At the head of the Sind Valley in Kashmir, flanked on the North by great Himalayan range and Sachkach (Sasakat) mountains in the south is located the holy Tirtha of Amar Nath Ji Cave "Amreshvara". (340.12' : 750.01') at an altitude of 12, 720 ft. (3878m) where Suaymbhu (self-created) the only Ice linga in the world, has been worshipped since early historic if not prehistoric times. The earliest references pertaining to Holy Amar Nath Ji Cave are found in Bhrngish Samhita (1) Nilmat Purana (2) Kalhana's Raj Tarangni (3) Mahatmayas of Amarnatha (4) and Amreshvara Kalpa (5).
One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most sacred and most ancient book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time. But Shiva, the destroyer, the mendicant, is indefinable: he is the great yogi, the guardian of the absolute. His actions are the themes of the myths in which his nature unfolds.
Shiva and Parvati with Ganesh
Shiva, he of the opposites and the absolute, is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself nor for his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for "he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud."
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in a cave in Amarnath. Unknown to them, a pair of mating doves eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the doves-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
Making their way across Mahagunas pass.
Along the spectacular Sheshnag Lake.
The trek to Amarnath, in the month of Shravan (July-August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of alingam, is formed naturally of an ice-stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice-lingams, that of Parvati, and of their son, Ganesha.
Entrance to the Amarnath Cave.
A legend has it that when Kashyap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnath for them became Shiva's abode and a center of pilgrimage.
Whatever the legends and the history of Amarnath's discovery, it is today an extremely crucial centre of pilgrimage, and though the route is as difficult to trespass as it is exciting, every annum, millions of devotees from the subcontinent come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his Himalayan abodes.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnath stands at 3,888 m and is 44.8 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practise is to begin journey at Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Amarnath and back in five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.
The trek from Pahalgam to Amarnath cave is on an ancient peregrine route. The 45-km distance is covered in four days, with night halts atChandanwari, Sheshnag (Wawjan) and Panchtarni. The distance from Pahalgam to Chandanwari (12.8 km) is covered in about five to six hours, and the trail runs alung the Lidder river. Pilgrims camp here on the first night out. A major attraction here is a bridge covered, year round, with ice even though the surroundings are free from it.
The next day's trek, of 13 km, is through spectacular, primeval countryside, and the main centre of attraction is Sheshnag, a mountain which derives its name from its seven peaks, resembling the heads of a mythical snake. The journey to Sheshnag follows steep inclines up the right bank of a cascading stream and wild scenery untouched by civilization. The second night's camp at Wawjan overlooks the deep blue waters of Sheshnag lake, and glaciers beyond it.
There are legends of love and revenge too associated with Sheshnag, and at the camp these are recounted by campfires, to the stillness of a pine-scented, Himalayan night.
The third day's 13 km trek steadily gains height, winding up across Mahagunas Pass at 4,600 m and then descending to the meadow-lands of Panchtarni, the last camp enroute to the holy cave.
From Panchtarni to Amarnath is only 6 km, but an early morning's start is recommended for there is a long queue awaiting entrance to the cave. The same day, following darshan, devotees can return to Panchtarni in time for lunch, and continue to Wawjan to spend the fourth night out; or continue further to Zojibal, returning to Pahalgam on the fifth day.
Entrance to the cave is regulated, and darshan a hasty affair for there are many others waiting outside to pay homage before the awesome Shivalinga. The devotees sing bhajans, chant incantations, and priests petform aarti and puja, invoking the blessings of Shiva, the divine, the pure, the absolute. For those who journey with faith, it is a rewarding experience, this simple visitation to a cave-shrine, the home of the Himalayan mendicant who is both destroyer and healer, the greatest of the Hindu deities.
by Samsar Chand Koul
Man's search after God began with the dawn of creation. This search has assumed various forms, some seekers have concentrated on the teachings of the great prophets of religions, and others have gone on pilgrimages to the birth places of saints and prophets and visited localities where the different gospels were preached. Thereby they seek inspiration to help them in their quest.
The grandeur of Northern India lies in its glorious mountain ranges . . . theHimalayas. It is on these ramparts of Nature that the prosperity of India depends. Shri Krishna says in the Bhagwat Gita, 'I am the Himalayas among mountains'. The Indians look upon them as the abode of celestial beings. It is said that in the caves of Himalayas live sages who have been in meditation for hundreds of years. They occasionally reveal themselves in disguise to pilgrims. Among the many holy places in the side-valleys of these mountains, two . . . Kidar Nath towards the south and Amar Nath in the interior of Kashmir Himdlaya's . . . stand out prominently. There art also a number of mountain peaks which are dedicated to certain gods or goddesses. The most sacred spots in Tibet on the further side of the Indian border are Mount Kailas and the Manasurwar lake where adepts in spiritual lore are supposed to be living in their subtle bodies. These Masters are ever ready to guide the travellers on the spiritual path. I think one of the reasons why men go to these places is to see the Hand of the Creation in scenes of Nature's impressive grandeur. As these places are not easy of access, and as they are thousands of feet above the sea-level, beyond the dust and din of the world, man's soul gets elevated at the sight of their sublime beauty and thus he is brought closer to the object of his quest.
There are special days fixed according to the lunar calendar to visit these sacred places. The pilgrims assemble on a certain date in a certain place and start together. Such a rule is applicable only to those places which lie in mountains and the going is difficult. The Government provide facilities as far as possible everywhere for pilgrims.
The most famous of these pilgrimages is the Cave of Amar Nath which is an All-India Holy Place. People visit it from every corner of India. Mention of it occurs twice in the Raiatarangini (the history of Kashmir), first where the King Ram Deva is stated to have imprisoned the debauch King Sukh Deva and to have drowned him in the Lidder (Lambodheri) among the mountains of Amar Nath about 1,000 B.C., and a second time where King Sandimati (34 B.C. to 17 A.D.) is described as visiting the ice-lingam. This shows that this sacred spot was known to the people in very early times. One can only guess as to how this cave was discovered.
Old Route. According to the Amar Nath Mahatmya a pilgrim is expected to bathe or drink water at the following places before he enters the Holy Cave. As some of the places are not accessible to wheeled conveyance, they are not now visited by pilgrims.
Srinagar. Shudashi Khetor, the modern Shurahyar about 2.5 miles from Srinagar. It is said that in ancient times there was a stone staircase leading from this place to the top of the Shankarachar. Lately a temple has been built here.
Shivpor. There must have been a temple here, but there is no trace of it now.
Pandrenthan. The old Panthdreshti about 1.5 miles from Shurahyar. There is a temple in the middle of the spring built by Meru the Prime Minister of King Paratha (921-31 A.C.). Kak is of opinion that this is the temple of Shiv-Rilhanesvara erected by Rilhana, the Prime Minister of Jayasimha, about the year A.D. 1135.
Padampor. This was the favourite haunt of Rajank Acharyas the present Razdan family. It is 5.5 miles from Pandrethan. It was here that Shri Lalishwari lived. There is a spot here which is called Lalatrag.
Javati. The modern Zewan. It is 7 miles from Srinagar. The road is metalled. There is a spring here dedicated to Vasak Nag. There are regular buses running now.
Meshitoud. It means sweet water, the modern Petwan.
Avantiporika. It is known as Seda Khetor, the modern Avantipor. There are at this place old temples built by King Avantivarman (855-883 A.C.).
Barsu. There is a stream flowing through the village called Rudara Ganga.
Jaubror. There must have been a temple here in olden times.
Mahawarishwarn. The old Mahawaras.
Haridrak Ganapati. Known as Hari Ganish.
Belihar. Known as Belyar. This was known as Lakhmi Khetor.
Wagahama. The place is known as Hastikaran.
Tsakrish. The modern Tsakodar. This is a plateau on the right bank of the Vetasta near Bijbihara. It is 28 miles from Srinagar.
Dewak Tirth. The modern Dewakivar.
Hari Tsander. It is the southern ghat of the Bijbihara stone temple. It contains a huge stone lingam.
Sthalwat. The modern Thajwor. It is 2.75 Miles from Bijbehara and here water drips from the southern side of the plateau through maiden-hair on the Shivlingam.
Suryi-Gohawati. The modern Sriguphvara. It is 4.75 miles from Thajwor.
Lambodari. A stream in which the pilgrims have to bathe.
Sirhom. Here is a spring called Surya Ganga where worship takes place.
Bodrus. The place is sacred to Ganpat whose worship removes all obstacles.
Tsatrus Bodrus. The place is now called Hayi.
Shirshi Ashram. The Woter Nag Ganga flows by this Spot. It is 2 miles from Sriguphvara.
Sallar. Here the people bathe in the stream. The place is 3.5 miles from Tsatrus Bodrus and is reached by a pony track.
Bala Khelyan. Known as Vishna Khetor, the modern Bala Khellan.
C.anish Bal. 10.5 miles from Sallar. Here Ganish is worshipped. It is on the right bank of the Lidder below Pahalgam.
On the right bank of the Lidder is a spring and an old temple containing a Shiva Lingam at this place which is about a mile from Pahalgam. It is said that when Shiva removed His seat from Thojwara to Mamalishwar Ganish who was his door-keeper did not allow devas to visit Him. Hence the name of the village Mamal - don't go.
On one occasion Indra sought permission to visit Shiva. Ganish did not allow him. So there followed a quarrel, Ganish became furious and thirsty. He drank the river which became dry. Shiva while playing at his tabor poked the stomach of Ganish with it and out flowed the stream again, hence Lambodari.
In my opinion the source of the Lidder is the Kolahoi glacier. A stream joins it at Lidderwat which is the corrupt form of Lambodar wat-a rock dedicated to Ganish who is also named Lambodar and it is from here that the river was named Lambodari the modern Lidder. This must have been a place of pilgrimage in the olden times. An affluent from Tarsar enters the river at this place.
Bragapati Khetra. It is a spring in Pahalgam. It is said that Vishnu was pleased with the worship of Brago whom He embraced. Brago perspired, which gave rise to a spring. This spring is behind the village.
Nila Ganga. It is about 3 miles from Pahalgam. Close by the foot of Pisu Hill was the tirth of Sthanishwar where pilgrims had to bathe. One day Shiva kissed the eyes of Parvati to which antimony had been applied. He washed her eyes in water which turned dark-blue, hence Nila Ganga. There was a great fight between the Devas and the Daityas. The Devas did not allow the Daityas to see Shiva. The Daityas were defeated and ground down to tiny bits. Hence Pisu Hill.
Sheshiram Nag. A certain Daitya's body was entirely made of wind. He became very powerful. He troubled the Devas every way. They all entreated Shiva to rid them of the monster. Shiva told them that he was his disciple, and that they should approach Vishnu, which they did. Vishnu sent his Wahan, Sheshi Nag who sucked all the wind from the Daitya's body and the Daitya was killed. Pilgrims bathe in the lake.
Vaovajen. Some of the Daityas still concealed themselves in the lakes around the place. These lakes, were dried and the Daityas were killed. Hence Hoka Sar (dried lake). The Deva's were told to build small houses of stones as a shelter against the wind. Hence pilgrims also make toy sheds of stones.
Pantsatarni. This is believed to represent plaited hair (jata) of Shiva from which the Ganga flows. It is said that Shiva told one of his Rudhragans to beat the drum every evening. He forgot to do so one evening. Thereupon he was cursed and turned into a mountain which is now known as Bairau Bal.
Garbagar. On the other side of the Bairau Bal is Garbagar popularly known as Garba Yatra. Nandi complained to Shiva that he could not stop the rush of Devas coming to visit him. He ordered Nandi to get a huge rock and make a hole through it, so that every one desirous of visiting him would have to pass through that hole while Nandi would be standing near the hole.
Amaravati. All living beings besought Shiva to disclose a method which would render them immortal. Thereupon Shiva rinsed His plaited hair (jata) and out flowed the Amaravati-the stream of immortality. Some of the drops fell here and there giving birth to some of the gods, while himself he turned into Sudhaling (immortal emblem) in a corner of the cave. Every one being satisfied praised Shiva.
Sangam. The confluence of the Amaravati with the Pantsatarni is the place where a pilgrim has to perform Shrada (a ceremony for the dead). He is required to make a pedestal of barley flour with four golden nails struck in the four corners and a pure pearl set in the middle which should be given in charity to a Brahman who is supposed to be Shiva's form. When returning from Pahalgam the pilgrims revisit Mamalishwar and bathe in the nine springs of Naudal.
Patal Ganga. This is the last place where a pilgrim has to bathe. This is a spring near Nishat Bagh.
IN the Bragish Sahita it is said that after Reshi Kashap Ji reclaimed the Kashmir Valley from the waters it became populated through the agency of Nag Raja Takhek. It so happened once that Bragish Reshi roaming through the Himalayas arrived here. It was he who gave a clue of the cave of Amar Nath Ji to the people. He gave them a detailed account of the Tirthas and the places on the route to the cave.
After some decades the Daityas had the upper hand here and this place fell into oblivion, and the people forgot all about the route. Thereupon Bragish ji reappeared. He told the people that he had propitiated Bhagwan Mahadiv from whom he had obtained a sceptre which he had entrusted to Nag Raj Takhek. They should go and get this sceptre from Nag Raj, and while ruler of the country shall make arrangements for the Pilgrims who should start in a body from Srinagar with the holy sceptre in front. There would be no hindrance nor any trouble on the way. The sceptre called the Chhari Sahib wielded at present by the Mahant under the supervision of the Dharmartha Department has led the procession of pilgrims ever since.
In 1819 A.C. Pandit Har Dass Tiku founded the Chhawani Amar Nath at Rambagh where the Sadhus from the plains assembled and where he gave them free rations for the journey, both ways from his own private resources. This cost him about two lakhs.
The Mahants who wield the divine command of holy plac have always been the carriers of two holy sceptres which symbolise that command. Wherever a Mahant visits a place and takes his seat with ceremony a man holding one of the sceptres stands on his right and the other on his left.
