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Between Srinagar and Benares

Between Srinagar and Benares:
Kashmir’s Contribution towards a Synthesis of Indian Culture
By Sunthar Visuvalingam

Published with author’s permission from: http://members.iquest.net/~suntharv/abhinava/abhinava-Intro.html


1) Benares as socio-religious center of Hinduism, yet these cultural developments took place in the periphery (Kashmir), an itinerary relevant to the questions underlying this seminar-series. Nepal as reflecting Hindu-Buddhist relations in Kashmir just before the Muslim invasions. Role of Bhairava in Newar festivals provides better insight into status of radical tantricism in Kashmiri Shaiva philosophy in relation to Vedism and aboriginal religion.

2) 2 conferences in 1981 (international) and 1982 (all-India) on “Abhinavagupta’s Contribution to Indian Culture” held at Benares Hindu University (Musicology Dept.). All-India seminar of Sep. 1986 at Srinagar on “Significance and Future of Kashmir Shaivism.”

3) Controversy over title “Abhinavagupta’s Synthesis of Hindu Culture” (3 objections) transformed into a collective project on “Abhinavagupta and the Synthesis of Indian Culture.”

4) Relation between individual genius and tradition expressed explicitly by Abhinava. Mediating role of the region (Kashmir); e.g., Buddhist logic Shaiva Siddhânta, Ânanadavardhana.

5) Dialectical approach, where each thesis is reinforced only to be subsequently undermined, corresponds to the historical process itself.


Structure of Abhinavagupta’s Pratyabhijñâ

1) Defence of the (Shaiva) Nyâya-Vaisheshika categories (padârtha: substance, quality, action, etc., including Îshvara) , as the basis of all worldly transactions (loka-vyavahâra), against the critique of Buddhist Logic.

2) Incorporation of the 24 Sânkhya-Yoga (Vaishnava) categories into their cosmogony, but with the addition of 12 superior categories culminating in Parama-Shiva.

3) Inclusive non-dualism that, unlike the Advaita of Shankara and the Vijñânavâda of Vasubandhu, affirms the reality of the world. (Ascending and) Descending realization.

4) Non-dualistic theism that justifies external worship of a personal god (Îshvara) with the formula: “Become Shiva in order to worship Shiva.” Other bhakti theologies are obliged to devalue moksha and/or the world even while attemptingto reconcile them.

5) Sophisticated epistemological analysis wholly follows the methods of Buddhist logic (Dharmakîrti) even while rejecting its results. Acceptance of momentariness results in a dynamic conception of Self. Phenomenology (âbhâsavâda) rather than ontology.

6) Action (kriyâ) and knowledge (jñâna) treated as two modes or powers of the same Ultimate Principle, thus overcoming the rift between ritual and gnosis (Pûrva and Uttara Mîmâmsâ). Creativity of reflexive (vimarsha) Consciousness based on language.

7) Bhartrhari’s notion of Tradition (âgama) is raised to a fundamental epistemological category (pramâna) and ultimately identified with (supra-individual) intuition (pratibhâ).

Basic theses about Indian Philosophy

1) Indian philosophy derives primarily from the Brahmanical-Buddhist debate over the status of the world. Buddhists renounce the world by underlining its suffering, unreality, impermanence, non-Self (anattâ), whereas Bramanism attempts to reconcile the transcendent principle with life-in-the-world. Buddhist critique of reality is first analytic (vibhajya-vâda), then logical (Mâdhyamika principle of non-contradiction) and finally epistemological (Yogâcârâ-Sautrântika attack on Nyânya categories as mental constructs).

2) Each school attempts to articulate conceptually and to legitimize its own preoccupations which are primarily practical and already given (Vedic ritual, meditation, natural sciences, bhakti, gnostic realization, tantric transgression, etc.). Hence, the inevitable fragmentation of both Buddhism and Brahmanism into a plurality of conceptually incompatible schools. Vâcaspati Misra’s commentary on all the Hindu systems implies them to be mutually complementary.

3) New conceptual advances feed the constant attempt to evolve a framework that will harmoniously integrate sister-disciplines as well. The Self (âtman) serves such an ambivalent role in the Hindu systems. Vasubandhu’s Vijñânavâda provides the means of incorporating all the psychological discoveries of the Abhidharmakosha as the contents of Consciousness, even while dialectically negating their reality. Irreversible advances in the history of thought.

4) Buddhism, which began as a relentless critique of the Vedic tradition, begin to function as a counter-tradition with its own scriptural authority in order to counter “protestant” fragmentation. Attempts to re-introduceshabda-pramâna are paralleled by the constant danger of new synthesizing categories, like Vasubandhu’s âlaya-vijñâna, being assimilated to the Vedântic Self and Bhartrhari’s shabda-brahman.

