Friday, April 4, 2014

Kashmiris sway to Reh

Kashmiris sway to Reh

NEW DELHI: It's spring in Kashmir, and Navreh (Kashmiri Pandits' New Year) is round the corner. Soon the frost will give way to pleasant weather, drawing people out of their homes and onto the streets. But, for the pandits scattered outside the Valley, the celebrations can lose some of their flavour.

The community, however, has been striving to keep the spirit alive, as evidenced by the annual 'Reh' youth festival, which was held at Pamposh Enclave in the capital on Saturday. The event, which was started in 2007, brings together the successive generations for a celebration of their culture. Navreh is loosely translated as the new fire or light, with 'Reh' standing for a celebration of light.

"We started this event to bind young Kashmiri Pandits together and involve them in our culture. For a start, we played Kashmiri folk songs for the audience but that didn't muster enough enthusiasm. To quicken people's interest, we sprinkled it with some rock, creating a fusion of new-age rock with old-style Kashmiri folk, which held the audience in thrall. It's been a pleasure being a part of this celebration," said Rashneek Kher, founder of Roots in Kashmir (RIK).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

REH - The Kashmiri Rock Fest

The Spring is knocking at our doors. The valley is in full bloom. Almond flowers present the picture of a valley that wants to celebrate.

We announce the arrival of REH 2014, a Kashmiri Rock Festival.

A Festival to mark the arrival of New Year in Kashmir called Navreh (The New Fire or Light whichever way you wish). We reignite the fire and light within us as thousands of young Kashmiri Pandits groove to the beats of Kashmiri Traditional Music mixed with new jazzy Rock.

It is a gathering like no other. It has young, restless, aspiring blood in a blend with its own past, its legacy, its history albeit in a new fashion, a new trend.

The last Reh festival rocked the town. More than a thousand people danced to the Arjun Kaul’s rock band Prithvi as hundreds were mesmerized by Panchatrani singing Kashmiri songs to a Rock Beat.
Time & Date: 3.30 pm onwards, 29th March
Venue: KECSS, Pamposh Enclave, GK - 1

Contact for passes - 95820 22550, 98999 72462, 97160 00792


PRESS RELEASE: Shankarachrya Hill Name Change Issue

Roots in Kashmir the frontline organization of the exiled Kashmiri Pandits, wants to bring to the notice of the media that the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mr.Omar Abdullah is clearly misleading not only the media but the general populace of this country when he says that there is no plan to change the name of Shankarachya Hill to Takhte-Sulaiman. With reference to the press reports quoting the Hon’ble CM that NO name change has happened, Either Mr.Abdullah does not know the facts or is making deliberate attempt to hide them. The websites of J&K Tourism Development Corporation ( as well as the Srinagar Municipal Corporation ( clearly state the Shankarachrya Temple is on the hill called Takhte-Sulaiman.If indeed there is no plan to change the name how come the websites do not mention that name as Shankaracharya Hill is something we want to ask the Hon’ble CM.

It isn’t just about the Shankaracharya Hill.The changing of names of Hindu symbols of faith has been a gradual and systematic process in Kashmir. Attempts are being made to change name of Hari Parvat(the seat of Goddess Sharika) to Kohi Maran(meaning the mountain of snakes) officially. The recent example of this is the cable car service run started by Govt of Jammu and Kashmir. The Cable Car service itself is called the Kohi-Maran Cable Car Corp. If this isn’t a deliberate attempt by the government to efface the symbols of Hindus then one wonders what is?

Hundreds of temples have been desecrated, completely destroyed or partially damaged by unruly miscreants, while government has stood mute. Many of the properties of these temples have been encroached upon and houses have been built on them. The deliberate blindness that the Govt of J&K has exhibited when it comes to restoring the temples says a lot not just about the inaptness but also the intentions of letting the Hindu symbols of faith perish.

