Lalitaditya Muktapida: Kashmir’s Alexander

Kashmiris have often been called cowards who would not even keep a large kitchen knife. It was also said that they had to go round in a locality to look for someone to slaughter their chickens. Many people used to make fun of their cowardice and their extremely soft nature. Sometimes this soft nature has been attributed to the Reshi and Sofi influence which had given rise to a different type of Islam in the valley. May be this is true to some extent. However, the major cause has been the centuries of subjugation faced by a Kashmiri which has totally drained him of all chivalry and even self-respect and dignity. The experience of last two decades has shown that a Kashmiri may abhor violence but he is definitely neither totally non-violent nor a coward. There have been umpteen internecine clashes in Kashmir through out its long chequered history. One has only to leaf through the pages of our ancient history to be reminded of some of the greatest conquerors of the bygone times. There have been two very illustrious rulers who were both great builders as well as conquerors. One of these was the King Zain-ul-Abidin popularly known as Bud Shah and the other was Lalitaditya-Muktapida of Karakota dynasty who ruled Kashmir from 724 to 760 AD. Karakota dynasty had come to rule Kashmir after Baladitya, the last King of the Gonanda race passed away. Durlabhavardhana was Baladitya’s son in law and after his death was established on the throne of Kashmir. He was followed by his son Partapaditya-II who had three sons, Candrapida, Tarapida, and Muktapida, also known as Vajraditya, Udayaditya, and Lalitaditya. Candrapida and Tarapida ruled for 8 years and 4 years respectively. Lalitaditya-Muktapida was the youngest son of Partapaditya-II and followed Tarapida. His both brothers are supposed to have succumbed to magic and witch craft which they had initiated against each other. The superstitious belief in the efficiency of magic rites forms an ancient feature of Kashmiri character and even at present there are many sorcerers (Jinn Pir) reputed to be engaged in such practices and quite a large number of people visit them. Kalhana describes Lalitaditya as a very strong ruler, who asserted his power far beyond Kashmir and the adjacent territories. He is represented as a great conqueror, whose reign was mostly passed in expeditions abroad. The numerous foreign expeditions of Lalitaditya and his ultimate disappearance on one of these forays towards north reminds one of the Greek Conqueror, Alexander the Great who was of a similar disposition and in that respect Lalitaditya may be called Kashmir’s Alexander.

The descriptions of his foreign expeditions have a mixture of historical and legendary details. His first enterprise was directed against Yasovarman, the ruler of Kanyakubja or Kanauj. After the defeat of Yasovarman, the King is supposed to have triumphantly marched round whole of India, from Bengal and Orissa in the east to Kathiawar and Kambojas (Afghanistan) in the west. However, the absence of any historical details and the strict geographical order of countries named suggest that these conquests have been more or less of a legendary nature. There is no doubt that all the neighbouring territories such as Kangra and Punch were his feudatories. After defeating Yasovarman, Lalitaditya is supposed to have invaded and subdued Tukharas, a nation in the northern region. The country of Tukharas is undoubtedly the Tokharistan of the Muslim period comprising Badakhshan and the tracts on the Upper Oxus. It is also stated that there were S’ahi princes in the court of Lalitaditya. These were definitely belonging to a family of Turkish origin ruling Kabul Valley and Gandhara. The famous Chinese pilgrim to Kashmir, Ou-k’ong mentions that there were close relations between contemporary Kashmir and Turkish tribes. Turkish prince Cankuna was in the court of Lalitaditya. Alberuni also mentions that Kashmiris of his time used to celebrate annually on a certain day a festival to commemorate the victory which their King Muktapida had won over Turks. Next in the list of conquests come the Bhauttas or the Tibetans. There is lot of historical evidence to support this claim of campaigns against Tibetans. The Annals of Tang dynasty of China know Lalitaditya-Muktapida under the name of Mu-to-pi, as the King of Kashmir who sent an embassy to the Chinese court during the reign of Emperor Hiuen-tsung (AD 713-755). The main purpose of the embassy had been to seek alliance of the Chinese rulers against Tibet. Ambassador U-li-to whom Mu-to-pi had sent to the imperial court distinctly claimed for his master repeated victories over Tibetans. The auxiliary Chinese force of two hundred thousand men which the Kashmir King invited to his country and for which he proposed to establish a camp on the shores of Mahapadma or Volur Lake, was meant for further operations against the common foe. There is evidence that the Tibetans had established a powerful empire at that time and had threatened both Kashmir as well as China. As there is no evidence of any Bhautta invasion of Kashmir, one must assume that Lalitaditya’s expeditions towards north were real and lasting and checked the Tibetan march towards Kashmir. Lalitaditya had also subdued Kashmir’s immediate northern neighbours, the Dards. The Dard tribes have from very early times to the present day inhabited the mountain territories immediately adjoining Kashmir to the north and north-west. The very safety of the valley has many times necessitated expeditions against these areas.

Apart from these numerous conquests and foreign expeditions, Lalitaditya had been a builder of renown. Numerous shrines and sacred images were erected during his time. The ruins of the splendid Sun Temple of Martanda are still the most striking object of ancient Hindu architecture in the Valley. The location of the Temple itself is very prominent. The ruins of the Temple are even at present a great attraction for tourists especially from Europe. Kalhana mentions about the town of Martanda near the Temple which was swelling with grapes. There is no trace of the town now. The most important proof of the scale and extent of the building operations of Lalitaditya are the ruins of Parihaspura which he built as his new capital. The plateau where Lalitaditya built his capital is now known as Parspor Udar. It rises south-east of Shadipur between the marshes of Panznor and Hartrath. Its length is about two miles and width is about a mile. There are ruins of numerous temples, vihara, and other structures here. Kalhana says that Lalitaditya had once under the influence of liquor ordered that the city of Srinagar (Pravarapura) be set on fire if it was thought by people to be better than his capital Parihaspura. His ministers set fire to some bundles of hay and informed him that they had set Srinagar on fire. In the morning, King was very much tormented that he had burned down Srinagar and was relieved only after he was told that the burning was only a fiction. Lalitaditya had very much patronised Buddhism during his reign. Ou-kong mentions existence of many Stupas and Viharas which he saw during his visit. These were by the side of numerous Visnu shrines erected by him. The greatest Buddhist gift of the King was a great Vihara at Parihaspura with a colossal Buddha image which still existed in Kalhana’s time. There was another Vihara at Huskapura where Ou-kong stayed on his arrival in Kashmir.

Llitaditya’s end is also surrounded in mystery. There are many theories about his death but all point towards the fact that it occurred during his expedition in the northern region. According to one version he perished “through excessive snow in a country called Aryanka”, which has not been exactly located. Another version states that he committed suicide after being separated from his army on a difficult mountain route. Some versions state that he retired along with his army to the world of immortals in the north. However, from all these accounts it may be concluded that Lalitaditya, the Alexander of Kashmir died on one of his conquering expeditions in the northern region. The maxims of policy which the King had set forth influenced Kashmir administration for a long time. Thus this very illustrious King of Kashmir had a tragic end similar to Alexander the great who also died on way back to Greece after his long trail of conquests.


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