Throughout last century, Kashmiri researchers had been trying to pinpoint the spot where the fourth Buddhist conference took place almost two millennia ago. But most of the Buddhist sites were taken over during the Hindu era, burying whatever could have been around. Kashmir’s cultural historian Muhammad Yusuf Taing believes the outcome of the conference lays buried in the Kundalwan belt of South Kashmir. Originally written in Kashmiri, the text was rendered into English by Mohammad Shafi Khan
Buddhism has showered blessings on Kashmir for about a millennium. It remained the dominant creed of Kashmir from 400-300 BC up to 500-600 AD. Kashmir became centre of this humanistic faith to the extent that it was from this place Buddhist Prohits, Arahat and Acharaya, carried the message of Buddhism to every accessible parts of the world.
It was Kashmiri professors’ of Buddhism who disseminated truth and righteousness underlying this faith to the world. With their sincere devotional efforts this humane faith reached Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, Japan, Mongolia and Korea.
Accordingly, in due course of time, the chant of Buddhist mantra: Buddham Saranam Gachaami, gained tremendous momentum in these countries.
The majority of people in these countries continue embracing Buddhism even now. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhārtha Gautama was the prince of Kapilavastu, which is now the Indian state of Bihar. Gautama was born more than four hundred years before Christ.
From early childhood, he had an invisible divine calling. One night during his princedom, bidding adieu for good to his royal palace, his parents, to his consort and offspring, leaving everything among the desolate places to heal the pin of his soul and to discover the truth. At that time the caste system of the Brahmanic cult had torn apart the society.
But Gautama considered all humans as one, of one single category, of the ascetic practices and mediation for a long time, exhausted to the utmost; he sat one day under a tree in Bihar at a place now known as Bodhgaya. Thinking and contemplating deeply he felt that the essence of his inner being had been realized and illuminated by the radiant energy of truth. It was after this experience that he started to propagate his dharma.
He became known by the name of Buddha – The wise, all seeing, enlightening one. He was heard and his word appealed the heart and mind of the distracted and perplexed people of that age. The folks were so powerfully attracted by this fresh calling that they began entering the Buddha’s fold in multitude after multitude. While Pundits watched, the Buddha’s creed became biggest dharma of that age.
At the age of eighty Buddha achieved his deliverance (nirvana). He was dead. It was Ashoka the great who brought Buddhism to Kashmir. In the 3rd century BC Ashoka’s rule extended from the Patli Putar, which is today’s Patna, up to Taxila. Taxila is situated in the neighbourhood of Kashmir. When Ashoka conquered Kashmir he laid foundation of Srinagar city at a place now called Panderthan.
(Mohammad Yusuf Taing)
This is why Srinagar is acknowledged as the second oldest city after Kashi (Banaras) in the subcontinent. In the first century of the Christian era Kashmir was conquered by the Kushan kings of the East Turkistan.
Of the Kushans, the greatest was the emperor Kanishka on whose coins ‘Shahanshaku Kushano Shahru’ words were inscribed.
These coins are today preserved in the museum of Srinagar. In Kanishka’s time there were differences amongst the Prohits, Arahas and Scholars of Buddhism on certain precepts of Buddhism.
Even before this time, to resolve such disputed matters, three Buddhist dharam sabahs or councils were held at different places in India.
But Maharaja Kanishka, who ruled Kashmir in the first century of the Christian era, decided that the fourth Buddhist Dharam Sabah or council be held in Kashmir in order to clarify and explicate all the Buddhist lore (Dharam Shastras).
Consequently it happened to be the most important and significant council in Buddhism producing desired objectives. It lasted for six months. Representatives and spokesmen from the world of Buddhism comprising Korea, China, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even Iran participated in this council.
Religious scholars and men of spiritual merit from these countries journeyed to Kashmir to take part in this important parliament of Buddhism. It was presided over by the most famous Buddhist scholar Asho Ghosh.
Acharya Nagarjuna, a great Shahstri scholar, was present in this council who is believed to be the formulator of the world famous ‘Shin’ theory.
