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King Lalitaditya Muktapida – Ruler of Karkota Dynasty in Kashmir

King Lalitaditya Muktapida – a ruler whose kingdom spanned major parts of India and regions that are today’s Afghanistan and Central Asia – reigned between r.c. 724 CE and 760 CE, established many towns and shrines in Kashmir and came to be known as the most powerful king of the Karkota dynasty. He defeated several kings and brought back huge wealth to Kashmir after each of his conquests. The range of his empire is disputed, as historians have not been able to ascertain the expanse of his kingdom. However, he is widely accepted as one of the most powerful kings of all time.

Lalitaditya was a Kayastha and the fifth ruler of the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir. The Kashmir Valley was his kingdom but during his reign of 37 years, he expanded the empire from Central Asia to the Gangetic Plain. For his ambition and successful conquests, he has been called the Alexander of Kashmiri History. He was preceded by Tarapida and succeeded by his son Kuvalayapida.

A Sanskrit text titled ‘Rajatarangini’ is the primary source of information about Lalitaditya and the early years in the history of Kashmir. It was authored by a Kashmiri scholar Kalhana in which he has elaborately described the life and work of King Lalitaditya Muktapida.

According to Kalhana, the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir was founded by King Durlabhavardana in 625 CE. King Lalitaditya was his great grandson. In the 8th century CE, the subcontinent was divided into small kingdoms that were at war with one another. This political condition was conducive for Lalitaditya to expand his empire, which he accomplished with strategy and valour.

Conquests of King Lalitaditya Muktapida

Raja Lalitaditya is said to have recruited Chinese mercenaries and strategists in his army. His commander-in-chief and main strategist was Cankunya. It is believed that many Central Asian Turks were also included in Lalitaditya’s army. With the help of an excellent army and due to his exceptional skills as a warrior and martial king, Lalitaditya managed to build one of the greatest empires in the world.

Kalhana states that the first invasion and victory of Lalitaditya was against king Yashovarman who surrendered to him, and they signed a peace treaty. Consequently, the land of Kanyakubja (between rivers Yamuna and Kalika) came under Lalitaditya’s rule.

Then king Lalitaditya moved to the eastern ocean and from there to the southern region and established his rule over Karnata. He is said to have gone to the Deccan with the ambition to gain control over Dakshinapatha (the trade route that linked North and South India). From the south, he brought a huge amount of wealth to Kashmir.

Lalitaditya of Kashmir, as he is called, further went to Dvaraka and Avanti and then proceeded northward. In his invasions in the North West, he is said to have conquered some important centres along the Silk Route. It is said that he gained control over towns like Turfan and Kuchan among many others, which are a part of today’s China. He is believed to have defeated the Tibetans and according to Kalhana, Kashmiris celebrated the second day of Chaitra to mark Lalitaditya’s victory over the Tibetans.

Lalitaditya’s conquest of Tibet is debated and so is his invasion of the Hindu Kush-Pamir region. According to Kalhana, king Lalitaditya had miraculous powers and that even the Gods obeyed him. Though some of this could be an exaggeration or written out of imagination, Lalitaditya Muktapida was undoubtedly one of the greatest empire builders of all time.

King Lalitaditya’s Work for Public Welfare

Emperor Lalitaditya built several towns and cities. He established a new capital Parihasapura while also maintaining the traditional capital at Srinagara. He is said to have built canals to distribute water to different regions of his kingdom. He is believed to have built bunds to create land suitable for cultivation, and built water wheels for irrigation.

He built shrines in almost every town. According to Kalhana, Lalitaditya commissioned shrines of Vishnu, Shiva, Surya as well as statues and shrines dedicated to Buddha. He built the Martanda sun temple, which is today, a site of national importance. None of the temples or shrines built by Lalitaditya exist now, except for the ruins of the Martanda Sun Temple which serve as a reminder of this great Kashmiri king.

Driven by the goal to expand his kingdom, Lalitaditya spent most of his time in military pursuits. He gave advice on good governance and appointed his elder son Kuvalayapida as his successor. Some reports claim that Lalitaditya died because of snowfall while other reports say that he immolated himself as he wished to die as a great emperor.

Rajatarangini, one of the few sources of information about Lalitaditya Muktapida, mentions him as a world conqueror, gives accounts of his public works and ascribes miraculous powers to him. His name is written in golden letters in the glorious history of Kashmir but his life story remains largely untold.

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