and the Hindu Pantheon
(A Parikrima back in
Dr. K. L. Chowdhury, Jammu
vale of Kashmir is famous for its beauty, its exquisite scenic places and sacred
pilgrim centers. Name a hamlet in Kashmir where you do not have an abode of God
in the lap of a spring, on the bank of a stream, near a river ghat, on the ridge
of a hill, inside a cave, in the hallow of a Chinar trunk, on a snowy
mountain slope or a verdured plateau. God is truly omnipresent in Kashmir. But
nowehere can you find nearly the whole pantheon of Hindu deities, domiciled
close to each other as around the hillock of Hariparbat. The denizens of the
city of Srinagar are truly blessed to be able to undertake a sequence of
pilgrimages that lie within their daily reach on a five kilometer trail around
Hariparbat along a track hallowed by tradition and time.
Nearly 5 decades back, when I was in my teens,
thousands of pilgrims made that daily near 2-hour circumambulation, paying
obeisance to their Gods and Goddesses as they strolled from one temple to
another, going round in clockwise direction, chanting, singing, praying. The
number of devotees dwindled over the years and shrank to a few hundred as people
moved away from the downtown to the suburbs. They shrank further as religious
intolerance caught Kashmir in its dragnet and the devotees shied away from that
exhilirating morning constitutional cum devotional enterprise. In 1989-90
Islamic terrorism opened its fangs on the Hindus, driving them into exile and
forcibly separating them from their beloved pantheon. All that remains of that
daily festive scene of a stream of pilgrims going around Hariparbat is the
abandoned and forlorn gods seeking their devotees who can now only afford a
mental journey of that Parikrima made during those halcyon days.
Hariparbat (Mt. Hari) is a hillock in the heart
of the old walled city of Srinagar about 7 kilometers from Amirakadal (the first
bridge across river Vitasta). It takes its name from the goddess who changed
into a myna (Hari) and picked a stone in her beak and threw it where it
transformed into the hillock nearly 400 feet high, adorning the city like a
shining jewel. Thus sanctified, this hillock became the abode of numerous
deities worshiped by their admiring devotees down the ages. During their reign,
the Moghul kings built a fort on the hillock and King Akbar, in order to provide
a livelihood to his hungry subjects, ordered the construction of a high wall
around the hill and adjoining large swaths of land. A number of gates puncture
the wall in different directions. The wall called Kalai stands
dilapidated but still functional in large stretches to provide a walkway. Two
north bound streams of pilgrims starting much before dawn, men women and
children, some barefooted, others poorly clad, most carrying rice to be given
away as alms and flowers to be offered to the gods, from Rainawari and from the
main city of seven bridges merge at Sangeen Darwaza (the stone gate). A large
line of beggars, on either side of nearly 200-meter stretch of the road here
provides a sorry spectacle. The devotees, as they move along towards the first
stop at the temple of Ganesha, toss a handful of rice and a few pennies onto a
small piece of cloth spread in front of each beggar.
The Ganesha temple is rightly the first in the
pantheon here since Hindus undertake all tasks, religious or secular, by
invoking the blessings of the lord. Ganesha is represented by a massive
vermilion-smeared bossy, bumpy rock formation, symbolizing the elephantine head
of the venerated god. A mere touch sends divine vibrations from the lord of
wisdom up your arm to the very center of the head. In the rock are sculptured
Siva, Parvati and Ganesh figurines. A Siva Lingum of granite is installed on the
right side of the rock formation. Some pilgrims pray from outside the temple,
standing in front of the grilled windows while most enter inside. Here they sit,
anoint their foreheads with saffron and vermilion, and pray and sing hymns in
praise of the lord, washing the lord with milk, ringing bells, lighting oil and
ghee lamps, burning incense, offering flowers. On the right of the temple,
almost flanking it, is the long flight of stairs leading to the Dargah of
Mukdoom Sahib, a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Milk, oil lamps,
candy cones and flowers and the herb, vena is available for offerings
from Muslim vendors near the temple entrance. Begels, hot from the oven, are
available from nearby bakers, to be fed, as another alms giving act by the
faithful, to the mongrels loitering around the place. Wagging tails, they jump
on their hind legs as they follow the crumbs tossed by the moving pilgrims and
deftly catch them in their mouths.
The track from the temple of Ganesha leads
through a meandering footpath along the hill and through strewn stones and
sparse bushes to a small rectangular flat piece of land nearly 450 meters away
and marked by a few Chinars and seven large granite stones that represent
the seven sages (Sapt Rishi). The pilgrims walk around the Sapt Rishi in a Parikrama
to pay obeisance and stop near a bigger boulder athwart the footpath with a
scalloped top strewn with pebbles. This is the rock of fortune. Here they pick a
handful of pebbles and count them. An odd count presages good luck while an even
number evens out all the difficulties. Students often try their luck on this
fortune stone after having taken their annual tests.
