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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXV (2001-2002)

Hari Parbat - Symbol of our Cultural Heritage
B. L. Kaul (Chaman), New Delhi

As it is, Hari Parbat is the focal point in the Kashmir landscape, rising amongst historical ruins in its environs and commanding a panoramic view of the majestic and glistening hill tops girdling the extensive valley, the shimmering lakes which touch its boundaries as a mark of respect for its traditional associations and being a place of great sanctity in Kashmir. In ancient times, it was known as "Sharika Parvata", the hill of Sharika. The crowning glory is the "Shrine of Cakreshvari", the Almighty Mother Sati, the controller of the titanic forces of nature. The cognoscenti have seen the mystical Shri Chakra represented in the shrine which structures her magic and mystery in the cubes, triangles, squares and circles represented therein. This then is a place of special veneration since the dawn of history. Besides, what is important is that all the important deities of the Hindu Pantheon have a traditional seat for themselves in and around "Sharika Parvata" as a mark of obeisance for Almighty Sati who had delivered the valley from the depredations of the demon "Jalodabhava" residing in the lakes. Thus it is a shrine which has a unique place in the history of Kashmir, since millions of Kashmiris have been worshipping the related shrines since the day the valley became fit for habitation and life flourished. The legend adds that the deities in grateful memory of their deliverance took up their abode here, which accounts for the fact that every important individual stone or prominent rocky area is revered by the faithful.

At present important rocks depicting Jwala, Maha Ganesha are situated on the south-western side of the Parvat. Further on, the rock known as "Sapta-Rishi", with which the earliest scientific calendar devised by Kashmiris and now 5078 years old is associated, is worshipped. Thereafter, we have the shrines of Mahakali and Siddha Laxmi. The resting place of Abhinava Gupta, the well known founder of Kashmiri Shaivism is also associated with Sharika Parvata.

The deliverance of the valley from the depredations of Jalodabhava enshrines a geological phenomenon which is duly substantiated on the basis of lacustrine deposits. The Kashmir valley is a boat-shaped basin, 140 km long on 40 km wide. It is an intermountain valley fill, comprising unconsolidated gravel-and-mud succession, which appear as plateaus above the present plain of the Jhelum and its tributaries. The plateau - like terraces are the present day Karewas or Uddars. Despite continuous erosion, still about half the valley is occupied by Karewa sediments. The Wular and Dal lakes are the remains of a primeval lake known to the ancients as "Sati-Saras". There is a general consensus that due to the rise of the Pir-Panjal, the drainage got impounded and a lake about 5000 sq. kms. in area developed in the basin thus formed. To some of the earlier geologists, a nearly flat valley with steep hills all around appeared an ideal geomorphic setting for a lake to form. Due to further rise of the Pir-Panjal, the lake shifted to the Himalayan side.

This is the geological concept, but traditions associate the emergence of the habitable landscape due to the benign action of Mother Sharika who assumed the form of a bird (Maina) and taking a pebble in her beak dropped it at the spot where "Jalodabhava", the water demon was lying. The pebble swelled to gigantic proportions by virtue of her powers, crushing the demon by its weight. The pebble to this date survives as Hari Parbat and a depression in the ground outside "Sangin Darwaza" of Akbar's rampart indicates the place where he forced his way out as he was struggling under the crushing weight over him. The legend indicates that the Gods in grateful memory of their deliverance took up their abode in various pockets of Sharika Parvata.

As centuries rolled on, this area became the nerve centre of Pravarasena's "Pravarapura" in the 6th Century A.D. when he shifted his capital from Ashoka's "Pandrethan" (Puranadhisthana - the old capital), which clearly substantiates its growing importance. Close to the foot of the southern extremity of the hill is a rock which has from ancient times received worship as an embodiment of Ganesha. A legend related by Kalhana connects this Savyambhu image with Paravarasena's foundation of Pravarapura. It has to be emphasized that present Srinagar is ancient Pravarapura and as such the legend is doubly significant. From regard for the pious king, the god is said to have then turned his face from west to east so as to behold the new city.

A short distance to the south-east of the Bhimsvamin rock and just outside Akbar's rampart, lies the Ziarat of Bahauddin Sahib, built entirely with the materials of an ancient temple. It contains numerous Hindu remains, constructed with massive blocks of stones with extensive dimensions. Noteworthy among these at the south-west corner of this cemetery rises a ruined gateway, built of stone blocks of considerable size and still of considerable height. It is the precursor of the massive gateway of the ancient Martand temple built during the reign of Lalitaditya in the 8th Century A.D. This structure is traditionally believed to have belonged to the temple of "Shiva Pravaresvara" which Kalhana mentions as the first shrine erected by Pravarasena in his new capital.

