Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ananda meets Madhyantika - Buddhism in Kashmir - 1


I have almost reached the end of studying Buddhist history of Kashmir. Before, I start giving out the finding, in this post I am sharing something from the beginning of the beginning.

Background

The story of Buddhism in Kashmir starts with Ananda, a cousin of Buddha, and perhaps his last attendant. After the death of Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held to formalize the teachings of Buddha. This council was headed by Mahakashyapa, the oldest and most senior follower of Buddha. Ananda, being the youngest and closest to Buddha, was asked to recall all the sayings of the monk who himself just wanted each man to fend for himself and strive for his own Nirvana.

Ananda was the man who sent Madhyantika to Kashmir and Gandhara for spreading the message of Buddha. Ananda had been foretold about coming of Madhyantika by Buddha.

It was Madhyantika who converted Nagas and introduced Saffron cultivation to Kashmir. It was also Madhyantika who introduced "householders" from outside to Kashmir.

This much and more we know from various to Buddhist sources.


The Images

In 1851, the British archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham, who previously in 1848 had already dug up much history in Kashmir,  went excavating at the 3rd century BCE Asokan Buddhist complex in Sanchi - the place now known simply as Sanchi Stupa. He published his finding in 1854 as "The Bhilsa topes; or, Buddhist monuments of central India" [here] For the first time, using archaeological evidence of inscriptions, the Buddhist texts were vindicated. There were inscriptions naming Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Madhyantika and many more. The inscriptions of Sanchi had earlier helped decipher the Brahmi script in 1837 by James Princep. The still biggest surprise from Sanchi proved to be the discovery of urns containing the bones of these men. He found the bones of the man who introduced Buddha to Kashmir, and to the rest of the world.*

Cunningham also gave a brief description of carvings on the gates to the Stupa.

On South Gate, he found something interesting in a scene depicting a king venerating a relic casket:

"In the back ground two male figures and one female figure with a round cap similar to those worn by the Kashmiri women of the present day."


We can't say anything definitive about Cunningham's observation here except for that his time in Kashmir must have made him notice Kashmir in this image. Albeit. the ear-rings on the woman with the round cap do look even more Kashmirian.

However, there is another image which I believe he completely misread and consequently has been overlooked by experts[1].

On the left pillar of Easter gate he noticed what he called the "Boat Scene".



He interpreted the scene as:

"Sakya's Nirvana. — A boat is represented on the ocean ; containing- three persons ; one rower, one steersman, and one passenger, all of whom are clad in the costume of the higher ranks of Buddhist ascetics. In the right and left upper corners there are trees ; and scattered about in the waters there are lotus flowers, alligators, ducks, and shells. On the shore below are represented four figures also in a religious garb ; one with dishevelled hair and uplifted arms; and the others, who wear caps, with hands clasped together in attitudes of devotion. In the right hand corner below is a tree with an altar. This scene I have already described in my account of Sakya's death. The passenger is, I think, Sakya Muni, who is represented, after the attainment of Nirvana, or freedom from transmigration, as being- wafted over the waters which are said to surround this transitory world. The figures on the shore are a Bhikshu of the lower grade, bewailing- the departure of Sakya with dishevelled hair and uplifted arms, which, from the accounts given in the Pali  annals would seem to have been the customary manner of expressing- grief at that period. The other figures are Bhikshus who had attained the higher grade of Arahat, and who comforted themselves with the reflection that "all transitory things are perishable." The difference of rank is known by the bare head of the mourner, and the capped heads of the others; a distinction which still prevails in Tibet, where the lower grades Ge-thsul and Chhos-pa invariably go bare-headed, whilst all the Lamas (or higher grades), including the Grand Lama himself, have their heads covered."
I believe he got the description all right but interpreted it all wrong. I believe the figure is not Sakyamuni. It's not ocean, but a river, not any river, but the Ganga with lotus and alligators (animal always associated with Ganga). That's the key to the scene, that and the piece of "land" floating in the river, in between the boatmen and the men on the shore. This is the exact scene narrated in various Buddhist texts dealing with the meeting of Ananda with Madhyantika.

