Harwan Monastery

The Harwan monastery is a reminder of the pivotal role played by Kashmir in the spread of Buddhism.

By Live History India

Live History India

View of the stupa base, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

On the outskirts of Srinagar in Harwan, lie the ruins of an old Buddhist Monastery. It is hard to imagine the importance of the site from its ruins. But this ancient monastery played a pivotal role in the history of Buddhism. It is here, that the 4th Buddhist council of the Mahayana (Sarvastivada) school of Buddhism was held sometime in the 1st or 2nd century CE, on the orders of the Kushana emperor Kanishka I. It was also the home to one of the greatest Buddhist masters of his time, Nagarjuna (150-250 CE) , who propounded the theory of ‘Sunyata’ or ‘Emptiness’ which went on to revolutionize Buddhist thought. Sadly, the significance of the site seems to have been lost somehow in the modern times. As has the significance of Kashmir, in the history of Buddhism.

Another view of the Monastery remains, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

Buddhism flourished in Kashmir during the 1st century CE when Kashmir was a part of the Kushana Empire. Its greatest Emperor, Kanishka I was a great proponent of Buddhism and ruled over a vast Empire which stretched from Western Afghanistan to Pataliputra in the south and from Central Asia and Tarim Basin in China, to Central India. Kashmir was a part of the Empire as well and lay at the eastern end of the Gandhara Region which served as a nursery for the growth and spread of Buddhism further afield.

Overview of the structures on the first tier, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

Buddhism continued to be the main religion in Kashmir from the time of Kanishka well into the 8th century CE when it was gradually replaced by a revitalized form of Hinduism. For a few centuries, both co-existed in a syncretic existence until Buddhism all but disappeared, with the arrival of Islam to Kashmir.

Another view of the complex, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

It is not known exactly when the Harwan monastery was built; though excavations reveal archaeological remains dating from 1st to 6th century CE. During this period, numerous Buddhist monasteries dotted Kashmir, with the ones at Harwan and Ushkur (Baramulla district) being the most prominent. Even the present Pari Mahal, near Srinagar, was once the site of one such Monastery. 

Round shrine type structure at Upper tier, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

Sadly today, few tourists visit the ruins of the Harwan monastery. To get there, you have to take the road to Harwan village, located around 7 miles northeast of Srinagar. A small board , just off the main road marks the site. The Upper Tier of the monastery lies on the edge of the Dachigam National Park.

Some tiles excavated at the site, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

There were many exquisite terracotta tiles which were found here as well, but they have since been shifted to the Shri Pratap Singh Museum in Jammu . Some of the exquisite tiles excavated from the site date back to the 4th Century CE. The upper tier also had a temple type round structure and a courtyard which was once covered with the same terracotta tiles found here. Behind this upper tier, lies what seems to be remains of more structures that are still to be excavated. It appears that the whole complex was once spread over the whole hillside.

The main stupa base, Harwan by Prashant MathawanLive History India

The Harwan Monastery site holds great significance in the saga of the spread of Buddhism as it traveled into all directions from the place of its founding and Kashmir itself played a major role in it. A role which nowadays seems to have been forgotten.

Credits: Story

Prashant Mathawan for Live History India

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of India
A showcase of India's finest cultural treasures. Ancient monuments, spiritual healing, regional arts and crafts, myths and folklore: be inspired by the wonders of this incredible country.
View theme
Google apps