An old legend related by Kalhana and before him by Bilhana who flourished in the 12th and 11th centuries A.D. respectively makes the king ascend bodily to heaven from the temple of Pravaresvara. Bilhana speaks of the temple as "showing to this day of gap above, resembling the gate of heaven, through whhich the king Pravara bodily ascended to heaven." Kalhana corroborates this by stating that he also saw in the temple of Pravaresvara a gate resembling the gate of heaven. Its broken stone roof was supposed to mark the king's passage on his way to Siva's abode. Architecturally it belongs to the earliest monuments of Srinagar. It owes its preservation probably to the exceptional solidity of its construction and the massiveness of its stones. Blocks measuring up to sixteen feet in length with a width and thickness equally imposing have been found. The position of the remains is very central and might well have been chosen by the founder of Pravarapura for the prominent shrine in his new city. It also contains the graves of some of the most prominent personages of the Muslim period in Kashmir. What catches the eye is a tombstone which bears a bilingual Sanskrit and Arabic inscription which mentions the name of Muhammad Shah, the puppet ruler who was made king and dethroned not less than four times.

In the course of time many monasteries and Viharas were erected in its environs. One such vihara, called the "Amrit Vihara" was built by the queen of Meghavahana at Vicharnagh. King Meghavahana was reported to be native of Gandhara and was invited by the nobles of Kashmir to rule the valley. Kashmir and Gandhara were in such close proximity to each other as to be deemed a single political unit, as is clear from the Greek records. The Vihara at Vicharnagh (ancient Vanta-bhavana), a locality in close proximity was a flourishing area and was the terminal point of the Leh-Srinagar route. In its vicinity lies the suburb of "Sovura" (present day location of Sher-i-Kashmir Medical Institute) and is identified with king Surrendra who ruled the valley before king Ashoka.

In spite of the political upheavals during the early Muslim period, there were thriving settlements as is substantiated by exposed sections in "Malkhah area" outside Akbar's rampart, also indicating the density of habitation. In case some important sectors are properly excavated, it could throw a lot of light on the settlement patterns during the Sultanate period, and bridge a gap in the medieval history of Kashmir. The importance of the area is further indicated by the construction of two very important and imposing monuments in the area. The earlier one is the mosque and Tomb of Madin Sahib in Zadibal area. Built in 1483 A.D., it is one of the most important Muslim buildings of the pre-Mughal period built in a characteristic style of the early Islamic period. The base is built entirely of materials belonging to the plinth of a medieval temple. The architectural style is distinctive as it clearly indicates as to how remains of Hindu temples and shrines were utilized for construction of mosque and tombs. The architectural synthesis is distinctive and unique. Besides, the spandrels of the arches of the niches are decorated with beautiful tracery work. The wooden doorway is elaborately carved. The tomb of the saint is on the north of the mosque, and the wall surface is decorated with glazed tiles, a special architectural feature inducted into Kashmir in 15th century A.D.

Another important landmark in this thriving area was the Jama Masjid of Kashmir built in the characteristic wooden style, which developed in Kashmir and is also represented by the mosque of Shah Hamadan. The construction of the most imposing mosque in close proximity to Hari Parbat attests to its importance. Built initially by Sultan Sikandar But-shikan, who ruled Kashmir from 1390 A.D. to 1415 A.D., additions to the mosque were made by his illustrious son and successor, Zain-ul-Abidin. The later history of the mosque is the chequered one. It caught fire a number of times and was rebuilt with additions and alterations in later years. It is a mosque in the typical wooden style of the pre-Mughal period characterized by minarets and massive Deodaru pillars.

The importance of Hari Parbat area increased during the Mughal period. During Akbar's reign, in the 16th century A.D., an extensive rampart about 5 km in circumference was built. Although it is now in ruins, it requires protection as the only structure of its kind in the valley. It has been embellished with two imposing gates in chiselled stone - the Kathi Darwaza and the Sangin Darwaza. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Mughals brought into the Kashmir valley their own style of stone architecture which contrasts with the typical Hindu Architecture developed in Kashmir as represented by the mosque of Shah-Hamadan and the Jama Masjid. The stone gateways of Kathi Darwaza and Sangin Darwaza have their own importance. The Mughals mostly lavished their attention on the famous gardens in Kashmir.

The Kathi Darwaza seems to have been the principal entrance, two inscriptions in Persian have been put up here. It is a simple structure, comprising a domed chamber in the middle with two side recesses. External decorations are marginal. On the spandrels of the main arch are two beautiful medallions prominently brought out and flanked by rectangular and arched panels. By way of comparison, the Sangin Darwaza, the stone gate which leads to "Cakreshvari shrine" is more ornate. The exterior is decorated by typical corbelled windows, and there are two stairs, one on each side, which give access to the roof.

Another conspicuous monument in the Mughal style just near the Kathi Darwaza on the scarp of Hari Parbat is the mosque of Akhun Mulla Shah, built by crown Prince Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, in 1649 A.D. It is built in beautiful grey lime stone. It was built by Dara Shikoh for his tutor Akhun Mulla Shah.

