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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXV (2001-2002)

Reminiscences
Mohan Kishen Ogra, Kolkata

Hailing from Budhgher a predominantly Kashmiri Pandit locality in downtown Srinagar, in the vicinity of Alikadal (5th Bridge) Maharajgung, I am nostalgically reminded of several shrines in and around our locality. Firstly, I am tempted to start with my mohalla Budhgher which is said to have been known as Bodhghar in earlier times. When Buddhism travelled to Kashmir, it is said that some Bodh monks stayed in this area and it was named Bodhghar and over the time changed to Budhgher retaining the first part "Bodh" or "Budh" to illustrate the legend behind it. Of course, I have not heard of nor ever seen any Buddhist monks living in this locality. What I distinctly remember is that before my teenage some Buddhist monks would regularly pass through this area on way to Maharajgunj, the then main wholesale business centre of Srinagar. We would very smilingly ask them "Botta Kanas Poh" (Oh : Botta, where are you from?) and he would instantly reply "Ladakhas poh" I am from Laddakh. Botta term perhaps is the localised Kashmiri term for a Bodh, a follower of Buddhism.

Let me now relate about the main shrines in and around this area. I must begin with Rishi Peer - "Peer Pandit Padshah Har Dujahan Mushkil Assaan". The title suggests "A great kindly learned Brahmin saint capable of giving solace and relief to the people in distress". This shrine is believed to be the birthplace of Rishi peer, one of the Kashmir's greatest saints of his times. Inside the shrine there is one piece of holy Khadawoon lying on a well decorated and enclosed wooden bed of the Peer Sahab. It is said Peer Sahab had become a cripple in later years and he used Khadawoon with his hands for his movements. There is a saying that there was a devastating fire away from his locality across the river Jehlum and the affected people prayed to him for mercy and help and the Peer Sahib out of his compassionate feelings handed out to them one of his Khadawoon and asked them to throw it into the fire which in no time got completely extinguished. It is said Peer Sahib was brought up with great love and care by his saintly mother who was very keen to perform his Yugneopavit when he attained the age of twelve. Seeing his mother in a sorrowful state of mind on this account he took her along to Siddhalakshmi's ghat (a bathing ghat on river Jehlum) situated just near the shrine and told her to hold his clothes so that he could leap into water for a bath. The Rishi Peer did not know swimming then but with his spiritual powers he reappeared at the ghat after a gap with his head clean shaven and a holy "Jenew" on his neck tied round his right arm and yellow drenched Angavastras clad all over, reciting Gayatri Mantra. His mother anxiously looking for him in the meanwhile was pleasantly surprised and delighted to see him in this form. Rishi bowed before her and went back to his house where this news had already reached and the whole locality people assembled and worshipped the Peer.

At the shrine every year in the spring time a festival is held on the occasion of his Nirvana day when he left his physical body. People from far and wide come to the shrine on this occasion. Puffed rice is offered to all the devotees. Chaddhawa in cash is offered as Niyaz. Rishi was respected by followers of other religions who were also his devotees. It is said that Makdoom Sahib who was an elevated Muslim mystic saint once invited him to lunch which Rishi Peer readily accepted with a condition that he will take all his 111 disciples along and none of the food items consisting of chicken should be tasted by anyone before serving to Rishi and his disciples. This condition was accepted by Makdoom Sahab. Rishi arrived at the invitation place in time with his disciples. All of them took their allotted seats. The plates and food items were laid out. While the food laying arrangement was on, Rishi asked Makdoom whether the precondition of "no tasting the food by anybody before him" was maintained and the host in a cheerful voice duly confirmed observance. In a moment the Rishi sprinkled water on the laid dishes and lo! & behold! cocks and hens appeared alive in front of him but one cock was lame in one leg. The Rishi asked his disciples to disperse and declined to partake the lunch laid before him as Makdoom Sahab had broken his promise and someone had tasted one chicken leg. Makdoom realised Rishi's power and tearfully begged for pardon and thereafter they became spiritually very close. What was Rishi's name? I do not know. As a child he was devoted to his mother who was a very pious and awakened lady. The boy is believed to have recited Vedas and Shastras before he grew into an adult. The family he was born, as I was then told, was a Khushoo or Sopori Pandit and in fact main Khushoo family houses are around this shrine. His direct disciples were titled as `Peer' and they have been managing the shrine.

