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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXV (2001-2002)

Prominent Holy Places in Kashmir
Prof. Chaman Lal Sapru, New Delhi

 The scenic beauty of Kashmir is famous all over the world, and attracts every year thousands of tourists who seek relaxation, enjoyment and the charms of nature. Few people outside the State, however, know that it also abounds in a number of pilgrimage centres. Indeed, a popular Sanskrit verse says, `All the holy places of the world are found in the region of Kashmir'. Living as they do in geographical isolation from the rest of India. Kashmiris have learnt to keep the roots of their culture alive by identifying their rivers, lakes and places with the holy tirthas of the mainland. Thus they see the Ganga in their own Gangabal, and Prayaga in the sangam (confluence) of their own rivers - the Vitasta (more commonly as the Jhelum) and the Sindhu at Shadipur.

From Vedic times to the twelfth century of the present era, Kashmir was one of the important centres of Hindu culture, religion and philosophy. The vitality of the past still survives in the faith, traditions and ways of life of Kashmiri Hindus. Every Hindu who believes in the Sanatana traditions worships God in the form of Pancayatan, the Five Deities (literally, the `five abodes') namely, Ganesa, Siva, Visnu, Devi and Surya. We have in Kashmir temples and tirthas (holy places) dedicated to all these deities and also to Avatars like Sri Rama. Let us first note some of the important places of pilgrimage associated with these deities before taking up a general survey of the holy places in Kashmir.

Ganesa

Ganesa is worshipped as the adi deva (First Deity) in all Hindu rites. He is the son of Siva, and is considered to be siddhidata (the boon-giver) and vighnaharta (destroyer of obstacles). In Srinagar we have a prominent temple of Ganesa in the heart of the city. It was formerly under the management of the Dharmarth Trust, but is now managed by a local managing committee. An annual festival on Vaisakha Sukla Caturdasi is held in the premises of the temple, and a mahayajna by the Brahman Maha Mandal is performed on the Brahma Jayanti day. There is a legend that during the period of the Pathan rulers, several hundred years back, the original idol of Lord Ganesa had been submerged in the Vitasta by the Pandits to save it from desecration. During the Dogra rule the idol was reclaimed by the devotees and installed on the Vaisakha Sukla Chaturdasi in the temple. This ancient idol is placed in the outer temple by the side of the Siva lingam, and two bigger and more attractive idols, most probably donated by Dogra rulers, are in the main temple.

There is another important temple of Lord Ganesa at the foot of the hillock of Hari Parbat which every Hindu considers as his sacred duty to go round everyday. Lord Ganesa's temple is the first amongst the shrines strewn on this hillock.

Even the holy pilgrimage to Sri Amarnathji starts with the worship of Sri Ganesa at Ganeshabal near Pahalgam.

Sankara or Siva

There is hardly any place of worship in Kashmir where you will not find a Siva lingam. In the world famous cave of Amarnath, an ice lingam is formed to full size on the fifteenth of the bright half of every month, (Purnima), and is an object of reverential attraction to the devotees of all faiths. This holy place is visited on the Sravana Purnima every year by thousands of pilgrims from far-off places. The pilgrimage starts from the Dashnami Akhada of Srinagar in the form of a procession. The Mahant (abbot) of the Akhada carries the holy silver mace of Lord Siva and is followed by hundreds of Sadhus. They reach the cave on the full moon day of Sravana, which coincides with the popular Raksha-Bandhan festival of North India. Among the great men who have visited this holy cave, the names of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Ramtirtha are note worthy; they composed beautiful verses in praise of the Lord. Swami Vivekananda had a profound mystical experience in the cave. Afterwards he said to his European disciples, `The image was the Lord Himself. It was all worship there. I never have been to anything so beautiful, so inspring.'

Another beautiful stone-temple of Lord Siva is situated on a hill in the Srinagar city commanding a magnificent view. The temple is managed by the Dharmarth Trust. The hill, known as Gopadri in ancient Sanskrit texts, had the shrine of Jyestha Rudra on it. It is believed that the great Acharya Sri Sankara on his visit to Srinagar, meditated on this hill which now bears his name. Swami Vivekananda has given the following description of the temple : `Look! what genius the Hindu shows in placing his temples! He always chooses a grand scenic effect! See, the hill commands the whole of Kashmir.'

The snow-clad peaks around the valley bear one or the other name of Lord Siva, like `Mahadeva', `Harmukha', etc. It was under the Mahadeva peak in the picturesque range of Harwan that the famous Sive-Sutras (the basis of Saiva philosophy) were composed. Devotees visit this place particularly on the same day on which the pilgrimage to Amarnathji is undertaken. They also visit the following places of worship connected with Siva on the same day : Dhyaneshwar in Bandipur, Thajwor in Bijbehara and Harishwar in Khonmoh.