If the Hon’ble CM wants the Pandits to come back to their homes the least that we expect his government to do is not to use government machinery to wipe out the memory of Pandits from Kashmir. We expect the government to restore the original names of our revered shrines and the symbols connected with them. The first step would be to make corrections in the websites run by the Government.

Issued on 18th March,2014


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Adi Shankara & Kashmir-The Philosophical Osmosis

The period between 8th and 12th Century was a period of cultural renaissance in Kashmir.In a period spanning four hundred years Kashmir produced some of the greatest scholars, who were instrumental in shaping Indian thought and Philosophy. It was in this time that we see the resurgence of Agama and Tantra in Kashmir. The revelation of Siva Sutras could be termed as a milestone in the re-establishment of the Shaivate philosophy. K.C.Pandey[1] writes ”We shall, therefore not be wrong if we say that Vasugupta gave a systematic form to the philosophical ideas of the monistic Tantras in his Siva Sutras in the next decade after Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir towards the end of the second decade of the 9th century A.D.” On the basis of this statement one could infer that Shankaracharya did visit Kashmir but then there are scholars who claim otherwise. Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir has always been a matter of debate and no conclusive evidence has ever been presented to prove to prove it.

In the context of the above I would like to go into various extant and oral sources to understand whether Shankaracharya visited Kashmir at all and if he did was he in any way influenced by the existing tantric lore of Kashmir.I shall also try and see how Shankaracharya’s writings (post his visit to Kashmir) reflected the impact of Shaivagamic and Shakta aspects of Kashmiri philosophical systems. I will also look at various historical and empirical evidences which seem to suggest that Shankaracharya did indeed visit Kashmir.


Sources for the History of Shankaracharya


Before we begin to analyze the various sources available to us for understanding Shankaracharya’s life and times we need to keep reminding ourselves that a historical biography in the modern sense did not exist in ancient India. Exasperating as it may be, we will essentially be dealing with hagiographical accounts of Shankaracharya’s life and philosophy. The extant legendary biographies of Shankaracharya date from the 14th to the 18th centuries, i.e. they are posterior to the Acharya by at least half a millennium to a millennium. Although they have certain broad similarities, they have numerous contradictions in detail, and they are full of miracles and exaggerations.

The sources for the historical reconstruction of Shankaracharya’s life and work can be primarily divided into three sections.

1.Traditional Biographic Literature

a).Lost Biographies

b).Biographical accounts or references in “Puranic or semi-Puranic Literature”.

c).Extant Biographies.

2.Monastic Traditions or Records

3.Miscellaneous Literary Sources.


All the above sources tell us a lot about the times in which Shankaracharya lived but a biography in the ordinary sense eludes us. In what may termed as philosophical despair, Prof Belvalkar[2] was thus led to declare that “It is the works of Shankara which constitute his best biography.” Notwithstanding the hagiographical or fictional nature of the above works especially the biographical and Puranic literature, we have no option but to dive deep into them to churn out history out of hagiography.


The Date and Times of Shankaracharya

The controversy surrounding the date of Shankaracharya has led to the appearance of more than forty articles and books on the subject. What is worth noting is that the traditional date or dates upheld by most of the Shankara monastries even today widely diverge from the critical scholarly opinions which are also not unanimous. While the traditional view maintains that Shankaracharya lived somewhere between 5th to 2nd century BC, most historians and modern Orientalists are of the opinion that the Acharya lived in 8th or 9th century AD. Most historians however seem to agree that Shankara lived from AD 788 to 820.

Shnakaracharya’s period is the period which followed the death of the great Harshavardhana of Kannauj in the north and Pulakesin II in the Deccan.The fall of Guptas and the Vakatakas led to the collapse of the great and stable empires.Thus this age witnessed a struggle for power which eventually led to the emergence of small feudal states.The emergence of small feudal states led to political anarchy and thus paving a way for growing disorder in traditional social systems.This can be easily testified by the following comment that Shankaracharya makes on Brahmasutram:”Idanim iva kalantare pyavyavasthitaprayan varnasramadharman pratijanita” ‘One might suppose that varnashramadharma was in disorder earlier also just as it is now’.