Kashmiris call him Nagrai now. At Shopian, on the bank of Rambiar stream there is a spring known as the spring of Nagrai. In Andhra Pradesh there is a very famous sacred spring is his name. According to the traditions he achieved his deliverance (Nirvana) at the place. In the fourth international Buddhist council at Srinagar the Buddhist lore (dharam shastra) and the revealed texts were formulated after a comprehensive debate and discussion. This compendium is known as Tri Patrika. Tri Patrika got evolved and adopted in Kashmir, it bestows upon Kashmir a distinct honour. In this council the followers of Buddhism were divided into two sects. The first and the bigger sect – that is Chakar Mahayan. The followers of this sect are in majority in the Buddhist world. The second smaller sect – that is Hunyan. Its followers are in Sri Lanka and Myanmar in large number. Mahayan are regarded as of larger outlook and liberal. And Hunyan as extremists and rigid. When Tri Patrika was formed, a question arose in the council. It was how could Tri Patrika, as a statement of the original Buddhism be preserved for the posterity and the ages to come. This was the time when there was no paper, it had not been discovered. Otherwise also paper is not durable. Consequently it was decided that the Tri Patrika be written on the copper plates. Such copper plates with writings on them have also been handed down by the ancient Egyptians of the Pharaonic time. It seems to be customary and the usually adopted practice in the far ancient world. Copper is a useful metal. Copper was obtained by the man before iron. It does not develop rust or verdigris. Nor does it rot and decay. It was therefore most suitable and handy to write important documents on. So much so many copper plates of different areas remain preserved even today in the national museum of New Delhi. In the Kundalwan Kashmir council all the Tri Patrikas were recorded on the copper plates. According to the historians’ the land was dug very deep to prepare a receptacle for the copper plates. It was trunk like trench and properly supported, these were safely deposited in these receptacles. It was heavily covered by the earth and mud so that no one could lay his hand on the treasure and it remained safe and hidden for ages to come. A period of time after this historical event, the river of Buddhism began falling short of waters. It became prone to decline. The worshippers of Shiva – the combatants of Buddhists – started emerging and showing their power. As a result great acrimony arouse between devotees of Shiva and Buddha. It came to wrangling and fighting between them. Many Vihraras or monuments were either dismantled or burnt. On the other side, the crown of the throne was graved by the non Buddhists. After losing power and authority the subjugated creeds came to face the same treatment. Looking at these worst times, the devotees of the Buddha and the wise among them became anxious and fearful that there memorials, monuments and documents might pass into oblivion and lost. History states that many Bodh artifacts and memorabilia which were in silver and even in gold and ivory were stealthily taken to Tibet and China and to other countries. In these counties the Buddhists were still holding power and authority. Despite this the Buddhist Prohits and their leaders were extremely anxious about the copper plates. Man is mortal but the revealed texts are the treasures of the beliefs and faith of people. As much are consecrated and holy. They are the sources to guide to the right path. They devised the strategy that observing utter silence over the copper plates was the best thing to do to keep them safe. When nobody had any clue about them, how come they would be discovered and damaged. They remained tight-lipped. The famous Chinese writer and the travelogue writer Hiuen Tsang came to Kashmir 631 AD. He stayed in Kashmir for more than three years. He put up at Jaitender Vihar located near today’s Rainawari. Today it is called Riyazat Teng which means the place to worship at. At this juncture I recall aptly a Persian couplet.
O Saint! Look at the miracle of my idol temple. As it gets decayed, its place house of God is raised.
(Mohammad Shafi Khan)
After Hiuen Tsang’s departure, Budhism from Kashmir disappeared altogether. Thereafter in the 14th century a Tibetan Lama and British historian Pandit Taranath for the first time gives the name of this precious treasure place as Kundalwan in his account. He might have had the knowledge of this place through orally tradition running down the ages. About which the Buddhist scholars might have been whispering. Kundalwan signifies such a particular forest area as would be circular in shape. Our Kangari also has the inner earthen pot circular. In Hyderabad Deccan’s water body (a pool) which is also circular, the same word resonates. After a long time when European archeologists, having come to Kashmir, started locating this place (Kundalwan), it remained hidden, silent and far away from the gaze. Archeologists like Alexander Cunningham, George Marshall and Brown exhausted themselves in search of it but to no avail. They unearthed many old ruins and monuments in Kashmir which till then the ignorant simple Kashmiris dismissed as Pandu houses. In the beginning years of the 20th century, a distinguished Kashmiri archeologist Pandit Ram Chand Kak also began probing. Near Srinagar in the village of Harwan a highly valuable treasure-trove of archeology was discovered by him of the olden times. Some of which is for the display there, some in our museum at Srinagar and some preserved in the art galleries and museums of the West. But the copper plates eluded him as well. Around that time, the attention of the poet laureate of Kashmir Mehjoor was drawn by these copper plates. He had his relations from his mother’s side at Tengwun – a village near Rambarr. So he was fully conversant with what of this whole area around as he might have been a frequent visitor to these parts. Besides, poetry Mehjoor used to plunge into Kashmir’s history occasionally. His only son late Mohammad Amin was more knowledgeable in the art of archeology. He was an employee of the archeology department. I have seen him with a terracotta statue of Gautama Buddha which he had found at this place. As per my research this place is situated round Kundalwan. He declared it in a press conference that he had succeeded in locating Kundalwan, but he