kanishka had commanded over the major parts of Central Asia, Buddhism  (Mahayana tradition) spread to those countries. Contact between King  Kaniska and the Chinese in Central Asia may have inspired the transmission of Indian ideas, particularly Buddhism, to China. Buddhism first appeared in China in the 2nd century CE.

King Kanishka is the most important of the Kushana kings. His name is cherished in  traditional literature of Kashmir and nations observing the Mahayana tradition. His name lives in the legends of Kashmir and also in Tibet, China and Mongolia. The Buddhist texts of China, Tibet, Mongolia and other Far Eastern countries, hail him as the greatest royal patron of Buddhism and his name was closely associated with the spread of Mahayana. Most of what is known about King Kanishka derives from Chinese sources, particularly Buddhist writings. During his reign, via the popular Silk Road, there were contacts with the Roman Empire. This led to a significant increase in trade and the exchange of ideas. Perhaps the most remarkable example of the fusion of Eastern and Western influences during his reign was the Gandhara school of art, in which Classical Greco-Roman characteristics  are seen in the images of the Buddha that developed during this time.


King Kanishka`s reign was a landmark in the realm of art and architecture. It was marked by the evolution of distinct styles of Buddhist art, sculpture and architecture.  Four eminent schools of art received great impetus during his reign.  These schools developed in four different centres within the empire – namely Sarnath, Mathura, Amaravati and Gandhara.  Each had its own distinct characteristics. Saranath, Mathura and Amaravati were famous for their fabulous sculpture. These four schools, the Gandhara School of Art received a thriving prosperity during the reign of Kanishka.

In art, King Kanishka`s reign was marked with the growth of two distinct styles, one Indian and the other is a new alien or exotic school of art called   the Graeco – Buddhist School of Art or Indo-Greek School of Art. The latter came into existence in the valley of Peshwar called Gandhar. It is popularly known as the Gandhar School of Art.  King Kanishka invited the Greek sculptors from Bastria, one of his Central Asian colonies to Gandhar and provided them all patronage and facilities to produce beautiful works of art in collaboration with the native Indian sculptors.

As a result, a new kind of art came up with both Greek and Indian characteristics, at Gandhara. The Gandhara Art was marked by foreign technique with Indian spirit.  In it was found the Graceo – Roman style. The Indo-Greek sculptors made beautiful things out of stone stucco, terra cota and clay. This art was characterized by the depiction of human body in a realistic manner with greater physical accuracy, elaborate ornamentation and complex symbolism. This  art tradition is called the Graeco-Indian school of Art, which formed a significant feature of the cultural achievements of the reign of King Kanisika.

The Indian style is evident in the statue of King Kanishka at Mathura and also in the image of Buddha at Sarnath. The exotic school known as Gandhara art was a Graoko-Roman art tradition applied to Buddhist works of art in the  Gandhara Region. What remains of this great works of art shows the technical excellence and the artistic richness of the Gandhar school of art. From Peshawar valley, in the North-West India, this Graeco- Buddhist Art gradually migrated to the Far-East along with Buddhism, under the personal patronage and care of King Kanisika. It was from Kashmir that Graeco-Buddhist art of Gandara found its adherents who carried it to far off places in

Central Asia and China. The Gandhara School of Art profoundly influenced the general sources of Indian culture and it successfully brought about a fine cultural synthesis or mixture which was half Greek and half Indian in character.

In the Kushana period, especially during King Kanishka’s reign, the cult of Bodhisattva and the worship of Buddha images became quite popular.  Under the patronage of the King, numerous Buddha and Bodhisatva images were constructed. A large statue of the Buddha, built in the second year of king Kanishka’s  reign has been discovered at Kausambi.  Another remarkable statue of the Buddha built by the king has been found at Mathura. First Buddha image was made in King Kanishka’s reign in Kashmir. One of the earliest figures of Buddha are found in King Kanishka`s coins and in the Peshawar casket. This is an image of standing Buddha with the words Boddo” on the obverse.


 In the field of architecture Kanishka`s reign was highly creative. Numerous stupas, monuments, columns were built during his sovereignty. Purushapur or Peshwar was the Capital of this vast Buddhist empire of king Kanishka. It was the capital of religious cultural and trading activities of the kingdom. The king was instrumental in beautifying and decorating his capital city with beautiful structures, buildings, monasteries and towers. At Purushpur he constructed a huge relic tower which was 400 feet high and was built in wood. From historic travel records of Hiuen Tsang and Al Beruni,  it is known that this  great relic tower at Peshawar was a rare thing of beauty and artistic imagination. It was   famous throughout the Buddhist world.  It was a Greek architect named Agelisas or Agisala who constructed this magnificent  tower. Amazing archeological  remnants of Purushapur have been discovered recently  at the site of Purushwar or Peshwar which is now located in Pakistan.

King Kanishka was succeeded by two Buddhist Kings ‘ Hushaka ‘ and ‘ Jushaka ‘. Both of them raised two cities by the name ‘ Hushakpura ‘ and ‘ Jushakpura ‘ respectively.  Buddhist influence is well evident in Kashmiri architecture. Buddhist architecture in Kashmir has three clear divisions – First is the architecture of Harwan (Srinagar) of 3rd  century BCE, reflective of the Indo-Parthian style. Secondly, the architecture of Kusana king Hushka in the 1st century CE,  who raised the city of ‘ Hushkapura.’ in the Gandhara style. The architecture and sculptural remains found at Pandrethan near Srinagar reflect the Gupta style.