Philosophically it was however a golden era, characterized by the proliferation of different schools of thought.Almost all schools of philosophy had their close ties with one religious sect or another.There was however a dichotomy in the way the schools accepted the authority of the Vedas.While Mimamsakas and Nyaya-Vaisesika accepted the authority of Vedas the Buddhists and Jainas simply rejected them. It needs no mention that cultural changes in India before the advent of Islam were gradual and never radical or violent. Heterodoxy also seemed to prosper in this era. The popularity of Kapalikas,Pashupats,Tantarikas,Kalamukhas,Kaulas,Ajivikas and Pachrataras was also on the upswing. The relaxation of rigid social rules in the Tantric,Yogic and other ascetic communities were probably a source of their popularity. The writings of Bana, Bhavabhuti and the Bhratkatha-sloka-samagraha are eloquent testimony of these tendencies.In my opinion Shankaracharya lived in the transitional phase between the classical and post-classical era. This era represented a meeting point between the orthodoxy and heterodoxy, Brahmanical and Sramanic, Karma and Jnana.


Shankaracharya’s Philosophy

When I started reading about Shankaracharya’s philosophy it seemed it was all Maya.I could hardly get a hang of what Shankara exactly stood for. On one hand he did not loathe polytheism while on the other he did not approve of the ways of Buddhists and Jainas or the Sankhyas for that matter.I almost seemed to have reached a dead end until I read “The System of Shankara” by Will Durant.I will try and reproduce in my own words on what dawned on me after reading this article. It was as if Bhartrihari had just proved his theory of sphota to me.

Basing his approach on Badarayana’s Brahmasutras, Shankaracharya composed commentaries on Vedanta. Shankara laid emphasis not on logic but on insight. In Shankaracharya’s own words,” It is not logic that we need, it is insight, the faculty (akin to art) of grasping at once the essential out of the irrelevant, the eternal out of the temporal, the whole out of the part”.Immanuel Kant in his  ”Critique of Pure Reason” asks ,How is knowledge possible? Whatever we know or learn is never free form the boundaries of time, space and causation. Thus what we seem to know is not real but is our perception of the real. The world exists, but it is maya not in the sense of delusion, but as phenomenon, an appearance created partly by our own thought. Behind the veil of maya or the principle of change, to be reached not by knowledge and intellect but only by insight and intuition, is the one universal reality, Brahman. Only when we forget the limits of time, cause and space does our Atman become identical with Brahman or God. Brahman is the cause and effect, the timeless and secret essence of the world. The aim of the philosophy is to find that secret.

Finally Kashmir…..

That brings us to the moot question of whether Shankaracharya visited Kashmir or not. There is a strong oral tradition among Pandits of Kashmir that Shankaracharya did visit Kashmir.Call it folklore/belief/myth or whatever you like, I will begin with what I have heard as a part of my bedtime story.This is how it goes.

There is a place called Vichar Nag in Kashmir which Shankaracharya is believed to have visited.As the name would suggest it was a place for congregation of great minds or great thoughts. Shankaracharya in the course of the discussion suggests that the idol is but a representation of God and nothing more, while the Kashmiri scholars stick to their point of view that the idol of the deity is a manifestation of the deity.In the process of proving his point he slaps the idol of Shakti to show that it is bereft of any life but to his utter surprise blood starts oozing out of the forehead of the deity. It is then that Shankarachrya tears out a piece of cloth and ties it on to the forehead of the Shakti. It is believed that the process of wearing a taranga (a headgear that Pandit women wear) has started from this day.

