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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXV (2001-2002)
Bada Shivala of Rani Katra
Dr. B. N. Sharga, Lucknow

The various "Asthapans", shrines and temples of the Kashmiri Pandits that exist in Kashmir Valley and in other parts of the country are not only of religious and historical importance but are actually a symbol of their distinct cultural identity. So they must be preserved and protected at all costs. Because they represent not only our centuries old customs and traditions but also reflect our existence as a distinct ethnic group in this sea of humanity. The Kashmiri Pandits, who came out from the Kashmir Valley under different conditions and situations in 18th and 19th century being basically Shaivites, built a number of Shiv temples and "Shivalas" in different big cities of North India to preserve their composite culture and to maintain their distinct ethnic identity in completely new surroundings where the circumstances had forced them to live just to earn their bread and butter. These exclusive religious places used to serve as centres of their social activities not only to strengthen their community bonds but also to bring about a better understanding between the community members through mutual interaction between them on festivals and other religious functions which were regularly organized at such places. This system actually helped our ancestors to a great extent in preserving their separate ethnic identity for about 300 years without any dilution. These shrines played a key role in obtaining those objectives.

Lahore, Delhi and Lucknow used to have a big concentration of the Kashmiri Pandits' population in those days outside the Kashmir valley. So, naturally these cities have a very large number of Shiva Temples and Shivalas built by the Kashmiri Pandits in different times to carry out their rituals, customs and traditions without any hinderance. The number of such temples and "Asthapans" of Kashmiri Pandits will be very large. It is a subject of separate interesting research to have the details of these shrines, based on authentic sourcing. From my personal information available at hand, it is noteworthy that Raja Dinath Madan built a Shiv temple in Wazir Khan Chowk in Lahore. He also built the shrine of "Dhooni Sahib", at Gujrat in Punjab, in memory of a famous saint of Kashmir, "Mansa Ram Razdan". Dewan Radhe Nath Kaul built a magnificient Shiva temple in Kangra in the Punjab. Pandit Bishamber Narain Haksar built a big temple of Lord Krishna, at Mathura, in the last quarter of nineteenth century. Raja Dila Ram Kaul built a Shiva temple in Kamao, U.P., Mrs. Shyam Rani Sharga nee, Radhika Atal, built a shiva temple in Benaras (Varanasi). A big shrine of "Khatkhate-Baba", was built in Etawah.

Similarly a big shrine was built in Cuttak, Orissa by Pt. Mehtab Rai Suthu, who had left Kashmir in 1804 and formed Kila Darpan state at such a far away place. In then Lucknow district, Pt. Suraj Narain Kaul built a huge temple, known as "Gopal Mandir" at Chanpahian in the 17th century; Pt. Durga Prasad Taimni built a Shiva temple in village, Bhitanhi and Pt. Bishan Narain Kaul Bakshi built a huge temple in "Sheetla Bagh".

Lucknow has its own importance in the history of Kashmiri Pandits as this city gave direction and played a key role in the various movements of the Kashmiri Pandits out side Kashmir valley, which were launched from time to time in the 18th and 19th centuries for their due recognition in the society and to bring about certain social reforms in the community. A large number of such Shrines and religious places were built by the Kashmiri Pandits at Lucknow in different localities for social awakening in the community. One such outstanding shrine of great historical importance is "Bada Shivala" located in Rani Katra which has now become famous as "Sankata Devi ka Mandir" to a very large number of devotees.

This magnificient edifice of great architectural importance was built by Pandit Jwala Prasad Kaul Tankha who came to Lucknow from Kashmir valley during the rule of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula (1775-1798) and subsequently became a dewan in his court. It is said that when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula started the construction work of Asafi Imambara around 1777, his dewan Pt. Jwala Prasad Kaul Tankha simultaneously started the construction work of "Bada Shivala" in Rani Katra where he used to live at that time and which had a sizeable population of Kashmiri Pandits.