Triangular relation between Bhartrhari, Dharmakîrti and Abhinava

1) Vasubandhu defeats Bhartrhar’s teacher Vasurât and all Hindu opponents in debate. Bhartrhari’s response is to substitute language for consciousness in the Vijñânavâda framework. Reality hence becomes dependent on (the Vedic) logos of refined speech.

2) Dignâga (480-540) rejects language altogether and accounts for the hierarchy of universals through empirical inference (anumâna), hence founding Indian logic. His undifferentiated thing-in-itself (svalakshana) corresponds rather to yogic perception. All the Hindu (and even Jaina) schools are obliged to rewrite their books: Prashastapâda’s Padârthasangraha, Uddyotakara’s Nyâyâvârttika, Mallavâdin’s Dvâdashâranayacakra, Siddhasenadivâkara’s Nyâyâvatâra, Kumârila’s Shlokavârttika, Candrakîrti’s Prasannapadâ, Sthiramati’s commentaries on the Trimshikâ and Vimshikâ, Sânkhya Yuktidîpkâ. Bhartrahri himself is discarded for having interiorized (and hence compromised) the Vedic revelation.

3) Dharmakîrti (600-660) responds to the evolving challenge by reintroducing notions from Bhartrhari like beginingless ignorance (anâdivâsanâ) and essential nature (svabhâva) that had been rejected by Dignâga, whose work now sinks into oblivion as a defective approximation of Dharmakîrti’s system (Herzberger).

4) Utpaladeva attacks Dharmottara’s elaboration of Buddhist Logic in Kashmir by remodeling the Vijñânavâda along the lines laid down by Bhartrhari. The crystal-model of consciousness is rejected and the reflexive and referential power of language is now attributed to Consciousness itself as its real and active power (vimarsha). The principle of contradiction is restricted to the objective world and is inoperative with respect to the synthesizing function of the subject (pramâtr) who is ultimately the supreme Consciousness (Îshvara).

5) Helarâja’s (11th C.) Prakîrnaprakâsha commentary from the Pratyabhijñâ perspective on the Vâkyapadîya bears the imprint of Buddhist Logic.


Brief historical background

1) Bhâmaha and Dandin (8th C.) had catalogued figures of speech (alankâra) and included striking expressions of sentiment as just another figure (rasavatpreyas, etc.).

2) Poetic circle at the court of Jayâpîda (around 800 A.D.). Udbhata’s Kâvyâlankâra-sangraha deals with suggested meaning but subsumes it within figures of speech. His commentary on the Nâtya-Shâstra is the fisrt to apply rasa principle to the appreciation of poetry as such (also in his Bhâmaha-vivarana).

3) Anandavardhana (mid-9th C.) raises suggestion (vyañjanâ) to an independent and the supreme power of poetic language in his Dhvanyâloka. The highest type is rasa-dhvani, which can only be suggested (unlikevastu- or alankâra-dhvani). Strong influence of Prâkrit literature (Sattasai and Gaudavâho) on theories expounde about Sanskrit aesthetic theory (his Vishama-bâna-lîlâ).

4) Strong criticism of dhvani from diverse quarters prompts Kuntaka, for example, to incorporate Anandavardhana’s insights and categories into his Vakroktijîvita, without insisting on suggestion as an independent power. General principle of indirect speech (vakrokti).

5) The “Shaiva” Abhinava defends the “Vaishnava” Ânanda against all critics but focuses rather on the (phenomenology of) the rasa-experience. Attempts to reconcile Bharata’s rasa-scheme with the purushârtha-scheme in his Abhinavabhâratî: the formula rasâbhâsa = hâsya.

Development of Abhinava’s Rasa-theory

1) Bharata’s dictum of vibhâvânubhâva-vyabhicari-samyogâd rasa-nishpatti: the problem of distinguishing the relish of rasa in theater from the mundane emotions (still relevant today).

2) Lollata: rasa in actor/character is intensified by determinants, consequents, ancillary emotions.

3) Shankuka: (Nyâya): rasa in character is imitated by the actor and inferred by the audience.

4) Bhattanâyaka (Mîmâmsâ): production (bhâvakatava), universalization (sâdhâranîkarana) and enjoyment (bhojakatava) of rasa without sense of the self or the other.

5) Abhinava (Pratyabhijñâ): rasa, as relishable meaning of total configuration, incorporates all above insights. Critique of Porcher’s attempt to divorce dhvani from rasa.