Another belief that survives till this day is that Shankaracharya along with his disciples was camping on the outskirts of the Srinagar city.It is believed that their hosts provided them with all the ingredients for preparation of food. What they however forgot to give them was a device to light fire. When the lady of the house wakes up next morning she is surprised to see that uncooked food and unused wood is lying as it was given to the Shankaracharya. On enquiring from them as to why they did not cook she receives this answer that they had nothing to lit the fire. She exclaims “Oh learned ones, is that what kept you hungry?” and she throws a few drops of water on the wood and it catches fire. There are other variants of this story wherein it is believed that a virgin girl replaces the lady of the house. In my opinion the lady of the house seems more plausible and appropriate, taking into account various hymns that Shankaracharya wrote to the glory of the mother goddess. The use of Tatanka to describe the iconography of the mother goddess lends credence to the view that Shakti in Shankaracharya’s hymns was not a virgin but a Sumangali(a women whose husband was alive).

That takes us to a different set of observations, mostly empirical but nonetheless important. Wearing of Tatanka or the ear-rings is common to most feminine deities.In some images of Ardhnarishwara Shiva is seen to be wearing a Tatanka on the naree half thereby signifying the importance of the ornament. Tatanka is understood by some as the Mangalsutra which is the privilege of the Sumangalis(women who have their husbands alive).It is believed that they are the outward symbols of married women who are enjoined not to forsake their Tatanka-s by any means, as their doing so would amount to assuming their husbands are not alive.

Sumangalis wearing outward symbols of their marriage (like Mangala-sutra) is a pan-Indian phenomenon but women wearing Tatanka(as outward symbol of their marriage) survives till date, in its true form only among the Pandit women of Kashmir. One can conclusively say that wearing of Tatankas (or Dejhour as they are popularly called in Kashmir) was in vogue even in the times of Shankaracharya. This can be easily testified by the way Shankaracharya describes Goddess Sharda in “Sharda Bhujanga PraytAshtaka” Ref Sloka 8

bhavAmbhOjnetraAjasam-poojayamAnam,lasanmandahAsa prabhAvaktraciham;

calaccancalAcAru tATanka-karNam,bhaje SaradAmbAmajasram madAmbAm

I always pray to Sharadamaba, my mother, who is being worshipped by Lord Shiva,Vishnu and Brahma.She bears the mark of gentle beautiful smile on her face,her eyes beautified by the swinging of charming ear ornaments.

Everytime I read this Sloka the image of  married Kashmiri Pandit woman flashes infront of my eyes.The catch here is the swinging ear rings.The ear rings worn by Kashmiri Pandit women are longer and hence tend to swing unlike ear rings worn by Hindu women(which are far shorter) outside Kashmir.

We will now read this very important verse from Saundarya Lahiri which many believe was composed in Kashmir by Shankaracharya.Refer,Verse 28.

Sudham apy asvadya pratibhaya-jara-mrytu-harinum,Vipadyante visve vidhi-satamakhadya divisadah;

Karalam yat ksvelam kabalitavatah kala-kalana na sambohos tan-mulam tava janani tattanka-mahima

O Mother!all the denizens of the celestial regions, such as Vidhi, Satamakha and other, perish even after drinking nectar, which is known to confer immunity from the terrible old age and death.If the period of life of Sambhu, who has swallowed virulent poison, is beyond computation, it is all due to the peculiar virtue of Thy Tatankas(ear-ornaments).

Was Shankaracharya so enamoured by the aesthetic beauty of the taTanka and so mesmerized by its philosophy & power that he established the concept outside Kashmir or is it he who brought this ornament to Kashmir are questions to be pondered over. Is it a mere coincidence that the deity in Lalita Sahasranama (composed by Shankaracharya) also wears Tatanka much like the mother goddess of Bhavani Sahasranama (which is Kashmiri equivalent of the Lalita Sahasranama). Could he have been inspired by Bhavani Sahasranama to write Lalita Sahasranama?Could it be that Shankaracharya adorned non-Kashmiri Goddesses with a Kashmiri ear-ornament?  Incidentally during varahalakShmI vratam and other functions like sumangali prArthana (in Andhra Pradesh) - the sumangalis are presented with 'ear-leaf' even today. It is another question that they don’t know what to do of it.