The whole Amar Nath pilgrimage procession is conducted under the auspices of the Chhari Sahib. No pilgrim is allowed to go ahead of the Chhari, which is guarded by the Dharmartha Department, Kashmir. I am told that the Chhari in Srinagar was first wielded by Mahant Atwargir near the present Shital Nath buildings. After some time Mahant Sarswatigir visited Kashmir and stayed at the spot Dashnami Akhara. He erected a platform and some buildings and began to entertain Sadhus who came from the plains to Amar Nath. He took the Chhari from Atwargir.
In the meantime Shivratananand Saraswati improved the Durga Nag Ashram to such an extent that most of the Sadhus bound for the pilgrimage stayed in his ashram and were much cared for and warmly entertained. He put forth the plea that the Chhari must belong to his ashram as he was the Shankarcharia of the place. Thereupon started a dispute over the Chhari. Shivratananand Saraswati marched to the Amar Nath pilgrimage. A compromise was made between the two claimants and Mahant Saraswatigir considered Shivratananand a Sadak chela. The latter then naturally became the wielder of Chhari Sahib. Under his command the arrangements for the sadhus were excellent. There were enough tents and pilgrims were much cared for. But a section of the Sadhus of the place was not satisfied with the agreement. They protested to the Government and made demonstrations. After the demise of Shivratananand, the Chharipassed into the hands of a Chela of Saraswatigir who now wields it under the control of Dharmartha.
The Chhari generally leaves on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Sawan. A state official is always present to perform puja at Dashnami Akhara on the eve of its departure. The carrier of this holy sceptre must walk on foot. They visit Hari Parbat and Shankarachar before departure. They go by stages as pilgrims did of old but by a different route by-passing the places of interest mentioned in Amar Nath Mahatmya. The first halt is, at Pampor. At Bijibehara all sadhus accompanying the Chhari are given a dinner by the pujari of the temple. Villagers call it 'Gosain Mela', the fair of hermits. Bijbehara to Anantnag-5 miles.
Anantnag. A great festival is celebrated for the townspeople who come to see the sadhus.
Anantnag-Bawan 4.5 miles. Here is the famous spring of Martand where in the intercalry month or on vijaya saftami shradhas are performed.
Bawan to Aishimuqam 9.5 miles.
Aishimuqam to Pahalgam 11.5 miles.
Near Pahalgam village there are sheds for pilgrims. All pilgrims coming from various parts of India assemble here and wait for the Chhari Sahib. They arrange with contractors for ponies or coolies for their luggage. It is necessary to have a tent and some warm clothes. Religious-minded people abhor putting on leather shoes. If leather shoes are used they must be nailed. Formerly pilgrims. generally used grass shoes. They are most useful in going over glaciers. In this journey however, there is only a small bit in the Cave Glen. A water-proof coat is very useful. A staff with an iron spike would prove useful. It is also advisable to keep handy some ready-made food. Cinnamon should be used along with tea.
Poorly clad people from the plains having no conception of the severe cold of the place, suffer a lot. The Government makes excellent arrangements for the convenience of pilgrims. A civil officer regulates the whole affair. Medical aid is provided and security measures are enforced. Some schools and colleges despatch batches of scouts to look after the weak. There is a regular bazaar held at the stage. The shop-keepers, confectioners, grain-dealers, vegetable-sellers sell their commodities at a high price. The contractors arrange for fuel. As the fuel is not available beyond Pisu Hill (11,081 ft.) it is advisable that the coolies or pony-men be instructed to carry one or two bundles of wood. No wood except juniper is procurable for the next two stages.
The Government allots about ten thousand rupees for the maintenance of the weak Sadhus and children and makes every possible effort to give them comfort and ease.
The Public' Works Department looks after the upkeep of the road and the bridges over the torrents. Lately an excellent arrangement for the baths of men and women has been made near the cave. Also an iron railing has been erected round the Shivaling in the cave.
On the night of the 11th day of the bright fortnight of Sawan (July-August) all pilgrims assemble at Pahalgam. They all are now in full equipment including picturesque awnings of all sorts and forming an artificial village march like the Aryan of old, in a deeply devotional spirit, reciting the praises of various gods and of goddesses, introspeciing and meditating the inward vibrations of their minds and this is the purpose of their journey. The procession is best described by Swami Vivekananda in the following words: 'The procession of several thousands of pilgrims in the far-away Cave of Amar Nath, nestled in a glacial gorge of the Western. Himalayas, through some of the most charming scenery in the world, is fascinating in the extreme. It strikes one with wonderment to observe the quiet and orderly way in which a canvas town springs up in some valley with incredible rapidity at each halting place with its bazaars and broad streets running through the middle and vanishing as quickly at the break of dawn, when the whole army of gay pilgrims are on their march once more for the day. Then again the glow of the countless cooking-fires, the ashes covered Sadhus under the canopy of their large geru (orange) umbrellas pitched in the ground, sitting and discussing or meditating before their dhunies (fire), the Sanyasis of all orders in their various garbs, the men and women with children from all parts of the country in their characteristic costumes, and their devout faces, the torches shimmering at nightfall, the blowing of conch-shells and horns, the singing of hymns and prayers in chorus, all these and many other romantic sights and experiences of a pilgrimage, which can be met with nowhere outside India, are the most impressive and convey to some extent an idea of the overmastering passion of the race for religion. Of the psychological aspect and significance of such pilgrimage, done on foot for days and days, much could be written. Suffice it to say, that it is one of those ancient institutions which have above all, kept the fire of spirituality burning in the hearts of the people. One sees here the very soul of the Hindu nation laid bare in all its innate beauty and sweetness of faith and devotion.
Pahalgam to Tsandanwari (9,200 ft.) 8.5 miles. The pilgrims rise early and in a long string walk one after another. Some old ladies are carried in palanquin. The palanquin-bearers sing in chorus to avoid fatigue. Some rich people ride on ponies, while most of the people walk. It is a good pony-track which runs along the right bank of the torrent. The mountain slopes are densely forested. The flow of the blue waters rushing against the rocks, making delightful pools and dashing cataracts infuse new life into the onlookers. Occasionally they hear the sweet music of the whistling thrush or see the gorgeous plumage of the white-capped redstart or a dipper diving in the swift torrent to get its food. The shady path under the pines which emit delicious fragrance lessens the fatigue of the traveller. Some pilgrims take a little rest, against a huge fir and with closed eyes meditate on the beauties of the skilful works of the Author of the Universe. Others open their thermos flasks and while enjoying the beauties of Nature which abound in these lovely spots take a cup of tea to exhilarate themselves; while others again hold the hand of an old man to help him to go ahead. In the way they have to bathe at the Nila Ganga. Some pilgrims walk straight on and halt at Tsandarwari and pitch their tents there. It is a wise plan to be early at the stage, to pitch the tent, make a drain round it and get coolies to collect wood in good time. A small hatchet is of much use. Ponies carrying luggage should not be allowed to move away from oneself and coolies should not lag behind.
There are sheds at Al these stages, but except during pilgrim traffic they are not well cared for. It would be desirable that the sheds at Pahalgam and Tsandanwari be placed direct under the Public Works Department and the sheds at Vaovajen and Pantsatarni entrusted to shepherds living there for summer months. They should be paid for that. In that case the sheds will be kept clean, tidy and in good repair. I wish more sheds were built for the comfort of the pilgrims.
This stage presents a moderately difficult ascent. From Tsandanwari to the foot of the Pisu Hill (11081 ft.) is about 1.5 miles. There is a snow bed to pass over. The ascent up the hill is somewhat steep. It is better to make an early start, as with slow and steady steps, the ascent can be easily negotiated. When taking rest it is advisable to look below at the same time not missing the glorious panorama of densely forest-covered mountains and snowy peaks about which eagles and vultures hover in circles to find their food. Close at your feet, right and left, are nature's gems of various colours-flowers peeping from underneath trees and bushes till you reach the top. You are now above the tree-belt (in the alpine region). Take a little rest and have something to eat. The going from here to Sheshiram Nag is easy. In between about two miles from the top of the Pisu Hill is Zoj pal a nice camping ground. The path goes along the shore of Sheshiram Nag (11,730). The Nag lies in a depression surrounded on one side by mountains about 16,ooo ft. high. There are two small glaciers on the flanks of these mountains and the water from these glaciers feeds the lake. The silvery streaks of water flowing over the worn rocky precipitous slopes move like the Shesh snake and disappear into the lake. The pilgrims bathe here and some of them prepare tea. The colour of the water is lovely to look at. The lake on one side is silted up. The stream from the lake has carved out a deep ravine covered with birch trees. One finds beautiful flowers peeping out of juniper bushes. Rhododendrons are not scarce. The account of the lake given in the first book of Raiatarangani and that occurring in the Amar Nath Mahatmya do not agree. At sun down the snow on mountains turns pink and its reflection in the lake makes the beholder mute.
It is said that once upon a time there was a man named Sodwani running a shop at Drugajen. To him children of the village would come for a pinch of sugar everyday. One day a boy asked him for a second pinch because he said that there was another boy riding on a bull coming to play with them. This statement excited the curiosity of the shopkeeper who told him to show him the boy. When the shop-keeper was taken there, the children did show him the boy but he could not see him. He entreated them to put in his hand the tail of the bull. So at evening when the boy went back, the shop-keeper caught hold of the tail and over bush, rock and rough path he was dragged. In the way, the boy told the shop-keeper that was not the proper way for him to go. He should come to Sheshiram Nag on Shivratri day and then he would take him along with himself. It was not easy for the shop-keeper to go such a distance and to a place at such a height in mid-winter when the snow lies very deep on the ground. However, he managed to sell all his belongings, went to Pahalgam and collected a large party of peasants. He paid them lavishly and told them to guide him to Sheshi Nag. In those days the path was very rough and snow fairly deep. The winters in those days were very severe. Somehow the peasants were able to guide him and they reached Sheshiram Nag. There he saw Shiva and Parvati waiting for him in a well furnished shikara on the shore of the lake. They beckoned to Sodwani to get into the boat. No sooner he went in, than the boat disappeared.
An ascent Of 500 ft. will take you to the camping site of Vavojen (12,730 ft.). Due to its height above the sea-level and the exposed nature of the place the wind here is very strong. Hence the ropes of the tents should be tightened firmly and the body wrapt in warm clothes. The only available wood is juniper.
The Mahant of Chhari does not permit any pilgrim to go ahead of him. I remember that once we started at early dawn for the next stage. The Mahant shouted, 'Who are you? Where are you going? ' 'We are confectioners and are making for the next stage', said we. 'All right'.
So a lie, sorry to say, saved us from a papal bull. My friends and I went straight to the cave. There we saw some Public Works Department coolies and some cowboys. The pilgrims build here toy huts of stone, as a propitiation to the forces of Nature to save them from the wind.
On the 14th day of the bright fortnight of Sawan (July-August), the procession starts under the leadership of Chhari Sahib. They ascend Ashad Daki then Mahagunas which is a plateau where the herb of the same name once used to grow. Physically exhausted and tired, making halts at short intervals, the pilgrims walk slowly when the gradual descent of the path takes place from Hokasar and Kalinar where the route from Pahalgam via Astanmarg which is four miles shorter meets the main route. From here two miles onward is Nagara Pal, a huge boulder, up which the pilgrims scramble with two pebbles in hand beating the rock as if beating a drum to proclaim their arrival. Walking one mile and a half they stand on the bank of the Pantsatarni stream. They take off their clothes and bathe in all its six or seven tributaries, the last being the main and the largest one. The water of some streamlets is pure because they rise from springs, while others come from glacial sources and hence contain minute sandy particles. When all these streams unite they form a mighty river which it is impossible to ford. If one had the time, it would be worth while to explore the main stream. I remember once camping here and suggesting to my friends to explore the source of the main Pantsatarni stream, but they were very anxious to see their friends at Pahalgam and so did not agree.
The whole region is rich in herbs. It is a pity that the sheep and cattle graze everywhere in it, hence the flowers cannot be much observed. The herbs can only be recognized by their leaves. Here and there one might find a flower which has escaped being nipped by an animal. Even then some people conversant with eastern medicines, get a lot.
On their arrival the pilgrims hasten to pitch their tents. Cooking fires are lighted; the smoke from the green juniper bushes rises higher and higher in streaks. There is hustle and bustle everywhere. The ponymen are shouting for their ponies, the masters are yelling at their coolies, the mothers are looking for their children, the clients are enquiring about their priests. Some people after having tea, have a look at the landscape round the valley. The sunset on the snowy peaks is marvellous.
On Purnamasi Sawan (July-August) the visit to the cave takes place. The old route has been condemned by the Government. The pilgrims used to climb the Bairau Bal and going round the summit reached the cave after descending the precipitous slope through Garba Yatra. The cave is at a distance of two miles from Pantsatarni.
The Present Route being easier, known as Sant Singh's route has been adopted for years past by the pilgrims. It is plain going for 2 miles and then there are 2 miles of very gradual ascent, part of it over a small glacier. Turning round the corner and looking up the glen one discerns a large hole in the mountains. That is the cave.
A narrow defile leads up to this cave which is nestled among mountains between 16,000 ft. and 17,000 ft. above sea-level. This small valley must have been scooped by glaciers which now have receded. A small torrent drains the valley, while a streamlet shimmers down from the top of the cave and joins the torrent below. This spot where Nature's basic material, rock and water are abundant, gives bliss to millions of Hindus. Their eyes marvel at the skilful hand of Nature, and this handiwork of hers the mysterious cave, the destination of their long, long journey. Their souls find peace. Every particle of sand, every drop of water, every thing hereabouts to them the emblem of Shiva a sign of peace. They direct their thoughts to things spiritual in this frame of mind they undress themselves. First they wash themselves in this torrent; then they bathe in the Amaravati and besmearing themselves with the chalky sediment of the stream, become all white. They put on new loin cloths and thus, so to say draped in white from head to foot enter the cave, in a way become for a moment one with the Supreme and having no consciousness of the physical world.
