I am grateful to Prem Nath Bhat Memorial Committee to have invited me to participate in this seminar on the burning issue of the temples, shrines and other religious places of Hindus in Kashmir. It could not have come at a more opportune moment, especially when a draft bill for the management of these institutions is hanging fire for a long time now and being deferred under one pretext or other from being introduced in the J&K State legislature.
All that is left of our community in Kashmir are the dilapidated remains of these sacred institutions that have held us together and are so much enshrined in our daily lives in exile. Our ancestors have bequeathed to us these fantastic monuments to their faith that we may cherish and draw inspiration from them and nurture them with our love and devotion to carry forward the great traditions, rituals, and religious practices that define us as a distinct and proud community.
I am neither an archeologist, nor theologian, nor historian, who could speak with authority on these religious monuments, but I was lucky to have grown - and so must many of you here - in a uniquely spiritual milieu where the temples of gods and goddesses, and the shrines of saints and savants formed the fulcrum of our lives. In my childhood, we would spend all our play time in the halls and courtyards of these wonderful monuments to our gods. I recall thousands of denizens flocking to the precincts of Hari Parbhat in the city of Srinagar every morning – Pandits, Muslims and Sikhs – to offer prayers and pay their obeisance at the famous places of worship – the temples of Hindu gods, the Makdoom Sahib shrine and the Chatti Padshahi gurdwara – all placed on, near, and around the Hari Parbhat hillock, which defines the old city of Srinagar. I would visit the pantheon of gods in the many temples that dotted the way, beginning with the Ganesha temple on to the Chakreshwar temple of Sharika, the Durga temple inside the fort, the Hari temple, the Ambri Koul and Pokhribal temples, and back home after that long circumambulation. I wish I had the time here to describe those unforgettable days, what with the festivals of badamvari (the almond blossoms), Sonth (Spring) , Naureh (New Year), Baisakhi etc. that we celebrated in the sprawling lawns of Devi Aangan and adjoining lands at the feet of Chkreshawr temple. But if you go there now, you may not find your way about to these coveted places of worship – the lands, and lanes have been encroached, annexed and absorbed, the gods are besieged. The Ganesha temple is locked most of the time and in dilapidated state, the other temples are in a pitiable condition. Last month, a fire consumed part of the Chakreshwar complex. No one in authority batted an eyelid, not to speak of doing g anything about it.
When I moved from my downtown Rajveri Kadal home which was a stone’s throw from all these spiritual centers at the foothills of Hari Parbhat, I relocated at the feet of the famous Ramchander temple at Barbarshah. It was like coming from the lap of Sharika into the loving embrace of Rama. Twice a year, there used to be a nine-day festival, the Ramnavami, when devotees from far and wide flocked to the sprawling grounds around the mound on which the temple stood. And what a sight it used to be, what pageant, what rejoicing and praying and frolicking. Alas, a huge chunk of this Ramchander temple land has been assimilated into the highway by the municipal administration and the temple is now almost bared and exposed to the hazard of traffic, its sanctity blighted.
I moved on a second time, now to Indira Nagar and found myself face to face with Shankaracharya. I could not restrain myself from the call of divine and I started my daily climb to the mountain top to feel the touch of Shiva, to have a view of the heavens, to feast my eyes on the placid Dal lake, the meandering Vitasta and the distant snow-peaked mountains that shimmered like sheets of silver with the morning rising sun and enveloped you in a divine embrace. But even this most tourist-frequented temple is now reduced to a mere fortress, with most of the traditional routes closed for pilgrims.
Then came an evil wind that blew it all over, as if it had been a dream, and I woke up to find myself in the wilderness of exile along with hundreds and thousands of my community. It has never been the same again. Now the pangs get worse with each passing day as news of the ruination of all we left behind floats in every day. The temples and shrines are falling apart and going into ruin because the managers, trustees, caretakers, devotees have all been forced out with no one to look after and maintain theses institutions and their estates. It seems we have lost everything.