Nearby, in the foothills, the devotees walk to
the temple of the black goddess, the demon-slayer, Kali, who grants protection
from evil forces. From there you wade through sprawling fields, the almond
grooves (Badam vari). The almond orchards slope down from the foothills
to the wall (Kalai). They are most fabulous in spring in their pink-white
blossoms, an invitation to the denizens of the city to say good bye to winter
and come out with their mats, samovars and picnic paraphernalia, to sip
cupfuls of steaming tea and to feast on chestnuts roasted on burning grass. All
you have to do is to look for a couple of stones, a flat one on which to place
the chestnut and a round one to beat it with so that the kernel is separated
from the shell. You never tire savoring this delicacy till your hands are
bruised with the effort and the mouths are black with soot. The girls thread the
petals of almond blossoms into garlands. The boys break a few blossom studded
twigs off the trees and flaunt them to each other and to the girls.
Some climb the hill to fly kites from the
heights in the spring breeze while others try their hand at a game of cards. It
is a festive crowd, all communities, and all age groups. There are the usual
shopping delights and fun games and the merry-go-rounds, the balloon-sellers and
the snake charmers, the magicians and the kaleidoscopists vending a peep into
bollywood. The most frequented are the stalls of the confectioners dishing out
the delectable nadir munjas (flour-dipped lotus stalk fried out of
boiling oil) and luchas (loaves of fine flour fried out of boiling ghee).
From the Kali temple the pilgrim progresses to
an archway that leads up a flight of 108 stairs to the Chakreshwari temple. Near
the archway is a small Siva temple, which also houses some antique sculptures of
deities. The old and infirm who find the ascent difficult face towards the
Chakreshwari and invoke her blessings from here. Others climb the stairs and
pass through an alley to enter a small courtyard. Here they ring the large bell
hanging near the parapet on the retaining wall to announce their arrival in the
august presence of goddess Chakreshwari and enjoy the breathtaking aerial view
of the town in the distance and the mountain ranges far away that gird the
The presiding deity faces you directly as you
ascend another short flight of stairs and step on to a small stone-paved
amphitheater. She stands there in hard rock pasted with vermilion, formless and
flat with a wide base and the sides rising up to a relatively round top,
striking instant admiration and wonder. While trying to capture the image of the
deity seeking a head, a torso and even the limbs where there are none you soon
realize that she is beyond ordinary imagination and that is why she is
symbolized in this sacred rock so you could sculpt the goddess of your own
imagination. Yes, she is Chakreshwari, so named and famed because of the emblem
of Chakra engraved in the rock. In Tantra the geometrical configuration of
Chakra with its triangles, rectangles and circles emanating from a central point
relates to life and the cosmic forces. The philosophic and theological
interpretation apart, Chakreshwari is the incarnation of Sharika, the 18-armed
goddess, the benevolent deity, drawing devotees to herself, granting them boons
and fulfilling their wishes when they come in pure faith. She comes down from
her abode on the hill, on her mount, the lion, for a night stroll in the lawns
below, the familiar Devi Angan (the compound of the deity). It is here that
pilgrims sit cross-legged in meditation for hours. It is here that she is said
to have revealed herself to Pandit Madhav Dhar, one of her ardent devotees who
never missed paying his obeisance to her every night while going round the hill
in a parikrama.
`I am glad with your devotion, Madhav Ram. Name
a boon and it shall be granted', the deity commanded. `Your visitation is all I
craved for and I desire no more boon except to be in your favour, my liege', he
replied as he fell at her feet in ecstasy and wonder. When she insisted Madhav
Dhar desired her to be born as his daughter and she was born to his wife 9
months later as Rupa Bhavani, the sage-poetess much revered by Pandits.
A large dome on four large pillars was erected
in the sixties to cover part of the amphitheater in front of the deity to secure
devotees from sun and rain. A small patch of land cultivated on her crown makes
a delectable sight in flowers and green. A flight of stairs landing on this
green flanks both sides of the vermilion-painted rock to enable the pilgrims her
It is to Chakreshwar that the Pandits flock
regularly and in large numbers on festive occasions. But the crowning moment is
her birthday on 9th day of the moonlit (bright) fortnight of Ashada.
They light lamps, burn incense, ring bells and sound conchs, chant mantras and
sing devotional songs in praise of the deity. Some of them cook the deity's
favorite dish of Taher (salted turmeric-spiced, fried rice) and Charvan
(cooked liver). After prayers, oblations and offerings to the deity they
themselves partake of the yellow rice and liver and top it up with Sheerchai
(salted tea). Some devotees make a sacrificial offering of the lungs and heart
of lamb or goat. Tradition demands that both the lungs as well as the hearts be
torn into pieces by bare hands and flung to the circling kites high above. It is
a veritable treat to watch the kites swoop down to catch the morsels in their
claws and fly away to a nearby tree or a boulder to savour it and return to
catch more. The sky turns into a play field for these birds, circling, swooping
down on the food missiles, and furiously overtaking each other.
It is at Chakreshwar that the Pandit choir sang
devotional Kashmiri songs on Saturday nights. In the sixties they started
beaming devotional film music on loud speakers to set in process a race between
the temple and the mosque in the abuse of loud speakers for religious practices.
