Holy Places in Kashmir
Prof. Chaman Lal Sapru, New
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Uma Nagari : A
temple and a spring of Goddess Uma is found here. Annual mahayajna is
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.
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
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.
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
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
The famous Kashmiri Pandit, Shriya Bhat,
responsible for the change of heart of Sultan Zainulabidin, later known as
Budshah (the Great Monarch), lived here.
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
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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