Wednesday, November 20, 2019





(A painting on display inside Rubin Museum of Art, New York. Accession No..F1997.41.1)

For many reasons, I remain an admirer of Buddhist Philosopher Nagarjuna and his Madhyamika ( middle way ) School of Mahayana Buddhism. Nagarjuna's 'Doctrine of Emptiness .'( Shunyata)' has been a profound influence all over the world over. 

Nagarjuna's most famous text is his Mulamadhyamakakarika or Root Verses of the Middle Way, which presents in twenty-seven chapters an initially challenging, but extremely clear reasoning of how beings lack inherent existence and how this lack extends to samsara, nirvana, and even Buddha.

Nagarjuna’s exact birth and death years are not known but it is generally believed that he lived around 150 AD to 250 AD or between the 2nd and third centuries. Scholars have different opinions about his birthplace and background though most of them believe him to be from the southern part of the country. What have scholars to say about some clear references to Nagarjuna's Kashmir connection in Kalhana's Rajtarangini? I quote two verses:-

"And a Bodhisattva was in this country the sole supreme ruler of the land; he was illustrious Nagarjuna who dwelt in Sadarhadvana."
(Verse 173 Taranga I Rajatarangini )

"During this era, the power of the Buddhists whom the wise Bodhisattva Nagarjuna had protected predominated in the land ."
(Verse 177 Taranga I Rajatarangini )

It is pertinent to add that Kalhana calls him Bodhisattva; a  reverence and status that is generally granted to a person who is able to reach Nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings. In this way, such illuminated souls move towards Buddhahood.

And then Sadarhadvana is present-day Harwan area of Kashmir. A Kushana period Buddhist settlement and grand monastery have been excavated at Harwan. This ancient monastery played a pivotal role in the history of Buddhism as the 4th Buddhist council of the Mahayana (Sarvastivada) school of Buddhism was held sometime in the 1st or 2nd century CE, on the orders of the Kushana emperor Kanishka I. The probable residence of Nagarjuna was also excavated at Harwan in Kashmir during 1925 excavations. In his book 'Ancient Monuments of Kashmir ', RC Kak writes:-

"The only period when Kashmir had any intimate connection with Central Asia was during the supremacy of the Kushans in the early centuries of the Christian era when Kashmir formed part of the Kushan empire, which extended from Mathura in India to Yarkand in Central Asia. Indeed, then as now it appears to have occupied a pre-eminent position; in as much as Kanishka (circa A.D. 125), the greatest of Kushan emperor is said to have convened here his great council of Buddhist divines. It may be that some pious and prosperous Kushan built this shrine at Harwan, where, according to the ancient history of Kashmir, resided the great Buddhist patriarch, Nagarjuna. "

We need to work on Nagarjuna’s Kashmir link so that it can be said conclusively that like Kumarajiva, Nagarjuna too belonged to Kashmir. Many clear indicators also point in this direction.

(Avtar Mota)


Mirza Ghalib’s poetry also bears the influence of Nagarjuna. Let me elaborate on the link. Ghalib was highly influenced by the Persian poet Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil ( 1642-1720 ). Bedil was a Sufi poet of Indian School or what is known as ‘SABK E HINDI’ . He had done wide study of ancient Indian Philosophers and the Influence of Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna is evident in the Persian poetry of Bedil. I quote a couplet of Bedil:-

’Aumrîst kî sargarm-e bayân-e heechîm
tumâr gushâyee dâstân-e heechim
bâ nâmi az ân mîyân, zi mâ qane’a bâsh
mâ qâsed-e paighâm-e jahân-e heechîm

( Bedil )

Across ages, we are being amused at expressing worthlessness
and we are the opener of pages of the stories of nothingness
You could expect nothing from us, but name,
we are the messengers of the world of nothingness.
(Translation Nasim Fekrat .. courtesy Kabul Diary )

The quatrain reflects Nagarjuna’s ‘ Doctrine of emptiness ’. Bedil was also influenced by the Advait Philosophy of Adi Sankara. Apart from Sohrab Sepehri ( 1928 –1980) well known Iranian poet and painter, Dr. Zabihollah Safa ( 1911 - 1999 ) Iranian scholar known the world over had also been a great admirer of Nagarjuna.

Kumarjiva, another scholar  and exponent of Nagarjuna's Madhyamika School of Mahayana Buddhism was a kashmiri .Kumarjiva lived in China  where he spread  Damma (Dharma ) and knowledge.

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