by Shanker Nath Fotedar

Chapter V
VISITS TO SHRINES

Bhagawaan Ji never left the Kashmir Valley but used to have brief sojourns or, sometimes, longer halts at the various shrines in the Valley. A list of the shrines frequented by him and some interesting events connected with them are given below:

1. Shri Shaarika Bhagawati Shrine at Haariparvat, Srinagar.
This shrine is situated on a hillock in the north of the city of Srinagar. Devotees go there early in the morning for a parikramaa round the hillock, and for pooja at Devi-aangan. which is an open space at the foot of the hillock, and in front of the main Chakreshwara Temple, constructed half-way up the hill-side. Bhagawaan Ji went to this shrine, sometimes early in the morning and sometimes late in the afternoon. Sometimes, he spent nights there in the house of one Pt. Saligraam, a priest. Once, he styed at this shrine for about nine months, lodging in the house of one Pt. Ram Joo, a priest alive to-day.

While living at Dalhasanyaar, Srinagar ( 1937-1946), Bhagawaan Ji once asked a devotee to accompany him to Haari Parvat. The devotee agreed on the condition that he should get a darshana of Shaarikaa Bhagawati. Bhagawaan Ji agreed. While he and the devotee were sitting at Devi-aangan in a hut, a very young and beautiful girl came and sat on the lap of the devotee, who was charmed, and forgot about having the Devi's darshana He fed to her some sweets, purchased previously at Bhagawaan Ji's bidding. As soon as the girl got up to go, Bhagawaan Ji beckoned to him to follow her, but the devotee was puzzled, as the girl had disappeared suddenly. The devotee had got the Devi's darshana according to his spiritual state at that time. Probably, he could not have stood the sight of the transcendental form of the Divine Mother, and so got her darshana in the human form.

Another incident, reported by Pt Shyaam Lal Raazdaan, working in the Forest Department of Jammu and Kashmir, is given below.

During the spring of 1944 or 1945, when almond trees were in full bloom, a group of devotees sitting in front of Bhagawaan Ji requested him to go with them to Haari Parvat, which is surrounded by almond orchards. He asked another person present, Pt Nila Koul Saraaf, also to accompany him. But Pt Nila Koul said, 'The Devi is here also. Why should we go there?' However, somehow he was prevailed upon to go and the party of nine including Bhagawaan Ji, left for Hari Parvat at about 12 noon. They entered the Shrine through the exit gate of Kaathidarwazaa and proceeded to the Pokhribal Temple, inside which is a holy spring. As soon as they opened the small outer wicket gate, they saw a small girl of about five years, alone, playing with the fallen chinar leaves with a stick. They entered the inner gate and sat on a wooden platform inside the Shrine premises. Bhagawaan Ji asked Pt Nila Koul to get the small girl inside the Shrine. As soon as Pt Nila Koul brought her, Bhagawaan Ji made her sit on his lap and fed to her naderimunjas (a fried preparation made from lotus roots and rice flour) which he had asked a man (while they had been far away from the Shrine) to fetch from a confectioner's shop at Deviaangan. After feeding her, Bhagawaan Ji asked Pt Nila Koul to escort her back. She moved fast after coming out of the inner gate and disappeared. Pt Nila Koul came back. The party returned after taking salted tea. Enroute, as they came out of Kaathidarwaazaa, Pt Nila Koul said to Bhagawaan Ji banteringly, 'Have you shown me the darshana of the Devi?' Bhagawaan Ji said, 'Did you not see the Devi, Whom you called to sit with us? Was She not fed, nadermunjas by me and did you not escort her back, at my bidding?' Pt Nila Koul understood the position and fell down in a swoon. With difficulty. he was almost dragged home by the party.

