Kashmir (Buddhist Pilgrimages )
Kashmir has been an active part in the spread of Buddhism since the very early days of the faith’s onset. Also, some of
the most important sources of information on the time, place, and Buddhism, Chinese travellers following the route
from Tibet and Ladakh first entered the country through Kashmir. Throughout its history, Kashmir has enjoyed prosperity and affluence.
Kashmir is part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is the northern most state of India, and the official language is Urdu.
Other languages widely spoken include Hindi, English, and Kashmiri. The atmosphere and view of Kashmir varies greatly as the seasons change
through the year, each change bringing a new and as scintillating permutation of the valley, if not more, than the previous one.
Spring comes to Kashmir between the months of March and May, and brings with it a burst of colour that sweeps the entire valley
and makes it hard to look away from. Spring flows into summer, which last till the end of the August. The gardens of Srinagar
are said to be at their finest during this season. From September till December, the landscape of Kashmir bears witness to
autumn and all its poetry, and there are just as many who believe that there is no finer time to visit the Kashmir valley.
In December winter dawns, and covers everything everywhere in a deafening shade of white and muting snow takes over all over.
Again, there exist in the world many lovers of this landscape who wouldn’t want to see it any other way. One’s experience of
Kashmir, to put it a certain way, depends largely on when one visits it.
Surendra was the first Buddhist ruler of Kashmir. The first viharas and Buddhist monuments erected in Kashmir were
built under his patronage. After Surendra, the next influential figure to come from royalty who turned his attention to Kashmir
was Ashoka the Great. The 3rd century BCE ruler is accredited with having established the city of Srinagar and the Buddhist and
Shaivite faiths are said to have coexisted in the Kashmir amicably under his patronage. In the years after Ashoka’s rule Buddhism
saw a decline in popularity, as Hinduism and its various sects underwent a revival of sorts in many different parts of the country.
It has been speculated that several monks from the more affluent cities fled to Kashmir during this time owing to the lack of
royal patronage presented to them. It has also been speculated that Madhyantika, a disciple of Ananda, was responsible
for the introduction of Sravastivad Buddhism to Kashmir. Interestingly, during the Kushana period, Kashmir witnessed a
rather emphatic return to popularity and societal validation. The renowned philosopher Nagarjuna is said to have resided here during
this period, and under the ruler of King Kanishka, the Fourth Buddhist council was held in Kashmir, under the presidency of Katyayaniputra.
In the years that followed, Buddhist continued to compete with Shaivism for the dominant patronageof the area, and the two
took turns at being ahead in the said endeavour, until the rule of Meghavahana, a member of the old ruling dynasties of Kashmir,
and an intense patron of the Buddhist faith. Shortly after its revival, the Chinese traveller Xuangzang arrived in Kashmir
from Tibet. Since at the time of his arrival Buddhism was already widespread in the Kashmir valley, from here he proceeded
to Harsha’s empire to learn more about the philosophy. With the advent of Mughal rule in the subcontinent, a much more decisive
downfall of the patronage, unparalleled in intensity, came about. The popularity of the faith decreased in Kashmir like everywhere else.
Places of interest in Kashmir :
Throughout the state, one can find a treasure trove of trekking routes, and angling enthusiasts will also
instantly fall in love with the place. For the mellower of the touristic crowds, too, there is plenty to see in
the paradise on earth known as the Kashmir Valley.
Srinagar: lying in the western Kashmir valley along the banks of the river Jhelum, Srinagar is the capital of the state
and the home of the exquisite Mughal Gardens.
Gulmarg: loosely translated, the name means “flower-filled meadow”, and it is located around 56 km away from downtown Kashmir.
Roads are a good mode of transport and buses are available in plenty for the transfers.
Pahalgam: the picturesque plains of Pahalgam come complete with old world luxuries like horse-riding, if one fells so inclined.
Places of interest near Kashmir:
Ladakh: approximately 400 km away, Ladakh is every bit as breathtaking as Kashmir, and houses a significantly greater material treasure in terms of Buddhist history. The landscape is quite similar to that of Kashmir, and the two places were at one point of time consecutive stops in a trade route that greatly influenced the outreach of Buddhism.
Kaushambhi: located roughly 1800km to the south of Kashmir, Kaushambhi is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh and revered by Buddhists for the amount of time the Buddha spent here after his enlightenment. It is the site for the delivery of many of his sermons. One can also find one of the many famous Ashokan pillars here, the emperor having sanctioned the construction and instructing Pali inscription on it.
Kushinagar: also located in Uttar Pradesh, Kushinagar holds tremendous value for Buddhists. It was the site of the Buddha’s last sermon, and the place where he attained parinirvana (nirvana in death). Kushinagar is roughly around 1900 km away from Kashmir, further beyond Kaushambhi.
Airways - Srinagar airport is an international airport, and is approximately 350 km away. Other domestic options include the airports at Leh and Jammu, at distances of about 120 km and 630 km respectively.
Railways -the closest railway station is at Jammu, approximately 600 km away from Kashmir. It is called the Jammu Tawri station, and is rather well connected to rail network linking it to rest of the country.
Roadways - Jammu and Kashmir have a well spread and immensely scenic road network, although a lot of it gets rather treacherous in the colder seasons. Road networks are connected well enough to facilitate road journeys from major cities such as New Delhi.