revealed it to no one where it was or around or near which place. I had a close friendship with him. We used to visit each other’s house where hospitality was the warmest. I tried and implored him to let me know the place where Kundalwan was situated but under no circumstances would he disclose it. In no way he could be persuaded to pass on even a hint to the great secret he was holding within. Instead he would, with a great deal of artifice shift the subject of the discussion to something else and by overwhelming discourse he would bring to the finish everything and all. After this my urge to have it discovered obligated me to do something on my own while I was in good health to move about. I was young and youth’s desires grow with early thought. Because the writer is an habitant of the same area so I started probing all alone. To come to the point I had an idea that just near Rambarr Nagrai who is described by the Kashmiri Mathnavi writers as NagArjun, his nag (spring) is for thousands of years promulgating his name. It could not be something insignificant and without meaning. He is the same Nag Arjun who was present in the fourth international Buddhist Council. Nag Arjun’s spring is situated on the Shopian to Srinagar road. It was called the Mughal road as well. The Mughal Kings used to come to Kashmir along with their seraglio, courtiers, officials, slave girls, besides elephants, horses and donkeys by this road either rising or being carried in palanquins. The era of the Mughals is only about 400 hundred years old. This was the easiest road from time immemorial as such. Khemander the 12th century Sanskrit scholar describes it as ‘Loha Sarak’ – that is salt way. The tasty spice like salt is not found in Kashmir. Salt used to be brought in Kashmir in the far distant past and up to the middle of the 12th century by this road from the mines of Khewda. It would be in the form of rock pieces and small crystals. That is why it is called rock salt. After 1947, these rocks of Khewda became part of Pakistan. Reason that Kashmir witnessed the scarcity of the salt – ‘salt famine’ after 1947. A piece of rock salt was sought more than one would seek a brick of gold. After sometime the powder salt from the sea reached Kashmir gradually the Kashmiris became habitual to the use of salt. Mahraja Kanishka in whose rule the 4th Buddhist council took place, would at times come to Kashmir through this road. This fourth Buddhist international council was held in the first century of the Christian era at Kundalwan falling in the lap of today’s Yarwan (the jungle of Yar) near Balapur. According to my research the treasure trove of copper plates lie buried at this place. This forest is even today roundish and circular in shape and structure. It is obvious that over the receptacle the earth particles of more than two thousand years, mud and grass, thorny bushes, everything and of Nature’s agents of change on earth would have got accumulated over it. It would be hiding itself under many, many layers of this accumulation. Even the names of the villages around this place (Kundalwan) yield a clue to situate it – Dalwan seems to be squeezing of Kundalwan. Like how by the passage of time the first letters of the Pratap pora village of Barmulla got dropped making it Tapur from Pratappora, the first letters of the Kundalwan might have got dropped reducing it to Dalwan. To one side in the neighborhood of Dalwan falls the village of Shirmal which in Sanskrit indentifies with ‘Shri’ – the goddess of beauty. ‘Mal’ in Kashmiri mean Maleun – a married woman’s parental home. This area is even today the ideal beauty and loveliness. The names of some more villages in the vicinity (of Dalwan) are Yatch (Yaksha) Goz, Gutepora, Arahom, Nadpora etc. In any case where it could be, there in one particular year many specimens of archeological nature of ages old where exposed by the slide down of an overhanging piece of land. These include broken pieces of earthenware, broken idols, broken cup pieces, broken pottery, and importantly a similar terracotta statuette which I had seen with Muhammad Amin, son of Mehjoor. It was taken away by a non-Kashmiri dance master who in those days was teaching dancing in the cultural academy. I believe if qualified experts of archeology start digging with care and caution at this place, these copper plates will come to view in their luster and shine. Perhaps in hundreds or even in thousands. Like a coy virgin these are hiding their lustrous faces behind a veil. But if somebody, lightening the lamps of his eyes, pursues them they will become, manifest. Highly developed technology has the method to unearth this two thousand year old secret. But without being looked for and searched well, how could it cry itself out?
Lastly, an important exhortation. In old manuscripts, it is written that maharaja Kanishka has registered a will about these copper plates. It is that if somebody at some point of time could find them and bring them out, they should be kept at the same pace where discovered from. So that devotees all over the world view and venerate them at that place. It is true that when I came to know this place, for a long time, I did not tell anyone about its location. But when I am now on the wrong side of my age, I though it my duty that I inform other desirous Kashmiris about it. Who knows when somebody else will come forward to make it a reality – identifying Kundlwan of copper plates. Imagine if the modern sophisticated technology, capable of removing darkness from the world brings them to light to properly ornament a splendid museum, how many travelers, devotees, men of knowledge and archeologists will throng it from Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and from the west. How much of splendor this religious and archeological related tourism will bestow upon Kashmir. But at present our institutions do not have all the know-how to do the needful in this regard. Nor are they inclined to listen to our voice. A Kashmiri proverb is truly reflective of their mindset:
They have their eyes open but as good as blind. O when would that lovelorn mad Farhad arrive with his pickaxe to tear apart this pillar less mountain in order to carry our civilizational Shrine to her palanquin.
Ghalib has perhaps sung the verse loud for this very situation–
O God! The thorns are too thirsty – tongue parched with thirst. When would a love with blistered feet enter the thorny valley?