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Historic Construction Saga : a Prospective Revival Model

 [Given below are the excerpts from the poblication "Samaj Sudhar Samiti and its Role", by N. N. Dangroo and Justice J. N. Bhat (Retd.). During the early preparatory stage of this Vitasta Annual, I took the opportunity of calling on Justice Bhat Sahib at Jammu who is regretfully bed-ridden & therefore unable to contribute an article on our Homeland Shrines. He was, however, kind enough to present me his publication from which a thought provoking and emotional piece on Khirbhawani is reproduced in this Annual. It is a homage to "dedication" of our elders who devoted their lives unsung and unmourned for the cause of preserving our homeland shrines. They are no more amongst us, yet, the mantra of their dedication, will ever remain, as the beacon light for our present survival in exile and future revival of our identity in our homeland. - Editor-in-Chief]

Shri Khir Bhawani Construction Committee

It was the Jeth Ashtami festival in the year 1954, Yatris had assembled at the Asthapan in Tulamulla in maximum number for Pooja (offering prayers) and to celebrate the festival at the shrine alongwith children as was the usual practice. Pavitarasathan Prabhandak Vibagh joined together and a separate organisation under the name of Sh. Khir Bhawani Construction Committee was proposed and brought into existence. Raja Opender Krishen Koul was its Chairman and Pt. Gopi Kishen its convener. Some members of the P. P. Vibagh were nominated as the members of this committee besides some others namely Bala Kak Dhar, Balkak Khodabali, Kesheo Nath Moza, Kashi Nath Koul, Sat Lal and a few more including Sh. Shridhar Joo Dhar and J. N. Daftari. This committee had several meetings. A party went to Tullamulla to have a survey on spot. The Dharmarth Department which was controlling the shrine and administrating its affairs and collecting donations, offerings made at the Devi's rosy feet, was still in exile subsequent to the Pakistan raids. So Sh. Khirbhawani Construction Committee took full interest in the improvement of Devi Angan premises; later on it acquired some more land in the close proximity of the shrine for raising Dharamashalla for Yatris.

It was decided that in the first instance the Island premises of the Devi Angan be saved from further deterioration. It had been turned into a descending slope all round with continued erosion by the Nalla. Pacca Stone wall was decided to be raised round the premises. The Devi Angan is surrounded by the Sindh Nala water which flows profousely with speed throughout the summer months. This menace of the year to year erosion was to be guarded against for which a Pacca stone parapat wall was the only remedy.

Sh. Satalal Sadhu was again on the move. One Pt. Gana Lal Sadhu of Alikadal was called and asked to undertake on contract basis the building of pacca stone wall from the water bed raising two feet ground level to protect the entire Devi Angan and the shops. Parties went round to collect funds for the construction work. Donations were offered by devotees liberally. Pt. Kesheo Nath Moza was chosen to be the suitable person to look after the construction work and he was designated as the honourary Manager incharge of the constructions at the shrine. Sh. Shridhar Joo Dhar was the treasurer and Mr. Niranjan Nath as the Assistant Secretary. In this way the construction committee started functioning earnestly. Gana Lal Tikoo of Alikadal accepted the contract and during the course of the year a bulwork was raised round the Devi Angan from waterbed measuring six to eight feet high from bed level. The gaps were filled with dry earth The earth filling inside the wall was removed from the descending slope and this gave the premises a decent look besides providing space of several feet all round.

Land was available, on the other side of the nalla to the west, facing the Devi Temple. Shri Kesheo Nath Moza with the assistance of some well wishers of Tulamulla started negotiations for the purchase of some Kanals of land from the owners. It was not a single person or family, but several families who were to be tackled. The sagacity of Sh. Moza and his sobriety and social nature made it possible that within a period of a year or so some Kanals of land were acquired from the owners by purchase at very moderate rates. Some part of it was donated by two Pandit devotees of Tulammula free of cost. A big piece of land measuring over 10 Kanals was thus acquired by the Shri Khirbhawani Construction Committee, facing the Ragniya Devi temple. It was a distance of some 20-30 yards which lay between the island and the acquired land and over it the flowing Nalla sometimes over flowed the land and it was somewhat marshy, because of its low height from water surface and kacha bank.

