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Fisher, "Buddhist Architecutre of Kashmir," 1980

USC dissertation in Fine Arts.
August 27, 2009

Robert Earl Fisher, Ph.D

Abstract (Summary)

Kashmir is known to have played a key role in the spread of Buddhism from India on into the rest of Asia. Translators and pilgrims came there throughout the first millennium and Kashmir and the adjacent Himalayan regions gradually became something of a pilgrimage area. Unfortunately, Kashmir's own Buddhist remains have not fared well over the centuries. With the Muslim takeover completed in the fourteenth century, Buddhism ceased its vigorous existence there and what remained of the monuments fell into decay, often dismantled for use as building material.

In this dissertation, the fragmentary remains are studied, aided by numbers of votive objectives that reproduce the ruined monuments. Fortunately, some literary evidence is available. The twelfth century chronicle by the Kashmiri Kalhana, the Rajatarangin(')i, contains numerous references to Buddhist monuments and these have been verified in Stein's translation of 1900. Chinese travellers also left some records of their visits to the valley and these have also been used in reconstructing the ruined monuments. Finally, comparative material from neighboring regions has been utilized to help determine how Kashmiri Buddhist architecture may once have existed.

The opening chapter summarizes the history of Buddhism in Kashmir, utilizing the above mentioned sources as well as modern commentaries. The evidence indicates nearly continuous activity from the third century B.C. through Kalhana's time in the twelfth century. Next, Buddhist architecture is studied in terms of the major types of monuments, divided into functional and symbolic elements. The major examples of each type were known in Kashmir. The next two chapters are devoted to the only three known Buddhist sites that contain remains adequate for study. Harwan, Ushkur and Parihasapura are today nothing but ruined foundations, barely above ground level. Other objects found about the sites and sculptural and literary evidence enable some suggestions to be made as to date and original form. Chapter five is devoted to the Kashmiri Buddhist stupa, a monument that became a distinctive type in the valley. This fundamental element of Buddhist architecture developed a particular form in the Kashmiri area and this form may have reached across to the western edge of China, playing a role in the complex evolution of the Asian stupa or pagoda. The conclusion emphasizes the fundamental role played by Kashmir in the development of certain architectural elements, especially the stupa/temple construction and the type of stupa associated with the Himalayan region.