6) Jagannâtha (Vedânta): emotion qualified by Consciousness whose ignorance is removed.

Abhinava’s Connoisseurship (The Synthesis of Indian Aesthetics)


Brief History of “Kashmir Shaivism”

1) Vijñâna-Bhairava Tantra reveals sophisticated psychological techniques stripped off ritual and theological mold. Shivânanda (Oddiyâna) propagates the Krama school in the early 9th C. wherein radical worship (the 12 + 1 manifestations of) the Goddess is correlated to the sequence of internal cognition (samvit-krama). Vasugupta (c. 875-925) reveals his Shiva-Sûtras.

2) Somânananda (900-950) establishes the supremacy of Trika non-dualism in his Shiva-Drshti against the Shâktas, grammarians, and other schools using a high philosophical discourse.

3) Kallata (Vasugupta’s disciple) fotrmulates the “doctrine of Vibration” (spanda). Utpaladeva (Somânanda’s disciple) propagates the Pratyabhijñâ, after assimilating Buddhist Logic and refining the doctrines of Bhartrhari.

4) Bhûtirâja teaches Krama (-Kâpâlika) tantricism and Spanda doctrine to Abhinavagupta (c. 975-1025), who is also inititated into the Kaula by Shambhunâtha outside of Kashmir (Jalandhara). His son Bhattendurâja teaches Dhanyâloka and Bhagavad-Gîtâ to Abhinava. Learns dramaturgy (Nâtya-Shâstra) from Bhatta Tauta (commentary on Kâvyakautuka).

Radical Tantrism, Brahmanism and Transgressive Sacrality

1) Tantric tradition as a supplementary, specialized revelation allowing self-deification (pati) through rituals of inititation (dîkshâ) to creatures (pashu) imprisoned in the Veda-based order (karma) or in Buddhist monastic discipline. Transgression (meat, alcohol, sex, impure castes).

2) Domestication of radical Krama (-Kâpâlika) currents (400-800 A.D.) into Kaula tradition for householders. Abhinava’s highest realization through the kula-yâga (incest instead of breaking caste-barriers). Trika exegesis is based on pan-Indian traditions.

3) Aestheticization of radical transgressions (and human sacrifice) of Kâpâlika Yoginî cults in the Kaula “original sacrifice” and hence polyvalence of the term rasa. Kaulism develops into 4 main systems: Kaula Trika (Pûrvâmnâya); Kâli cult of Mata, Krama and Guhyakâlî (Uttarâmnâya), Kubjikâ (Pashcimâmnâya); and Tripurasundarî (Dakshinâmnâya).

4) Derived from Pâshupata and Kâpâlika (Kâlâmukha) currents which are “celibate” (naishthika) liberationsit prolongations (atimârga) of the consecrated Vedic dîkshita. Must be seen as complementary to the power-oriented (bhoga) practices of the mantra-mârga deriving from the impure “shamanistic” fringes of the caste-society. Development of Tantricism out of Vedic roots is especially discernible in the development of Mantramârga out of Atimârga.

5) The dualist Shaiva Siddhânta has transposed the already purified Vedic ritualism to the worship of the Shiva image (linga) as the sole means of liberation for all; their theoreticians were often (brahmin) Mîmâmsakas. Leaving the Vedic tradition intact, it is this socially dominant Âgamic infrastructure that the Trika theoreticioans seek to open up from above to their Gnostic super-structure and radical tantric practices. Hence, the importance of the Mâlinîvijayottara tantra, authoritative for the Siddhânta, in Abhinava’s move to colonize the Shaiva and other religious traditions.

6) Re-appropriation of Svacchanda Bhairava cult prevalent in Kashmir (Pachali Bhairab in Katmandu) from the Shaiva-Siddhântins. Kshemarâja (1000-50) popularizes the doctrine of Recognition (Prayabhijñâ-Hrdaya, commentaries on Stavacintâmani and Stotrâvalî) and non-dualistic exegesis of the Svacchanda and Netra tantras. No trace of Shaiva Siddhânta developments (except in the Tamil South) after the 11th C. and the surviving Kashmiri corpus of anaonymous Shaiva ritual literature is wholly non-dualistic.