There are numerous temples of Siva in the whole valley. Among them Sadashiva temple in Purushyar and Someshwar temple in Habbakadal find mention in the famous histories and Puranas of Kashmir.

Visnu

The only holy place connected with Lord Visnu in Kashmir is Vishnu-Pada or Kaunsar Naga. This is a big lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 feet in Anantnag district. The lake is shaped like a foot and it is believed that Lord Visnu had placed his holy foot in the place where the present big lake is found.

Devi or Divine Mother

We have numerous places of pilgrimage dedicated to the Divine Mother in Kashmir of which Ksheer Bhawani, Sri Sharika Mandir, Mahakali Mandir (in Srinagar and Vadora), Jwala Mukhi (in Khrew), Shailapuri (in Nagabal, Baramulla), Baladevi, Sri Vaishnodevi and Sarthal Devi (in Jammu region) are well known. The most important among them all is of course Ksheer Bhawani.

The temple of Goddess Maharajani, known as Ksheer Bhawani, is situated about 14 miles away from Srinagar at the village Tulamula in the famous Sindh valley. The road leading to Ksheer Bhawani has also a spiritual significance. While going to Ksheer Bhawani first we reach `Vicharnag' (the lake of discrimination). Then we reach `Tyangal-bal' (the hill of burning charcoals) and Kavaj-var (the fire of cremation ground) and Amar-her (the immortal staircase). These names denote renunciation. The third place is Aanchar Lake, which derives its origin from Aachar (righteousness). After going through these places we reach the cherished destination, the holy place of the Divine Mother, the abode of love, pure and divine, and be with the Divine Mother.

An old Sanskrit text called the Bhrngesa Samhita carries a chapter known as `Rajani-Pradurbhava' which gives a description of the origin of this temple. Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka, in order to attain unlimited power worshipped Mother Maha-rajani. The Divine Mother after being moved by the immense tapas (penance) performed by Ravana, bestowed upon him many boons. Soon after, Ravana began to lead a life of luxury, and after forcibly taking away Sita, prepared himself for a battle with Lord Rama. After watching the misbehaviour of Ravana, the Devi asked Hanuman to take Her to Satisar (Kashmir) along with 360 Nagas. Hanumanji installed the Devi at the Tulamula village in Kashmir Valley. Here the Devi is being worshipped as `Ksheer Bhawani' or Goddess Rajani. Only flowers, milk and sweets are offered to Her.

The Brahmins of Tulamula have been described in Rajatarangini as full with spiritual powers. For quite sometime in the past this important tirtha remained under flood waters, and it was only after a pious Brahmin Sri Krishna Pandit had a vision of it that the place was rediscovered. He was a great devotee of the Devi and composed the famous hymn the Rajani Stotra. Later on a beautiful marble temple was erected in the centre of the `Kunda' (spring) by the Dogra rulers. This spring changes colours and is shaped like `OM' in the Sharada script. Every year an annual festival is held on Jyestha Sukla Astami at this holy place.

During his stay in Kashmir, Swami Vivekananda visited this holy place twice or thrice. Soon after he had the stupendous vision of Mother Kali at a solitary place near Srinagar, Swamiji went to Ksheer Bhawani on September 30, 1898. There he lived a life of intense tapas and devotion to the Mother for a week. His biography gives the following details of his stay.

Before this famous shrine of the Mother he daily performed Homa, and worshipped Her with offering of Kheer (thickened milk) made from one maund of milk, rice and almonds. He told his beads like any humble pilgrim; and as a special Sadhana, every morning he worshipped a Brahmin pandit's little daughter as Uma Kumari, the Divine Virgin. He began to practise the sternest austerities ......

When he returned to Srinagar, he appeared before his disciples a transfigured presence, writes Nivedita .... `No more"Hari Om!" It is all "Mother' now' he said, sitting down. `All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only "Mother! Mother!" .... Mother said to me : "What, even if unbelievers should enter my temples, and defile my images! What is that to you? Do you protect me? Or do I protect you?" So there is no more patriotism. I am only a little child.'

One day at Kshir-Bhawani he had been pondering over the ruination and desecration of the temple wrought by the Muslim invaders.... It was then that he had heard the Mother speaking as above ..... In his mediation on the Terrible, in the dark hours of the nights at Kshir-Bhawani, there were other visions that he confided only to one or two of his brother disciples.....