The land was taken over and the Sh., Khir Bhawani Construction Committee had several meetings for further planning. The first important decision taken was to divert the flowing Nalla, so that it could flow farther away from the Island Deviangan just parallel to its existing position leaving the acquired land quite adjacent to the Devi Angan without flowing water partitioning the entire area. Besides the Island Devi Angan, the Dharmarth Department controlled some more marshy land on the north east, covered by willow trees (called nambal) but it too was separated by the same nalla on the Northern side. So the Construction Committee planned to divert the course of the Nalla from upper stretch so as some portion of the nambal could also be covered to reach the Island and then nala flow over the acquired land on its western side just made parallel to its center course. This part of the plan was executed during winter months when the water flow is very meagre. The water in the newly dug nala started flowing in the following summer with its usual vigour and old course turned dry with the result that the damp acquired land and the Nambal area also became dry in the course of a few months. In this way the land acquired by the construction committee became a dry sketch of flat ground when some pits appearing here and there were filled with dry earth, during the course of summer months. Meanwhile funds were being collected from donors and Pt. Kesheo Nath Moza, was the leading person. Pt. Shyam Lal Saraf was the Forest Minister then and he was approached and pursuaded to be a patron (if not a member of the construction committee). Some more bureaucrats were also enlisted as patrons. A sub-committee of technicians was formed to prepare a plan for construction of Dharamashallas on the land. Pt. Kashi Nath Koul (a sectional officer in State service) who was a member of the committee was made responsible and he devoted time and energy in preparing the said plans and estimates in construction with other technically qualified sympathisers. A telephone connection was also secured in the name of Sh. Khir Bhawani Construction Committee and installed in a room of Samaj Sudhar Samiti Headquarters at Shivalaya, that was occupeid as the office for the committee in Srinagar. While all this process was going on, Bakshi Gulam Mohd, the then Prime Minister of the State was approached and requested to sanction free timber from the State Forest Deptt. for the constructions at Khir Bhawani Ji Ashthapan. The State Govt. had already sanctioned free supply of timber for Charari-Sharief and so a precedent had been set. The good offices of Sh. Shyamalal Saraf, Forest Minister proved quite helpful and the process was initiated. Those days Sudhar Samiti had come into prominence because of its role in relief work done by it and then its working for improvement at the Shri Khir Bhawani Ashthapan. The development at the shrine with the efforts of the Samiti's dedicated members and workers during the first decade of its existence brought appreciation from all quarters. During the period the Samiti secured also sanction from the State Information Department to issue a weekly paper of its own, named `The Jyoti' and it was soon published with Shri Amar Nath Orgra as its printer, publisher and Honorary Editor. Pt. Ganga Dhar Bhat Dehati and Pt. Ram Chand Abhai were its working editors during fifties and sixties. During this period a conference of Kashmiri Hindus was held in the spacious gound of the Shivalaya, which was attended by delegates of the towns of Anantnagh, Sopore and Baramulla and also some prominent villages of the valley. The conference had its session and on the 3rd day it passed several resolutions in its primary session stressing the need for unity and social reform and pressing the Govt. to rehabilitate the dislocated Pandits still living as refugees. As a consequence a Dharam Sabha comprising one hundred prominent members of the community was also formed, which was required to meet regularly after spans of a fortnight or so. But unfortunately, it did not work and so did not last long.

Sudhar Samiti and Yuvak Sabha

The activities of Samaj Sudhar Samiti aroused jealousies. The representative body of Kashmiri Pandits namely All J&K Youngman Association (commonly known Kashmiri Pandith Yuvak Sabha) that had been the political body of the Kashmiri Pandiths since 1931, had become dormant soon after the National Conference took over the charge of the State Administration and ruled the State. It laid down that no other political organisation could stand to represent an individual community. Pt. Shiv Narayan Fotedar was the President of Yuvak Sabha at the time of Qabali raids and after. The members of the Yuvak Sabha did not see eye to eye with the Sudhar Samiti, when they saw that the latter was gaining field in the community and with the State Administration. The Dharmarth Department which went into exile, when Maharaja Hari Singh left the valley to settle in Jammu (and later in Bombay), was getting rehabilitated in the valley when Dr. Karan Singh took over as the Sadari-Riyasat of the State and also assumed the charge as the Sole Trustee of Dharmarth Department in place of his father Maharaja Hari Singh. The Dharmarth Department officials and employees did not favour the existance of the parallel body namely Shri Khir Bhawani Construction Committee to look after the affairs at Tulamulla shrine to improve the conditions there by adding more land and raising Dharamshallas. By word and deed these two rival bodies created difficulties here and there.