What is it that makes our hearts bleed about these places of religious import? What is special to Kashmir and what is unique to the temples there that the poets sing about, the mystics mull over, and lay people like me long for? While there is no denying Kashmir is the paradise about which Jehangir, the Mughal Emperor, waxed eloquent: Agar Firdous bar roo-e zameen ast-o, Hameen ast-o, hameen ast-o, hameen ast-o (If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here), for us, it is also the land of gods and goddesses, of saints, savants and sages as exemplified by the temples, shrines, and ashrams that dot every nook and corner, every hamlet, town and city.
In the words of Auriel Stein, who was stationed in Kashmir from 1888-1905,
“Kashmir is a country where there is not a place as large as a grain of sesame without a tirtha (pilgrimage) – time and conversion to Islam of greater portion of the population has changed but little in this respect.” To this, I would like to add: There is not a spring which was not holy to us, not a hill where Siva did not reside, not a pasture where Vishnu did not stride, not a river which on whose banks we did not perform our ablutions, rituals and rites, not a village around which a myth is not woven. Vitasta, Sheshnag, Kaunsarnag, Gangabal (Harmukt Ganga), Amarnath, et al - they are just a few names that are inseparable from our ethos, from our consciousness. They are the symbols of our culture and heritage and the signposts of our civilization, and they occupy our conscious thought and our subconscious aspirations even after two decades in exile. Now, they are the very fount of hope which strengthens our resolve to return to our homeland.
Kashmir lives in our souls even as we have been torn asunder from her physically. She is our mother, our beloved our deity. Our whole history is woven around the rivers, springs and hill of Kashmir, around and on which these temples and shrine came up over the course of history. Just for an example there are sixteen temples, with the post fix of yar to their names, on the banks of Vitasta in the Srinagar city alone, starting from Batyar downstream on to Somayar, Ganpatyar and others up to Shurah yar at Shvpora upstream.
Not only have they inspired the Hindus, but Muslims also in large measure. Recall the spiritual experience of the Afghan governor, Ali Mardhan, who had a vision of Shiva on looking at Mt. Mahadev that inspired his famous verse:
Huma asle maheshar bood/ Shabshahe ki man deedam
Ghazanfar charage dar barbood/ Shabshahe ki man deedam
(I saw the real Maheshwar this evening ---- )
But, it seems his inspiration has lost itself somewhere on the denizens of Kashmir like water falling off from a lotus leaf. Since Stein made that observation, Kashmir has changed a lot, and, sadly, changed for the worse. It has changed so fast in the last two decades, that if Stein were to come alive he would believe he was not in Kashmir but in an Islamic State with the sad demise of those tirthas he spoke about that were the showpiece of her glorious cultural and religious past.
We have an inventory of the temples as they existed when the mass exodus of Hindus took place in 1989-90. A quick look at the list below shows 499 Hindu temples scattered almost uniformly over the length and breadth of the valley in all its nine districts:
Alas, most of the temples stand in utter ruin. Sometime time back, Shri Raman Bhalla, the Hon Minister for revenue, relief and rehabilitation, acknowledged in written reply to a question from a legislator that as many as 170 temples had been damaged during past two decades of militancy in Kashmir valley. I am sure the minister is aware of the fact that most temple estates of the 499 properties enumerated above are under the covetous eyes of land mafia; that even the State government functionaries in the departments of revenue and administration are hand in glove with these unsavory elements; that several temple lands have been sold or seized illegally; and that unauthorized constructions have already been allowed by the concerned municipal and town area authorities.
|**Dr. K L Chowdhury Dr. K L Chowdhury retired as a Professor of Medicine, Medical College, Srinagar. Presently he is the Director of a charitable institution, Shriya Bhatt Mission Hospital and Research Center, Durga Nagar, Jammu.
He is a physician and neurologist, a medical researcher, poet, social activist. He writes on diverse subjects – medical, literary, social and political and has numerous research papers to his credit, his pioneering work being “The Health Trauma in a Displaced Population” which was presented at national and international conferences.
He has published three anthologies namely:
1- “Of Gods, Men and Militants”. Minerva Press (Pvt.) India -2000
2- “A Thousand-Petalled Garland and other Poems”. Writers Workshop Kolkata – 2003
3- “Enchanting world of Infants” Peacock Books, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors-2007
He was declared Shehjar's 'Kashmiri Person of the year' for 2007.
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