Abhinav Gupta (~950 to ~1015 AD) – a Scholar from Kashmir

The runaway success of “The Kashmir Files”, a movie based on real-life incidents concerning the plights of Kashmiri pandit community, has re-ignited debates and discussions centred on Kashmir in India and elsewhere. Maharajah Sir Hari Singh, the then ruler of Kashmir, signed the Instrument of Accession on 26th October 1947. As per it, the whole of his princely state – including Jammu, Kashmir, Northern Areas, Ladakh, Trans-Karakoram Tract, and Aksai Chin – acceded to the Dominion of India on that day. Unfortunately, within a few days, the then Prime Minister of India – Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, a Kashmiri pandit himself – committed a political blunder by soliciting the help of the United Nations on this issue. That has given more than 50% of the geographical territory to Pakistan, which had invaded Kashmir in October 1947 in violation of its own standstill agreement with Maharajah Sir Hari Singh. The rest of the territory remained with India but some influential Indians themselves have created problems for the Indian government in governing it. Their attitude is reflected through several conversations in this movie and is summarised in the following quote of the character Prof Radhika Menon, loosely based on a noted faculty member at Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi, India): “Kashmir was historically never a part of India”.

Kashmir has always been a part of India

Geographically, there can be no doubt that Kashmir was always a part of India: today’s Indian subcontinent was created by the collision of the fast-travelling Indian plate with the Eurasian plate 10 million years ago (see Figure 1). This event led to the formation of the Himalayas which mark the northern boundary of this geographical plate. Kashmir is a northern part of this plate. Thus, Kashmir was always an integral geographical part of India and, in fact, had no territory in common with that of its Islamic invaders from the Middle East.

Figure 1 (i) Formation of the Himalayas started 10 million years ago. The figure is based on the material presented in Bird Migration across the Himalayas Wetland Functioning amidst Mountains and Glaciers, pp. 145 – 154, Cambridge University Press, 2017 (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316335420.012) and https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/. (ii) Only the yellow coloured and the white coloured region of the erstwhile Kashmir is in control of the Govt of India today – the remaining part has seen tragic annihilation of the local culture, traditions, languages, and religion over the last few centuries under the influence of Islamic jihad.

Now, someone might claim that, at least culturally, Kashmir was never a part of India. Given that Kashmir was always an integral part of India geographically, that claim is frightening since it silently acknowledges, without condemning, the fact that the invaders had wiped out the culture of the indigenous people. After all, such deplorable annihilation of cultures and languages has happened in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Abhinav Gupta – Representing Ancient Tradition of Hinduism in Kashmir in the 11th Century AD

To show that Kashmir was culturally an integral part of India in the 10th century, the case of the highly influential scholar Abhinav Gupta suffices. He flourished towards the end of the 10th century AD and the beginning of the 11th century AD. This is inferred from the fact that his “Kramastotra” was composed in the year 990 AD while his “Ishvarapratyabhijna Bruhativimarshiti” gives the date of its composition as the year 4115 of the Kali era, which corresponds to 1014 AD. In his “Tantraloka” and “Paratrinshika”, Abhinav Gupta has described his ancestry. As per it, his ancestors had come to Kashmir about two centuries earlier from the middle land, i.e., from the region between 21° and 30° latitude in India. At that time, his ancestor, a famous scholar Atrigupta was brought to Kashmir by the Kashmiri ruler Lalitaditya Muktipada. At the time of his birth, the line of Pravara Gupta ruled Kashmir. Didda exercised power till 1003 AD. Afterwards came Sangramraja who founded the Lohara dynasty. The invasion of Mahmud Ghaznavi occurred during the lifetime of Abhinava but although the kingdom of Udabhandpura fell to this invader, the kingdom of Sangramaraja escaped destruction.

Figure 2 A 17th century painting of Abhinav Gupta based on the description of Abhinav Gupta given by his disciples; this graphic is taken from https://www.abhinavagupta.org/abhinavagupta/abhinavagupta-pen-picture/.