It is said that when his end was near Ananda got on a boat in Ganges river, ready to leave his body. He got in a boat because he was worried that once he dies, people would fight over his remains. King Ajatashatru wanted the remains and so did his rivals Lichchhavis, the clan of Vaishali. Just as he was about to leave the body, a Rishi arrived at shore along with his 500 followers and asked to be ordained. Ananda had been foretold about this event by Buddha. Ananda accepted and through his spiritual power materialized a patch of land in middle of the river**. The Rishi and his followers were thus brought into the Sangh and came to be known as Madhyantika, which literally translates to "mid-day~mid-river".  Then Ananda told their leader about Buddha's prophecy  about Kashmir. Anand dies and his ash remains are peacefully divided. Madhyantika heads for the Kashmir with his follower and comes to be known as the preacher of Sarvastivada "the theory of all exists" Buddhism.**


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1. French scholar Alfred Foucher assumed it depicted conversion of Kashypa Brothers. 

*
Even though believed to have been lost, sunk at sea, the remains were later traced down to V&A Museum in Britain. Some were brought back to India by Nehru in 1950s [Mahāmaudgalyāyana's remains are in Sanchi ]. But, the remains of Madhyantika remain in Britain.

** Possibly Mount Ahogariga of Buddhist legends, somewhere in Upper Ganga, possibly Mathura.

***A parallel story coming from other Buddhist sources, repeated by Hiuen Tsang tells us about a sect of presumably Sarvastivada saints of Mathura who were going to be drowned in Ganga by Ashoka for teaching a deviant theory of Buddhism. The monks magically fly away to Kashmir before they are killed. The King is repentant, wants them to come back. They refuse. The King then supports their missionary activities in Kashmir.


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Keys to a house not There

Guest post by Pratush Koul, one of the younger reader who is sharing his bits and pieces. This one for "things that crossed over" series.


 Grandfather's Matriculation certificate from Panjab University, Lahore.



At the time the results were announced, partition had taken place and the students in India were later given these certificate from Solan. The result had been announced in 1947 but due to the migration and teachers moving across the border... the issuance of certificates was delayed. 

Just prior to the violence of 1947, my Grandfather Dwarka Nath Koul had a job offer that would have taken him to Muzzafarabad. Somehow he didn't take the offer, which later turned out to be a blessing. His mother's brother, Mama Ji, Jiya Lal Pandita was a renowned priest in Sharda village and  died in the violence of that year.

This was not the only 1947 tragedy in the family. My father tells me:

In 1947, when the Kaabali raid was going on his Nanaji, Niranjan Nath Raina (called taetha) and family were living in Pattan near Baramulla and when the Kabaalis reached their village, the whole of the area was reduced to ashes. Nanaji's father was hiding somewhere in drygrass and he was burnt alive. Nanaji then shifted to Srinagar. My dad's Nanaji had a lot of land back then but due to the "land to tiller" law, they lost most of the land in 50s. 



As per my elementary urdu (taught by grandfather) - the name on cover is "aman Umeed ki rah". 

My grandfather once found this inside his trunk in Jammu and told me that he got it from some Christian missionaries back in Srinagar, back when they used to give these away for free in Buses and Matadors. Around late 1970s-80s.

My father was born in Amira Kadal. We lived there till 70s. Then, brick by brick,  he built a small new house in Habba Kadal. He lived in that house for only seven years.
The violence of late 80s seems "normal" to them, Kashmir had lately seen lot of such violence. But, the killing of Tikka Lal Taploo brought the violence too close to home. Then there were other signs. My mother was working in Social welfare department at the time and was posted in Baramulla. It was in Baramulla, she was one day advised by a Muslim office clerk to leave early as there was going to be trouble in the town. She travelled from Baramulla to Srinagar in an "azaadi procession" bus. She hid her ears rings and took off her bindi. Identifiers of her religion and boarded the bus screaming, "Azaadi". Soon after these event, mother and my grandparents shifted to Jammu. My father later joined them, leaving Kashmir on a Chetak scooter. 
The house he built was burnt down somewhere in 90s.



I visited the house in Habba Kadal in 2014 with my father. I was 15 years old at the time and traveling to the place where my house once stood. The house was sold under distress.



