Monday, July 17, 2017


                                             ( Metallic Harihara from Kashmir )
                                                  ( Copper Prabhavali from Kashmir )
                                        ( Stone sculpture of Vishnu as Varaha from Kashmir )
                                                 ( A fragment of VishavrupaVishnu recovered from Kashmir )




The valley of Kashmir has been a great centre of Vaishnavism. There is enough literary evidence for this belief. Books such as the Nilamata Purana.' the Kuttanimata Kavya of Damodaragupta, the Samayamatrika and the Dasavataracaritam of Kshemendra and the Rajatarangini of Kalhana establish it all. These texts inform about the popularity of the cult of Vishnu in early mediaeval Kashmir. Lord Vishnu became the predominant divinity in Kashmir during the period of the Karkota kings. Noted scholar Dr S S Toshakhani writes this:-


“Despite their reverence for Buddha, Karkota rulers of Kashmir were worshippers of Shiva and Vishnu. So were the rulers of the Utpala dynasty, who were ardent followers of Vaishnavism. With Buddhism receding to the background, Shaivism and Vaishnavism gained a dominant position along with the worship of other Hindu gods. Festivals and rituals connected with them gained more popularity, impacting social life in many ways including a renaissance in art and architecture.”


Like Shiva, Vishnu  is also seen in many stone sculptures of Kashmir. One can see Vishnu sculptures from Kashmir in various forms and styles on display at the S P S Museum, Srinagar and also in many  museums of the UK  and the US. These forms could be listed as:-


(1)   Vaikuntha -Vishnu 

 (2) Madhusudana -Vishnu (the destroyer of the demons  Madhu and Kaitabha)

 (3) Standing Vishnu

 (4) Sesayi - Vishnu (Vishnu is believed to have attained this shape at the end of Maha Pralaya    or the great deluge of universal dissolution)

 (5) Hayagriva -Vishnu (horse-headed Vishnu )

 (6) Varaha-Vishnu

 (7) Vamana-Vishnu

 (8) Natasha –Vishnu

(9) Vishavarupa- Vishnu


The British Museum , London has a 9th century  sculpture from Kashmir that shows Viṣhṇu as Varaha . This fragmented / broken sculpture has been done in  stone (schist). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York has a 6th century stone sculpture of Vishavrupa Vishnu  from  Kashmir. This idol is displayed at gallery number 237 on the first floor. The idol is fragmented. In this sculpture, Lord Vishnu is shown with ten arms and three faces. He is attended by his lion and boar Avatars, Narasimha and Varaha, along with multiple other forms. Vishavarupa Vishnu is the supreme form of Lord Vishnu where the whole universe is described as contained in him. In Kashmir, Vishvarupa Vishnu was sculpted strictly following the guidelines laid down in the Vishnudharmottara Purana, which text prescribes three heads: a human (centre), a lion (the head of Narasimha, the man-lion Avatar of Vishnu) and a boar (the head of  Varaha, the boar avatar of Vishnu) and multiple arms. 


Lord Vishnu as Trivikrama has been mostly sculpted in the southern parts of the country. The early Chalukya rulers sculpted it inside the Badami cave temples of Karnataka . However, we find some  Vishnu  Trivikrama sculptures in Kashmir as well most possibly sculpted during the rule of the Karkota dynasty. Trivikrama Vishnu, who in three steps encompassed the earth, the atmosphere and the sky and gained rulership of the universe. The scriptures inform us that Vishnu assumed the form of the dwarf Vamana and extracted a promise from the demon King Bali and asked that he could have as much land he could cover in three steps. When Bali agreed, Vamana transformed himself into the giant Trivikrama and covered the earth with one stride, the mid-world between the earth and heaven with a second stride and with his third he stepped onto Bali and sent him to the underworld. In this way, Lord  Vishnu re-established himself as the master of the universe.