In modern times, both Muslims and Hindus have appropriated parts of the hill for their respective shrines. The Ziarat of Hazrat Makhdum Sahib revered by both Muslims and Hindus alike is situated on the south-western side just above Maha Ganesha shrine referred to herein. People of all faiths offer their prayers here. Hazrat Sheikh Hamza Makhdum Sahib, meditated and lived till the end of the 15th Century A.D. and is buried here. He taught universal brotherhood and religious tolerance. Thousands of devotees, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, throng the mosque and offer their homage to him.

On the north-eastern foot of this hill near Kathi Darwaza is situated, the chief religious centre of Sikhs, known as Gurdwara Chhatti Patshahi. Not only the Sikhs but people of other faiths also revere it as a shrine of religious sanctity. Hence the area in and around Hari Parbat bears a living testimony of religious tolerance, communal harmony and brotherhood where Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs flock around the Hill and offer their prayers without any acrimony and with complete accord. Religious tolerance is thus a living phenomenon and this is perhaps one of the few centres where there is complete harmony amongst different faiths.

This has considerably influenced the social ethos in Kashmir, as is evident in the Badamwari festival which is a typical feature of the social gatherings. During almond blossom time in the early spring when chills of the winter fade away, blossoms bloom in a riotous colour in some pockets in and arround Hari Parbat. Kashmiris who get hemmed in during freezing winters find themselves flocking around early spring blossoms to give vent to their pent up emotions through folk songs and classical Sufiana Kalam. It used to be a riot of colours, merry making and laughter on holidays and throughout the spring season, when gaily attired people would throng the blossom area especially in Hari Parbat which provided a fertile soil for almond saplings. It seemed as if the whole city had overflowed into the gardens and broken all the barriers of caste, creed and religion, enjoying the colours and the invigorating environment. Thus all Kashmiris cherished the past legacy in harmony with the enchanting environment. It was a spontaneous people's festival in the real sense of the term.

The Badamwari festival is now only a nostalgic reminiscence of the past. Blossoms do not bloom, for the trees have been felled and new constructions have sprung up. Akbar's rampart is crumbling, slums have sprung up all over and sacred stones which bear the imprint of divinity and history are being used in the construction of gutters and slums. Constructions have choked up access to some of the shrines which once throbbed with religious fervour.

The cultural, architectural and religious heritage of Hari Parbat is vanishing fast. The historical and and religious traditions which have inspired and moulded the aspirations of Kashmiris are getting submerged under a false veneer of modernization. To maintain the physical remains in whatever form these still remain is a valuable and urgent undertaking and needs to be attended to on a priority basis. The environmental and religious heritage of the hallowed area has to be preserved.

Tradition makes it that the valley became habitable because of Hari Parbat. Hari Parbat became the focal point of "Pravarapura", which was the city of Srinagar when Pravarasena II shifted the capital, ignoring the claims of Ashoka's Pandrethan because of its difficult layout. The Sultans of Kashmir and later on the Mughals embellished it with structures of their own. The Hill reverberates with the deeply enshrined religious aspirations of the people of Kashmir of all faiths. Their heritage as such has to be preserved under all circumstances.

Some of the emergent steps that need to be taken by Central and State Governments are listed below :

(i) The Central Goverment should declare the whole of Hari Parbat, including the area and monuments between the rampart wall and the hillock and 500 meters area outside, as a protected area and a national heritage.

(ii) Mughal remains in the form of rampart wall, Akbar's Nagar - Nagar, Mosque of Akhun Mulla Shah, the two stone gates of Kathi Darwaza and Sangin Darwaza should receive attention for proper preservation.

(iii) All the vacant lands and slopes of Hari Parbat should be planted with almond trees, and the `Sound and Light' show should be initiated to boost tourism and revival of interest of Kashmiris and outsiders in our secular traditions.

(iv) There should be a high-powered committee of dedicated and enlightened representatives of the three major communities for preservation of the religious and cultural traditions and development of the area on mutually agreed terms. Local trustees of the shrines in and around Hari Parbat could be included in such a committee so that there is a broad-based consensus relating to proper development of this area and removal of unauthorized constructions and encroachments.

(v) The Archaeological Survey of India along with the State Department of Archaeology and the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleo- botany should be asked to survey thoroughly the area from "Thanedar Bag" to "Khoja Yarbal" which skirts Hari Parbat and touches `Nagin Lake' for possible prehistoric remains.



Editors note : The above paper was submitted in June, 2001, to various concerned Ministries of Government of India & J & K State Government, by Shri M. K. Kaw, President of KECSS, Delhi and the then secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development, for getting Hari Parbat declared as a National Monument. It is gratifying to be informed that accordingly this proposal, for which there was demand from various other Kashmiri organisations also, has received favourable consideration by Govt. and presently modalities for its implementation are being worked out.

The author is a researcher, veteran archaeologist (retired) and writer.

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