Immersed with eyes closed in the bliss springing from inner love ' would that I attained to Shiva-consciousness so that while I bowed to my own self as Shiva, I would also worship a blade of grass as a manifestation of the same Supreme Reality.
Returning to physical consciousness they look around the interior of the cave. Towards the north-eastern corner they see Sudha* Lingam (immortal emblem) of pure greenish-white ice in a recumbent position on a natural pedestal (peth). The water drops from the top of the cave fall on the pilgrims and in some places the images of Ganesh fi, Kumar Ji, and Parvati are formed by these drops. The Mahant of the Chhari Sahib sits close to the Pedestal with two silver staves placed on either side of the Amar Nath Lingam (immortal emblem). The pilgrims offer to the deity, camphor, candles of clarified butter, raisins, candy sugar, black pepper, clothes, silver and gold ornaments. The recitations from the Vedas and Tantras echo through the spacious cave and snow pigeons which nest in the mountains make their appearance at this juncture and fly froth their perches. Seeing these birds the pilgrims clap their hands and shout: 'Ishwara Darshan Pa'ya re (we have seen the manifestation of the Lord'). A part of the offering of raisins, crystalized sugar and black pepper they bring along with themselves in order to distribute the same among their relatives and friends. They also take silt from the Amaravati or limy pebbles from the cave as Babuti for their relatives and friends.
From this highly spiritual atmosphere steps are now retraced towards the material world. The descent to the lower altitudes now begins. The pilgrims do not go to Sangam where in olden times Shradhas were performed in memory of dead ancestors. The pilgrims return to their camps for breakfast (they eat only one meal on this day) and precipitately begin the downward march. It is a pity that people do not stay here for some time. There is a sea of glaciers on the north and cast of the Amar Nath Range. Some of the peaks are much higher than Kolahoi. Hence this area is worth exploration. It is true that weather conditions are uncertain in these altitudes. A cloud passing from one mountain peak to another may bring a shower of rain, may discharge a hail-storm or envelop the valley in a snowy shroud. But such conditions do not last long and when we are well-equipped, a short stay at the place is well worth the hardship of weather.
The return journey via Astamnarg is prohibited by the Government. The Sasokot is not safe in bad weather: it is all sand and shale. So the pilgrims hasten their downward journey to Tsandanwari and the next day make for Pahalgam. It is said that the pilgrimage to Amar Nath Ji is not complete until the pilgrim washes himself in the nine springs of Naudal (nine leaves), which is 22 miles from Pahalgam via Bugmor pass.
(*It is believed to wax and wane according to the phases of the moon.)
By Dr. Ramesh Kumar
PILGRIMAGE to the holy cave of Lord Amarnath in the upper Sindh Valley is as old as the dawn of history in Kashmir. Amaresvara tradition has remained fairly strong in Kashmir. Many Kashmiris who could not brave the arduous terrain recreated symbols of Siva Amaresvara at different places in the Valley for worship.
One such place has been the large village of Amburher, 4 miles to the north of Srinagar city. The village lies to the west of Zakura (old Juskapura), on the shore of Anchar lake towards Sindh Valley. The old name for Amburher is Amresvara (Rajatarangini), Amarespura (Jonaraja) and Amaresvara (Pt. Sahib Ram's Tirath Samgraha).
The village derives its name from the shrine of Siva Amresvara. In this temple Amaresvara Linga was worshipped. Sir Aurel Stein visited this place in June 1895 and found ancient slabs and sculptured fragments in and around the Ziarat of Farrukhzad Sahib. He says these remains possibly belong to this temple
The temple of Amburher is very old. In old times the pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath would start with pilgrims praying at the shrine of Siva Amresa at Amburher.
There are two types of references to Amburher in Rajatarangini. One, on Queen Suryamati's endowing the shrine of Amresa with Agraharas and a Matha in 1005-1006 AD. The second reference refers to the military operations at the village during the reign of King Sussala in 1112-1120 AD. The strategic importance of village Amburher lay in its being located on the high road connecting the Sindh Valley with the capital.
Suryamati was Queen of King Ananta (1028-1063), the last of Sahi Princes. There are two references in Rajtarangini linking her to the shrine of Amresa at Amburher:
In 7th Taranga Kalhana records "She founded two maths by the side of shrines of Vijayesa and Amaresa under the names of her brother Sillana and of her husband respectively" (verse 183) .
"She also granted under her husband's name Agraharas at Amaresvara and arranged for the consecration for Trisulas, Banalingas and other sacred emblems" (verse 185).
References to the military operations in which King Sussala was besieged by rebels are found in 8th Taranga of Rajtarangini in verses 506-590 and 1124.
Amri in Lolab Valley:
In the picturesque Lolab Valley lies the village of Sewer where many Kashmiri Pandit families lived before 1990. About 2½ miles from Sewer lies the village of Afaan. This village is inhabited mostly by Kashmiris. A few Gujjar families also live here.
2½ kms uphill journey through Deodar forests leads to a small meadow. In this meadow is the cave of 'Amri' (Amresvara). For entering the cave one has to descend down 20 ft over steps cut in Deodar pole. A small (10 ft x 10 ft) space down has three pathways leading from it. When one stands on the pathways on the right or left side lot of noise is heard. No noise is heard on the central pathway. There are no reliefs in the cave.
As per local lore 150 years ago a Gujjar had gone to tend his flock of sheep at the meadow. He saw a hermit (sadhu) milking goat in a coconut cup near a spring, a little away from 'Amri' cave. The small spring had a tiny tea shrub near it. The spring is no longer extant. The Gujjar was highly impressed with this scene. The hermit blessed Gujjar and asked him not to reveal what he had scene. Soon the Gujjar grew very rich. This invited jealousy from his fellow villagers, who asked him to reveal the secret of his quick affluence. The Gujjar with great reluctance revealed what he had seen at 'Amri' cave. Sometime later he had climbed on a tree. A bear emerged and tore out eyes of the Gujjar. The latter fell down from the tree and succumbed to his injuries. It is quite possible that 'Amri' cave might have been the site of holy pilgrimage in olden times.
Siva Amresvara Darsana:
Saint Mukund Ram Tikoo was spiritual guru of Pt. Krishan Joo Razdan, Kashmir's famous Leela poet. Pt. Mukand Ram had his estate in Sindh Valley. One day he had gone to Baltal area (in 1879s) in the company of his disciple, Pt. Iswar Munshi. On seeing a milky white stream, Pt. Mukund Ram asked Pt. Iswar Munshi to accompany him to trace the source of this stream. They trekked along the stream and reached the holy cave of Amarnath. This is how Baltal route was discovered . At the holy cave Saint Mukand Ram was blessed with darsana of Siva Amresvara. On his return to Srinagar Pt. Mukand Ram asked famous portrait painter, Pt. Vasudev Garyali to make painting of Siva Amresvara. What he saw at the cave he conveyed the description to the painter in 8 verses. This painting, forbidden from photography, is worshipped on the day of Sivratri (Salaam) at Muthi Jammu.
Source: Kashmir Sentinel
By M.M. Munshi
At the head of the Sind Valley in Kashmir, flanked on the North by great Himalayan range and Sachkach (Sasakat) mountains in the south is located the holy Tirtha of Amar Nath Ji Cave "Amreshvara". (340.12' : 750.01') at an altitude of 12, 720 ft. (3878m) where Suaymbhu (self-created) the only Ice linga in the world, has been worshipped since early historic if not prehistoric times. The earliest references pertaining to Holy Amar Nath Ji Cave are found in Bhrngish Samhita (1) Nilmat Purana (2) Kalhana's Raj Tarangni (3) Mahatmayas of Amarnatha (4) and Amreshvara Kalpa (5).
According to Bhrngish Samhita the Mahakala approached the "Devtas" and told them that they would have to die. The devtas were troubled at this threat and proceeded to the abode of Swami Surji (Lord Shiva) and entreated his protection. Shiva appeared to them with bright countenance, showered upon them great favour and enquired about the cause of their distress. The devtas explained that Mahakala was about to destroy them and they dreaded his Power upon which Shiva with his great mercy and kindness bestowed upon them the water of immortality by which the "devtas" were freed from the persecution of Mahakala. After the devtas left, Shiva resumed his devotional abstractions and when he was again sought by the devtas they could not see him. They were, therefore, in great distress and lifted their hands in prayer and entreated him to show Himself. Shiva appeared in the form of ice linga and hence began the pilgrimage and prayers at Amreshvara.
The other view pertaining to the formation of Ice Linga is that Shiva's consort Parvati was eager to learn the secrets of life and immortality. She prayed to her lord to reveal the same to her. While moving with the Parvati over the Himalayas, Shiva rested in a cave and revealed the secrets of life to Parvati and got himself transformed into the Ice Linga. A pair of snow pigeons over-heard Shiva's discourse and became immortal. According to Bhrngish Samhita a person who bathes in the waters of Amur Veth (Amuravati) and rubs himself with the ashes gets Moksha. A person who performs Amarnath Ji Yatra after observing ablutions along the traditional approach route gets the same boons as one gets from Ashvamedha Yagya.
A pilgrim who performs ablutions at the sangam of Amur Veth and Panjtarnagini in Kalyug, gets pardon for crores of sins. Pilgrimage to Amarnath Ji is considered several times more auspicious than the pilgrimage to Kashi or Triveni. How Amarnath Ji cave could have been originally discovered I quote from the life of Swami Vivekananda; "I can well imagine how this cave was first discovered. A party of shepherds, one summer day must have lost their flocks and wandered here in search of them. What must have been their feeling as they found themselves unexpectedly before this unmelting ice lingam of white camphor, with the vault itself dripping offerings of water over it for centuries unseen of mortal eyes? When they came home they whispered to other shepherds in the valleys how they had suddenly come upon Mahadeva".
The mountain ranges in the area include Great Himalaya trending North West-South East isolating Sindu (Indus) basin (represented by Suru river) from that of Vitasta or Jhelum (represented by Sind and Lidar rivers), and Chandarbaga or Chenab basin (represented by Batkol-Marwah rivers). Saraibal a south westerly spur of great Himalaya isolates Jhelum from Chenab basin. Another spur called Sachhkach (Sasakat) of the Himalayas, bifurcating near Mushran, forms a water-parting between Sind and Lidar rivers. The Sachkach also follows a south-westerly trend and a Drun Nar or Hangsatu immediately below Sonamarg is traversed by the Sind river forming a narrow gorge beyond which it is known as Sogput or North Kashmir range isolating Kishenganga from the Kashmir Valley. The triangular mass of mountains is bounded on the north by Sind Valley, on the east and south by Lidar Valley and on the west by main valley of Kashmir with peaks of Kolahi or Gashbrar, Mahadev and Suresvari. The latter, over looking Dal Lake with lakes of Tarsar, Marsar and Hodsar has no modern name but was known in ancient times as Dudavana.
A number of pilgrims and authors in the past and recent times have wrongly referred to the snow beds and snow fields along the Sind Valley, Chandanwari near Panjtarangni (Panjtarni), and Amravati as Glaciers. These snow beds (Sheendob) are nothing but fresh snow accumulated in depressions by snow fall snow creep, avlanches and drift snow in winter.
A glacier (Handar in Kashmiri) is a solid mass of ice moving down the slope along the valley with an average velocity of 1 to 3 feet per day.
However, the vertical `U' shaped profiles of almost all the valleys in the upper reaches of Kashmir, including Sind and Lidar and their tributaries, have been carved by glaciers during pliestocene times. The glaciers have since retreated to higher levels, some have disappeared, while a few still remain like Kolahi, Koenjhar in the South East of Sheshnag, Machoi near Zojilla pass, Harmukata (Harmukh) in upper reaches of Sind and Amuravati near Mushran. In the area under review during the pliestocene times glaciers extended much below down stream of Gagganjir and Pahalgam in Sind and Lidar valleys respectively.
The holy Amar Nath Ji cave though located in the Sind Valley beside a small tributary of Sind river called Amar Veth or Amuravati (Amar Nath Nar) has been approached traditionally from the Lidhari (Lidar) valley. According to Amreshvara Mahatmaya some of the important places where pilgrims had to perform ablutions while on pilgrimage where Anantnaga, Mach Bhawan
Route Map of Amarnath :
(Mattan). Ganeshbal (Ganeshpora, 6,800 ft.) Mameshwar (Mamal 7,300 ft.) Nilganga. Chandanwari (9,220 ft.) Shusshram Naga (Sheshnag 11,330 ft.), Panjtarangni (Panjtarni, 12,611 ft.) and Amuravati. Between Sheshnag and Panjtarni the pilgrims crossed from Lidar to Sind Valley at the pass of Vayuujana or Mahagnus (VOWJAN) 13835 ft. The Sind valley route bifurcating from Srinagar - Leh Highway at Baltal was used in the past in early summers. During the late summers it used to become very difficult and sometimes impossible due to melting of snow bridges over the Sind river. But with the construction of a bridle path recently by the army and border roads organisation this route has become negotiable throughtout the summer. Amarnath Ji cave is also approachable by a very short foot track from Zojilla pass which descends near the cave from the side of Amarnath Peak. Another track branching off from Kishtwar-Suru-route, Via Marwah-Wardwan Batkol Valley. Lidar valley via Gulol gati between Shesh Nag and Mahagnus (along which the redoubtable Wazir Zorawar singh passed several times between 1834 to 1841 during the Dogra conquest of Ladakh, Baltistan and parts ofWestern Tibet) enters. The least known route through Saeki Pantsal Pass is the most difficult route and has never been used by pilgrims.
Like the mention of glaciers along the Amarnath Ji route, the history of Amarnath Ji has also been wrongly documented. Numerous writers in the recent past have maintained that Amarnath Ji cave was lost for a very long time (like one saying 'for thousands of years') till it was rediscovered by Maliks of Batkot. It is said to have been `rediscovered' according to some in 1775 C.E. and according to others by about 1600 C.E., quoting old Kashmiri Pandits and Maliks of Batkot without any authentic documentry evidence. Some have tried to give credit to the Maliks of Batkot for having originally discovered the holy cave for the first time in the middle of 18th Century C.E.