Sharda…the connecting Link

I always harboured this desire to travel to Sringeri Sharda Peeth.In a way I was searching for my roots in a place as far as some remote corner of Karnataka.The travel through the scenic wild life sanctuary of Tungbhadra took me to the picturesque location where the temple of Sharda is located.My first observation upon reaching the temple was that the location of the temple bore striking similarity to the original abode of Sharda at Shardi.Both stood at the confluence of two rivers and both are almost on a mound or a hill.I bowed to the goddess, Shardambal as she is called there. Soon I started looking for the original sandalwood idol which Shankaracharya is believed to have brought from Kashmir and installed at Sringeri.I asked priests and guides about the idol and the Sri-chakra, the Sri-chakra Shankarachrya is believed (according to the Sringeri Math records) to have carved before installing the idol of Sharda on it.One more similarity I thought,even at the temple of Sharda at Shardi the goddess was installed on top of the Sri-chakra.What was however to surprise me more was the close resemblance of the ear-rings(taTanka) of the sandalwood idol with that of a Dej-hour.

Madhava’s Shankara Digvijaya[3] tells us that it was Mandana’s wife Ubhaya-Bharati who Shankaracharya requests to manifest in temples at Risyasringa(Sringeri) after he accepts her as an incarnation of Saraswati.The Shankara-Vijaya-Vilasa of Cidvilasamuni[4] states that Shankara met Mandana in Kashmir.G.C.Pande mentions that “It may,however be recalled that according to one tradition Suresvara was originally Mandana Misra who hailed from Kashmir”

The Guru-Vyasa-Kavya of Kasi Lakshmana Sastri totally omits the debate between Shankarachraya and Ubhaya Bharati.In fact it goes on to say that this debate takes place between Sharda and Shankaracharya.The goddess Sharda is pleased with Shanakaracharya and accepts his request to accompany him to the banks of Tungbhadara[5].

This observation by G.C.Pande is worth noting in the context of the debate that Shankaracharya is believed to have entered with Sharda or Bharati.“Perhaps Kashmir would be the most likely place since it would reconcile the confusion of debating in front of Sarada in Kashmir with that of debating with the wife of Mandana identified with Bharati” [6]. Needless to say, whether it was goddess Sharda or Ubhaya Bharati,there is no doubt that it is a Kashmiri feminine figure that adorns the seat at the temple of Sharda Peeth at Sringeri.

Shankaracharya’s accession to the Sarvajnapitha(throne of Omniscience) at the temple of Sharda has been a matter of some debate.There are differing sources some of whom claim that Shankaracharya ascended the Sarvajnapitha at Kanchi and not Kashmir.

Madhava’s Shankara Digvijaya tells us very clearly that Shankaracharya ascended the throne of Omniscience at the Temple of Sharda at Kashmir[7].He details how Shankaracharya defeats various scholars of different schools.

Jagad-guru-ratna-mala-stava, of Parama Sivendram, mentions Shankarachrya’s Sarvajina-pitha-rohana at Kanchi[8].

Govindanatha’s Shankaracharya-Carita mentions in its 9th chapter,the accession of Shankaracharya to the Saravjinapitha [9].

The Shankara-Vijaya-Vilasa of Cidavilasamuni mentions that the Shankaracharya ascended the Sarvajinapitha at Kanch[10].

The Guru-Vamsa-Kavya of Kasi Lakshmana Sastri in its third canto mentions Shankaracharya ascending the Sarvajinapitha at Kashmir[11].

Nilakantha’s Sankarabhyudaya,in its sixth canto,talks of Shankara visiting Kashmir to the Sarvajinapitha. [12].

So clearly the biographers are divided over the question of Shankaracharya visiting Kashmir or ascending the Sarvajinapitha at Kashmir.Based on my understanding of the texts mentioned above it seems biographers who believe that Shankara established the Kanchi Mutt are the ones who claim that though Shankaracharya did ascend the Sarvajinapitha but it was Kanchi and not Kashmir where this honour was bestowed on him.