Abhinav’s pupil Madhuraja Yogi has given a description of Abhinav Gupta’s appearance (see Figure 2). In those verses, Abhinav is described as seated on a golden seat in a vine-grove inside a crystalline pavilion adorned by pictures, perfumed by flower garlands, incense and sandal paste and illuminated by lamps, constantly resounding with music and dance, and surrounded by bands of Yoginis and Siddhas. At his feel sat his pupils attentively writing down his words. On the two sides stood two female attendants bearing in their hands a jar of a juice called “Shivarasa” (presumably, a drink of water distilled from grain kept soaked in water for three nights), betel-box, citron, and lotus. His eyes were tremulous with ecstasy, three lines of ashes marked his forehead, rudraksha adorned his ears, his hair was tied with a garland, and he had a flowing beard. He had a rosy hue, and his neck was besmeared with a powder called “Yaksha Pancha” (presumably, a paste of camphor, musk, sandal, saffron etc). His sacred thread was long and loose. He wore a white silk cloth and was seated in the yogic posture called virasana. His right hand rested on his knee and carried a rosary while his left hand played on the musical instrument “nada vina”.

Literary Works and Philosophical Contribution of Abhinav Gupta

Abhinava Gupta was a precocious student at school. His father taught him grammar. He studied the Shaiva Agamas from the son of Bhutiraja and Laxman Gupta. He also learnt Natyashastra from Bhatt Tauta and Tantra from Shambhu Nath. We do not have many biographical details of Abhinava but his numerous works and the references to him in the works of others give some idea of his personality and achievements. He was a versatile scholar, poet, critic, musician, saint, and philosopher. He collected and expounded Shiva Agama traditions of Kashmir. He introduced the notions of dhvani (sound) and rasa (essence) in Kashmir Shaivism. His compositions “Tantraloka”, “Tantrasara”, and “Dhvanyaloka” are classics. In all, he composed at least 24 books. His philosophy was a continuation of Vedanta philosophy. It does not acknowledge Shankaracharya but stresses non-dualism all the same. It believes that knowledge helps one understand and attain the reality underlying the world, which is evolving on its own, and prescribes steps using which this knowledge can be gained.

As a result of his practices in Yoga, miraculous powers were manifested in him. While speaking on the point of Shaktipata, Abbinava quotes in Tantraloka a text from “Shripurva Shastra” which refers to some infallible signs found in such a Yogi. These are: (i) unfailing devotion to Rudra, (ii) the power of incantation, (iii) control over elements, (iv) capacity to accomplish desired result, and (v) sudden dawn of knowledge of all Shastras and sudden burst of the poetic faculty. Jayaratha, a commentator of “Tantraloka” states that all these powers were manifest in Abhinav Gupta. His philosophy on yoga dominates the yoga system propounded by T Krishnamacharya, who was the 20th century’s most influential yoga teacher and the fountainhead of the yoga craze that has spread worldwide over the last 40 years.

Through 36 chapters of “Abhinav Bharati”, he also revived and elucidated Bharat Muni’s classic text “Natyashastra” on performing arts, music, dance, and drama. The “Natyashastra” has had profound influence on Indian arts ever since it was composed in approximately 2nd century BC. It was an inspiration for many works of a commentarial or topical nature. Kohala, Dattila, and Twanburu were celebrated authorities on theatre, music, and dance, already known in the age of Bharat Muni. While the work of Dattila survives, the other two are known only from references principally in “Abhinav Bharati”. Owing to the loss of earlier literature as also owing to its inherent excellence, “Abhinav Bharati” remains a work of singular importance on Indian theatre, dance, and music.

Summary

Such is the cultural heritage of Kashmir in the 11th–12th century AD, championed by the highly influential Abhinav Gupta who had received the royal patronage in Kashmir. The real question that should have been asked by that professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University should have been as follows: How has the enlightened Kashmir of Abhinav Gupta’s times fallen prey to a mindset that cannot co-exist with other mindsets, follows a faith blindly and belittles education, arts, and music? Another question that might be posed is as follows: How many Kashmiris are aware today that such a transcendental scholar and personality was produced by their land in the 11th century?

Readers interested in Abhinav Gupta may want to note that a comprehensive biography of Abhinav Gupta, written by G. T. Deshpande, was published by Sahitya Academy (New Delhi, India) in 1989.