According to Kalhana's Rajtarangni, Tarang II, Samdimat (Arya Raja) 34 BCE-17 C.E. a great devotee of Shiva who rose from the position of Minister to be the King of Kashmir "used to worship a Linga of snow above the forests, which is not to be found elsewhere in the whole world during the delightful Kashmir Summers," He abandoned his kingship and retired to Nandiksethra (Nandkul) Sind Valley to join a hermitage where he was welcomed by old sages.
Kalhana further in Tarang I of Rajtarangni narrates the legend of Naga Suravas who bestowed his daughter Chandralekha upon a Brahmin youth who had helped the Naga in partaking the part of harvest from the fields. King Nara whose domain flourished around Chakardara (Tsakdar) near vijeshvara (Vijbror) cast an evil eye on the young Brahmin's Naga wife, which aroused the wrath of Naga Suravas resulting in death of Nara and destruction of later's kingdom. After completing the frightful carnage the Naga took his son-in-law (Zamatur, in Kashmiri) along and carved a place for him besides his own abode, Shushram Naga (Shesh nag). Kalhana says : "It is seen to this day (i.e. 1148-49 C.E.) by pilgrims proceeding to Amreshvara". Upstream of Shushramnaga towards Koenjnar glacier is located a smaller lake cased Jamtarsaras (Zamtirnag) the residence of this Brahmin son-in-law transformed into a Naga. The full translation of the verse 267 Book I of Kalhana's Rajtarangni, reproduced below leaves no doubt about the continuation of the pilgrimage to Amarnath Ji during the middle of 12th Century.
The lake of dazzling witness (resembling) a sea of Milk, which he created (for himself as residence) on a far off mountain, is to the present day seen by the people on the pilgrimage to Amreshvara' Stein's, Translation.
The fact that Kind Zain-ul-abdin (1420-70 C.E.) the pious Muslim ruler of Kashmir, besides visiting a number of Hindu shrines, also visited Amarnath Ji cave, has been documented by his chronicler Jonaraja.
Francios Bernier, was the French Physician who accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb to Kashmir in 1663. After visiting Trisandiya, Verinag, Achabal, Wular lake, Sangsafed in front of Harmukh, he was just after two-days' march from some place in Sind Valley, in a magnificient cave full of wonderful congealations"; apparently Amarnath Ji cave. When he was called back by Aurangzeb. The relevant para of the Bernier's book "Travels in Moghul Empire" is reproduced here. "I was pursuing journey to a grotta full of wonderful congelations, two days journey from Sangsafed when I received intelligence that my Nawab felt very impatient and uneasy on account of my long absence".
The 2nd edition of Bernier's book has been edited by vincient A Smith who has observed, "The grotta full of wonderful congelations is the Amarnath cave, where blocks of ice, stalagmites formed by dripping water from roof are worshipped by many Hindoos who resort here, as images of Shiva; glaciers surround the ..... which is considerably to the South East of ..."
Vigne in his book "Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu" (1842) says; "The ceremony at the cave of Amarnath takes place on the 15th of the Hindu month of Sawan, 28th July . . . not only Hindoos of Kashmir but those from Hindoostan of every rank and caste can be seen, collecting together and travelling up the valley of Lidar towards the celebrated cave, which from his description must have been the place which Bernier intended to visit but was prevented."
Vigne himself, after returning from Ladakh and Tibet by 1840-41, during the rule of Maharaja Sher Singh son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab attempted to visit Amarnath Ji cave along the traditional route via Sheshnag in late season, but was forced to return from Vowjan pass due to bad weather. He has given a beautiful description of the pilgrimage, gathered from others, which indicates that pilgrimage was in good vogue before 1840-41. From his narrative we can easily conclude that pilgrims from the plains, outside Kashmir, visited Amarnath in great numbers.
From this it is clear that Amar Nath has been visited in regular memory, the Yatra has been continuously undertaken not only by Kashmiris but also Hindus from other parts of India. Even if it is assumed that the holy shrine was 'rediscovered' by Maliks of Batkot, for which no authentic document is available it can be easily surmised that Amarnath Ji cave was not `lost' for thousands of years, The pilgrimage may have been disrupted due to political upheavals and persecution of Hindus during Muslim rule in Kashmir for a period varying at the most from 50 to 125 years.
Lawrence in Valley of Kashmir mentions that pilgrims to Amarnath were joined by Brahmins of Mattan and further up at Batkot the Maliks used to take charge of the pilgrimage. According to Lawrence the Maliks were supposed to keep the track in order, guide, escort the pilgrims and carry sick ones and ensure nothing was stolen, and received one third of the offerings at the Amarnath Ji Shrine. The other two shares used to go to Pandits of Mattan and Giri Mahants of Amritsar who used to and still lead the pilgrimage with Chari Mubarak, Lawrence does not mention any where that share of offerings to Maliks was in lieu of their having discovered/rediscovered' the cave. There is no mention of receipt of ransum rahdhari from pilgrims nor grants from the State Govt. for the services rendered by Maliks. Apparently the share seems to have been received by Maliks for the services rendered.
Besides Lawrence, earlier travellers and authors in Kashmir have also not mentioned about `rediscovery' of Amarnath Ji cave by Maliks. It is not difficult to conclude that Amarnath Ji cave could not have been lost during the short span of 50 to 125 years during which the yatra might not have seen the traditional pomp and show, and may have remained a low-key affair in view of the adverse political climate.
The theory that the Maliks having `discovered' or `rediscovered' the Amarnath Ji cave in or around 1775 C.E. is also constrained by the adversity of that time. At that time Kashmir was ruled by Afghans (1753-1819 C.E.) who persecuted Kashmiris in general and Hindus in particular. Afghans would not have taken kindly to Maliks, or anybody else, claiming to have 'rediscovered' any Hindu or Buddhist shrine. Such a `discovery' even if it had been made would have been kept under wraps. It is also highly improbable to presume that pilgrimage to a `lost' Amarnath Ji cave could have been resumed during the Afghan rule for reasons mentioned above. Moreover, all the passes and routes with the exception of Baramulla-Muzafarabad route which they needed for direct communication with Kabul were closed for traffic during the Afghan rule and hardly any Hindu pilgrim from plains could have entered Kashmir and reached Amarnathji.
According to Prof. O. N. Chrungoo, the Amarnath Ji cave was rediscovered by Maliks of Batkot by about 1600 C.E. i.e. during the rule of Emperior Akbar, that pilgrimage again remained in abeyance during the Afghan rule ((1753-1819) and was resumed only after Maharaja Gulab Singh arrived on the scene in 1846. Maliks themselves claim that they discovered the cave by 1775 and Pervez Dewan in his article Discovery of Lord Shiva's cave temple in Daily Excelsior also states that the rediscovery of cave was made some times between 1750-1775. All these claims are contradictory and can not be accepted as factual. As already indicated pilgrimage was going on during the Sikh rule long before Gulab Singh appeared on the scene.
In order to arrive at a logical conclusion we have to understand the history and background of the institution of Maliks. According to Baron Von Hugel, Malik is a title of honour and distinction given to successors of Devarpatis, Margesas (later called Magres) holding charge of watch-cum-military stations on feudal basis on the important routes and passes, entering and leaving Kashmir, by the independent Sultans of Kashmir and also to other clans like Chaks, Rainas, Dars for latter's loyal service. After the annexation of Kashmir by Mughals in 1586 C.E. most of the Maliks of Raina, Magrey and Chak clans etc. who had fought against the former were hunted out killed and banished from Kashmir. Some of them escaped to remote and inaccessible hills and valleys to avoid persecution. But those who latter submitted themselves before Akbar and took the oath of loyalty were allowed to resume the duty of guarding the routes, administration and even judiciary. All routes except the Baramulla-Muzafarabad route remained closed during the Afghan's rule.
With the advent of Dogra rule in 1846, opening up of all the routes and gradual establishment of police posts at vulnerable places, the ancestral occupation of Maliks came to end. Since the latter part of 19th century the Maliks had to content themselves with guiding, and escorting the pilgrims to Amarnath Ji, Harmukh, probably to Sharda in Kishenganga valley and other places of pilgrimage. The allotment of a part of offerings, as at the Amarnath shrine, could have been in lieu of these services.
Since all the arrangements including maintenance of track, erection of sheds enroute, medical care and protection for pilgrims are now made by the government and several voluntarily non-government organisations, the receipt of the one third of the offerings by the Maliks is a historical relic, comparable to now abolished Jagirdaris and privy purses. Further research would have to be carried out as to how old was the settlement to Maliks at Batkot as it is located on an unimportant route through which no invasions of Kashmir were attempted or expected nor trade carried out.
Prof. Chrungoo in his article has stated that "some people interested in anthropological or geological research have said that it is an encrustation of lime; chalcedony and archeological research by Pandit Anand Koul has revealed otherwise." It is true that several observations made by people about Amarnath Ji cave are not factual including one in "Tirtha" published by CMC Ltd. (11) that Amarnath is an ice covered linga, "Similarly chalcedony is a variety of silica with waxy lustre and can not get assimilated by water or ice under any circumstances.
However scientifically speaking ice linga is somewhat like an icicle and my contain dissolved bicarbonate of calcium (lime) which cannot be visualy seen. Anthropology is the science of physiological, physiosocio logical and racial study of man while as archeology deals with things used, or made, by man from prehistoric to medieval times both having absolutely no scope for research at Amarnath Ji cave.
A news item under the caption, "Another cave Shiva temple in upper Pahalgam" appeared in the Daily Excelsior of 28th August 2001 stating that another cave not far away from the Amarnathji cave, which is being visited by over one hundred thousand pilgrims every year, had been discovered. The news report reiterated that old Amarnath Ji cave was discovered by Maliks in 1775 and ruins, besides the (new) cave, suggest that a Dogra Governor of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rule attempted to build a Shiva temple at the spot in 18th century. Firstly the presumption of a Dogra Governor having built a temple during the 18th Century is the height of imagination of the correspondant. All the governors during the Sikh rule in Kashmir without exception were Sikhs or Punjabi muslims; Sikhs ruled Kashmir between 1819-46 that is 19th century and not 18th century.
As already discussed Amarnath Ji cave was known centuries before 1775.
Return Halt :
Prevez Dewan has hypothesised that the newly rediscovered Shiva cave temple near Hapatgund could have been a base camp for Amarnathji yatra. That postulation too, does not stand scrutiny, as the new cave is not located along the traditional route along which lie the different tirthas at which performance of ablutions was a must for a merit-ful yatra. According to Vigne (1842) and Gates (1872) the pilgrims used to approach Amarnathji cave from Panjtarni and Bhairobal and after having darshan returned passing down the Amurveth upto its Sangam with Sind, from where they found their way back to Pahalgam by a different route from the one by which they arrived via Hatiara Talab (where scores) of pilgrims have perished. They crossed the water shed between Sind and Lidar valleys by a pass West of Sachkach (sasakot) peak, Astanmarg and Zanin, The Hapatgund cave temple which lies along this route could have been a halting place on the return journey. The spring described by Parvez Dewan is well known and is shown on the survey map of the area. Swami Vivekananda also returned via this route in 1895 and described the Hatiara Talav as celebrated lake of death. This route was abandoned in early 20th Century for being the most difficult and dangerous one.
Regarding newly discovered temple at Hapathgund (Slaiv Van) the identification of top-knot on the head and serpent coiled round the neck of the idol, and presumbly a trisual and a yoni shaped tank some distance away from the caves, leaves no doubt that the cave houses an ancient Shiva temple.
Since the idols according to Pervez Dewan are in situ i.e. rocks in original position, not transported by natural or human agencies and presence of such a large number of Shivlings in a limited space and their damage by water indicate the possibility of the idols and shivlings being natural stalagmites formed by percolation of calcium bicarbonate bearing water and subsequently scuptured by man. Wind action can carve rock shelters and not caves in areas under review which receive moderate to high rain or snowfall. Neither the caves nor the rocks inside can be carved by wind but mostly by percolation of carbon dioxide laden water and occasionally by joining and fracturing. The sculpturing and carving of idols inside the pre-existing caves and construction of yoni shaped tank might have been possibly done as a token of thanks giving by pilgrims returning from a successful yatra of Amarnathji. A number of temples built at Wangat in Sind Valley by pilgrims, after returning from Harmukh shows that such, indeed, was the practice.
Present Status :
Despite the turmoil of militancy prevailing for more than a decade, Amarnathji continues to be one of the most popular Tirthas of Kashmir, and lakhs of Pilgrims from all parts of the country visit the shrine inspite of the fact that a few of them fall victim to militant attacks. The number of aspirants for pilgrimage has always been more than the Government does allow for security reasons.
The only Ice Linga in the whole world, at the Amarnathji cave, has been visited and worshipped by pilgrims since early historic if not prehistoric times. There is conclusive historic evidence that pilgrims were regularly proceeding to the holy cave via Sheshnag during the middle of 12th century and in middle of 15th century. The Shrine was well known even during the rule of Aurangzeb when Bernier attempted to visit it but was prevented. There is no evidence to prove that the Amarnath Ji cave was `lost' for thousands of years until it was `rediscovered' by Maliks of Batkot some time between 1750-75.
The pilgrimage to Amarnathji might have been disrupted during the political upheavals for period varying between 50 to 125 years. Full pilgrimage was resumed after annexation of Kashmir by Sikhs and since then the Giri Mahants of Amritsar have been associated with the Yatra; the track might have been retraced by Maliks. Maliks have been receiving one-third of the offerings of the shrine for keeping the track in order, guiding and escorting the pilgrims etc. rather than for `discovering' or `rediscovering' the cave.
The newly discovered Lord Shiva's cave temple near Hapatgund could not have been a base camp for Amarnath Yatra but a halting place on the return journey. The cave temples are man-made only to the extent of sculpturing of pre-existing stalagmites.
