Myth of Kashyap Rishi: Origin of valley of Kashmir

Kashmir Valley

Mythical or folklore tales have been a part of all ancient societies & communities. Such stories are still told verbally & even otherwise in writings, songs, paintings, etc, in many societies & communities to keep up their old traditions of culture & art. Romans had richest mythical history, so had Chinese & Arabs. But if you look at any of these communities or others they have never made them dogmas of their religions because they seem to have been conscious of that these are just tales, told to amuse & entertain people, and nothing more. Science & scientific tools do not apply to myths & mythical characters. These are figments of imagination that are limned to enrich lore culture. In present times, we have science fictions of Batman, Catman, Spiderman & many others of that kind. Does it mean that they have any real existence? No, not at all! They are just for entertainment of the kids & people in general. They are modern folklores & nothing more.

In the Hindu epic, Ramayana, it is mentioned that Rama Setu or Rama Bridge which is “a chain of limestone shoals” that connects Tamil Nadu (India) with Sri Lanka was built by army of Hanuman (vanar sena) to reach out to Lanka to rescue Sita Ji from Ravana’s captivity. In 2005, Government of India approved the construction of well known multi-million-dollar Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project. However, the experts told the Government that the proposed construction was possible only at the demolition of Rama Setu. There was huge reaction from Hindu organisations against the proposed construction of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project at the cost of Rama Setu. The Government of India wanted to go ahead with the project. So, in 2007, it along with Archeological Survey of India through an affidavit informed the Supreme Court that “there was no historical evidence to” prove the man-made-construction of Rama Setu or Rama Bridge. I

At home, we have more or less a similar story about origin of Kashmir valley. When I was a child, at our school we were taught that the founder of Kashmir valley was Kashyap Rishi. Being little kids we were not able to delve deep into the story that was written in our school curriculum texts that were prepared, printed & supplied by the State Government. When we grew up, we found actual mythical story that was tailored & structured in such a manner in our school books as if it had nothing to do with Hindu mythology which was being taught in the secular government schools to small kids in guise of history of Kashmir. We were told & taught fable of Kashyap Rishi that he was an ancient saint who with his trident struck Bramullah Mountains for draining out the water from the valley. There was deliberately no mention of Vishnu doing it or of Hindu Goddesses & Gods related to it, in our school texts. The writers & ‘educationalists’ who wrote & passed those schools books seem to have been doing it with an intent to strike a chord with small kids & to leave mythical imprints with half-narration of Hindu fables on their budding minds. It couldn’t be done under what some call “traditions of composite culture” when object was to create Hindu mythological images & importance thereof in the minds of the children at their infancy stage. The children were, obviously, too innocent to understand the actual truth behind the narration.

The kids were taught half-narrative to corrupt their minds. Even elders too were generally ignorant of the actual background of the fictitious chronicle. The full version of the story is quoted by Sir WR Lawrence in these words: “Once upon a time Kashmir Vale was a vast lake on which Parvati, goddess, sailed in a pleasure boat from….in her honour was called Satisar…In the lake there dwelt a cruel demon, Jaldeo, whose patron was Brahma…….Jaldeo destroyed every life on its shores…… Kashyap, grandson of Brahma by chance found his way to lake (Kashmir valley) & was distressed by the havoc wrought by Jaldeo …….fought him for 1000 years ……..ultimately Jaldeo eluded him & hid under the water …then Vishnu came to help Kashyap and struck the mountains at Baramullah with his trident, and the waters of the lake rushed out . But Jaldeo entrenched himself in low ground near Hari-Parbat……though the Gods searched for him with sun in one hand and the moon in the other but the demon baffled all Gods…… But at last Parvati Goddess dropped a mountain on top of him, crushing his life out, and that mountain is now known as Hari-Parbat. ……….. after this, valley was known as Kashafmar, home of Kashyap , and it is now corrupted to Kashmir…”  II