At the same shrine, in the course of worship one day, the Swami was brooding with pain on the dilapidated condition of the temple. He wished in his heart that he were able to build a new one there in its place .... He was startled in his ruminations by the voice of the Mother Herself, saying to him, `My child! if I so wish I can have innumerable temples and magnificent monastic centres. I can even at this moment raise a seven-storeyed golden temple on this very spot.'

Sun temple at Martand

Only five miles away from the town of Anantnag on the way to Amarnath, is a village known as Mattan or Bhawan. In ancient scriptures the name of this place is given as Martand (the sun). Here is a beautiful spring and a small rivulet flowing nearby known as the Chaka. On the banks of the Chaka thousands of devotees from northern India perform sraddha to their deceased ancestors in adhikamasa months and Vijaya Saptami. About 21/2 km. from the spring are the ruins of a magnificent temple dedicated to the Sun known as Martand. The temple in Indo-Greek architectural style was built by Lalitaditya, a great king of Kashmir. Swami Vivekananda visited this place at least three times.

Other shrines

The two prominent places of pilgrimage of Muslims and Sikhs are Hazratbal and Chhatipadshahi. The Hazratbal shrine on the Dal lake facing east is known as the Second Mecca. The only relic of Prophet Muhammad is preserved here. The Chhatipadshahi is a Gurdwara near Hari Parbat which had been visited by the sixth Guru of the Sikhs. Once upon a time the region of Kashmir was an important centre of Buddhism, the influence of which is seen in some temple sculpture. At present Buddhism is the dominant religion of Ladakh which is now a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It shall be noted that in this article we are dealing with only the holy places in Kashmir proper. Those in Jammu and Ladakh have their own distinctive features and have not been included here. Let us now have a bird's-eye view of the innumerable holy places found all over the valley of Kashmir.

Southern Kashmir

Amarnath : The natural cave with its huge ice Siva Lingam is the most famous centre of pilgrimage in Kashmir.

Vetha-Vatur : Here is the source of river Vitasta. Annual pilgrimage to this place is performed on the thirteenth day of the dark half of the Bhadra month.

Khana Barni : Dedicated to Divine Mother, it is near Qazigund.

Kapal Mochan : Annual festival on Sravana Sukla Dvadasi is held here and devotees perform sraddha. It is situated near Shopain.

Manzgam : A temple in the forest, dedicated to Mother Rajna. Annual festival is held on Jyestha Astami.

Anantnag : This holy spring after which the town as well as the district is named, is famous for its crystal clear water. Annual festival of Ananta Devata is held on the fourteenth day of the dark half of Bhadra month.

Thajiwore : It is situated near Bijbihara. An old Siva temple is found here and the annual festival is held on Sravana Purnima.

Gautama Nag : It is situated at about 41/2 km. away from Anantnag.

Lokabhawan : Annual festival is held here and a mahayajna performed. It is 11 miles from Anantnag.

Uma Nagari : A temple and a spring of Goddess Uma is found here. Annual mahayajna is performed here.

Nagadandi : Sri Ramakrishna Maha Sammelan, managed by the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee of Kanyakumari, is situated here. An ancient spring and a few idols of some ancient temple are found here. An annual festival is held on the day Chhari (Amarnath pilgrimage) starts. It is 3 km. away from Achhabal.

Gosayeen Gond : An attractive neat and clean Ashram is found here. During Amarnath Yatra a number of devotees visit this Ashram and stay and meditate for a few days.

Vishnu Pad : Known also as Kaunsarnaga, it is about 14 miles away from Aharbal fall; the journey to it is hazardous.

Jwala Mukhi : This tirtha dedicated to Goddess Jwala (Flame) is situated about 20 km. from Srinagar in Anantnag district. A temple of Jwalaji is situated on a hillock there. Annual festival is held in Jwala-Caturdasi (fourteenth day of the dark second half of Asad).

Kurukshetra : It is near Pampore (famous for saffron, where the great mystic poetess of Kashmir, Lalleshwari or Lalded, lived). Festivals are held here on the occassions of solar and lunar eclipses.

Baladevi : This famous tirtha is dedicated to Bala Bhagavati (Tripurasundari). She is the family deity of the Dogra rulers, and the temple is managed by the Dharmarth Trust. This place of pilgrimage is situated in Balahama near Pampur.

Northern Kashmir

Koti Tirtha : It is situated on the right bank of the Vitasta (Jhelum) at Baramulla. It is believed that the holy waters of one crore tirthas reach here through the Vitasta and is therefore considered very sacred.

Shailaputri (Devibal) : This tirtha is situated on the left bank of the Vitasta at Baramulla. This is a miniature Ksheer-Bhawani.

Nandkeshwar (Seer-Jagir) : A famous temple of Siva known as Nandakeswar Bhairava, situated on the left bank of the Vitasta at Sopore. The annual festival is held on Jyestha Amavasya here.