Despite the disturbed condition prevailing in Kashmir pilgrims in large numbers still throng the Shrine.
Source: Kashmir Sentinel
The separatists in Kashmir and their “secular” supporters are trying to spread the myth that the Amaranth Yatra is of a recent origin. They claim that it started only after a Muslim shepherd of Batakot, a certain Buta Malik, originally “discovered” the Amarnath cave when he lost his flock and found that it had strayed into the sacred spot some 150 years ago. There is no documentary proof of this so-called discovery, the story having probably been concocted to give credit to Muslims for having started the most popular Hindu pilgrimage of Kashmir. There is ample and conclusive historical evidence, on the other hand, to prove that the holy cave and the ice lingam were known to the people since very ancient times and have been continuously and regularly visited by pilgrims not only from Kashmir but also from different parts of India. While the earliest reference to Amarnath can be seen in the Nilamata Purana (v.1324), a 6th century Sanskrit text which depicts the religious and cultural life of early Kashmiris and gives Kashmir’s own creation myth, the pilgrimage to the holy cave has been described with full topographical details in the Bhringish Samhita and the Amarnatha Mahatmya, both ancient texts said to have been composed even earlier. References to Amarnath, known have also been made in historical chronicles like the Rajatarangini and its sequels and several Western travellers’ accounts also leaving no doubt about the fact that the holy cave has been known to people for centuries. The original name of the tirtha, as given in the ancient texts, is of course Amareshwara, Amarnath being a name given later to it.
Giving the legend of the Naga Sushruvas, who in his fury burnt to ashes the kingdom of King Nara when he tried to abduct his daughter already married to a Brahmin youth, and after the carnage took his abode in the lake now known as Sheshnag (Kashmiri Sushramnag), Kalahana writes:
“The lake of dazzling whiteness [resembling] a sea of milk (Sheshnag), which he created [for himself as residence] on a far off mountain, is to the present day seen by the people on the pilgrimage to Amareshwara.”(Rajatarangini, Book I v. 267.Translation: M. A. Stein).
This makes it very clear that pilgrims continued to visit the holy Amarnath cave in the 12th century, for Kalhana wrote his chronicle in the years1148-49.
At another place in the Rajatarangini (Book II v. 138), Kalhana says that King Samdhimat Aryaraja (34 BCE-17CE) used to spend “the most delightful Kashmir summer” in worshiping a linga formed of snow “in the regions above the forests”. This too appears to be a reference to the ice linga at Amarnath. There is yet another reference to Amareshwara or Amarnath in the Rajatarangini (Book VII v.183). According to Kalhana, Queen Suryamati, the wife of King Ananta (1028-1063), “granted under her husband’s name agraharas at Amareshwara, and arranged for the consecration of trishulas, banalingas and other [sacred emblems]”.
In his Chronicle of Kashmir, a sequel to Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, Jonaraja relates that that Sultan Zainu’l-abidin (1420-1470) paid a visit to the sacred tirtha of Amarnath while constructing a canal on the left bank of the river Lidder (vv.1232-1234). The canal is now known as Shah Kol.
In the Fourth Chronicle named Rajavalipataka, which was begun by Prjayabhatta and completed by Shuka, there is a clear and detailed reference to the pilgrimage to the sacred site (v.841,vv. 847-849). According to it, in a reply to Akbar’s query about Kashmir Yusuf Khan, the Mughal governor of Kashmir at that time, described among other things the Amarnath Yatra in full detail. His description shows that the not only was the pilgrimage in vogue in Akbar’s time – Akbar annexed Kashmir in 1586 – but the phenomenon of waxing and waning of the ice linga was also well known.
Amareshwar (Amarnath) was a famous pilgrimage place in the time of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan also. In his eulogy of Shah Jahan’s father-in-law Asif Khan, titled “Asaf Vilas”, the famous Sanskrit scholar and aesthete Panditraj Jagannath makes clear mention of Amareshwara (Amarnath) while describing the Mughal garden Nishat laid out by Asif Khan. The King of gods Indra himself, he says, comes here to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva”.
As we well know Francois Bernier, a French physician accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb during his visit to Kashmir in 1663. In his book “Travels in Mughal Empire” he writes while giving an account the places he visited in Kashmir that he was “pursuing journey to a grotto full of wonderful congelations, two days journey from Sangsafed” when he “received intelligence that my Nawab felt very impatient and uneasy on account of my long absence”. The “grotto” he refers to is obviously the Amarnath cave as the editor of the second edition of the English translation of the book, Vincient A. Smith makes clear in his introduction. He writes: “The grotto full of wonderful congelations is the Amarnath cave, where blocks of ice, stalagmites formed by dripping water from the roof are worshipped by many Hindus who resort here as images of Shiva…..”
Another traveler, Vigne, in his book “Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu” writes about the pilgrimage to the sacred spot in detail, clearly mentioning that “the ceremony at the cave of Amarnath takes place on the 15th of the Hindoo month of Sawan” and that “not only Hindoos of every rank and caste can be seen collecting together and traveling up the valley of Liddar towards the celebrated cave……” Vigne visited Kashmir after his return from Ladakh in 1840-41 and published his book in 1842. His book makes it very clear that the Amarnath Yatra drew pilgrims from the whole of India in his time and was undertaken with great enthusiasm.
Again, the great Sikh Guru Arjan Dev is said to have granted land in Amritsar for the ceremonial departure of Chari, the holy mace of Lord Shiva which marks the beginning of the Yatra to the Holy Cave. In 1819, the year in which the Afghan rule came to an end in Kashmir, Pandit Hardas Tiku “founded the Chhawni Anmarnath at Ram Bagh in Srinagar where the Sadhus from the plains assembled and where he gave them free rations for the journey, both ways from his own private resources”, as the noted Kashmiri naturalist Pandit Samsar Chand Kaul has pointed out in his booklet titled “The Mysterious cave of Amarnath”. Not only this, Amarnath is deeply enshrined in the Kashmiri folklore also as stories like that of Soda Wony clearly show. One can, therefore, conclude without any doubt that the Amaranth Yatra has been going on continuously for centuries along the traditional route of the Lidder valley and not a century and a half affair. May be during the Afghan rule when religious persecution of the Kashmiri Hindus was at its height and they were not allowed to visit their places of worship the pilgrimage was discontinued for about fifty or sixty years and during this period the flock of some shepherd may have strayed into the holy cave, but that in no way makes it of a recent origin or a show window of so-called Kashmiriat.
The temple is reported to be about 5,000 years old and was mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The exact manner of discovery of the cave is not known.
The Amarnath Yatra, according to Hindu belief, begins on Ashadha Purnima (day of the Full Moon in the Hindu Month of Ashadha) and ends on Shravana Purnima (day of the full moon in the Hindu month of Shravana).
By M.M. Munshi
It has been clearly documented in history that Amar Nath Shrine has been visited by pilgrims since ancient times including a ruler of Kashmir between 34 BC and 17AD . (Kalhana’s Rajtarangini Book II . Verses 130-141).
Narrative of Amarnath Mahatmyas and other related composite Mahatmyas in BhrngiSamita (translated by Dr.Amar Nath Shastri on pages (156 to 225) proves beyond doubt that Amarnath Shrine was an important pilgrimage during 2nd and third AD century. Mention of Amreshvara (Amarnath) in Nilamata Parana along with other tirthas of Kashmir also proves that Amarnath ji Shrine was well known during 5th - 6th century AD.
Kalhana while referring to the legend of Sushram Naga (Sheeshnag) states that (Sheeshnag) and Zamtirnag are seen to this day by pilgrims proceeding to Amreshvara (Amarnathji) i.e. 1148-49 A.D. (the period of compilation to Kalhana’s Rajtarangini (Taranga I verse 267).
Muslim rule was established in Kashmir in 1339 and conversions to Islam started by the end of 14th century AD during the rule of Sikandar butshikan. How on earth Muslim shepherds/ Maliks could have discovered Amarnathji Shrine which was visited by pilgrims in early historic, if not prehistoric times?
It is believed that Sikandar Butshikan after desecrating, damaging and destroying most of the Hindu temples of Kashmir valley was proceeding to Amarnath ji cave for the same purpose but turned back from Ganeshbal (Lidau Valley) and after reaching Vijesvara (Bijbhera) repented his deeds.
The fact that Zain-ul-abdin (1420-1470), pious Muslim ruler of Kashmir visited Amarnathji has been documented by his chronicler Jonaraja (Jona’s Rajtarangini Bombay Edition).
Ali Mardan Khan the Mughul governor of Kashmir during the rule Emperor Shahjahan (1635-58 AD) has derisively commented on the so called madness and religious eccentricism of the streams of the faithfulls barefooted, illclad winding their way in rain and snow through slush and tracheous routes to behold what was not a god in a cave. However, he dreamed of Mahesevara (Shiva) and changed from sceptic to a firm believer and compiled beautiful persian couplets in praise of Shiva.
The French physician Francis Bernier who visited Kashmir in the company of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1663 after visiting number of interesting places in Kashmir was about two days march from some place in Sind Valley to a grotta (Cave) full of wonderful congeliations (frozen things) apparently Amarnathji Cave was recalled by the emperor. Smith who has edited the 2nd edition of Bernier’s book has identified the cave as that of Amarnathji (Travels in Moghul Empire) by Francis Bernier.
Vigne in his book “Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu”, 1842 says “The ceremony of the cave of Amarnath takes place on 15th of the Hindu month of Sawan.... Not only Hindus of Kashmir but those from Hindustan of every rank and caste can be seen collecting together and traveling up the valley of Lidar towards the celebrated cave which from his description must have been the place which Bernier intended to visit but was prevented. Vigne himself tried to visit Amarnath ji cave in late season of 1840 during the rule of Sikh Maharaja Sher Singh but was forced to return from Vawjan due to bad weather. From his narrative we can easily conclude that pilgrimage was in vogue before 1840 - 41 and pilgrims from the plains outside Kashmir Valley visited Amarnathji in great numbers.
It has baffled the Kashmiri Pandits, to be told that this Yatra, holy cave was lost for quite a long time, some theorists like Pervez Dewan have gone on to claim that Amarnathji Yatra had been lost for thousands of years, others have been saying few hundreds of years, historically both look fantastic. There is no mention of Yatra having been banned. It is not possible to opine that Zain-ul-Din or Akbar or their descendents could have done that. Afghans took over from Mughals in 1753, they ruled Kashmir for 66 years. It is here that whole story of lost and found is hinged.
None of the lost theorists is committal about the time the Yatra and hoiy cave got lost, about rediscovery of the Shrine they have given conflicting dates. Accordingly to ON Chrungoo the Amarnathji Cave was rediscovered about 1600 AD and Yatra again remained in abeyance during the Afghan rule 1753 - 1819. Yatra was resumed only during the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh (Pilgrimage to Amarnath Daily Excelsior 06.08.2000). Parvez Dewan in his article “Discovery of Lord Shiva’s temple” Daily Excelsior says that Amarnathji cave was rediscovered some time between 1750 - 1775. Maliks themselves claim to have rediscovered the cave by 1775 i.e. Afghan rule which is constrained by the adversity of that time as Afghans who ruled Kashmir between 1753 - 1819 persecuted Kashmiris in general and Hindus in particular, would not have taken kindly to Maliks or anybody else for discovering or rediscovering a Hindu or a Buddhist Shrine. Moreover theorists of lost and found have given contradictory names of the Muslim shepherd who rediscovered the shrine as Adam Malik, Buta Malik and Akram Malik.
As the claims about timing names etc. are contradictory these cannot be accepted as factual. We have positive evidence from Vigne that pilgrimage was in full swing before Gulab Singh appeared on the scene. We have only few gaps of non-mention of the Yatra for few decades in the otherwise continuous Yatra. No community loses its collective memory in matter of few decades.
It could have been a low key affair during political upheavals or after natural calamities or catastrophes but lost never.
The concept of Shrine having been discovered / rediscovered by Maliks / Muslim Shepherds has to be understood taking into account the History and background of Maliks and not to be confused with that of Kashmiri Shepherds who were and are still known as Pohuls or Choupans. According to Baron Von Hugel (1840) and R.K. Parimoo (History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir). Malik is a title of honour and distinction given to successors of Davarpatis, Margesas (Later called Magres) holding charge of watch-cum-military stations on feudal basis on the important routes and passes, entering and leaving Kashmir, by the independent Sultans of Kashmir and also to other clans like Chaks, Rainas, Dars for latter’s loyal service. After the annexation of Kashmir by Mughals in 1586 A.D. most of the Maliks, Rainas, Magreys and Chak clans etc. who had fought against the former were hunted, killed and banished from Kashmir, some of them escaped to remote and inaccessible hills and valleys to avoid persecution. But those who later submitted themselves before Akbar and took the oath of loyalty were allowed to resume the duty of guarding the routes, administration and even judiciary. All routes except the Baramulla - Muzaffarabad route remained closed during the Afghan rule.
With the advent of Dogra rule in 1846, opening up of all the routes and gradual establishment of regular police posts at vulnerable places, the ancestral occupation of Maliks came to an end. Since the latter part of 19th century the Maliks had to content themselves with guiding and escorting the pilgrims to Amarnath Ji, Harmukh, probably to Sharda in Kishenganga valley and other places of Pilgrimage. The allotment of a part of offering , at the Amarnath shrine, could have been in lieu of these services.
