The apparently nondescript ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Kashmir are a testimony to the region’s richly variegated past and in that, hold enormous historical significance.
In the popular imagination, there is little more to Kashmir than its verdant meadows, aquamarine lakes, fruit-laden orchards, and snow-topped peaks. The typical tourist itinerary includes visiting the usual traveller’s haunts, namely Gulmarg, Dal Lake, Nishat Garden, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, and the like. Though the aforementioned places are an inextricable part of the region’s stupendous natural heritage, they aren’t all there is to the Valley. Sadly, the abundant sites of historical interest have remained hidden from the view – both literal and metaphorical – of the traveller and local resident alike.
(Above): Lower terrace of the Harwan Monastery ruins, Srinagar. Photograph by Nandini Sen
One such little-known historical site is the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Harwan, on the north-eastern fringes of Srinagar City. A slice of Kashmir’s ancient past, it is a significant relic of the Valley’s umbilical links with Buddhism. Few know that Kashmir long served as the cradle of Buddhism before spreading to neighbouring Ladakh, Tibet, and China. An important component of the mosaic of Kashmir’s syncretic culture, it finds a mention in the Nilamata Purana, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, and even the accounts of Chinese travellers to Kashmir in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.
(Above): A signpost directing visitors to the ancient site. Photograph by Nandini Sen
Significance of Kundalvan
According to historians, Harwan, then known as Kundalvan, was the site of the Fourth Buddhist Council convened by the Kushan Emperor Kanishka in 78 A.D. Held in the Sarvastivada tradition – one of the early Buddhist schools that flourished throughout Kashmir and Central Asia – this council saw the systematization and compilation of Sarvastivadin Abhidharma texts by 500 monks headed by Vasumitra. It is said that these texts were translated from vernacular languages into Sanskrit. This was a watershed since Sanskrit was the official liturgical language of Brahmanism in the sub-continent and its adoption facilitated the dissemination of Buddhist thought and ideas. Subsequently, all major Sarvastivad and later, Mahayana Buddhist scholars in the Indian sub-continent wrote their commentaries and treatises in Sanskrit. The Theravada school of Buddhism, on the other hand, continued drawing its scriptural inspiration from the Pali Canon. Elements of the Sarvastivada School later came to influence Mahayana tradition.
The 4th Buddhist Council resulted in the creation of the vast commentary known as the MahāVibhāshā (“Great Elucidation”). It is held that three hundred thousand verses and over nine million statements were compiled during the Council – a process which took nearly a dozen years to complete.
(Above): Flight of steps leading to the Harwan Monastery. Photograph by Nandini Sen
The Harwan Monastery is also significant due to the fact that Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist scholar, saint, and philosopher, is believed to have lived here during the Kushan period. As founder and exponent of the madhyamaka (centrist) philosophy of emptiness or Śūnyatā, Nagarjuna is widely regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world. In Rajatarangini, the 12th century work of historiography, Kalhan mentions Nagarjuna as having resided at Sadarhadvana or the “Grove of Six Saints” which historians have identified as the Harwan Monastry.
Unearthing a Heritage
First excavated by renowned archeologist Ram Chandra Kak in the early 20th century, the Harwan Monastry complex is divided into two main terraces. The lower terrace apparently includes a set of four residential rooms separated by a corridor with a flight of steps on the east, a portion of a diaper pebble wall – a type of masonry practice in which large-sized stones are inserted in the middle of smaller pebbles in order to lend the structure strength and durability – the triple base of a north-facing stupa within a rectangular courtyard made of rubble, and a rubble enclosure wall most likely that of a monastery.
(Above): Diaper pebble masonry on the shrine remains located on the second terrace. Photograph by Nandini Sen
The upper terrace contains an apsidal shrine constructed in diaper pebble masonry within a courtyard which is laid with now-buried plain and moulded tiles. The pavement around the shrine was covered with these tiles engraved with different patterns including motifs of flora and fauna, cows suckling their calves, rams fighting, elephants, roosters, dancing girls, men and women conversing, and hunters on horseback chasing deer among others. Additionally, each tile was marked with a number in the now-extinct Kharosthi script, with the tiles ordered in strict numerical sequence. This led RC Kak to conclude that the tile-pavement was not haphazardly laid but followed a distinct design.
(Above): Set of four rooms or Viharas situated on the lower terrace. Photograph by Nandini Sen
Tale of Yore
The Harwan Monastery fits into the larger narrative of Kashmir’s ancient Buddhist past when the Valley lay at the intersection of civilizations straddling Bactria, Gandhara, Southern Iran, and Tibet. As part of the famed Kushan Empire (1st century BC-3rd century AD) which was known for its patronage of Buddhism, increased contacts with ancient Rome and China, and stunningly beautiful Gandhara Art, Kashmir became a potpourri of syncretic ideas and cultures. This was long before the Valley flowered politically and culturally, becoming an independent kingdom in its own right in the 8th century A.D.
