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Lalitaditya Muktapida: Forgotten Emperors of Bharatvarsha


When I used to visit Saproo’s, my matamal at ganpatyar, among the activities of playing rag ball cricket with my two cousins in a small alley, part of their house very near to famous Ganapati temple, one of the activity which we looked forward was the company of kakni, my maternal grand mother for she was a reservoir of bed side stories of king Vikramaditya and Lalitaditya. We used to sleep in the tower room which had a view of the Jhelum river flowing. This river at least stands the testimony of brave Kashmiri rulers and statesmen before the place went down to foreigners in the thirteenth century. I still wonder as to why those stories did not find their way into the books that we read in school.

Due to the special provisions of the Indian Constitution which have been duly rectified as of now by the present dispensation, Kashmir is a part of India but was systematically made to be different from other provinces due to ideological communication issues between Kashmir and the rest of India. The important reason for this aberration is mainly due to historians not been able to integrate the history of Kashmir into Indian history.

Though it is true that the historical references to Lalitaditya, apart from Kalhana's 'Rajatarangini', are extremely scattered. In many places where there are no explicit references, the links of Lalitaditya's history have to be matched by matching references from the history of other contemporary rulers. Despite the contemporary history of all the eighteenth-century dynasties from India to the Turks, Afghans, Arabs, Tibetans, China, and the histories of others, it is shocking that until the twenty-first century, Lalitaditya was confined to a few small articles or a blog. In fact, it is a bitter fact that people have never heard of the name 'Lalitaditya' although I could place a good article written by Col Tej Koul in Manthan about a year back.

From a strategic point of view, Kashmir's position is central to the area surrounding it which was true even in the seventh century. Vulnerability came from the fold of China, Tibet, the invading superpowers, the smaller states in the northwest, the Arab and turk invaders and the empire of the Kannauj to the south. It is certain that the Karkotak kings of Kashmir, after recognizing and considering Kashmir's vulnerability devised politics and succeeded in it significantly proved by when Kasim reached Jalandhar, the border of Kashmir (Punjab), but due to the bitter resistance of Chandrapida, he had to abandon the campaign and return to Kangra in Himachal Pradesh.

The first king of the Karkotak tribe, Rarvalvardhan Pragyadita, is a contemporary of Harshavardhan, the king of Kanauj. After his birth, his son Pratapaditya came to power. He had three sons - Chandrapid, Tarapid and Muktapid (Lalitaditya). After his death, of course, Chandrapid came to the throne. During the period of Chandrapida, Arabian swathes started from the west. Mohammad bin Qasim defeated Rajah Dahir of Sindh and strengthened his kingdom. After Kasim defeats Dahir, his son, Jaisingh, had come to Kashmir for shelter. (This is different from how Jaisingh went back to Sindh and how he succeeded in embracing Islam and retaining power). Chandrapida's work was not limited to sheltering Jaisingh, being front runner of the surrounding Hindu and Buddhist rulers who were ready to resist the Arab invasion. The resistance of all these has led to the assertion that Kasim could be stopped in Multan. Chinese historical sources say that Chandrapida had also appealed to the Chinese emperor to join the resistance. This appeal was also compounded by the fact that the trade routes that deal with China's interests were coming under attack. Unfortunately, Tarapid, Chandrapida's brother, was deceitful and selfish. Chandrapida's death was brutally executed and he annexed the throne. Kalhana has portrayed Tarapida as a villain. Tarapida died suddenly and mysteriously and the protagonist Muktapida Lalitaditya ascended the throne in AD 724-25. After Mohammed bin Qasim, Junaid was appointed by the Caliph of Baghdad as governor of Sindh province. He began to demand a ransom from local authorities. After Lalitaditya came to the throne, he first attacked Junaid and defeated him.

It is sad that history has not taken note of the incident but, the Arabic instruments say that the fighting took place, but does not say exactly what the end of it was meaning they accept the defeat and it was because of this defeat that the Caliph called Junaid back and appointed Tamim in his place. Lalitaditya confronted the Arabs by leading them along with Yasovarma, the Emperor of Kanoj. Tamim, the governor after Junaid, escaped, and Al-Hakam, who came after him, faced a series of defeats. The joint alliance of Lalitaditya and Yashovarma attacked Tibet and resolved the five important trade routes occupied by Tibet and prevented Tibet's aggressive supremacy. This is mentioned in a letter handed over to the delegation sent by the Lalitaditya to the King of China as Chinese emperor recognizes Lalitaditya as king.

According to the book 'Al-Hind' written by the Arab writer Alberuni, the Kashmiris used to celebrate every year for the victory conquered by the Turks by Muttai. 

It is clear that this Muttai was no other than the Kashmiri Emperor Muktapid, that is, Lalitaditya. The Alberuni mentions Lalitaditya’s victory over Tokharistan.

Although Lalitaditya and Yashovarma came together successfully to overcome the two enemies, Turks and Tibet, it did not take long for the two to clash. The struggle culminated in the defeat of Yashovarma and his acceptance of Kashmir's ideology. All these events are described on the basis of the Jain instruments such as 'Godavaho' and many other scriptures. This means that Lalitaditya should be considered, along with emperors like Chandragupta, Ashoka, Vikramaditya and Harsha, a great emperor of Bharatvarsha. According to Kalhana, in the subsequent period, Lalitaditya campaigned all over India and conquered the states in all directions. He became the Digvijayi Emperor. He also conquered the states of the north-west (called Uttarapath). His unique achievement is that he succeeded in preventing Tibet, which not only removed the Turks from India and given the success that Lalitaditya has achieved during the global political turmoil, he should be called the second great emperor after Ashoka in India. Emperor Lalitaditya performance as a ruler is also important. He obeyed the people and did not discriminate against religion. Many temples, stupas, parks were built in his reign.

It was because of above Kashmir appeared on the scene as keen competitor of the Gangetic powers. The valley had formed part of the empires of Ashoka’s Kanishka. In the seventh century it grew into a first-rate power under a local dynasty, and Muktapida Lalitaditya was instrumental as Kalhana, the historian of Kashmir, credits him with having led his troops to distant countries. The account of these exploits mostly reads like the conventional panegyric of an epic hero. More importance attaches to those parts of Kalhana’s narrative which refer to his triumphs over Tibetans, Dards and the Turks on the Indus and the slaughter of a king of Gauda. Lalitaditya is justly eulogised for his pious foundations, among which the famous temple of Martanda stands pre-eminent.

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