2. The Shrine of Raajnaa Bhagawati at Tulamula, known as Khirbhavaani.
This place is situated about 16 miles north of Srinagar. For several years, Bhagawaan Ji would spend three or four months at a stretch at this shrine. He would occupy a hut in the precincts of the shrine, start his dhooni and sit in deep contemplation. He would very rarely go to the holy spring to offer worship but generally kept sitting in his hut smoking his chillum. offering oblations into his dhooni off and on and sometimes cooking his own food and feeding others also. People flocked round him but he was completely absorbed in deep contemplation.

A pious devotee of Raajnaa Bhagawati, who used to have the Devi's vision, was wonder-struck to notice Bhagawaan Ji's behaviour in not going to the holy spring for worship. Soon after, the devotee saw, in a trance, Raajnaa Bhagawati sitting on a resplendent throne and Bhagawaan Ji sitting nearby with his chillum. While at Kshirbhavaani, Bhagawaan Ji met a saint known as Nila Bab. While returning to Srinagar from the Shrine, Bhagawaan Ji, a devotee of his and Nila Bub took rest at the Dodarhaama camping ground. Nila Bub sat very near Bhagawaan Ji and made him uncomfortable by continuously jabbing his elbow into his sides, but Bhagawaan Ji said nothing. After they had resumed their journey, the devotee enquired of Bhagawaan Ji why Nila Bub had gone on. jabbing him with his elbow. The Bhagawaan replied, 'If one becomes successful in the spiritual field, the other aspirants grow jealous of one.'

3. The Jwaalaa-Mukhi Shrine at Khrew.
The Shrine is situated about sixteen miles southeast of Srinagar. There is a temple on a hillock, at the foot of which is a large spring in which the pilgrims bathe before going up to the temple. In his early life, Bhagawaan Ji used to visit the Shrine for three or four days every year.

Once, during the period 1937-47, he visited the Shrine along with his elder sister and some devotees. At the meal time, he asked about fifty people to sit for meals. His sister was alarmed, as the cooking vessel contained cooked rice sufficient for five to seven people only. How could such a large number of people be fed? But he told her to keep the degchi (the rice-cooking vessel) covered, after she had taken cooked rice out of it on each occasion. To the amazement of all, the vessel supplied cooked rice for all the fifty invitees, and still there was a surplus of a little quantity.

4. The Bhadra-Kaali Shrine.
After having spent some time at Kshirbhavaani in 1962, Bhagawaan Ji went to Bhadra Kaali, a shrine in a forest in the Handwaaraa Tehsil about fifty-five miles to the north of Srinagar. He started his dhooni in an open piece of land below the Shrine. He asked all his devotees (except his sister and Swaami Amritaananda) to go back, telling them that they would, otherwise, be blown away by the gusts of wind (meaning the waves of spiritual disturbance) blowing from the north, i.e., the Tibet side. Soon after, the Chinese invasion followed.

5. The Jyeshthaa-Bhagawati Shrine.
This Shrine is situated near what is known as the Gulaab Bhavan Palace, about three miles from the city proper. Bhagawaan Ji would, occasionally, visit the Shrine, spending two or three nights there on each occasion. One winter, while it was snowing, he, along with a devotee, left for the Shrine at about 10 p.m. A barbed wire had been put up across the road to the Shrine under orders of the late Mahaaraaja Hari Singh, so that the short cut to the Shrine had been blocked. Bhagawaan Ji and the devotee had to crawl in under the barbed wire, and the former remarked that the Maharaajaa would have to quit. A few years later, in 1947, the Maharaja had to leave Kashmir,

At the shrine, the devotee implored Bhagawaan Ji to grace him with a vision of Jyeshthaa Bhagawati. At about 4 a.m., while they were reciting Chapter IV of the Panchastavi, Bhagawaan Ji asked the devotee to stand up and look towards the Bhagawati's holy spring. The devotee found an excessively bright light, as though of many suns, coming from the spring. Bhagawaan Ji immediately asked the devotee to sit down or he would become blind.