The sub-committee prepared a Master Plan for improvement and building up of a spacious two storeyed Dharmashalla, a few one storey Yagin-shallas and some smaller huts on the acquired land. It also proposed that the island Devi-Angan (in the shape of ellipse) remains an open landscape with the holy spring (as it was already) and the Devi's temple in the middle. It proposed also that the deteriorated ricketty Dharamshalla standing on the Devi Angan be demolished by the Dharmarth Department and a new one raised outside the land space just around its present site, but on the land of the Dharmarth that was available, due to diversion of the Nalla, and had dried up. A representative body of the Construction Committee met Dr. Karan Singh and explained to him the advantages of the proposed plan. He gave a patient hearing and promised to get it considered by his Dharmarth council; but neither any concurrance was received from the Dharmarth Department nor any written refusal. It was given out through some of its employees that Department had no proposal to demolish deteriorated Dharamshalla standing in the Devi Angan, so the Construction Committee was left to see to its own part of the plan and it concentrated its activities to collect funds and follow up the case for free supply of Timber by the State Forest Department.

It is quite heartening to put down here that the sincere efforts of the dedicated workers of the committee got, for carrying out its programme, whatever it cherished for in the name of Goddess Raginya Devi. They collected funds from liberal donors; received Govt. sanction authorising lifting of one lac cft of timber free of cost from certain forests in Baramulla District after paying normal royalty charges. But it is very painful to mention that at present, when this short description is being written very few from that batch of ardent heroes are living now. They have left, one by one for the heavenly abode earlier. The persons whom I named here are all gone and a few more namely Shri Janki Nath Daftari, Prof. Kashi Nath Dhar, Shree Janki Nath Bhan who cooperated with me in the affairs of the shrine in later years also passed away. Regretfully, I admit that I believe that I am the only founder life member of the Sudhar Samiti of the Shri Khir Bhawani surviving this time and staying in Srinagar.

So I resume my short description about the activities at the shrine. Pt. Kesho Nath Moza was the honorary Manager, staying on spot at Tulamulla. Pt. Shidhar Joo Dhar was the treasurer and he having been retired from Govt. service as a Conservator of forests, was an expert to advise about the lifting of the timber, its transport and stocking at the shrine. One Pt. Gopi Chand of Rainawari, who was a retired forest ranger was engaged on honorarium to look after the arrangement. Pt. Mukund Joo Tangnoo of Safakadal, a technical hand was also by the side of Pt. Kashi Nath Koul (technical advisor of the Samiti) to find and arrange parties of masons and carpenters to work at the shrine. Pt. Bala Kak Dhar was the Chairman of the construction committee (after Raja Krishan Koul) and there was a rapport with Sh. Shyamlal Saraf who also evinced great interest at what was being done at the shrine. After the first consignment of timber was received, the sawers and carpenters were at work, for the major Dharmashalla measuring 80' by 30'. It was technically advised that the foundation be laid after the ground (which had been marshy) is made enough strong to bear the heavy structure. So five hundred Devdar Poles were piled into it when the foundation was laid. It was done in the presence of a big congregation of devotee members of the committee and other sympathisers and well-wishers of the Community so the construction work at the shrine began in full swing and parties visited off and on to know progress and meet the needs of the Manager and extend him cooperation at the site. The collected funds were deposited in the Punjab National Bank in the name of Sh. Khir Bhawani Construction Committee and were operated upon the joint signatures of Gopi Krishan (Convener) and Shri Shridhar Joo Dhar (Treasurer). All kind of materials that were needed for the purpose were available and the work progressed satisfactorily.

