Remains of over 2000-year-old Harwan monastery
In the larger history of the Kashmir valley, Buddhism played a vital role. However, its impact is often overlooked, despite the fact that Kashmir has a recorded history of over 2000 years that has yet to be fully studied. The Harwan Monastery, which is currently in ruins, has a rich history as well as ancient and archaeological significance. While it may appear to be a derelict structure struggling to survive, it has made a vital contribution to the growth of Buddhism in Kashmir. Ram Chandra Kak was the first to excavate the site in 1923.
Harwan is a small village in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, around 20 kilometres from the city centre Lal Chowk. Harwan is a popular holiday, adventure travel, and picnic site for travellers, and is easily accessible by the airport, which is 28 kilometres away. Harwan is home to the Dachigam National Park, a 1st-century Buddhist Monastery, gorgeous Chinar gardens, breathtaking Zabarwan mountains, and delectable Kashmiri cuisines. The location is marked by a little sign just off the main road. The monastery Upper Tier is located on the outskirts of the Dachigam National Park.
The origins of Buddhism in Kashmir are shrouded in mystery. It is linked to a monk named Majjhantika of Varanasi, according to Buddhist sources. According to Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan account, Ashoka dispatched missionaries to spread the Dharma. Majjhantika was dispatched to Kashmir and Gandhara in this manner (present-day Afghanistan). Buddhist scriptures such as the Ashokavadana and Avadanakalpalata recognise this, while the Divyavadana mentions that Ashoka invited monks from Kashmir to his kingdom & capital, Patliputra (present-day Patna). With all of these different sources claiming different things about the roots of Buddhism in Kashmir, Kalhana, the author of Rajtarangani, cites the creation of Viharas (Buddhist shelters) during the reign of Surendra, Ashoka & forefather.
The establishment of Buddhism in Kashmir is closely linked to Kanishka, one of the rulers of the Kushana Dynasty, after Ashokas tenure from the Mauryan dynasty. Historians believe the 4th Buddhist Council took place in Harwan, which was previously known as Kundalvan.
Between the first and second centuries BCE, Kanishka summoned the Council. While digging beneath its foundations, a copper coin of Toramana, the ruler, who ruled around the fifth century CE, was discovered, RC Kak writes in his book Ancient Monuments of Kashmir. It was deduced from this piece of evidence that the diaper rubble stupa could not have been built before the 5th century CE, however it could have been built afterwards.
The remnants of a historic Buddhist monastery may be found in Harwan, on the outskirts of Srinagar. From the remains, it’s difficult to imagine the significance of the place. The archaeologists unearthed the site sometime between 1919 and 1929 AD. The three-tiered base of a Stupa, a complex of rooms built in the diaper pebble type of masonry, and the decorative terracotta tiles that surround it are among the excavated relics. The images of humans are depicted on the appropriately shaped terracotta tiles that are currently on display in a museum. However, this historic monastery played a significant role in Buddhist history.
On the command of Kushana monarch Kanishka I, the 4th Buddhist council of the Mahayana (Sarvastivada) school of Buddhism was held here probably in the 1st or 2nd century CE. It was also the home of Nagarjuna (150-250 CE), one of the greatest Buddhist gurus of his day, who proposed the theory of Sunyata; or Emptiness which revolutionised Buddhist thought. Regrettably, the sites historical value appears to have been lost in recent times.
When Kashmir was a part of the Kushana Empire in the first century CE, Buddhism flourished. Kanishka I, the Empires greatest Emperor, was a staunch Buddhist who ruled over a wide empire that stretched from Western Afghanistan to Pataliputra in the south, as well as from Central Asia and China’s Tarim Basin to Central India. Kashmir was a part of the Empire as well, and it was located at the eastern end of the Gandhara Region, which served as a breeding ground for Buddhisms growth and dissemination further afield. From the period of Kanishka until the 8th century CE, Buddhism was the main religion in Kashmir, until it was progressively displaced by a rejuvenated form of Hinduism. Both coexisted in a syncretic existence for a few decades until the arrival of Islam in Kashmir, when Buddhism all but vanished.
The actual date of construction of the Harwan monastery is unknown, while investigations have revealed archaeological remnants spanning from the first to sixth centuries CE. During this time, Kashmir was peppered with Buddhist monasteries, the most notable of which were those at Harwan and Ushkur (Baramulla district). One of these monasteries was previously located near Srinagar, at the Pari Mahal.
Many beautiful terracotta tiles were also discovered here, but these have since been relocated to the Shri Pratap Singh Museum in Jammu. Some of the beautiful tiles discovered on the site date from the 4th century CE. The upper tier likewise included a spherical temple construction and a courtyard covered in the same terracotta tiles as the lower tier. Behind this upper deck, there appear to be the remnants of other structures that need to be excavated. The entire complex looks to have previously been extended across the entire slope.
The site of the Harwan Monastery is significant in the history of Buddhism & growth since it expanded in all directions from its birthplace, with Kashmir playing a key part. A significance that appears to have been overlooked in recent years.
Crafts and craftsmen related with Buddhism spread from Kashmir to other parts of Asia as Buddhism flourished. Many were patronised by the kings of the time with the goal of spreading the Dharma teachings. Kashmiri craftsmen are said to have travelled to the ancient kingdom of Guge in Central Tibet to embellish Buddhist monasteries that were being erected there. Rinchen Sangpo, according to a Tibetan account, went to Kashmir and brought craftsmen with him in order to revitalise Buddhist art in Tibet. According to legend, he erected 150 temples with the help of 75 Kashmiri craftsmen.
The Harwan base of the monastery is an unsolved enigma, according to Muhammad Saleem Beg, a notable cultural specialist who has worked extensively for the National Monument Authority. The primary issue is that some of the most reliable sources, primarily from China, including the stories of legendary traveller Hiuen Tsang, have confirmed that the fourth Buddhist summit was held in Kashmir and that the copper plates relating to the event were also buried exclusively here.
The upper half of this site was completely destroyed by flash floods in 1975, but the ruins can still be seen. The lowest half of the Buddhist monastery is still in good shape, and residents frequently visit this historic site said Riyaz Ahamd, a Harwan native. The Buddhist monastery is a heritage monument in Kashmir; it is a symbol of the region & history and culture, he continued.
Unfortunately, the Harwan (also known as Heerwan) monastery is nowadays being visited by a few tourists. While its distinctiveness attests to its significance in Kashmiri history, the state apparatus and those in authority have failed this important structure, as have many other heritage sites that are not given the attention they require for proper preservation. The peculiar attraction of the Harwan monuments lies in the fact that they are the only remains of their sort in India (perhaps in the globe), and that they provide a life-like portrayal of those mysterious people, the Kushans writes RC Kak.