In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Kashmir

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Śaiva Scriptural Writings
  • The Pañcarātra and Other Vaiṣṇava Writings
  • Buddhists in Kashmir
  • The Emergence of Islam in Kashmir

Hinduism Kashmir
John Nemec
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0156


The Kashmir Valley of around the 9th to 12th centuries was, in many regards, the preeminent South Asian center for Sanskritic culture and learning of its day. The Brahmins who authored the philosophical, literary, aesthetic, and other works that were produced there in this period were drawn to the region from across the Indian subcontinent. Yet, once settled there they shared in common a particular Kashmiri identity, as exemplified by their common subscription from an early date to one and the same Vedic tradition, that of the Kāṭhaka recension of the Black Yajurveda. This coincidence of intellectual cosmopolitanism and geographic regionalism proved tremendously fruitful, as the range and quantity of groundbreaking and genre-making works that were produced there will attest. Royal patronage did much to cultivate this cultural richness, as the many contributions in poetry and aesthetic theory illustrate, these being important concerns of the premodern South Asian court; but this was not the only factor. The relative security of the Valley also offered reliable protection from outside military interference, even while desirable external influences were permitted entrance into Kashmir. Perhaps most notably, Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims frequented Kashmir in order to study in the Valley’s thriving monasteries, which were influential in the period in question even if few archaeological traces of them have survived. Another influence was economic: trade along the Silk Road is likely to have contributed to the Valley’s material prosperity, which facilitated the cultivation of its cultural wealth; and the Valley itself was agriculturally self-sufficient. Finally, Kashmir was—and is—considered to be one of the most beautiful places on the entire subcontinent, and people simply wanted to live there. The Brahmins of Kashmir were evidently more willing to reveal information concerning themselves than were many other authors of premodern Sanskritic works, and one therefore can know more about the Valley than other contemporaneous centers of learning. Indeed, so many Sanskrit-language works are associated with the Valley that one may be forgiven for feeling as though the bibliography of Kashmiri contributions is asymptotic to that of premodern Sanskrit learning tout court. Yet, a fuller historical picture, were it available, might have served to contextualize Kashmir’s towering cultural accomplishments by elevating awareness of other contemporaneous cultural centers, even if this would do nothing to diminish the contributions of the Kashmiri authors themselves. Given the seemingly ubiquitous reach of Kashmir’s cultural artifacts, it is not possible to list every conceivable bibliographic entry in this article. And a number of significant Sanskrit works must be left out of the present article for two reasons. First, the prosopographical record of premodern South Asia remains opaque, and a number of works that undoubtedly had an influence in the Valley are not listed here for want of definitive evidence of any Kashmiri provenance. Second, the scholarly record is incomplete: a number of texts from our period (particularly but not exclusively tantric works) have yet to emerge from the raw archive of unpublished manuscripts. It is a testament, then, to Kashmir’s colossal cultural influence that the present article can offer only incomplete evidence of it.

General Overviews

Several works offer general overviews of, or at least points of entry into, the cultural and intellectual life of the Kashmir Valley in and around the historical period in question. Ray 1969 gives a broad account of the cultural, social, and political history of the Valley. Witzel 1994 and Sanderson 2009 furnish detailed studies of the religious and cultural lives of the Brahmins who authored so many of the various works surveyed here. Sanderson 1985 presents a highly condensed but philosophically significant study of Brahminical theories of personhood and agency as conceived by the orthodox and esoteric traditions of the Kashmir Valley in the period in question. Naudou 1980 offers a comprehensive survey of the history of Buddhism in Kashmir. Finally, Bühler 1877 offers a firsthand account of his quest to collect manuscripts in and around the Valley and furnishes a detailed narrative, both contemporaneous and historical, of Brahminical life there.

  • Bühler, Georg. “Detailed Report of a Tour in Search of Sanskrit MSS, Made in Kashmir, Rajputana & Central India.” Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 34a (1877): 1–90.

    This dated but nevertheless seminal essay is divided into three parts. In the first, Bühler offers a first-person account of his travels. The second, titled “The Kaśmirian Brahmins,” details the habits and preferences of his informants. Finally, a third section offers a thorough account of the manuscripts he collected, placing them in their proper intellectual and historical contexts. Three appendices list the manuscripts collected and quote selected extracts from them.

  • Naudou, Jean. Buddhists of Kaśmīr. Translated by Brereton and Picron. Delhi: Agama Kala Prakashan, 1980.

    This foundational work surveys a great range of historical, philosophical, and other sources in the course of presenting a comprehensive overview of the place of Buddhism in premodern Kashmir. It notably offers significant attention to the long-standing Tibetan links with Kashmir.

  • Ray, Sunil Chandra. The Early History and Culture of Kashmir. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1969.

    A number of books in print are similar to this one, which accesses a range of Sanskrit (and other) sources to map the cultural, political, economic, literary, archeological, and religious histories of Kashmir. A rendering of the author’s 1957 PhD dissertation from the University of Calcutta, this volume is apparently the first among such survey works; it offers a reliable and readable account of the Valley and its history.

  • Sanderson, Alexis. “Purity and Power Among the Brahmins of Kashmir.” In The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy and History. Edited by S. Collins, M. Carrithers, and S. Lukes, 190–216. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    This article presents a condensed and complex but lucid and penetrating account of the relationship between tantric and non-tantric Brahminical traditions in the Kashmir Valley of the period in question. An essay of deserved renown, it examines the philosophical significance of the relevant traditions.

  • Sanderson, Alexis. “Kashmir.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Volume One: Regions, Pilgrimage, Deities. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 99–126. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2009.

    Relying heavily on the account of Kalhaṇa’s Rājataraṅgiṇī but also accessing a range of original (often unpublished) Sanskrit works, this article offers a substantial review of Brahmanism, classical Hindu (principally Śaiva) traditions, and the cultural life of the Valley from its prehistory until the rise of Islam.

  • Witzel, Michael. “The Brahmins of Kashmir.” In A Study of the Nīlamatapurāṇa: Aspects of Hinduism in Ancient Kashmir. Edited by Yasuke Ikari, 237–294. Kyoto: Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University, 1994.

    This essay examines the cultural life of Brahmins in premodern Kashmir, accessing a range of historical and literary works to cull the relevant information. Copiously annotated, it helpfully outlines the contours of Brahminical prestige, patterns of immigration and emigration, habits of learning, and other related topics.

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