Nandkesawar(Sumbal) : An ancient place for worship of Nandakeswar Bhairava situated in Sumbal village.

Gophabal : Situated near Langet, Handwara.

Bhadrakali : This Tirtha dedicated to Goddess Kali is situated in a thick pine forest near Vadipora (Handwara).

Tikkar (Gushi) : Situated near Kupvara, this tirtha is dedicated to the Divine Mother (Maharajani).

Chandigam : Situated in the picturesque valley of Lolab in Sogam. A monastery of Sannyasins belonging to the Niranjani Akhada has been established here.

Gosayeen Teng : Situated on a hillock at Baramulla. Some springs dedicated to Bhagavan Sri Ramachandra are found here.

Sharadaji : Now in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and situated on the bank of Kishanganga, it was a famous centre of pilgrimage throughout the country before partition. It is considered to be a siddha pitha like the Sharika Chakreshwar temple on Hari Parbat. It was once upon a time a great centre of learning, and students as well as scholars from far off places used to come here. Some monuments still exist there. The place was for centuries associated with the culmination of Hindu religious scholarship and authority which even the great teacher Sri Sankara had to acknowledge.

District Srinagar

Shankaracharya Hill : A beautiful Siva temple exists on the hillock called Shankaracharya Hill. Annual festival on the day of Amarnath Darsan is held here.

Hari Parbat : A hillock in Srinagar city, it has many temples around it. The main temple is of Goddess Sarika, the presiding Deity of Kashmir. Annual festivals on the first Navaratri and Asadha Navami are held here. This is considered a siddha pitha, a place of awakened Divine Presence.

Ksheer Bhawani : Twenty kilometers away from Srinagar, it is a spring in which a temple has been constructed dedicated to Mother Rajani. Annual festival is held on Jyesta Astami.

Gangabal : A lake situated near Harmukh peak; it is the most beautiful lake in Kashmir. Annual festival is held on the Ganga Astami in Bhadra month. People immerse the ashes of their dead relatives here and also perform Sraddha. The journey to this place is most hazardous but is much rewarding.

Guptaganga (Nishat) : Just adjacent to the Nishat garden. On the Vaisakhi festival devotees come from all over Kashmir to have a dip in the spring here. A Saiva Math is also attached to it where Sunday classes on Saivism were conducted by the well-known teacher Swami Lakshman Joo.

Jyeshteshwara : A temple of Jyestha Devi is located in between Shankaracharya Hill and Chasma Shahi. A pilgrimage to this place on Thursdays in the month Jyestha is considered auspicious.

Gangajatan : Situated in the tehsil of Badgam. On Ganga Astami day people come here to have a dip. It is almost a dry spring but on this particular day, at a particular hour, water gushes out and devotees have their holy bath.

Badipur : Situated in the tehsil Chadura near Nagam, it is a miniature Ksheer Bhawani. Annual mahayajna on Vaisakha Sukla Astami is held here.

Mahakali Asthapan : Situated by the side of the famous Khanaqah of Shah Hamdan; it is believed that a magnificient temple of Maha Kali once existed here. The annual festival is held here on Pausa Krsna Paksa Astami.

Vaskur : Dedicated to the mystic poetess Rupa Bhavani, considered to be an incarnation of Goddess Sarika. Annual festival is held here on Sahib-Saptami, the seventh day of the dark fortnight of Magha.

Vichar Nag : Situated on Srinagar-Leh Highway at a distance of about 10 km. from Srinagar. The annual festival is held on Caitra Amavasya, the last day of the Kashmiri calendar.

The famous Kashmiri Pandit, Shriya Bhat, responsible for the change of heart of Sultan Zainulabidin, later known as Budshah (the Great Monarch), lived here.

Jammu

Vaishno Devi : This is as famous as Amarnathji and Ksheer Bhawani of Kashmir. Thousands of pilgrims mostly from northern India, visit this place. The Divine Mother in her Vaisnavi form is being worshiped here. The main temple is 11 km. above Katra, a town on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway-Devotees prefer to visit the shrine on Nava-Ratra days.

Sarthal Devi

It is situated in Doda district of Kishtwar. There is a popular belief that Mother Sarika (Hari Parbat) shifts during winter to this place.

There are many other places of pilgrimage in Jammu region such as Burha Amarnath, Sudh Mahdev, etc.(Courtesy : Prabuddha Bharata, March 1983)

 



The author is an educationalist & researcher; presently an Editor (Hindi) of Koshur Samachar Delhi. This article was also published in Koshur Samachar, February, 1999 issue.

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