7) Pâncharâtra (smârta) Tantricism is annexed as a lower truth through the (southern) Narasimha face of Vaikuntha Caturmukha. Tantric reworking and interiorzation of the Vedic paradigm is continued under Shaiva auspices. Esoteric doctrines for intensifying the (Fire of) Consciousness understood as an internalization of the Agnihotra (Bhairava of Patan, fire sacrifice to Pacali Bhairava). The “Song of Shiva” (Vishnudharmottara Purâna), 52-56) teaches Bhârgava Râma the supreme five-part image worship of Vâsudeva (panca-kalâ-vidhâna). Nârada and Vishvaksena see Vishnu as Vishvarûpa and Narasimha. Bhâskara’s bhedâbhedainterpretation of the Brahmsûtra incorporated in the parâdvaita of the Trika.

8) The (Pratyabhijñâ-based) Tripurasundarî is purged of its Kaula heteropraxy to become the special cult of the renunciate Shankarâchâryas and its Shrîcakra emblem is installed in major Shaiva temples of the Southern Âdishaivas. Gnostic soteriology of Abhinava’s Shaivism pervades Kashmiri brahmin (smârta) society even independently of special initiation and consequent performance of Tantric ritual. Paradoxically, the process of “democratization” and “individualization” of the “free power” (svâtantrya) of Consciousness, might-in the long term-end up being furthered by the Islamic destruction of the institutional basis (temple, festivals, pilgrimage) of public communal (Siddhânta) worship.


Basic theses of an Acculturation-model of Indian History

1) In practice, Buddhism ends up accommodating life-in-the-world so totally that, especially with the emergence of Vajrayâna tantricism, the differences with Trika Shaivism become purely doctrinal, a question of a “Language-game.” On the other hand, Hinduism (e.g., Shankara) ends up largely interiorizing the Buddhist ideal of (world-negating) renunciation.

2) The Shaiva-Buddhist debate becomes increasingly “academic” as the acculturation process achieves maturation: Buddhism ceases to play the dynamic role of cultural catalyst within India and Hinduism is ripe for fresh impulsions from without. What is “Hinduism”?

3) Why in Kashmir? Becomes an imperial power with Lalitâditya Muktâpîda (who brings Abhinava’s ancestor Atrigupta to Pravarapura from rival Kanauj) and its hegemonic claims are expressed through a Pâncarâtra ideology (Ronal Inden). Lalitâditya builds Buddhist monuments (stûpa, roayal monastery and gigantic Buddha-image: compare with Licchavi Nepal) and appoints Cankuna, a Buddhist Turk, as minister. Jayâpîda focuses on cultural glory by inviting brahmins, scholars, philosophers (Dharmottara), poets and artists.

4) But the process of (religious) acculturation proceeds also independently of the imperial ambitions of the Vaishnava king, who is (only) the sacrificer and devotee par excellence. The rapprochement between the brahmanical temple cult and transgressive Goddess-cults of aboriginal inspiration can also occur under Shaiva auspices both in public worship and among closed circles of practitioners. Moreover, imperial formations are not specific to Kashmir.

5) Ingredients: a strong brahmanical (philosophical) culture (unlike Nepal). Kashmir’s geographical isolation seems to hav resulted in a “retarded” history (e.g., late Muslim domination in 1349); could significant elements of pre-Aryan civilization have especially survived in the Valley to re-emerge later through a Shaiva mould? Vedic religion is itself problematic.

6) Nîlamata-purâna is the primary textual source for tracing such local and indigenous elements. Vaishnava redaction, Shaiva additions and already delivered by a brahmin, Brhadashva, to (the grandson of) Gonanda, founder of the pre-Kârkota dynasty. Compare to Orissa.

Dialectical process of Indian culture modified by Islam

1) Whereas the Buddhist egalitarian (but extra-worldly) ideal was almost completely absorbed into the Hindu caste-hierarchy (compare Newar Vajrayâna), Islam introduced the same ideal into the heart of Indian society (cf. Ghâzî Miyan). Problem of Buddhist patronage by Licchavi kings and representation of horse-avatâra (Kalki) as a “barbarian” (mleccha).

2) Abhinava’s interiorization of ritualistic image-worship (linga = perfected body as abode of all the gods) is brought to the popular level through Kashmiri poetry by brahmin Lalla (14th C.), disciple of Siddha Kânta belonging to the lineage of Vasugupta. Legendary meeting with Sayyid Ali Hamadani of this forerunner of bhakti reform movements elsewhere in North India. Easily reconcilable with the tempering of Islamic iconoclasm in the Sufism of those like Nûr-ud-Din (d.1438), her foremost disciple.

3) Nûr ud-Din’s Rishi order preached monistic doctrine approachable through non-violence, love and asceticism, and received state honors from Zayn al-Abidin himself. Shaikh Makhdûm Hamza (1494-1576), though illiterate and self-initiated (in dream), influenced Persian scholars and poets, 7 of whom wrote books in his praise.