Along the ridge of the hill, a furlong away to the left is a cluster of big
rocks, again painted with vermilion, representing goddess Hari who picked the
stone in her beak to transform it into Hariparbat. But if you cross the ridge
and climb up the hill to the right, it leads through a huge gate, fortified with
iron spikes, up a long and winding flight of stone stairs to a terraced fortress
on the top of the hill. There is a water tank, a bathing place, and a temple of
Durga with her dark figure standing in the middle of the sanctum.
The fort is thrown open to public only on Navreh,
the New Year of the Pandits, and for nine days following. Alas! nothing has been
done to preserve and renovate this place from total ruin either by the
department of archeology, Govt. of India, the custodian of this fort, or the
Pandit community that holds this place very sacred.
From the fortress you can descend back towards
Chakreshwari and trudge along the left and around the hill or take a shorter
route along the back of the hill to reach the temple of Rama built by Pt. Amar
Chand. The temple houses the idols of lord Rama, his consort Sita and his
legendary and loyal brother Lakshmana. A small Siva Lingam stands on a pedestal
in the compound of the temple. The view of the fort from here is beautiful and
another almond orchard slopes down towards the kalai from here.
Just opposite the Ram temple, in the alcove of
the hill, up a narrow flight of about thirty stairs is the temple of Sedalakhshmi,
the incarnation that assures fulfillment and success in all your endeavors. She
stands rock-like in rock in her rocky benevolence, as all other deities of the
pantheon on and around Hariparbat.
From the Ram temple the pilgrims go along a long
trail of about a kilometer where it forks left towards Pokhribal, a few furlongs
away. Pokhri means spring and Bal place, meaning the place of spring. This is a
small square shaped clear-water spring with a Siva temple. Besides the Lingum
there are other figurines of many deities in the temple. The water from the
spring flows out into a small lake where devotees have a bath before they go in
for audience with the deities. The lake joins the back waters of the Nigeen and
Dal lakes and many people, while on a boat ride to the famous Mughal gardens of
Nishat and Shalimar, rove on to this place and dock for a dharshan of
Most devotees bypass Pokhribal and continue
along the return trail to the exit gate in the kalai, the Kathidarwaza
(the wooden gate which later seems to have been rebuilt in stone). Just before
the exit is the Hanuman temple dedicated to that staunch devotee of Rama who
fought his wars in exile and helped him vanquish the demon king Ravna and rescue
Sita from his clutches. A statue of Hanuman, the god of strength, adorns this
At the Kathidarwaza the pilgrims pause and rest
awhile on seats fashioned out of stone and exchange pleasantries before they
fork into different directions to their homes, fully rejuvenated and blessed.
Just outside Kathidarwaza is the famous Gurdwara,
Chattipadshai, sacred to the Sikhs where many pilgrims stop to pay respects and,
on Sundays, partake of the prasad of wheat pudding.
1) Present status of the Parikrima :
Hariparbat epitomized the religious-cultural
synthesis of Kashmir where Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs flocked every morning in
huge numbers in a festive atmosphere not only to pray at their respective
shrines but also to pay obeisance at each other's temples of faith.
Nowhere in Srinagar did we have a confluence of
three religious and philosophical streams as here. The pilgrims, in a short span
of about 2 hours and a distance of a few kilometers went through an elevating,
physical, psychical and spiritual experience.
Alas! there is a very little of the parikrima
left now. The Ganesha temple is locked most of the time. The whole land inside
the kalai has been usurped partly by the Tibetan Muslim refugee and
partly by the locals in connivance with the revenue officials.
Most temples are in a state of ruin and their
property has been encroached upon. Fortunately Chakreshwari and Pokhribal
shrines have been well maintained by the security forces, the BSF, who welcome
the occasional pilgrim and even serve him with the traditional prasad.
There is no trace of the almond grooves and no Badam
Vari. In its place we find tin-roofed concrete houses.
Very little is left of that dizzying trail as
you find the large stretch between Ganesha's and Chakreshwar claimed by horse
chestnut trees planted by the social forestry department.
Devi Angan has been leased to VSNL, which has
installed a huge dish where once devotees sat in meditation.
The fort is out of bounds and dangerous to visit
because it is tumbling down. Hardly anyone visits the temple of Durga there.
The premises of Pokhribal have been taken over
for lift irrigation.
2) Seeking Indulgence. I seek the indulgence of
the reader for any missing links, inaccuracies or explanations deviant from the
3) Acknowledgement : This Parikrima has been
possible only with the help of my revered mother. Grounded in tradition and
replete with detail, she has an amazing memory for peoples, places and the
pantheon. I bow my head to her sagacity, devotion and love.
4) A thought : How do we restore Hariparbat and
the Hindu Pantheon that it holds in its pristine glory?
The author is a renowned physician, writer,
poet and a leader of Panun Kashmir movement.
Mailing Address : Chowdhury Lane, Roop