This Hindu mythological version of the origin of Kashmir is also quoted by Horace Hayman Wilson. But he adds that there are other legends too about it. He says that although some Muslim writers have copied this local Hindu story, there are historians & travelers of the rank of Abu Fazl & Bedi ud Din who connect origin of this country to monotheist religion of Prophets, Moses (a.s.) & Muhammad (s.a.w). Horace Hayman Wilson writes that according to Bedi ud Din’s Wakaat e Kashmir, before the Hindu Raja [Harinand] conquered the country & Hindu rule lasted for 1110 years, it was peopled by a Jewish tribe who indulged in idolatry against the teachings of Moses (a.s), so God punished them by the local inundation (converting it to satisar/big lake) & established supremacy of Jaldeo who was an Afreet/Afrit/Afat. III Horace Hayman Wilson further writes that Kashyap was not a Hindu seer, but a deo or jinn, according to Muslim writers, who under the orders of Hazrat Suleiman (a.s) “effected the desiccation of Kashmir. The method of doing this was opening a passage through the mountain at Baramullah by which the water passed off………but the Hindu accounts do not specify the channel by Kashyap originally drained the valley”.  IV

Hazrat Suleiman (a.s) is supposed by the Muslims of Kashmir to have done wonders like air carrying & setting his throne on the top of hill, called Takht e Suleimani, Srinagar and “drained the valley through the instrumentality of one of his servants, a deo or jinn, named, Kashuf who is Kashyap of Hindu” mythology. V  Quoting Sir William Jones & Maurice , Sir G T Vigne further pens down that the “whole fable of Kashyap” has an “astronomical” angle & that he was a servant of Hazrat Suleiman (a.s) & one of the earliest sages of the world who may have worked with Manu(Noah) to drain the valley. VI

There is yet another narrative of the Buddhists that equates the myth of Kashyap Rishi with Manjusri, a character in Buddhist mythology, who is believed to have drained Nepal & Tibet to make them habitable. VII

Sir M A Stein while dealing with the aforesaid “most dominant” Hindu narrative about origin of the valley says that those who believe that name Kaspapiros/Kaspatyros (Greek name of Kashmir) was given to the country by Kashyap Rishi or that the name of some ancient city, Kaspapiros/Kaspatyros, which is found in the history of Greek Herodotus & Hecataeus is identical with the country have based their “assumptions” on mere “whimsical etymologies” just as the name Kashaf (Kashyap) + mar (matha) which means Kashyap’s abode. “Neither these etymologies nor the name Kaspapiros/Kaspatyros are in any way known to our genuine sources”. Philogically it is “impossible” & “allusions to this legendry original of the country” are also incorrect. VIII

The etymology of the name Kashmir is “uncertain”. Under Hindu mythology Kashmir is linked to Sanskrit word “Kasmira” which means to dry up water, which relates to Kashmir once having been under water. Kashmir valley may have been a giant lake or island sea that, “as a result of an act of nature, inadvertently drained & flooded areas downstream”. IX

 Bernier too, while rejecting myth of Kashyab Rishi, writes: “I am certainly not disposed to deny that this region was once covered with water…… ; but I cannot easily persuade myself that the opening in question ( in Baramullah mountains) was the work of a man (Kashyab Rishi), for the mountain is very extensive and very lofty. I rather imagine that the mountain sank into to some subterraneous cavern, which was disclosed by a violent earthquake, not uncommon in these countries. …….in Arabia, the opening of Bab-e-Mandel was effected in the same manner; and it is thus that entire towns and mountains have been engulfed in great lakes. Kashmir, however, is no longer a lake, but a beautiful country, diversified with a great many low hills……” X  On the strength of a huge geological authority, Sir WR Lawrence has also mentioned that there is abundant evidence that igneous or volcanic agencies were actively at work in Kashmir valley which is proved by the outpouring of the vast quantities of volcanic rocks. XI The fact that the subterraneous force was extremely violent at Baramullah would seem to confirm the view that the desiccation of the valley was caused by an earthquake which created an outlet for the lake waters through the Baramullah gorge. XII