Shankaracharya and Kashmir-The philosophical osmosis

By the arrival of the 8th century Buddhism was clearly a waning philosophy on the horizon of Kashmir.The local faith which had hitherto been greatly influenced by Buddhist thought and philosophy, was fast returning to its Tantric, Shaivite and Agamic roots. Such was the time when Shankaracharya is believed to have set foot on the pious land of Sharda.

In the pursuit of demystifying Shankaracharya reanimating the corpse of the dead king [13]. G.C.Pande makes the following observation” Presumably the legend arose from a misunderstanding. Kama-kala did not merely mean erotics, but had a technical significance in Tantra-sastra for which Kashmir was famous.This sense may be seen in Kama-kala-vilasa.Shankara could have acquired a knowledge of the strongly Advaiatic Tantra-sastras in Kashmir,which would fit in with the tradition that ascribes the Saundaraya-Lahiri and the Prapanchsara to him as also the fact of the currency of Srividya among his followers.A commentary of the Prapanchsara records that the work was compiled by Shankara in Kashmir” [14].

Prapanchsara Tantra is in a way an endorsement of Tantricism.The vivarna written by the Padampada records that it is a summary of the Prapanchagama,which was a vaster and older compendium of Tantra existing in Kashmir. The author of the sub-commentary Prayoga-kama-dipika states that the work was compiled by Shankaracharya while residing in Kashmir.He explains this by the fact that Shankaracharya pays obeisance to Goddess Sharda at the very beginning of the work.

In most of his commentaries Shankaracharya makes no mention of Siva and wherever he does it is mainly to criticize the dualistic theism of prevailing Saiva system at South India.However there is a marked shift in his stand which can be observed in the Daksinamurti-strota which finds close echoes to non-dual Saiva philosophy of Kashmir.It cannot be denied that the remarkable development of Kashmir Saivism dates from the time Shankaracharya is believed to have visited Kashmir[15].K.C.Pandey observes”If we compare the philosophical ideas of Shankara,as contained in his Daksina Murti Strota and explained by his pupil Survesvaracharya in his commentary on the above Strota,we find that Sankara’s conception of the ultimate reality is the same as that of the Pratyabhijna.In fact he uses all the important technical expressions in the same sense in which they are used in the Pratybhijna.”

In the course of his travel to Kashmir and Himalyas it is most likely that he came in contact with varieties of theistic monism which were prevalent there.While the basic philosophy of Shankaracharya might have stayed the same it is very much possible that his acquaintance with diverse modes of worship may have led to his acceptance of their theistic beliefs. This is reflected in the strotas devoted to the Devi in Saundaraya-lahiri.For once his devotional fervour overcomes his epistemological caution as he sings to the majesty and glory of the mother goddess.It clearly emanates as a text wherein the “freedom or dynamism” of the consciousness (as in Shakta Advaita) overtakes the “passive and actionless” attribute of consciousness (as in Shakara’s Advaita).This verse from Saundaraya-Lahiri,”Catuhsasthya tantraih saklam abhisandhaya bhuvanam”clearly establishes his inclination towards the Tantric practices of Kashmir.The epithet”sarvatantras-vatantara” in his virudavali indicates that the Tantras,the authority of which he accepts were sixty-four in number.The Tanttraraja which is a later Tantra in the Kaula system of Kashmir Saivism,according to some authorities is recognized by Shankaracharya as the 65th Tantra in his Saundarya Lahiri verse 31 which runs as follows;[16]

Catuh-sastya tantraih saklam atisamdhaya bhuvanam

Sthitas tat-tat-siddhi-pravasa-para-tantraih pasupatih;

Punas tvan-nirbandhad akhila-purusarth’aika ghatana

Svatantram te tantram ksiti-talam avatitarad idam.

Pasupati(Siva) at first remained satisfied after ‘deluding’(atisandhaya) the world,by giving out the sixty-four tantaras,which expound practices conferring only one or another of the various psychic powers and the wordly fulfillments.Afterwards,on Thy special insistence,He revealed this Thy own Tantra to the world,independent of all the others and capable of conferring all the Purusarthas-Dharma,Artha,Kama and Moksha-on the votaries,by itself.