According to the plan after the main Dharamshalla was raised up at the North end of the plot, along the bank of the nalla flowing to backside, one more 2 storeyed building called Manager's Hut was raised in the same row at the southern end. In between the two buildings, one storeyed Yagin-shalla were raised, each comprising an open hall for performing the Yagias and 2 attached rooms for kitchen and store. In the open space left between the two buildings and the Devi Angan, a number of one room huts were constructed, where a Sadhu or a devotee could stay for somedays for meditations. In a period of about 2 years the planned items were completed to the satisfaction of all concerned and the general public. Fingers were raised here and there, which aspect cannot be generally ignored. Among the labour class engaged during the construction there was a local youngman named Sona Bhat, in whom the Manager had confidence. The Manager put this man as the Chowkidar of the construction committee at the shrine - this Sona Bhat continues to be the Chowkidar there even at present and has been looking after the building and the willow plantations existing on the land, when all Hindu residents migrated from the village.

After the Construction Committee had completed the planned work, the Dharmarth Department perhaps felt humbled. It demolished the deteriorated Dharamshalla and ignoring the good suggestion of the Construction Committee to shift it some yards behind, they constructed it on the same site. The shifting of the Dharamshala would provide more open land with the Devi Angan for the facility of yatris. They reconstructed a two storyed building and annexed one storeyed small yagia-shalla on the same site with extension, along the stone-bulwork raised by the Construction Committee to defend the Island-Devi Angan. The building houses the Dharmarth office, stores and the residential rooms of their Dharmarath Manager at the shrine and leaves very few rooms for its yatris to shelter. Any how, the constructions raised by the Construction Committee provided vast accommodation for the yatris and they have been using it all the time since these were constructed.

Soon the ill luck had its turn, a local mastana named Kashi Nath, occupied a room of the big Dharamshall and continued staying there. What happened - only great Goddess knows it. One morning the room where the Mastana was staying caught fire and soon engulfed the building and reduced it to ashes. The sad news reached Srinagar Office in the afternoon and it caused grief and dismay in general and to the public in particular to dedicated members and sympathisers. The Construction Committee had little funds in hand to restart the rehabilitation of the gutted Dharamshalla. The manager Sh. Kesho Nath Moza with a few more members again camped on spot and had meetings to assess the loss. Fortunately Dharamshalla was insured against fire. The Insurance officials were approached and persuaded to settle the case expeditiously. Moza Sahib's efforts (peace to his soul), were admirable. He collected funds and meanwhile the Insurance money also became available. The technical advisor. Pt. Kashi Nath Koul with some more experts prepared a fresh estimate and a few months after the tragic episode the reconstruction of the Dharamshalla was undertaken. While on the previous occasion wooden material was mostly used in the construction because of its availability from the supply made by the forest department, this time the work was done mostly in cement concrete. Even the stair-cases were raised in iron and cement; both storey has pacca open varandahas extended in front with proper tin roofing. The roof over the verandhas also was in cement concrete but it leaked after some time and it has been replaced of late by corrugated tin sheets, projecting the roof ahead. After Dharmarth Department built the Dharmshalla in the Devi Angan and somewhat restored its position at the shrine, it remained hostile to the Construction Committee and generally put hurdles to the committee's employees' in working there. To eclipse what had been achieved on the extended land provided at the shrine by the Construction Committee, the Dharmarth employees raised one storeyed hutments on the Devi Angan. Forgetting this aspect, the efforts of the Construction Committee have been appreciated by the general public, as it certainly provided space and accommodation for the Yatris, visitors and tourists, who do come and stay in the spacious rooms of the buildings and the four Yagia-Shallas, which usually remained in use for performance of havans/yagiias by the devotees.

Starting from mid fifties, the Shri Khir Bhawani Construction Committee was an active body of dedicated workers for a decade or so. Sh. Janki Nath Daftari, a zealot social worker was an active member of the National Conference and in fifties had been holding some office of responsibility in the National Conference working committee. It was during the period of Sheikh Mohd Abdulla and Bakshi Ghulam Mohd that he remained very much attached with the Conference. He showed much interest in the activities of the Samaj Sudhar Samiti, but could not make himself physically available for active participation in early years. From early sixties he participated actively and was enlisted as a zealous member of the organization. He was brought on the working committee of the construction committee. Soon after that time onwards, he remained fully engaged in its affairs (while other responsible members of the committee had departed earlier) till his end came in 1987.