In my recent memory in 1982, when I was in Srinagar a devastating fire had stricken the locality with dozens of houses reduced to rubble and ashes. This holy shrine stood erect alone though the houses around just few feet away got burnt completely. To the amazement of all, this was a miracle or Chamatkar, so the people say.

Another memorable legend of his lifetime goes to say that his yogini mother expressed her desire to go to Shadipore for pilgrimage on Kumba day at Prayag. At Shadipur there is confulence (sangam) of two holy rivers Jehlum and Sindhu and this is known as Prayag. She was too old to travel. Realising his mother's keen desire Rishi took her to Siddhalakshmi ghat at dawn on the sacred day of sangam and made her take a holy dip and drop her stick and kamandal in the water flow. His mother watched the waves in the river taking these items along and in no time these were out of sight. Just at dusk Rishi and his mother came back for another holy dip at the auspicious time for the bath in the river at the same ghat and at that moment the stick and kamandal reappeared in the flow approaching and touching her feet. She felt a sensation and realised that her son Rishi had achieved supernatural powers and brought Sangham to Siddhalakshmi ghat for her holy dip.

Now, due to terrorism and consequent exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley, this shrine at Alikadal is lying vacant unattended surrounded by empty and burnt houses. The holy symbol, Khadawoon has been brought to Jammu in early 90s where his descendant Peers have enshrined it and devotees from far and wide worship and assemble and offer Niyaz.

It may be interesting to mention here that for the fulfillment of any wish or desire, Kashmiris promise a Niyaz to the Rishi by tying a red thread at the shrine and when the desire or wish is fulfilled, Niyaz is offered and the Kulchas (baked wheat cakes) are given by the priest as Prashad which is considered very auspicious and distributed in the family.

Another shrine near our locality is that of "Purna Raza Bhairav". This shrine is situated little away from Rajorikadal. The shrine comprises of a holy spring, surrounded by flat stones on all sides, of green clear sparkling water, not very deep, shadowed by a thick mulbary tree. This shrine is surrounded by almond-orchards and vegetable gardens all around and access to the spring is through a small stretch of a brickpath. On the festival day once every year Hindus of Alikadal area including Batayar and Safakadal visited and made offerings and took part in mass Prasad usually non-veg lunch consisting of Tahri and Charvan (Yellow rice and cooked lever). This shrine was considered to be very forceful and boons prayed for by devotees would be granted. Muslim neighbours also believed in these powers of the holy shrine. In 1977 when I was in Srinagar I learnt that the Pujari had not been attending as the local people were creating disturbances and therefore the worshippers and pujari could not attend and the shrine was out of contact, but in 1979 when I visited Srinagar again I was told that the local people near the shrine had come in a group and pleaded with the Hindus in Alikadal area to restart the worship and the festival as usual. It is said that in the absence of the rituals, the "Bhairav" had appeared in dream to some neighbours in the area and asked them to persuade the Hindus to restart the Pujas etc. at the shrine without which the Bhairav felt unhappy and the consequences would be harmful for the locality. Thus the celebrations were restarted in 1979 after a gap of some years.

I will not dwell on Roopa Bhawani shrine, her birthplace half a kilometer from our house or "Naranjoo's" shrine which houses a very inspiring idol of Bhagwan Narayan picked up by a saintly Pandit who ordained in a dream by the Lord to pick the idol out from the river Jehlum deep bed near Batayar Ghat and also the sacred shrine of Hari Parbhat just less than a Kilometre from our house as I am sure some details of these holy shrines must be appearing in this Vitasta Number elsewhere.

These are the reminiscences of my childhood memories before my teens and I beg to be pardoned for any conceptual inauthencity or historical errors or omissions.



The author is a founding member and dedicated Patron of Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata and an ex-Editor of the Vitasta .

Mailing Address : Venus Apartments; 9-Mayfair Road, Kolkata-700 019
 
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