Lawrence in Valley of Kashmir mentions that pilgrims to Amarnath were joined by Brahmins at Mattan and further up at Batkot the Maliks used to take charge of the pilgrimage. According to Lawrence Valley of Kashmir (1895) the Maliks were supposed to keep the track in order, guide and escort the pilgrims and carry sick ones and ensure that nothing was stolen, and received one third of the offerings at the Amarnath Ji Shrine. The other two shares used to go to Pandits of Mattan and Giri mahants of Amritsar who used to and still lead the pilgrimage with Chari Mubarak. Lawrence does not mention any where that share of offerings to Maliks was in lieu of their having ‘discovered/rediscovered’ the cave. There is no mention of receipt of rasum rahdari from pilgrims nor grants from the State Govt. for the services rendered by Maliks. Apparently the share seems to have been received by Maliks for the services rendered. Neither Lawrence, Vigne, Montogmery nor others have mentioned that Amarnath ji Cave was lost from memory or was discovered-rediscovered by Maliks / Muslims Shepherds . The lost theory is a wild conjecture that does not stand any test. The history of Amarnathji pilgrimage to be depicted on the plaque at the war to be built in front of the Shrine should be based on actual historical research from authetic documents and not on hearsay for petty reasons. It may amount to distortion of history and suppression of facts , to presume that Amarnathji Shrine was discovered by Maliks/Muslim shepherds. It is prayed that distortion of history of the Amarnathji Shrine should not be depicted on the Dewar or any other structure to be built at or on way to the Shrine.
Source: Kashmir Sentinel
By Prof. M.L. Koul
M.A. (Engilsh), M.A. (Sanskrit), M.A. (Hindi), B.Ed.
Historically, the worship of Shiva lingam has been a very popular religious practicein Kashmir. The same stands corroborated by Kalhan Pandit who in his monumental work, Rajtarangini, makes a mention of 'vateshwar', an ancient Shiva-lingam worshipped even in his lifetime. A king of Kashmir, Ravana, (1000 B.C) worshipped it as it was believed to predict future occurrences and events through the light emanating from the Sri-cakra engraved on it.1 The king was so devout in his worship of the Shiva-lingam that he consecrated the entire valley of Kashmir to the Matha where-in he worshipped the Shiva-lingam.2 The Mahadev Peak, Dyaneshwar lingam and Sureshwar lingam, known as svayambhu lingams, have been objects of worship for the Hindus of Kashmir. Infact, the interiors of Himalayas possess numerous such lingams and Hindus reverently call them Shiva-dhams. Pilgrimages to the Shiva-dhams have been a regular feature without interruptions.
The ancient cave of Amarnath known for its icy-lingam that is naturally formed has been a venerable spot of pilgrimage for thousands of years. The icy-lingam waxes and wanes with the waxing and waning of the Moon. It attains its full length form on the night of shravan Purnima. As per the written records the icy-lingam has been nomenclatured as 'amresh', 'amreshwar', 'rasa-lingam', 'siddhi-lingam,' 'buddhi lingam,' 'shuddhi lingam,' 'puratan buddhi lingam' and 'pumsavan lingam.3 The nomenclature of 'amarnath' as is in vogue has been drawn from and owes its genesis to the 'Amarnath Mahatamya', an authentic work on the Amarnath as a holy place of worship.
As per the 'Amarnath Mahatamya' Shiva in the form of icy-lingam bestowed immortality on gods, devatas and thus he is known as 'amresh' or 'amreshwar'. He delivers his devotees from the pains and pangs of old age and disease soon after they have his 'darshan' and 'Satksatkar' in the formation of icy-lingam. As per the Tantric erudites, He is Amarnath because He commences His ascent from 'ama-kla' to 'purna-kala' and a mere drop from it liberates a pilgrim, a devotee, from age and death and grants him the state of oneness with Supreme consciousness, the same as Shiva. A pilgrim, who in his extreme joyfulness and ecstasy, dances inside the cave, is considered a veritable rudra.
The references to the holy cave of Amarnath are available in Bringesh Samhita, Nilmat Puran, Amarnath Mahatmaya and Rajtaranginis of Kalhan Pandit, Rajanak Jonraj and Shuk Pandit and other travelogues by foreign travellers.
Bringesh Samhita is a compendium of the Mahatamayas of all the prominent and well known tirthas (holy places) of Kashmir compiled by Bringesh, a scholar of eminence. in Kashmir, we have a galaxy of three persons bearing the same name of Brigesh. One was a gana, an attendant of Shiva, the other was a sage and the third a scholar of eminence. Bringesh, the gana, being an unworldly recluse could not have any cultivated interest in writing and compiling the Mahatamayas. The research scholars hold that initial task of compiling Mahatmayas was taken up by Bringesh who was a known sage and the date for it is supposed to be 5th century A.D. The third Brignesh given to scholarship and scholarly pursuits is supposed to have aptly culminated the work as begun by the second Bringeseh in 12th century A.D.4. The entire work is unfortunately lost and the manuscript available in the Ranbir Library, Jammu, is a truncated version and hence falls short of providing multi-dimensional and authentic information about the culture and mores of ancient Kashmir including the topography of the region.
The Bringesh Samhitarelates that Mahakala threatened the gods (devas) with death and destruction and they in all trepidation called on Lord Shiva and humbly entreated Him to protect them from Mahakala's menacing threat of decimation. Shiva in all mercifulness freed them from Mahakala's threat by showering upon them the boon of immortality. Again to seek Shiva's support and protection gods (devas) could not see Him as He was deeply immersed in His devotional and meditative practices. In absolute distress the gods (devas) lifted their hands to supplicate Him to appear before them. Shiva, the merciful, appeared in the formation of an icy-lingam and this is the genesis of the Holy Lingam and subsequent pilgrimage to the holy cave of 'amresh' or 'Amarnath'.
Bringesh Samhita also relates that Kashmir was a vast expanse of water and the sage Kashyap drained the lake for the land to appear. Bringesh, the sage, was scouring the swathes of the valley and discovered the cave wherein an icy-lingam in full length form was standing. Lord Shiva gave him a sceptre for protection of pilgrims which has now taken the form of Chhari Maharaj, the holy mace leading the annual pilgrimage.
As per Amarnath Mahatamya, Parvati, the consort of Shiva, was ultra keen to know in full details the mysteries of life and immortality. Entreating the lord to reveal the mysteries to her, Shiva traversing the tops and ridges of the Himalayas took rest in a cave and disclosed to her all the secrets about life and immortality. Finally Lord transmuted Himself into an icy-lingam.
Vital to the history of Kashmir Nilmatpuran as a fascinating store-house of socio-cultural materials is the earliest work of 6th century A.D. which carries a reference to the Holy cave of 'Amreshwar.6 It authentically establishes that the cave known for its icy-lingam was well within the active consciousness of general populace in Kashmir . The people of Kashmir in particular and the vast masses of people in Indiain general believe Shiva as the god of mountains laden with layers of white snow. Shiva's consort, Parvati, is the daughter of the Himalayas who got wedded to Shiva who has His abode in the snow-capped mountains. Pilgrimages to the mountains as a home to gods have been an ancient practice of the Hindus. The Hindus of Kashmir as part and parcel of the Indian cultural mosaic shared the same cultural spirit and ethos and made pilgrimages to the mountain peaks and mountainous caves in search of spiritual upliftment and spiritual bliss of peace and ananda.
Amarnath Mahatamya gives a full and elaborate account of the pilgrimage to the Holy Cave of Amarnath. It details out all the holy spots enroute to the Holy cave. It does not only mention the religious merit that a pilgrim earns by bathing and cleansing praxes at various holy spots, but also gives an authentic and credible account of their topography and geographical position. Amarnath Mahatamya has its essential base in the Adi-Purana establishing its original position as a Purana. It was regardedas a standard Mahatamya giving lucid details and exact descriptions in concordance with well recognised literarypractices. The Amarnath Mahatamya certainly has a religious and legendary complexion, yet it is a mine of information on the cultural ethos of Kashmir in those hoary days of yore and also the socially-oriented behavioural indices of aboriginal Hindus of Kashmir.
KALHAN'S RAJTARANGINI (1148-50 A.D.)
Kalhan Pandit, the Herodotus of Kashmir history, has made definitive and categorical references to the Holy cave of Amarnath. In Tarang I of his work, Rajtarangini, he makes a mention of a legend of Naga Sushravas, who had given his daughter in wed-lockto a Brahmin youth for the help he had rendered him in harvesting the crops. But king Nara, the ruler of Chakradhar (Chakdar) near vijyeshwar (vegibror), tried to abduct the young Brahman's youthful Naga wife. This aroused the wrath of Naga Sushruvas, who in all blood and fury, arsoned and destroyed Nara's entire kingdom and put him to death. It was done in all bitter revenge and Naga Sushruvas, perhaps fearing fearful reprisals, carried his son-in-law and his spouse to his own abode, Sushram Naga, now known as Shesh Naga. Kalhan writes, "This place is now located enroute pilgrimage to 'Amreshwar'.
Kalhan Pandit describes the Shesh Naga lake as 'the lake of dazzling whiteness resembling a sea of milk' This authentic account available in Rajtarangini unambiguously buttresses the assertion that the pilgrimage to the Holy Cave of Amreshwar must have been much in vogue in Kalhan Pandit's time.
The above-mentioned reference to 'Amreshwar' is not the solitary one that Kalhan Pandit has provided the succeeding generations about Amarnath. He as a historian possessed of an observant eye conveys more credible materials about the cave shrine.
In Tarang II of Rajtarangini Kalhan Pandit conveys that "King Sandimat Aryaraj (34 BC) used to spend the most delightful summer in worshipping linga formed by snow in the regions above the forests."7
It is a clear cut reference to the icy-lingam at Amarnath cave.
In another reference to Amarnath Kalhan Pandit in his Rajtarangini, Tarang VII conveys that Queen suryamati, the spouse of king Ananta "submitted trishuls, banalingas and other sacred emblems in the name of her husband at Amershwar".8
In his second Rajtarangini, Jonraj, a fearless historian of Kashmir, writes, 'Sultan Zain-ul-abidin (1420-1470) paid a visit to the sacred tirth of Amarnath while constructing a canal on the left bank of the river Lidder (lambodari)'. 9
SHUKA PANDIT'S RAJTARANGINI
In his fourth Rajtarangini, also known as Rajavalipataka, Shuka, the disciple of Prajya Bhatt, whose Rajtarangini is lost, gives full length detail of the pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath. Shuka informs that Akbar who as per history had annexed Kashmir at the pleadings and proddings of two political advisors of Makhdoom Sahib, a Naqshbandi sufi of indigenous origins, anti-shia to his bone-marrow, had made some queries from his governor Yusuf Khan about some political-cum-administrative affairs regarding Kashmir. In his reply to the query made by the emperor he mentions among other things the Amarnath pilgrimage in broad and incisive details. It establishes that the Amarnath pilgrimage was surely in vogue even in the times of Akbar who annexed Kashmir in 1586 A.D.
ASIF VILAS BY PANDITRAJ JAGANNATH
As reinforced by historical evidences Shah Jehan vandalised temples and other places of worship of Hindus in Kashmir and a shocked foreign traveller, Francios Bernier, writes, 'The doors and pillars were found in some of the idol temples demolished by Shah Jehan and it is impossible to estimate their value.'11
But the Amarnath pilgrimage continued un-interrupted despite the emperor's vile iconoclastic activities. In his well-known eulogy of Asif Khan, Shah Jehan's father-in-law, a reputed aesthete, Panditraj Jagannath, makes a categoric mention of Amareshwar while giving a poetic description of Nishat garden as laid out by Asif Khan. In his flight of imagination jagannath writes in the ‘Asif vilas’ that ' Indira, king of the galaxy of gods, comes here to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva.'12
FRANCOIS BERNIER, THE FRENCH PHYSICIAN
Francois Bernier, the French physician, accompanied Aurangzeb, the Bigot, when he was on a visit to Kashmir in 1663 A.D. Driven by curiosity and wander-lust he visited Trisandya, Verinag, Achabal, Wular-lake and Sangsafed facing Harmukh and therefrom he pursued 'Journey to a grotto full of wonderful congellations'. 13 It had taken him two days to reach the grotto, which surely is no place other than that of the Holy cave of Amarnath.
In the second reprint of Bernier's Travelogue titled 'Travelsin Mughal Empire,' a noted historian, Vincent A. Smith, writes in his introduction, ' the grotto full of wonderful congellations is the Amarnath cave, where blocks of ice, stalagmites formed by dripping water from the roof, are worshipped by many Hindus, who resort here, as images of Shiva, glaciers surround the......................'14
KIRPA RAM DUTT AND HOLYCAVE OF AMARNATH (1675 A.D.)
At the behest of Auranzeb his governor in Kashmir , Iftikhar Khan, cruel and theo-fascist, subjected the Kashmiri Pandits to the worst ever persecution and torture for their conversion to Islam. Kashmiri Pandits, five hundred in number, under the astute leadership of Kirpa Ram Dutt, a known Shaivite Scholar, met at the Holy cave of Amarnath to devise a workable strategy to meet the challenge. One of the Pandits at the Holy cave saw Lord Shiva in a dream directing him to call on Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-75A.D) at the village of Anandpur Sahib in the Punjab. It was from the Holy cave of Amaranththat Kirpa Ram Dutta in obedience to the direction of Lord Shiva led the delegation of five hundred Pundits to Guru Tegh Bahadur and rest is history.15
VIGNE, A FOREIGN TRAVELLER
Vigne, another foreign traveller, paid a visit to Ladakh and Tibet during the times of Maharaja Sher Singh of the Punjab . He made an attempt to visit the Holy cave of Amarnath via the traditional route, but was forced to return from vayuvarjan (vavjan) because of inclement weather. Out of sheer curiosity he met various shades of people, mostly the natives and thus gleaned a lot of relevant material about the pilgrimage to the cave and put it to writing in 1842 A.D. In his reputed travelogue titled as 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu', vigne conveys, 'The ceremony at the cave of Amarnath takes place on the 15th of the Hindu month of Sawan, 28th July............... not only Hindus of Kashmir but those from Hindustan of every rank and caste can be seen, collecting together and travelling up the valley of Liddar (Lambodari) towards the celebrated cave, which from his description must have been the place which Bernier tried to visit but was prevented.'16
What we get from Vigne’s travel account is that pilgrimage to the Holy caveof Amarnath was not only a local affair, but would draw a crowd of pilgrims from far and near in the country.
GURU ARJAN DEV JI MAHARAJ (1563-1606 A.D.)