The offerings made at the Shrine are partly non-vegetarian; e.g., boiled rice, seasoned with turmeric powder to make it yellow, and a sheep-liver preparation. Some party had brought such an offering to the Shrine. After performing poojaa, they gave a portion of this as prashaad to Bhagawaan Ji and many others. Just then, a saadhu came to the Shrine. He began to speak ill of all present there for offering, and taking meat at the Shrine. Bhagawaan Ji was benign and never troubled anybody, but this time he got very angry and cursed the saadhu. saying, 'May small pox afflict you (Peyinay shutali-bood)'. An hour later, the saadhu got fever and. a few hours later, small pox appeared on the whole of his body. The saadhu. then, repented and begged Bhagawaan Ji's pardon. The latter asked him to leave the Shrine immediately but comforted him saying that he would get well within a few days.

6. Guptagangaa
This shrine is situated about nine miles from Srinagar and is near Nishat Baagh.During the year 1949 AD, Bhagawaan Ji spent about nine months at this shrine. Normally, he would spend about two or three days there every year. But on this occasion, he spent much time there. He blew regularly into his dhooni which was fed with big wooden logs. Raadhaa Devi, a well-known woman saint, came to this place to meet him. The details of what transpired at their meeting are given in chapter XI.

7. Tushkaaraaja Bhairava Shrine at Narsingh Garh, Srinagar.
Bhagawaan Ji would stay at this shrine for two or three days every year. This place has been an abode of great saints and, as such, is hallowed. He liked this place very much and said that this was a place where a spiritual aspirant should live. Probably, it has suitable vibrations for spiritual development.

8. The Amarnath Pilgrimage.
During the year 1946 AD, Bhagawaan Ji went on a pilgrimage to Shri Amarnath Ji Cave along with a number of devotees and his elder sister (thirteen people in all). The party left by bus for Pahalgam, a famous health resort, from where ponies were engaged to carry the party along the mountain track to the sacred Cave. But Bhagawaan Ji did not ride the pony allotted to him at all. He forbade his sister also to ride a pony, but she disobeyed and fell off after only a little distance. Subsequently, she, too, proceeded to the Cave and back on foot.

On the day of the darshana, the party had a dip in the ice-cold water of the Amaraavati and proceeded up the stairs towards the holy cave. Three of them - Bhagawaan Ji, Shri Bhola Nath and Mrs [Prabhaavati] Handoo - did not go up. but stood below the stairs, at Bhagawaan Ji's behest. Bhagawaan Ji took the customary coconut offering to Lord Shiva in his right hand. Withdrawing the hand inside his pheran, he put the coconut near his left armpit, pressing it in place with the arm. He was steadily gazing towards the icy lingam in the holy cave. Shri Bhola Nath asked his daughter, Mrs [Prabhavati] Handoo, to look in the direction in which Bhagawaan Ji was looking. She could see above the icy lingam and just below the ceiling of the cave on a shelf-like formation, three heads. Were they those of Lord Shiva, the Divine Mother Paarvati and Lord Ganesha? When Bhagawaan Ji pressed the left hand out through the pheran sleeve, there was no indication of the coconut still being in the arm-pit.

On the return journey, the party boarded a bus at Pahalgam for Srinagar. At Achhabal, however, Bhagawaan Ji, accompanied by another devotee, Shri Bholanath, got down and proceeded on foot to visit some other shrines. He returned to Srinagar after about a month.

In the year 1936 AD also, Bhagawaan Ji had visited the holy Amarnath Cave, accompanied by his co-disciple, Swaami Aftab Joo Waangnu, and others. On return from the shrine, he visited Swaami Mirza Kaak's samaadhi at Haangalgund, and also Umaa Ji (Braariaangan), sacred to Umaa Shankar where, besides the main Umaa-Shankara spring, there are other springs sacred to Brahmaa. Vishnu and Rudra. The shrine is now (i.e., in the early seventies) being renovated by a young Swaami, Shri Swayamaananda Ji.

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