Karkotas: Kashmir’s ‘Serpent’ Dynasty (7th to 9th century CE)
‘For rivers which have set out from their own region, the ocean is the limit. But nowhere is there a limit for those who are frankly aspiring to be conquerors.’
These words were written by 12th century CE Kashmiri historian Pandit Kalhana, in his magnum opus Rajatarangini or the River of Kings, a historic chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir. He was referring to the greatest Emperor of Kashmir, Lalitaditya Muktapida (724-761 CE), whose empire stretched from Central Asia to the Gangetic plains. Emperor Lalitaditya belonged to the Karkotas, a dynasty that ruled over Kashmir from the 7th to the 9th centuries CE, and who presided over the ‘Golden Age of Kashmir’.
Travel 22 km north-west of Srinagar, to a plateau overlooking the Jhelum River, to a place locals call ‘Kani Shahr’ or the ‘City of Stones’. This was once ‘Parihaspora’ or the ‘City of Smiles’, the capital of the Karkota Empire. It was one of the most magnificent cities in North India in its time. A millennium of political turbulence in Kashmir has meant that very little has survived of one of India’s dynasties. Due to severe paucity of material and epigraphical evidence on the Karkotas, we must turn to Pandit Kalhana, to piece together their story.