4) Dialectical process within Islam expressed through the political opposition Sikandar/Bâdshâh (like Akbar/Aurangzeb in Mogul Empire), just as through earlier philosophical polarization of Shankara/Abhinava within Hinduism.

5) Constant Sunni-Shia conflict during Shahmiri period spills over into the founding of the short-lived Chak dynasty (1561-1589), persecution of Sunnis and finally (the Shia) Bâbâ Dâû’d Khâkî (chief disciple of Hamza) and Sarfi invite Akbar to invade the Kashmir Valley. Triangular relationship of the Sunni and Shia poles of Islam with Hinduism: Sunni religious law (sharia) aligns itself with caste order whereas Shia messianism feeds on the antinomian dimension of Indian festivals (e.g., Muharram). Impact of Islam on Indian society is paralleled by the impact of Hindu modes of “transgressive sacrality” on the inner conflict within (Indian) Islam.

6) Ali Hamâdânî’s “700 Sayyids” survived in Kashmir from Timurid persecution, Iranian scholars come to study with Kashmiri teachers like Dâû’d Khâkî, Moghul poets proclaim their superiority over Persian models; India is a storehouse of Islamic culture in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and other vernacular languages. Islam could well play a universalizing role, similar to that of Buddhism earlier, with regard to the Indian subcontinent’s relations with the outside world, with the difference that Mecca now provides an external religious center for the Muslim community (umma). Islam may end up interiorizing the Buddhist ideal of non-violence (ahimsâ) in the process.

7) Primacy of the Indian nation-state is being called into question simultaneously from “below” by the “decentralized” diversity of Hindu communities and from “above” by the transnational character of pan-Islamism. The “marriage” of “Hindu” and “Islamic” perspectives thus reflects the two opposing, yet complementary tendencies, at work in today’s world. See my monograph “Between Mecca and Banaras: the Marriage of Lât-Bhairava and Ghâzî Miyan” (with the collaboration of Elizabeth Chalier-Visuvalingam).

Relevance of the project for American students

1) Importance for a global understanding of traditional Indian culture and contemporary South Asian politics.

2) Opening up of the Indian market to the West.

3) Growing wealth and importance of the Indian immigrant community in North America.

4) Indian lessons for the integration of diverse ethnic communities and (sub-) cultures within an increasingly cosmopolitan society.

Kârkota Nâga and Utpala dynasties of Kashmir (626 to 1003 A.D.)

Attribution of serpentine (nâga) origins to the founder of the Nâga dynasty suggests an indigenous family.

1) Durlabhavadana (c. 626/7-662/3) receives Râjyâbhisheka (instead of Râjasûya) and establishes an independent state on the periphery of Harsha’s central empire at Kanauj. Vaishnava redacition of the Nîlamata.

2) Durlabhaka (662/3-712/3) “Pratipâditya.” Tibetan threat to Badrikâshrama and Middle country (653-78). Political center shifts to Chalukyas of Badami in the South (Deccan).

3) Candrapîda (c. 712/13-720) “Vajrâditya.” Arabs conquer Sind. His royal preceptor Mihiradatta builds Vishnu temple.

4) Muktâpîda (c. 725/6-775) “Lalitâditya” joins Yashovarman in defeating the Tibetans, then allies himself with the T’ang emperor and takes Kanauj. Builds imperial Sarvatobhadra temple (instead of performing Ashvamedha) after his conquest of the quarters. Shifts the politico-religious center of (Northern) India (Âryavarta) from Kanauj-Prayâg (Madhyadesha) to Parihâsapura.

5) Jayâpîda (776-807): his court included Udbhata (sabhâpati), Kshîra (commentator on the Amarakosha and Nirukta), Dâmodara (chief-minister), Vâmana (minister), Manoratha (critic of dhvani), the Buddhist logician Dharmottara (Pramâna-viniscaya-tîkâ)

Followed by collateral Utpala dynasty, with shift of patronage to Shaivism

6) Avantivarman (c. 855-883) was a Shaiva. Court poets: Ânandavardhana, Muktâkana, Shivasvâmin (Buddhist Kapphinâbhyudaya), Ratnâkara (HarivijayaVakrokti-pañcashikhâ).

7) Shankaravarman (c. 855-883) was a low-born Shaiva, ignorant of Sanskrit and speaking Apabhramsha dialect. He had to contend with Bhoja. Loss of court-patronage

8) Diddâ (Khasa princess who kills off her grandsons) exercises power from around 950. She rules with the peasant Tunga from 980-1003.

Important Works of Abhinavagupta