Iqbal Ahmad

Forgotten Empires of Kashmir!

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These coins were discovered in Banda District of UP and were gifted to the government of Jammu and Kashmir by UP government in 1929. The coins represent the varieties of Lalitaditya Muktapidia illustrations-Maharaja of Kashmir believed to have ruled in early 8th century AD. On the coins, he is depicted as Shri Pratapa in Gupta Brahmi

There are several glorious empires which Kashmir history has witnessed and recorded in its annals, but the current collective memory of the people seems to have forgotten a large part of it. One of such forgotten empire is of Karkotas.

The first people with local origin who ascended the throne of the land were Karkotas. The dynasty ruled Kashmir for more than two centuries during which seventeen Rajas are said ascended the throne, one after the other. The exact beginning of the dynasty is not known, though scholars have agreed that about 600 AD as the date of Accession of its founder Durlabavardha.  The chronology since accession of the Karkota no doubt assumes an authentic significance but as far as the dates of the accession of its various Rajas to the throne is concerned, it has been largely a subject of controversy and confusion.

History records that the Karkota Empire was a Kashmiri dynasty that was a major power in the Indian subcontinent and was founded by Durlabhvardhana during the lifetime of Harshavardhan. The dynasty marked the rise of Kashmir as a power in Northern IndiaLalitaditya Muktapida, the dynasty’s strongest ruler captured parts of central Asia and Punjab with Chinese help. According to Kalhana‘s Rajatarangini, Lalitaditya was able to extend the power of Kashmir beyond the normal mountain limits and inflicted a defeat upon Yashovarman, the King of Kannauj.

Kalhana further credits Lalitaditya with vanquishing the Turks, Tibetans, Bhutias, Kambojas and others. However, some scholars view  Kalhana’s account of Lalitaditya’s conquests as an exaggerated one.

Since  Kalhana lived around four centuries after Lalitaditya, and popular imagination appears to have embellished Lalitaditya’s achievements during this period, as evident from the fact that Kalhana credits the king with miraculous powers such as being able to produce water in desert by striking the sand with his sword.  For example, the claim of Lalitaditya conquering the Tibetans seems to be based on his participation in Tang campaigns against the Tibetans.

The Karkota emperors were primarily Hindu. They built spectacular Hindu temples in their capital Parihaspur. They however also allowed Buddhism to flourish during their rule. Stupa, Chaitya and Vihara can be found in the ruins of their capital.

Martand Sun Temple in Anantnag district was built by Lalitaditya. It is the oldest known Sun temple in India and was also one of the biggest temple complexes at the time.  the art historian Hermann Goetz (1969) theorized that Lalitaditya managed to create a short-lived empire that included major parts of India as well as present day Afghanistan and Central Asia. Goetz’ analysis was accepted and cited widely by subsequent authors writing on the history of Kashmir. However, Kalhana’s account is not supported by the records of Lalitaditya’s neighbouring rulers; in fact, the Tang dynasty chronicles present him as a vassal of the Tang emperor. As a result, several other scholars have dismissed Kalhana’s account as ‘legendary exaggeration’.

Despite these exaggerations, Lalitaditya is generally accepted as the most powerful king of his dynasty. He commissioned a number of shrines in Kashmir, including the now-ruined Martand Sun Temple. He also established several towns, including a new capital at Parihasapura, although he also maintained the dynasty’s traditional capital at Srinager

The coins of few of Karkota rulars are also known, archaeologists have found coins of Durlaba and Pratapa , which are identified as the coins of Sri Durlabhadeva and Laitaditya Mukhtapida. The coins carry legend in Gupta Brahmi as Sri Durlaba and Sri Pratapa, with crude figures of Standing King and seated   Goddess. Their coins have been found in hoards at Bhtawara (Fiazabad) Manu Banda Sarnath and Rajghat (Varanasi) and at the ancient site of Nalanda

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