It is a known fact that Guru Arjan Dev Ji Maharaj granted land inAmritsar for the ceremonial departure of Chharhi, the holy mace of lord Shiva, marking the commencement of the pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath. This gracious act of the Guru Maharaj lends unimpeachable credibility to the fact that pilgrimage to the holy cave was not confined to the natives of Kashmir, but would draw enthusiastic pilgrims from across the country. To earn religious merit many devout Hindus would donate lands and moneys to the religious groups and institutions to provide facilities to the pilgrims bound for the Holy cave of Lord Shiva.
PANDIT SAMSAR CHAND KOUL, A NATURALIST OF KASHMIR
In his booklet 'The Mysterious cave of Amarnath', Pandit Sansar Chand Koul, the first ever geographer of Kashmir, author and scholar, informs that 'in 1819 A.D. Pandit Hardas Tiku founded the Chhawni Amarnath at Ram Bagh in Srinagar where saddhus (renunciates) from theplains assembled and where he gave free rations for the journey, both ways from his own private resources".17 The year 1817A.D. as mentioned by Pandit Sansar Chand Koul marks the end of the brutal and tyrannical rule of the Afghans who persecuted Kashmiri Pandits to incredible limits, out-smarting the pains and wounds inflicted on them by the sayyid-sufis from Central-Asian countries.
W. LAWRENCE'S VALLEY OF KASHMIR
In his celebrated work 'Valley of Kashmir' Walter Lawrence, the Settlement Commisioner of Kashmir, has not missed to make a mention of the pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath.
He writes, ‘Puranmashi the full moon of the month of Sawan is the day when pilgrims must reach the distant cave of Amarnath and worship the snow-lingam which gradually melts away after the puranmashi. Strict Hindus both male and female discard their clothes and put on shirts of birch-bark before they enter this cave.................................’ 18.
ROUTES TO THE HOLYCAVEOF AMARNATH
The traditional route to the Holy cave of Amarnath has been via Lidder Valleydespite the fact that the cave is situated in the geographical environs of theSind Valley. The prominent holy spots enroute the traditional path have been elaborately mentioned in the Amarnath Mahatamya. The holy spots other than Anantnag as elaborated in the Mahatamya are :-
Balihar (Baliyar), Vaghashram (Vagahom), Hastikaran (Hasikhan), Chakresh (Chakdhar), Devak (Divakiyar), Harish Chander (Chandanyar), Surya-guha-vat (Sirigofwar), Sakhras (Sakhras), Badoras (Badur), Hyashashishram (Kamalnag), Uttarnag (Wotarnag), Sarlak (Salar), Khilyayan (Balkhyalan), Narayan-Maha-Khetra (Kolar), Mamlak (Mamleeshwar), Bragupati (Pahalgam), Sthanu-ashram (Chandanwor), Giripesh (Pishbal), Sushrumnag (Shishirnag), Vayuvarjan (Vavjan), Pancha-tarni (Panchtarni), Garbagar (Garabyatra), and Amravati (Ombravati).19
After having ritual baths and performing other ritual practices at these holy spots the pilgrim's progress blissfully climaxes at the Holy Cave where the icy-lingam, the transmuted form of Lord Shiva, is standing either in suyambhu form or in full-length form only to bless the pilgrims and grant them deliverance from sickness of the world caused by meshy layers of duality.
THE BALTAL ROUTE
The Baltal route to the Holy cave of Amarnath is the Sind valley route which has not been popular with the pilgrims, either natives or from various parts of India. The route lies in inhospitable terrain, arduous and difficult, risky and menacing. Thanks to the Border Roads Organisation a negotiable path has been carved out and constructed and in view of the facility a multitude of pilgrims is seen ambling on the path for ‘darshan’ of the Holy icy-lingam. The path remains open for all months of the summer. Distance wise, the Baltal route is shorter than the traditional Pahalgam route.
ROUTE FROM ZOJILLA PASS
The Zojilla route to the Holy Cave of Amarnath has been a known route and comparatively the shortest route to the sacred shrine of Shiva. It is just a track that can be trekked on foot and descends near the cave from the Amarnath peak.
KISHTWAR - SERU ROUTE
Kishtwar -Seru route has equally been a known route to the Hindus of Kishtwar and other belts of the mountainous region. Kashmiri Pandits, who doggedly refused conversion to Islam during the tyrannical days of Sultan Sikander (1387-1407AD) fled to Kishtwar for shelter and safety, trek the same route to pay obeisance to Shiva in the HolyCave. For them, it is a popular route, though it was already popular with the indigenous population of the region.
SACKI- PANTSAL ROUTE
The geographical studies of the region reveal that Sacki-Pantsal route is also a route leading to the HolyCave. But it has not been much in vogue because of its difficult terrain and weather disasters.
PIGEONS IN THE HOLYCAVE
A pair of pigeons, present and flying in the cave, drench its chill-cold and weird environs in mystery and mystique. The pilgrims consider it extremely auspicious and feel blessed, thrilled and transported to mystical realms when they catch a mere glimpse of them. The pair of pigeons in the Holy Cavehas been reverentially depicted in the Amarnath Mahatamya as the two messengers of Lord Shiva disseminating His revealed verities and truths to the world of humans for their spiritual upliftment and emancipation.
As per the legend Lord Shiva revealed to His ever-eager consort, Parvati, the mysteries of creation, life and immortality in the Holy Cave of Amarnath. The pair of pigeons, quietly perched in some niche of the cave, overheard the secrets in full details as were revealed to Parvati by Lord Shiva. Having learnt of their presence in the cave, Lord Shiva granted them the boon of immortality and hence their eternal abode in the Lord's cave.
Foreign travellers having found their way into the purlieux of Kashmir have not missed to make a mention of the pair of pigeons in the cave-temple.
Anchored in speculation, waxing eloquent on the topic of pigeons, vigne, a foreign traveller, writes, ‘The dove (pigeon) has always been an emblem of peace, the sublime and preter-natural have always been concomitants of wildness; solitude accompanied by an extra-ordinary degree of remoteness has often been a cause of sanctification. And the wild and gloomy the locality, the better has it been thought qualified to become the peculiar residence of God.’ 20.
SWAMI VIVEKANAND ONAMARNATH CAVE (1897 A.D.)
Swami Vivekanand, an eloquent and eminent spiritualist of India, paid a visit to the Holy cave and was mystified by the icy-lingam in the Holy cave where Lord Shiva had dwelt upon perennial subjects of creation, life and immortality that have ever been intriguing humankind from the days of its creation. As per his well known biography Swami Vivekanand is reported to have conjectured about how the HolyCavecould have been discovered. The author writes ;-
‘I can well imagine how this cave was first discovered. A party of shepherds, one summer day, must have lost their flocks and wandered here in search of them. What must have been their feeling as they found themselves unexpectedly before this unmelting ice-lingam of white camphor, with the wall itself dripping offerings of water over it for centuries unseen of mortal eyes ? When they came home they whispered to other shepherds in the Valleys how they had suddenly come upon Mahadeva.’ 21
On having entered the cave Swami Vivekananda was overwhelmed with a mystical experience. He had a darshan of Shiva. He called the place religious, inspiring and extremely beautiful. He wove meticulously beautiful poetry about the icy-lingam and its impact on his total psyche.
THE TYRANNICAL RULE OF SULTAN SIKANDER
Sultan Sikander, who had pawned his soul to a Sayyid-Sufi from Central Asia , Mir Mohammad Hamadani, was not only an iconoclast, but a misanthrope, hater of books, enemy of aesthetics and worst form of Islamist. He issued an atrocious and contemptuous government decree ordering the Kashmiri Hindus to get converted to Islam or flee the native land or get perished. As a result, thousands of Hindus were brutally massacred, thousands got converted and thousands fled the land for shelter.
The Sultan's numerous crimes against humanity are :-
1. He did not permit the Hindus to go to temples to pray and worship.22
2. He did not permit them to blow a conch or tolll a bell.23
3. He stopped Hindus from performing their religious practices and celebrating their festivals. 24
4. He killed them if they put a tilak-mark on their foreheads.25
5. At the appearance of the new moon, the Hindus were not allowed to worship or take out processions.26
6. He burnt six mounds (1 mound = 37 kilos) of sacred threads worn by Hindus as a mark of their religious initation only after putting them to cruel death.27
7. He stopped Hindus from undertaking pilgrimages to all Shivadhams (Amarnath, Sureshwar, Harsheshwar, Dyaneshwar, Mahadev Peak).28
8. He stopped Hindus from burning their dead.29
9. He demolished and destroyed the marvellous temples of Martand, Vijyeshwar, Chakrabrat, Tripureshwar, Sureshwari, Varah and many others.30
10. He imposed the hated Jazia (poll-tax) on the Hindus, thus declaring them dhimmis.31
11. He waged war on the Hindus when Mir Mohammad Hamadani declared them ‘Kafirs at war’.32
12. He burnt books on Hindu knowledge, science, astronomy, astrology, music, dance, poetics and medicine.33
The worst ever hurricane fury of genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus34 unleashed by Sultan Sikander and vigorously pursued by Ali Shah and their armies 35 forced Hindus to burn, hang and drown themselves in rivers and wells and jump over steep precipices to protect their religion. The genocide of Hindus acquired a renewed speed and impetus when another wave of Sayyid Sufis led by Sayyid Jalal-ud-din Bukhari36 entered the borders of Kashmir . The Hindus and their cultural signs and symbols were ruthlessly destroyed the same manner as locusts destroy and devour the lush green paddy fields.
Q-FACTOR IN THE HISTORY OF KASHMIRI HINDUS
Zain-ul-abidin came to the throne of Kashmir in 1420 A.D. In his treatment of and attitude unto the remaining small number of Hindus, not more than proverbial eleven families, the Sultan slavishly followed the marked foot-prints of his predecessors and felt no reason to swerve away from the state policy chalked out by the foreign Sayyid-sufis in choke-hold of state apparatus. The Sultan at the behest of Sayyid-suifs in his court replaced Sanskrit as the official language of court by Persian 37. He showered lavish and unprecedented patronage on the foreign musicians from Khurasan and other Central Asian belts thereby discouraging and disparaging the indigenous trends and shades of music38. His court was under the total siege of foreign Muslim ulema and Sayyid-sufis whose inflow into Kashmir had gained tremendous volume and speed. As he was in the line of foreign usurpers Zain-ul-abidin failed to architect a state that would transcend religious hue and complexion. Encouraging foreign craftsmen to pursue their crafts in Kashmir he dealt a massive blow to indigneous crafts and craftsmen, their jobs being practically stolen by foreign Muslims from distant countries. Sharia-bound the Sultan did not order the execution of a foreign Sayyid-sufi when he murdered a saffron-clad recluse in cold blood. The reason cited was that he was a Sayyid-sufi and hence above law and immune to severe punishment. The state that Zain-ul-abidin assiduously built was an all-round affair of the Muslims from distant lands and people in general though forcible converts to Islam remained deeply mired in despondency and alienation. As social and moral cohesion and bonding had ruptured and shredded the individuals as units in the social fabric were reduced to a state of sheer lawlessness and chaos.
No historian of Kashmir has been precise in citing the date and time when the Sultan developed a fatal boil on his body. All sorts of treatment by a host of foreign physicians was administered to the ailing and wailing Sultan. In all desperation the Sultan was informed of a Hindu physician, Shirya Bhatt by name, who had somehow survived the holocaust and was living in obscurity away from the prying eyes of Muslim marauders.
The Hindu physician was called in. In all Jitters and a chill going down his spine Shriya Bhatt examined the awe-inspiring patient, Zain-ul-abidin, the son of Sikander, the iconoclast and commenced his indigenous treatment. Some days elapsed and lo! the high profile patient showed encouraging signs of turning the corner. He recovered and came to live a normal life. Happy and elated the Sultan sent for the Hindu physician, a native under duress in a gulag and in all generosity asked him to name the beneficence or bountiful reward he would like to have from the Sultan.
What the Hindu physician, Shirya Bhatt, in all humility and supplication asked for as the beneficence or bountiful rewardfrom the Sultan worked as Q-factor in the history of Kashmiri Pandits. A pious and noble soul, altruistic in his world view and harassed to his bone-marrow, Shirya Bhatt shell shocked the Sultan when he asked for naught for himself, but prayed for the return and rehabilitation of multitudes of his compatriots who had fled their native land to avert the Muslim persecution, allowing them to pursue their indigenous form of education and have jobs in government. The Sultan, more or less, chastened by the fatal boil and under a debt of gratitude to the Hindu physician ungrudgingly conceded all what the Hindu physician had supplicated for.
The Sultan to the absolute disapprobation and annoyance of Muslim Ulema and Sayyid-sufis despatched messengers to various parts of the country to spot out exiled Hindus and earnestly urged them to return to their native place. He reduced the quantity of Silver (4 tolas in weight) to be paid as Jazia(poll-tax) by half, but was not gracious enough to withdraw the hateful imposition in full thereby granting them total exemption from the punitive tax.
As the Hindus could not cremate their dead under a despotic decree from the Muslim Sultan called Sikander, they were left with no option but to cremate their dead inside their dwellings and kept the ashes in an urn placed in a space created by removing mud and stone from the main doors of their dwellings. Srivar, a historian of Kashmir, writes that when the Sultan Zain-ul-abidin permitted the severely persecuted Hindus to immerse the ashes of their dead in the Gangabal Lake, ten thousand of them miserably perished in a horrific snow-storm that cruelly hit the upland regions the time they were on a return journey after performing rites and rituals connected with the immersion of ashes40.
Srivar also informs that he as a faithful courtier had to pay tax-money, a monstrosity, for the cremation of his father. When he cheekily brought it to the personal notice of his Sultan in the court, he condescended to reduce the tax money, but was again not magnanimous enough to remit the levey in toto that was punitively imposed on the Hindus by Sultan Sikander41.
The Muslim Sultan, Zain-ul-abidin, as a result of fundamental shift in his attitude permitted the exterminated Hindus to celebrate their religious fairs and festivals, circumambulate around the Sharika Parbat and chant hymns and mantras in high decibel and undertake pilgrimages to their holy spots and Shivadhams42.