 YEARS FOLLOWING KANISHKA                                                     

During the period following the Kusana kings, there were times when the Buddhist community of Kashmir faced challenges and subject to hardships. This was largely owing to internal rivalries and associated turmoil within the royalty.  Also, Hinduism was receiving increased by the 4th century.  In early 6th century, with Mihirakula who was not inclined towards Buddhism becoming the king of Kashmir, Buddhists began to face atrocities including the destruction of their  shrines. After the seventh century, Hinduism was receiving more attention of scholars in Kashmir and in the centuries that followed, Kashmir produced many poets, philosophers, and artists who contributed to Hindu religion and Sanskrit literature.  Among notable scholars of this period was Vasugupta (875–925 CE) who wrote the Shiva Sutras which laid the foundation for amonastic Shaiva system called Kashmiri Shaivism. Soon Kashmir Shaivism came to dominate lives of ordinary people in Kashmir  largely at the expense of Buddhism. In the eighth century, Karkota dynasty established themselves as rulers of Kashmir. Towards mid 9th century, the Utpala dynasty assumed power but their civil  administration collapsed and chaos reigned in Kashmir.In 1003, the Kashmir throne passed to the Lohara dynasty.


 Muslim Mughal invasion of Kashmir started during the early 11th century at a time when Kashmir was faced with political turmoil with internal rivalries within its royalty. This was the time when the Lohara royal dynasty was ruling Kashmir. This period was marked by intrigue and treachery among kings and the lack of patronage for Buddhism as before. These conditions in Kashmir led to severe disruption of Buddhist activities and the general decline of Buddhism in Kashmir. Oppressive taxation, corruption, internecine fights, and rise of feudal lords during the rule of the Lohara dynasty (1003–1320 CE) led the Buddhist community in disarray and this paved way for foreign invasion of Kashmir. It was at the time of Suhadeva, the last king of the Lohara dynasty, that the first Muslim invasion of Kashmir took place. A ruthless Mughal chief named  Zulju led a savage raid of Kashmir causing much destruction and killing of Buddhists and Hindus. The king fled Kashmir and this Mughal chief brought Kashmir under Muslim  rule.

The Mughal occupation of Kashmir was marked by widespread bloodshed and destruction and forced conversion of Buddhists and Hindus to Islam. Most of the magnificent Buddhist shrines, monasteries, places of learning and monuments were destroyed. In the early part of the 13th century, there was another Mughal invasion of Kashmir which led to Kashmir becoming a Mughal dependency and the stationing of a Mughal Governor referred to as, Darughachi to administer Kashmir. A brutal and cruel period followed with people facing immense hardships. People of Kashmir were ruthlessly forced to convert to Islam. In the mid 13th century, the Buddhists and Hindus of Kashmir revolted unsuccessfully against the Muslims and this led to further subjugation of the Kashmiris  and forced conversions becoming the order of the day.

By the 14th century, Islam became the dominant religion in Kashmir. The former glory of the Buddhist culture of Kashmir was lost forever and Kashmir has continued for many centuries to be a place of turmoil and insecurity.


Since the 15th century, Kashmir was raided and attacked several times by the Afgans, Sikhs and Dogras and a highly troubled situation, marked by turmoil and insecurity  continued to prevail in Kashmir until modern times.

Mughals ruled Kashmir for 167 long years, with the help of 35 governors who looted and plundered Kashmir. Tyranny was the order of the day and any whimper of rebellion was crushed mercilessly. Numerous Kashmiri Buddhists and Hindus laid their life in the process for the sake of independence.

Mughal rule came to an end in 1753 CE with the capture of capture of Kashmir by the  Afghans. This proved to be a worst nightmare for Kashmiris. Muslim Afghans crossed all boundaries of civilization, killing, raping, plundering, looting, brutally torturing non-Muslims. It is reported that no woman was safe in her house during this brutal Afghan rule. Mass migration of Buddhists and Hindus out of their native Kashmir took place during this time.

In 1819, Afghans were defeated by Sikh forces led by Ranjit Singh, and the Sikhs did not prove any better. Destruction and killing became rampant. The troubled situation continued until the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and the division of Kashmir into Indian administered Kashmir and Pakistan administered Kashmir.

 Dr. Daya Hewapathirane


  1. sena Says:

    Stuff happens. Through out the history it has been the case where the strong replace the weak. For Sri Lanka Buddhist community , Mr. Bandaranayake gave an opportunity to prosper by opening access to higher education etc. But what did the people who benefited from it do. They came to Colombo and started emulating the hitherto privilege sector. The free education so far (after more than 60 years) has not resulted in any tangible benefit to the economy. instead those who benefited from Banadaraike policies started depending on their brethren such as housemaids and farmers in the villages while at the same time looking down on them. As long as there is no tangible modern economy the intentions of Bandaranaike will not succeed

  2. Christie Says:

    Don’t worry about what happened elsewhere.
    The Indian Empire is wiping us out.

    Compared to Indian colonial parasites:

    We are poor.

    We are not healthy.

    We die younger.

    Our homicide and suicide rates are high.

    Less educated.

    Higher criminal activities.

    Physically small.

    Fight among ourselves.

    List goes on.

    All caused by Indian imperialists, Indian colonial parasites and vermin with non violent aggression and oppression.

  3. Senevirath Says:

    කාශ්මීරයටත් බොහෝ වෙනත් රටවලටත් මුස්ලිමුන්ගෙන් සිදුවූදේ ලංකාවටත් වෙනු ඇත සිංහල බෞධ්ධයිනි අවදිවෙයව්

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