The unanimity with which both the traditions (Kanchi and Sringeri) admit to the fact that Sankaracharya set up the Sricakra-yantra for worship lends credence to the fact that Shankara had clearly imbibed the Shakta advaita which keeping his own intact.

Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir is corroborated by local legends as well as most of the biographies written on this great master. Although Kalhana makes no mention of his visit to Kashmir but then considering the nature of Rajatarangni as a chronicle it shouldn’t surprise us.Kalhana makes no mention of Abhinavagupt either so one can reconcile with Shankaracharya not finding a mention in Rajatarangni.Besides we have to bear in mind the fact that Shankarachrya’s visit did not invite any royal attention and thus could have gone un-noticed by chroniclers of kings.

All that we have discussed so far in this paper would seem incomplete without the mandatory reference to the temple of Shankaracharya in the centre of Srinagar city.This is to my mind is a living example of the impact of Shankara on Kashmir.The reference to the temple is by Kalhana in the verse 341 of 1st Taranga of Rajatarangni wherein he mentions that Gopaditya (369-309 BC) consecrated the shrine of Jyesthesvara on the Gopa-hill(Gopadari). The hillock, according to Tarikh-i-Hassan[17], and (Waquiai Kashmir of Mulla Ahmed) was known originally as Anjana and later as Jeth Ludrak and the temple was built by King Sandhiman of the Gonanda dynasty of Kashmir (471-536 Laukek Era), corresponding to 2605-2540 B.C. He gave the name Jeshteshwara to the temple and the hillock came to be known as Sandhiman Parbat after the name of the King. This name Jeshteshwara for the temple prevailed till the arrival of Adi Shankaracharya, who is believed to have visited Kashmir and stayed at the temple complex. This is confirmed by Tarikh-i-Hassan[18]


[1] Page No.154.Abhnivagupta by K.C.Pandey published by Chaukhamba Amarbharti Prakashan,Varanasi,2002,Third Edition
[2] Page No.4,Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande,published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[3] Verse 61-72,Madhava’s Shankara-Digvijiya by Madhava Vidyarana(Trs by Swami Tapasyananda) published by Ramakrishna Matha,2003.
[4] Page No.125, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[5] Page No.28, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[6] Page No.349, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[7] Verse 54-92, Madhava’s Shankara-Digvijiya, by Madhava Vidyarana(Trs by Swami Tapasyananda) published by Ramakrishna Matha,2003.
[8] Page 21, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[9] Page 22, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[10] Page 23, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[11] Page 27,page 341, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[12] Page 29,page 345. Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[13] Verse 73-109, Madhava’s Shankara Digvijiya, by Madhava Vidyarana(Trs by Swami Tapasyananda) published by Ramakrishna Matha,2003.
[14] Page 348, Life and Thought of Shankaracharya by G.C.Pande published by MLBD,2004,2nd Edition
[15] Page 151, Abhnivagupta by K.C.Pandey published by Chaukhamba Amarbharti Prakashan,Varanasi,2002,Third Edition
[16] Page 575,Abhinavagupta by K.C.P,K.C.Pandey makes erroneous reference to Anand Lahiri,pp 79-82 Saundaraya Lahiri translated by Tapasayaanada published by Rama Krishna Matha.
[17] Page 394-396,Vol-II Hassan Khuihami Published by Oriental Research Department,Srinagar,1954
[18] Page 80-82,Vol-I Tarikh-i-Hassan. by Hassan Khuihami Published by Oriental Research Department,Srinagar,1954

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Tourist in my Own House

I looked at my suitcase again, wondering if I had missed something. I had the best of clothes and cardigans packed. My new jacket was placed next to the suitcase. “kyoho soori kurtha pack, Ini kehn travak (did you pack everything. Don’t leave anything important behind” was the voice of my Uncle. “What time is your friend coming, are you sure that he will pick you up” he was asking again. I just replied “yes” and picked up my Kangri, placed it under my pheran and went to my grandmother asking for breakfast. With the flight at 3 pm, I still had ample time. “Shraan kurtha. Muth hu gazzi ne kehan (did you have your bath. Don’t go like a dirty mad man)” asked my grandmother. I said first breakfast then everything else. She smiled, and served me some hot rice bread and kehwa, the traditional non milky Kashmiri tea.