The sixties were over and the work of plantation, annual repairs and watch and ward arrangement at the shrine were going on according to a laid-down programme. Then started so to say disbandment of the dedicated members/workers. Pt. Gopi Krishan achieved a higher position and started his foreign visits as a preacher of `Kundalin', Pt. Bal Kak Dhar was no more active and had left for heavenly abode. Manager Kesheo Nath Moza was in Rajasthan (at Udaipur) and after a brief illness also left for heavenly abode in 1971. In seventies, the dedicated members, Amar Nath Ogra, Aftab Joo Wanchoo, Pt. Kashi Nath Koul (General Secretary) Kashi Nath Koul (Technical Advisor) parted from us one by one. Pt. Shridar Jo Dhar and Niranganjan Nath (myself), jointly operated on the funds of the Construction Committee, when Gopi Krishen's presence became rare. Sh. S. L. Saraf and Janki Nath Daftari, were two other members left from the band of dedicated score. As seventies ended Pt. Shridhar Joo Dhar left for his heavenly abode and soon after S. L. Saraf followed the same. Shri Dhar who had been maintaining the cash books of construction committee for all these years since its inception transferred the book to N. N. Dangroo (myself) while on his sick-bed asking him to maintain it, showing his inability to do so, any more, some months before his departure. Pt. Gopi Krishen generally stayed in Delhi after his foreign tours. In 1983/84 he came for a change to Srinagar after some serious illness and soon left for heavenly abode. Prof. K. N. Dhar who was associated followed the same way a year after. Pt. Sudharshan Koul advocate who was associated with Construction Committee was available for active participation Shri J. N. Daftari took ill in 1987 and so was almost incapitated for active service, that was his usual hobby. He was on bed after a few months and then he also left the world stage in early 1988 for his heavenly home.

Later in the year 1988 in a general meeting, held at Tulamulla, besides some five local dedicated youths, six more members were from Srinagar elected to be on the Construction Committee. Pt. Sudharshan Koul Advocate was elected the Chairman of the committee and Shri N. N. Dangroo as Secretary-cum-treasurer as before. Shri Soom Nath of Tulamulla (a senior Govt. teacher) was the vice president in place of Pt. Kashi Nath Bhat of Tullamulla who was now sickly man. Shri Moti Lal Daftari was elected as the organizer and Publicity Secretary and Shri Soidama Koul (a retired well reputed artist from Kashmir Radio, who had taken his stay in a two room Chowki at the shrine) was the Assistant Secretary and some more office bearers were named. The committee started working and some plans for development were taken in hand. But 1989 brought the disaster of Pandits in the valley and the entire Hindu population of Tulamulla migrated in early summer of 1990. Noble Sodama Jee breathed his last at the shrine, while the Pandits were still there and was cremated near the big Chinar standing on the land of the construction committee. Sodharshan Koul and other members also migrated to Delhi and Jammu. At present Niranjan Nath (myself) and Girdhar Lal Kakroo are in Srinagar and Sona Bhat Chowkidar (at Tulamulla) are the custodians of the Construction Committee assets at the Khir Bhawani Jee asthapan. So ends the tragic tale.

Great Goddess has been kind! I had the good fortune of bowing at Her Lotus Feet at the shrine this year on Jeth Ashtami (18th June 1992) after more than 2 years. It was a good congregation on this day at Khir Bhawani Jee. I went round and had a look at the Dharamshallas accompanied by Sona Bhat Chowkidar.

The author of this article is Shri N. N. Dangroo, an outstanding social reformer, Ex-General Secretary of Samaj Sudhar Samiti and the Patron of Samaj Sudhar Samiti Trust.

Mailing Address : Samaj Sudhar Samiti Trust (Regd.), Durga Nagar, Sector No. 1, Jammu Tawi
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