Ancient and mediaeval Kashmir had a grand tradition of Shiva and Vishnu worship. Many  Shiva and Vishnu sculptures were created in stone and metal alloys. In line with the prevailing practice in the subcontinent at that time, the Kashmiri sculptors also created a single image of Shankara and Narayana known as Hari-Hara or Shankarnarayan. This suited the  Vaishnavites and Shaivites of Kashmir .Many museums the world over have Hari-Hara sculptures from various kingdoms of ancient and mediaeval India. Some Hari-Hara sculptures from Kashmir can be seen in the museums of the US , UK and Germany. In the  Museen Dahlem  (Dahlem Museums), Berlin (Germany), there are some sculptures relating to the ancient and mediaeval Kashmir. A 9th  century soapstone sculpture of  Hari-Hara   from Kashmir is worth mentioning.

 Evidence suggests that the  ancient Shiva Temple at Buniyaar was originally dedicated to Vishnu . The  craftsmanship of this temple depicts  early Kashmiri Temple  Architecture. Due to  neglect, the  temple is in total  dilapidated condition at the moment .

Images of Vishnu can be distinctly seen on the outer wall of the sanctum sanctorum of Martand Sun Temple  . Though dedicated to Sun god , the temple has some stone  carved  images of Vishnu that are  still visible to naked eye .

The most significant discovery from Kashmir has been a Prabhavali called ‘Vaishnava Avatar’. This Vaishnava- Avatar frame which is Prabhavali   in dark copper alloy, a gem of an artefact of Kashmir origin relating to the 6th or 7th century AD was dug out by the archaeologist Madhusudan Koul Shastri in Devsar, Kashmir in 1930. Some experts believe it to be a 9th century masterpiece created during the rule of  Shankarvarman in Kashmir. Devsar, which is near Kulgam had been in the past a great centre for the casting of bronze images and other metal works.  Prabhavali was used for decorating the stone images of Vishnu in Kashmir. This Prabhavali has two holes: one for the head and the other for the body of the  Vishnu idol.  This Prabhavali is said to be an amazing piece of decorated copper alloy ever discovered. While weighing about 100 kg, it measures  6’4″ in  height , 4′ in width and  about  1’2″ in its thickness . As the name suggests,  it shows various Avatars of Vishnu. Each of the deity cast on it has great detailing. It is a shining example of Kashmiri metal craftsmanship of that period. This sculpture is one of its kind in Kashmir and probably in India as well,  and is rated as one of the most significant archaeological finds in the Indian subcontinent. 

 Kalhana’s Rajatarangini  informs us about Temples of  of Vishnu Jayaswamin and Vishnu Ranaswamin  built by King Pravarsena II and King Ranaditya  respectively.Kalhana also  mentions Vishnu Malhaswamin ,Vishnu Durlabhswamin, Vishnu Tribhuvanaswamin and Vishnu Gambhiraswamin   as shrines of that period dedicated to Vishnu. According to Kalhana’s Rajtaringini,  King  Laitaditya built the temple of Vishnu  Parihaskeshwa at Parihaaspora  in shining silver and gold with a Garuda ( an emblem of Vishnu ) at the top of the Temple complex.  Verses 201 and 202 of the  fourth Taranga of Kalhana’s Rajtaringini explicitly mention that 84000 Tolas of gold were used for the statue of Mukta Keshwa. And an equal silver by weight was used for the statue of Parihaskeshwa.  
Busts and heads  of Vishnu have also been recovered from Vijeyshwara ( vejbror ) temple ruins .Bhima , the illustrious king of Sahi dynasty built the shrine of Bhimakeshva. Queen Sugandha ( 904-906 AD ) also built a temple dedicated to Vishnu that came to be known as Vishnu Gopalakeshava . Queen Didda also founded some Vishnu shrines  prominent being  Vishnu Simhaswamin , Vishnu Abhimanyuswamin  and Vishnu Diddaswamin.
The Vaishnava trait of preservation of creation formed a dominant trait of Kashmiri society during ancient and Mediaeval periods. These traits could be feeding birds, planting trees, feeding animals and not killing a snakes .The names of some lakes , places and peaks in Kashmir establish the overriding presence of Vaishnavism in ancient and mediaeval Kashmir . River Veshav that forms the Aharbal waterfall in Kashmir was known as Vishnu Padh . In Sonamarg  area, a lake is still known as Vishnu - Sar.

( Avtar Mota )

Creative Commons License

CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
Based on a work at http:\\\.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.