This "Bada Shivala" after its completion became a big attraction for the Kashmiri Pandits of Lucknow who used to throng at this place in large numbers on festivals to pay their obeisance. This 300 year old historical marvel, apart from its unique architectural beauty, has the biggest `Shivlingam' in the whole of North India (Figure). How such a huge "Shivlingam" was taken inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for its installation in those days is still a big riddle as there are different views on this score. This rare single piece "Shivlingam" carved out from a black stone has no match anywhere.

The other most important and significant feature of this temple is that it has a life size statue of Raginya Bhagwati a goddess of Kashmiri Pandits. This is perhaps the only statue of its kind of Ma Raginya Devi outside Kashmir Valley with great spiritual power which has now become famous as "Sankata Devi" among the local devotees. It is said that whosoever comes to pay obeisance to this deity with a pure heart, his or her wish is generally fulfilled. So the people have coined a new name "Sankata Devi" for this deity meaning thereby a goddess who removes all the worldly problems. The devotees from far of places come to pay their obeisance to this deity because of its spiritual power and sanctity.

On every "Navratra" and "Shivratri" this Bada Shivala attracts a very large number of devotees from all parts of the city, because of its historical and religious importance. It is one of the most ancient temples of the city and an important landmark of its history. So the state government is contemplating now to make it a tourists' destination to earn foreign exchange. In absence of proper management and maintenance of this important Shrine either by the Kashmiri Pandits or by their organisations, the members of the other communities are now desperately trying to grab this valuable property either by hook or by crook for monetary gains and benefits. The legal owner of this place Pt. Ratan Narain Tankha which is mentioned in the records of Lucknow Nagar Nigam as H.No. 407/68, now lives in Mumbai. The other important Shrines like `Gopal Mandir' etc. built by the Kashmiri Pandits at Lucknow worth crores of rupees have already been grabbed by the members of the other communities who are fully enjoying their fruits leaving the Kashmiri Pandits high and dry.

In the nineteenth century, the Kashmiri Pandits of Lucknow used to celebrate, "Rishi Peer Ka Jag", annually with great fervour and devotion in the loving memory of rishi peer, a 17th century spiritual saint of Kashmir, who became famous as "rishi peer padshah", because of his supernatural powers among his innumerable devotees. Kashmiri Pandits of Lucknow used, to assemble in very large numbers, on this day, in the historic "Ganjoo Walon Ka Shadikhana", which was built by Pt. Daya Nidhan Ganju, in Kashmiri Mohalla, when he became Tehsildar of Lucknow in 1856. It used to be a big event for the Biradari members for maintaining their distinct identity. Every member of the community used to participate with great zeal and enthusiasm.

After the mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley in 1990 due to terrorists' violence a number of duplicate shrines have come up at a huge cost in different parts of the country, but somehow I personally feel that their story would be the same after another 50 or may be 100 years, as already there is a sharp division in the community over the administrative control of these shrines and their assets. The plain truth is that there is dearth of selfless people with missionary spirit to look after these `Asthapans' properly as every body is interested in projecting his own image and is busy in filling his own kitty in the name of doing social service. There is an old saying that every cause has its effect. I think that the same is true with our community. The following lines of Hindi poet Onkar `Gulshan' are very meaningful in this context.

"Roothi hui kismet ko sawanra jaye,
Ankash ko dharti per utara jaye.
Shayad meri awaz per mur kar deikhen
Ekbar unhein aur pukara jaye."



The author, a retired Professor of Chemistry, Lucknow University is a scholar and writer besides being a veteran patron of Kashmiri Samaj Lucknow and Sr. Vice President of AIKS. Presently he is working on the contributions of Kashmiri Pandits in Diaspora and has already brought out 3 volumes of, "Kashmiri Panditun Ke Anmol Rattan."

Mailing Address : Manohar Niwas, Kashmiri Mohalla, Lucknow-226003
 

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