It becomes stark clear that pilgrimage to the Holy Cave of Amarnath was cruelly stopped by the Muslim ruler Sultan Sikander, from the day he launched a Muslim crusade against the natives and could not be resumed till Zain-ul-abidin suffered a change of heart after the fatal boil that was treated and cured by Shirya Bhatt, who was later included in his court and put in charge of health facilities for the people.
As per the historical archives, Ibrahim Shah II (1552-54 A.D.) granted religious freedom to all. The Hindus were granted freedom of worship only on payment of Jazia (poll-tax). The Hindus made a request for the remittance of the oppressive tax. The Sultan in all hostility replied, ‘How can I who is a Muslim cease to levy tax from the Hindus?’43
The chak fanatics (1554-85 A.D) who were Shias by faith re-imposed Jazia in full on the Hindus of Kashmir. Any Hindu wearing a sacred thread had to pay an annual tax to the chak rulers. Shuka Pandit, a contemporary historian, makes a comment, ‘The Hindus were overpowered by religious intolerance the same way as the sun is overpowered by the grey sable clouds.’44
By implication what is conveyed by Shuka Pandit is that Hindus performing any religious act including a pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath had to pay a tax to the Muslim rulers.
The Afghans as per all available versions of Kashmir history were barbarous, crude, cruel, ignorant and inhuman. They chopped off every twig from the tree of mercy. The atrocities inflicted on the Hindus of Kashmir by Afghans were unheard of and beat all previous records. They plundered their houses, looted all what they had by way of material possessions, and anybody complaining or resisting was straight-away put to axe or sword. Persecuting and massacring Hindus was designed to exterminate their entire race or achieve their conversion to Islam. The Hindus fled their land of ancestors to the tropical plains of Indiato save themselves from the barbarous Afghans. When Hindus were existentially in peril, how could they have thought of living a pious life of religiosity and performing pilgrimages to the holy spots (tiraths) that they revered and worshipped for spiritual attainments ? The brutal Afghans stopped them from undertaking pilgrimages to well-known Shiva-dhams or even celebrating their auspicious fairs and festivals. They condemned them as manifestations of infidelity and heresy violative of Sunna and Sharia 45.
The people of Kashmir in general heaved a great sigh of relief when the Sikh army from the Punjab expelled the brutal Afghans from the territory of Kashmir. The soothing relief to the Kashmiri Hindus was that all vexatious and oppressive taxes levied on them were mercifully withdrawn in toto and pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath was resumed. It was during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh that the Holy Mace symbolic of Shiva's Mace was stored at Amritsar and pilgrimage to the Holycave of Amarnath would kick-start right from Amritsar .
With the Dogra take over of Kashmir in 1846 A.D. the pilgrimage to the Holy cave assumed a new scale and dimension. The number of pilgrims increased manifold and proper arrangements for safe conduct of yatra were meticulously made. The Dogras managed the shifting of the Holy Mace fromAmritsar to Srinagar where it was stored at Dashnami Akhara where from it is traditionally taken to the Holy cave in a massive procession of devotees, pilgrims, sadhus, sanyasis and general mass of Hindus.
MALIKHS OF BATAKOOT
Before discussing the role and status of Maliks of Batakoot it becomes quite imperative to place the Maliks as a generic term in proper historical perspective. It can be gleaned from the pages of Hindu history of Kashmir that the Hindu rulers were extremely vigilant in guarding the frontiers of their kingdom. There were routes and passes that were vulnerable and militarily sensitive and could be used for incursions, surprise raids or full-scale aggressions by the invading hordes. To guard their territories the rulers had set up military-cum watch stations put under the charge of officials designated as dwarpals or dwarpatis. They were also tagged as ‘margeshes’ meaning those who mastered the routes or pathways. These military-cum-watch stations were so fortifiedin terms of men and materials that the marauding armies of Mahmud Ghaznavi failed twice to invadeKashmir and conquer it.
Records Alberuni -
‘They (Hindus) are particularly anxious about the natural strength of their country and therefore take much care to keep a strong-hold upon the entrances and roads leading to it. In consequence it is very difficult to have any commerce with them.......’ 46
It broadly explains how Kashmir resisted going the Islamic way for full six hundred years after the advent of Islam in India.
In the wake of the launch of Muslim crusade against the natives of Kashmir by Sultan Sikander and his Sayyid-sufi mentor from Central Asia, Mir Mohammad Hamadani, the dwarpals, dwarpatis and margeshes like all other hapless segments of Kashmiri Society were coerced, tortured and brutalised to change their indigenous faith. After they got converted merely as statistical Muslims they were renamed as maliks and were allowed to retain their profession or else they were to be de-mobilised. When army was used for whole-sale conversions by Muslim rulers, all the exit routes were totally closed for the fleeing Hindus so that they would not escape the orgy of conversion 47. The same converted Maliks guarding the passes and other exit-points faithfully executed the atrocious writ of the tyrannical rulers.
Maliks as a vital cog in the Muslim state apparatus were tortured, hounded out and made to flee in the aftermath of chaks getting defeated by the mighty Mughal forces. Most of them perished and some survived by hiding themselves in secluded mountainous regions. The surviving ones had no option but to make a truce with the Mughals to earn reprieve. They were permitted to pursue their profession of guarding the routes and ingress-points on mountains girting the valley.
With the advent of Dogras the Maliks lost their professional moorings and utility as they established the same improvised policing methods and techniques that were largely prevalent in the Punjab , perhaps introduced by the Britishers.
MYTH OF DISCOVERY OF THE HOLYCAVEOF AMARNATH BY A MALIK
It is a mere myth, a fib, a lie and a fabrication that the Holy cave of Amarnath was discovered by a Malik in1845 A.D. The litany of references and allusions to theHolyCave are so profusely splashed in the historical works and theological literature of Kashmir that in no uncertain terms establish its enormous antiquity. Most of the Muslims rulers as borne out by historical records banned the pilgrimage to the Holy cave or created insurmountable hurdles and difficulties for the pilgrims to undertake the pilgrimage. Sultan sikander banned everything that had a Hindu flavour. Ibrahim Hussain Shah imposed Jazia (poll-tax) on a Hindu to practice his religion including undertaking pilgrimages. Chaks were crude and intolerant fanatics. They used all wild and cruel methods in their armoury to exterminate Hinduism from Kashmir . Afghans were the cruelest of the cruel. Their persecution of Hindus is bone-chilling and beggars description . The pilgrimage to any and all Shiva-dhams became impossible during the barbaric period. The pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath was a continuous affair. All written records amply bear it out and fully buttress it. It got interrupted during the time-periods when indigenous religion, medicine, theology and architecture were decimated. The unrelenting natives under constant onslaught during the Sultanate chunk of history and even during post-Sultanate period resisted and rejected conversion and fled the land of their birth six times48. In the history of Kashmiri Pandits the stark resemblances to the Jewish history of the exoduses and persecution are writ large. The small numbers that survived the Muslim genocide or those who found it wise or expedient to return to their native land from the plains never severed and abandoned their linkages with the hall-marks of their religion and culture. Steely and resilient they continued to pay obeisance to the Holy cave of Icy-Lingamfor spiritual fulfillment and ascendance. This fact is amply reinforced by the calender of the native Hindus, nearly five thousand year old in which the pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath is included as a day of fasting on account of ‘Shrawan Purnima’, the culminating day of the pilgrimage to the Holy cave.
ASSOCIATION OF MALIKS WITH THE AMARNATH PILGRIMAGE
As per my personal findings the Maliks of Batakoot are those who proved stubborn beyond limits and failed to reconcile to the Mughal conquest of Kashmir and to avoid annihilation hid themselves at a distant place in the mountainous region away from the gaze of the Mughal soldiers. As they lost their ancestral occupation and had become rudderless and vagrant the Dogra rulers in view of their history harnessed their services as guides to the pilgrims enroute the Holy cave of Amarnath. Over the years they were assigned the additional jobs of maintenance of the rough track, raising of small sheds on the routes and physical safety of the pilgrims. In lieu of their services they were paid a sufficient part of the offerings that the devotees offered to the Icy-Lingam in the Holy cave.
To reinforce my stand-point I refer to W. Lawrence who lucidly mentions that pilgrims on way to Holy cave were joined by Brahmins at Mattan and further up at Batakoot Maliks used to take charge of the pilgrimage. He also adds that Maliks were supposed to keep the track in order, guide or escort the pilgrims and carry sick pilgrims and ensure that nothing was stolen and received one-third of the offerings at the Holy Shrine of Amarnath.
My probe into the affair has led me to an alternate theory that the Malik clan after their conversion to Islam would collect tax money or Jazia (poll-tax) from the native Hindus and the devout pilgrims across the country on a pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath. For most of the Sultanate period barring a short-lived interlude the native Hindus, their religion and its prominent signatures littered over the entire region were under a determined onslaught and decimation. If Hindus were allowed some sort of vague religious freedom, anthema to Islam, they had to pay tax-money or Jazia(Poll-tax) for their religious observances and pilgrimages. As Maliks were stationed at all vulnerable spots, if Amarnath route was one and I believe, it was, they could have been assigned the authority of collecting the hated tax from any Hindu pilgrim, a dhimmi as per Islamic practices.
WHO IS SECULAR ?
With the eruption of mass frenzy over the diversion of some chunks of forest land at Baltal to Amarnath Shrine Board, some half-baked Mulsim leaders, immature and ill-informed media men and ultra liberals have claimed that the association of Muslims with the pilgrimage is something uniquely secular. Let these worthies be told that it is the Hindus who are ultra secular for having allowed the Muslims to be a part of the pilgrimage and have a share from the offerings. Do Muslims allow the Hindus or for that matter Christians or Jews to be a part of their annual pilgrimage ? It is an established fact that the Hindus have a catholic and tolerant view of the world and are accommodative and assimulative and view God's essence in all men of all faiths. Their tolerant world-view gets established by the vedic dictum - Reality is one, interpretations vary.
If some chunks of people involve themselves in economic activities during the period of pilgrimage to the Holy cave it is absolutely an absurd position to highlight it as basis for orchestration of the secular credentials of that chunk of population. The fact of the matter is that pilgrims on way to the Holy cave duly purchase the services of a chunk of people who happen to be Muslims. It is no charity, it is no benevolence, it is a simple position of purchasing the services of a labourer, a courier, a pony wallah willing to sell his muscle or bodily strength or any other means of assistance to a pilgrim. To colour the pilgrimage as an expression of syncretic culture of Kashmir and to project it as a shining precedent of secularism are mere absurd constructions and far-fetched and irrelevant stipulations. The Kashmiri Pandits who have been hounded out of their native place sufficiently know the worth of syncretic culture of Kashmir and its facade of secular credentials.
1. Kalhan Pandit - Rajtarangini - I, 194
2. ibid - Rajtarangini - I, 195
3. Amarnath Mahatama - St.360-61
4. Prof. N.K. Gurtu - Sri Harseshwara Mahatamya
5. Nilmat-puran - V-1324
6. Kalhan Pandit - Rajtarangini, II, V-267
7. ibid - Rajtarangini, II, V-138
8. ibid - Rajtarangini, VII, V183
9. Jonraj - Second Rajtarangini, VV 1232-33
10. Shuka - Fourth Rajtarangini, V841, vv. 847-49
11. Bernier - Journey to Kashmir , P400
12. Panditraj Jaganath - Asif Vilas
13. Bernier - Travels in Mughal Empire
14. ibid - Travels in Mughal Empire
15. Mohan Lal Koul -Kashmir , wail of a valley atrocity and terror.
16. Vigne - Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu
17. Pt. Samsar Chand Koul - The Mysterious Cave of Amarnath
18. Sir W-Lawrence - Valley of Kashmir
19. Amarnath Mahatamya
20. Vigne - Travels in Kashmir Ladakh and Iskardu
21. Swami Vivekanand - a biography
22. Baharistan -i-Shahi, Taikh-i-Haider Malik, Tarikh-i-Sayyid Ali, Fatuhat-i-Kubriwiya.
25. Hasan - Tarikh-i-Kashmir
26. Fatuhat-i-Kubriwiya, Taikh-i-Sayyid-Ali
28. Baharistan-i-shahi, Taufatul-Ahbab
29. Baharistan-i-Shahi, Tarikh-i-Haider Ali, Tarikh-i-Sayyid Ali,
30. Jonraj, Second Rajtarangini, R.C. Kak, Ancient-Monuments of Kashmir
31. Jonraj, Second Rajtarangini (tr.) St. 654
32. Dr. Qayoom, Rafiqui, Sufisim in Kashmir
33. Srivar, Third Rajtarangini, St-655-56
34. Mohan Lal Koul, Kashmir , Past and Present, P-15
35. Pt. Jia Lal Koul, Kilam, History of Kashmir Pandits Srivar, Third Rajtarangini
36. Dr. M.K. Teng places the date after 20 years of Zain-ul-Abidin's rule begining in 1420 A.D.
37. Srivar, Third-Rajtarangini
39. Jonraj, Second Rajtarangini, Baharistan-i-Shahi
40. Srivar, Third Rajtarangini
42. Jonraj, Second Rajtarangini, Baharistan-i-Shahi
43. Shuka Pandit, Fourth Rajtarangini
45. W. Lawrence, Valley of Kashmir, Pt. J.L. Kilam, History of Kashmiri Pandits.
46. Al Beruni, Al-India
47. Jonraj, Second Rajtaranginig, St. 606
48. K.L. Bhan - Seven Exoduses of Kashmiri Pandits
Periodicals, journals, papers
M.M. Munshi, Tirtha of Amreshwara, Kashmir sentinal, July, 2008.
R.C. Awasthee - The Holy cave of Amarnath Ji, Early Times, Aug. 8.
History of the Amarnath Pilgrimage - Source Wikipedia, Kashmir Sentinel, July 2008.
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