(Above): Triple base of a stupa in diaper rubble style. Photograph by Nandini Sen
Today, the ruins at Harwan bear no trappings of their enormous historical significance. Though fenced in with a newly installed signboard that sheds light on the history of the site, a rickety unguarded gate serves as the entrance to the monastery ruins. The nearby water tank and pipes installed by the Jal Shakti Department somehow lend the site an air of un-remarkability, bordering on the nondescript. Barring a handful of visitors – mostly picnickers and sightseers, not history aficionados – the ruins are lonesome – a far cry from the nearby Mughal Gardens teeming with tourists and local visitors. That a scintillating tale of yore should find no contemporary listeners is indeed lamentable.
(Above): Apsidal shrine on the upper terrace of the Harwan monastery. Photograph by Nandini Sen
Though the splendours of the staggeringly beautiful Valley of Kashmir are known to one and all, sites such as the Harwan Monastery ruins add to the wholeness of its grandeur, testifying the rich variegation of the region’s tapestry of history and cultures.
Nandini Sen, Content Writer
First Wine Now Bars: Will Mafias Take Over Every Trade in J&K?
The Wine Association of Jammu constantly raised their voice against the new excise policy. Still, due to the influence of mafias from other states, the UT introduced the policy. A similar case is happening with the bars of Jammu, which have been closed for the past 15 days. The UT Government has asked the bar’s owners/operators to get their license to renew, and for the renewal, the government has issued several guidelines.
There is a guideline that all the bars and hotels have bars to have proper parking space among the guidelines. However, around 80% of bars and restaurants don’t have a parking facility. So the question arises: where was the government when the plan for such bars/restaurants was passed?
Regarding the same JK Media executive talked with the Wine Association President. While speaking, he said, “these bars have been established for many years, and now the government is asking them to make parking facilities. How’s this possible? The NOC procedure is only for the first time when the licenses for the bar has to issue. The UT government is trying to destroy J&K. We demand that the government revise the excise policy”.
Over 80.13 cr COVID-19 vaccine doses provided to states, UTs: Centre
More than 80.13 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses have been provided to states and union territories, out of which, more than 4.52 crore balance and unutilised doses are still available with them, informed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Wednesday.
As per the information shared by the ministry, the Centre has provided 80,13,26,335 vaccine doses to the states and union territories so far (free of cost channel) through the direct state procurement category and 48 lakh doses are in the pipeline.
“4,52,07,660 balance and unutilised vaccine doses are still available with the states and union territories to be administered,” it stated.
“In the new phase of the universalisation of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, the Central government will procure and supply (free of cost) 75 per cent of the vaccines being produced by the vaccine manufacturers in the country to states and union territories,” it added.
The new phase of universalisation of COVID-19 vaccination commenced on June 21, 2021, to ramp up the speed of vaccination in the country.
Meanwhile, 82.65 crore COVID vaccine doses have been administered so far in the country under a nationwide vaccination drive.
J&K Sees a Huge Jump in Positivity Rate Since Mid-August
Coronavirus cases in Srinagar have shown over a two hundred per cent increase since mid-August as the positivity rate has gone up from 0.5 per cent to 1.34 per cent, reveals official data. This massive jump in positivity rate comes when reports of violation of COVID Appropriate Behavior (CAB) pour in from different areas of the district.
Nodal Officer COVID mitigation Srinagar Owais Mushtaq said that the positivity rate has jumped from 0.5 per cent to 1.35 per cent since mid-August this year. He informed that Srinagar has 773 active cases, 54 are under hospital quarantine, and the rest are in-home quarantine.
The district administration maintains records of the COVID19 cases daily, and then the data is also used to culminate records to assess the COVID19 situation. In just seven days, Srinagar reported 474 positive cases, the highest among all-district. Moreover, the daily data issued by authorities reveal that Srinagar has said the highest number of cases among all districts of Kashmir during these seven days.
The medical experts believe that the main reason for the spread of infection is the delta variant coupled with non-adherence to CAB. Mushtaq stressed that CAB is a must to avoid or minimise the predicted third wave of coronavirus. “Most of the people are seen without facemasks in markets and public transport. At some markets, social distancing is also going for a toss,” he said.
- First Wine Now Bars: Will Mafias Take Over Every Trade in J&K? September 22, 2021
- Over 80.13 cr COVID-19 vaccine doses provided to states, UTs: Centre September 22, 2021
- J&K Sees a Huge Jump in Positivity Rate Since Mid-August September 22, 2021
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