I have among my possessions a very special thing which is responsible for keeping the "Kashmir" alive in me...it is the most valuable thing which is dearest to my heart and cannot be compared with any other thing.

I didn't have the chance to see personally my Kashmir house as it was reduced to rubble like many other pandit houses... My dad found these keys inside an old box while we were painting our house in Jammu... I could see the attachment of Kashmir in his eyes when they held these keys... I asked my parents about it, they then sat me down and told me about each key and which door and lock they unlocked. They also became quite sad to realize that these keys couldn't serve their function anymore. It was then given to me.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mansur al-Hallaj in Kashmir?

Burning of Mansur al-Hallaj.
A leaf from an illustrated manuscript on poetry
Kashmir, 19th century.
via: christies


"Mansur hangs because pen is in the hand of tyrant"
~ Rumi

There is a widely and newly found belief in Kashmir that Mansur al-Hallaj (857-922) visited Kashmir in 896 AD.[1]

The source of the claim comes from "The Passion of Al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam by Louis Massignon" translated and edited by Herbert Mason (1982/94).

In the section "Other Regions travelled" under the section of India it read:

"The capital of Qashmir [Kashmir] is the only sure point on Hallaj's itinert, around 283, in the northwest of India, which we know he reached by the way of the sea, either via Daybul (near present-day Karachi), or via the balad al-shirk, to the east of Gujrat, between Bihruj and Qanbaya. Via Daybul, he went directly up the valley of the India via Mansura-Multan, Muslim towns."

It is an interesting claim because just over a hundred years later, Al-Biruni, the scribe of Mahmud Ghazni during his visit to India in 1017 A.D. writes: "...in former times, they used to allow one or two foreigners to enter their country, particularly Jews, but at present do not allow any Hindu whom they do not know personally to enter, much less other people."

What Al-Biruni testifies here is that Kashmiris had closed their gates to foreigners in 11th century just as Islam was making inroads all around them. Biruni does mention that previously a few foreigners could find their way into Kashmir, however, the question is was Hallaj one of them?

Boston University scholar of Islamic studies Herbert Mason (1932- 2017) was the first one to make the claim based on his abridged translation of French pioneering scholar of Islam Louis Massignon's  "La passion d'al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour al-Hallaj : martyr mystique de l'Islam, exécuté à Bagdad le 26 mars 922" (1920).

Louis Massignon, a Catholic, is widely credited for getting Islam accepted as an Abrahamic Faith. It was his work on Islam that ensured that Catholics and the wider world got a version of Islam in which it was seen in a more positive light. Prior to his work, Islam was seen as a "forged "version of Abrahamic religions. He made peace with Islam. It is no surprise that he was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and in 1930s set up Amis de Gandhi [Friends of Gandhi] association in France.

It was Massignon that brought Hallaj out of obscurity and into public consciousness as prominent figure of Islamic history. So, what does the original 1920 book by Massignon say about Hallaj's visit to Kashmir. Here's in French the section Le passage en Qashmîr:
"il est probable qu'ai Hallâj passa directement de l'Inde en Khorâsân, en remontant vers le nord, d'abord par la vallée de l'Indus, ensuite parle Cachemire, alors païen. C'est du moins ce qu'on peut inférer de l'apologue suivant:"

The operations word he uses is "il est probable", "c'est du" and "l'apologue"

The translation:

It is probable that Hallaj passed directly from India to Khorâsân, going up north, first by the valley of the Indus, and then Kashmir, which was then pagan. It is at least what can be inferred from the following apologue.

Massignon unlike Herbert Mason is more cautious about the claim. Mason in his edition casually translates "probable" as "only sure". Since a reader is least likely to get his hand on original French edition, most people like Kashmiri writer Mohammad Ishaq Khan have gone ahead assumed that Massignon is saying it with surety. There are many reasons why Massignon is cautious as the theory is based on an l'apologue or a fable found in a 13th century work "Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā" (Biographies of Saints) by Attar of Nishapur (1145). In this book Attar had given biographies of various Sufis and ends with the death of Hallaj. Attar of Nishapur died a violent death in 1221 at the hands of Mongols who were out to seek revenge on the city after Genghis Khan's son-in-law died in the city. Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā is the only prose work by Attar that survived and proved to the source of most of the tales of Hallaj that we now know. 

Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā was the primary source for the biography of Hallaj drawn by Massignon. Massignon used multiple sources (including a late work Hallaj Nama published in Lucknow and its source Abel Pavet de Courteille's Tezkereh-i-Evliâ. Le Mémorial des Saints (1890) based on a Uighur manuscript) for piecing together the story of Hallaj but the primary source (including for the section on Kashmir) was manuscript published and edited by English orientalist R. A. Nicholson in 1905. 

According to Attar's account of Hallaj as translated by Massignon to French, this is how Kashmir figures in the story: 
Un jour, le shaykh 'Abdallah al Toroûghabdhî ,de la ville de Tous, avait étendu la nappe, et rompait le pain avec ses disciples, quand Mansoûr Hallâj arria de la villede Kashmîr, vêtu d'une qabà noire, tenant en laisse deux chiens noirs.
[Using Google Translate]

"One day, the Shaykh 'Abdallah al Torughabdhi, of the city of Tous, had spread the tablecloth, and was about to break bread with his disciples, when Mansour Hallaj arrived from the city Of Kashmir, dressed in a black qabà [robe], holding on leash two Black dogs."

From here comes the famous story about dogs and Hallaj. Disciples of Torughabdhi are shocked that he gave his seat at the table to someone who eats and walks with dogs (something that would still not taken kindly in Islamic societies, including in Kashmir). And then comes the famous reply, "these dogs were his nafs, they remained outside him, and walked after him; while our dogs remain within ourselves, and we follow them ... His dogs are Outside and you can see them; Yours are hidden. "

The entire theory of Hallaj visiting Kashmir is based in this line - "quand Mansoûr Hallâj arria de la villede Kashmîr/ when Mansour Hallaj arrived from the city Of Kashmir" to Toos.

Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā also informs us that Indians wrote to Hallaj addressing him as"Abu Moghith" [succorer/helper].


In Attar's 13th century work Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā, Hallaj is said to have travelled to India to learn magic tricks so that he could bring in more people into Islamic fold. Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) writing in 13th century about his travels with Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan mentions that the Khan had Kashmiri conjurers in his court [probably Buddhist Bakshis, which appear in 13th century Ilkhanid mongol empire of Iran as mongols turn to Islam from Buddhism] . According to him Kashmiris could "make statues speak, change the weather, and bring darkness."

In Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā, Hallaj is seen to be performing many miracles and it is said that people in Mecca accused him of dealing with Jinns. In western terms, Hallaj is the most famous "witch-burning" case from Islamic world.  It seems Nishpur at the time was under control of Hanafite adversaries of Hallaj so he was visiting Toos

In his footnote to the section, Massignon does mention the curious claim by Al Beruni about restrictions on visiting Kashmir. Massignon understood that tales of Sufis are often exaggerated and was cautious while presenting the story. 

We can't be sure if Hallaj visited Kashmir, can't be sure if people believed it in 13th century when Attar wrote his biography because it is equally possible that Kashmir appeared in a later manuscript.  We can be sure that some Kashmiris would like to believe it to be true, at least since 1994.

In all this long tale of Hallaj in Kashmir what is really worth noting is that in the same 13th century Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā of Attar, a Kashmiri also makes an appearance. But, no one seems to have noticed it. Or found it worth mentioning. Perhaps because Kashmiri appears as a salve. In the biography of Abu Uthman al-Hiri of Nishpur, a contemporary of Hallaj, in a story, we are casually hold he had four slaves: a Greek, an Ethiopian, a Turk and a Kashmiri.

The question: What were Kashmiri slaves doing in 10th century Iran? Or, what were Kashmiri slaves doing in stories told of Sufis in 13th century Iran? 

Isn't this first mention of a Kashmiri in a Sufi tale?

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1. Kashmir's Transition to Islam: The Role of Muslim Rishis, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century (1994) Mohammad Ishaq Khan

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Ref:

La passion d'al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour al-Hallaj

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