Following exploration of geographical structure of Kashmir valley conducted during 1854 & 1856, William H Purdon states that geology is antecedent to all history. But it was not only Kashmir valley. Rather, greater portion of the Himalayan region itself was beneath ocean. The marks of former sea-beaches are so distinctly discernible at various elevations in Kashmir valley, especially along the steep cliffs which border the Wullur Lake; and, accordingly, we find a very pretty story, invented by the Brahmin priests…” XIII

The aforementioned assertions of Sir M A Stein & other authorities debunking the Hindu legend of Kashyap Rishi apply equally to Muslim & Persian legendary narratives about the origin of the country. These are just stories without scientific & geological evidence. To recall to our minds, the Government of India & Archeological Survey of India in their abovementioned affidavit in the Supreme Court stated further that the study of human history, which is the primary object of the Archeological Survey of India, like other sciences and fields of study, must be carried out in a scientific manner using available technological aids, and its findings must be based on tangible material evidence.” XIV


So, Kashyap Rishi draining the vale of Kashmir is just a fable. Whether he was a Brahman or Buddhist or a monotheist-Jew or Muslim, whosoever, there is no historical evidence of it, though his name is mentioned in some ancient texts of Hindus. But, on the basis of geological explorations of the valley, it is scientifically stated that once before millions of years the valley was under waters resembling a vast lake & that “there was such a devastating earthquake, that it broke open the mountain wall at Baramulla, and the water flowed out [from that opening], leaving behind lacustrine mud, known as the Karewas, along the margins of mountains. Thus came into existence the oval but irregular Valley of Kashmir”. XV


I.                    Times of India dated 13-09-2007; Hindustan Times dated 21-01-2008 ,

II. The Valley of Kashmir (2014), by Sir WR Lawrence, page 184: It may be noticed here that Dr. M A Stein has remarked that the Kashmiri name “Hari” (myna bird or Sarika goddess/princess) has been by “popular etymology” of Punjabis, Dogras & other Indian visitors turned to Hari-Parbat when it has nothing to do with the name Hari= Siva. Ibid, footnote 2; Dr. M A Stein, the Ancient Geography of Kashmir (1899-Calcutta) page 144, footnote 2 ,

III. History of Kashmir (1825) by Horace Hayman Wilson pages 8 & 9: the word “Afreet/Afrit/Afat” in Arabic mythology according to Collins English Dictionary means a powerful demon or giant monster or jinn,

IV.  Ibid,

 V. Sir G T Vigne’s Travels in Kashmir ( second edition, 1844) page 43,

VI. Ibid, pages 45-46,

VII. Samuel Bea, Travels of Fah-Hian & Sung Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims: from china to India (1869) page 60, footnote 1,

 VIII. The Ancient Geography of Kashmir (1899-Calcutta) pages 11-13: Dr. M A Stein who is world known geographer, traveler & translator of Kalhana’s Rajtarangi has discussed authentic earliest Persian (Abu Fazl), Chinese (Hiuen Tsiang), oriental & Sanskrit sources on this point,

 IX. Christopher Sneden, Understands Kashmir & Kashmiris (2015) page 22 (the ancient Greeks, who knew of this region, called it ‘Kasperia’); the Chinese called Kashmir Shie-in or Kia-Shi-Lo, the Tibetans called it Kanapal while Dardas called it Kashart,

 X. Travels in the Moghul Empire (Westminster, 1891) by Francois Bernier, pages 394-395; emphasis supplied,

 XI. Supra The Valley of Kashmir, page 42,

 XII Ibid, page 43

XIII. William H Purdon’s article titled the Trigonometrical survey & physical configuration of valley of Kashmir published in Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London (1861) page 28,

 XIV. ReadNo evidence to prove …” in rcom dated 12-09-2007,

 XV. Dr. A. N. Raina, Geography of Jammu & Kashmir State (2002 edition, Jammu) para1; emphasis mine

M J Aslam is Author, academician, story-teller & freelance columnist. Presently Assistant Vice President, JK Bank.


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