I lived in a joint family along with my uncle and cousins in a fairly large independent house, which had been constructed recently. My uncle had one son and two daughters and I had a younger sister. The Kashmiri joint family roots were very strong and it was practically impossible for an outsider to figure out who is a cousin and who is not. I used to call my Uncle “Papa” and my father Kakaji, his pet name. Infact it was quite common for Kashmiris to call their parents with their pet names. One of my cousin’s still calls his mother, aunty, because that’s what all his cousins call her.

It was the month of December, and my exams had just gotten over and new classes were going to start after a few weeks. I was 15 years old and with us stepping into the 10th standard, the senior most class in our school, I was eagerly awaiting to go back to school to be treated with awe and respect by my juniors.

In school, we were a bunch of unique friends, a very unusual combination in Kashmir of those days. It was a combination of a Pandit, Muslim, Sikh and a Punjabi. I was a Kashmiri Pandit, supposed to be studious, serious and intelligent. I was all except for serious and studious. Mohinder was a Sikh, Iqbal a Muslim and Gauravjit a Punjabi. I, Iqbal and Gaurav studied in the same section and Mohinder in a different one, but still we were inseparable. We went to same teacher for tuitions, flirted with same girls, and skipped school together.

We also had a brush with death together. It was the September of 89 and we all friends were walking on Residency Road, when suddenly we heard an explosion and before we could react, we see Mohinder lying on road with blood all across. Luckily timely medical help saved his life. The other time we all were coming back from a swim and wanted to have some coffee. We decided to go to India Coffee House (ICH), a cheap but decent place. The ICH was on the first floor. The moment we put our foot on the first step, a bomb exploded on the first floor and we all had a lucky escape. All these incidents infact brought us more closer and in spite of being an act of Islamic terrorism, did not evoke any hatred towards the majority community, the Muslims of Kashmir.

“Zang phutravey (will break your legs), if you even think of going anywhere in your vacations”, my father had warned me. 10th standard exams were always taken very seriously in Pandit homes. They were the first board exams and more than the exams, I think it was an opportunity for Pandit families to show off. Pandits in Kashmir were an educated community with literacy rate at 100%. Almost all Pandits were into service, middle class and I think the only thing they could show off was the education and the marks. Thus, education was placed above anything else. Infact Pandit, means a learned person and Hindus of Kashmir have been addressed Kashmiri Pandits for many centuries now. 10th or Matric as it was known was seen as the first step towards getting a good job.

So with no chance of any vacation, I was wondering what to do as the tuitions still had some time to start. “Manu, phone chui” I heard my aunty calling. It was Iqbal on the other side. “Bijapur Chalega”, asked Iqbal. Iqbal prefered to talk in urdu than in Kashmiri. “che shui kaid dalmit (you have lost your brains)”, I said. “Sunn to saley” and he started talking. Suddenly it all made sense and but then who was going to make Hitler at home understand. Iqbals’s sister was in Bijapur and the plan was very simple, to leave in the next 2-3 days, spend a few days in Delhi and Bijapur and be back in a fortnight and join the first batch of tuitions.

I had to work on a plan. My father was in no way going to agree. No logic would work on him. He behaves like Salman Khan “ek baar mene commitment de di, to mein khud ki bhi nahi sunta”. The only person who could make it possible was my Uncle. His word in the family was final and even Salman Khan and the Hitler had to listen to him.

My uncle was a reasonable man and rarely used to lose his cool. But if he did, no one on this planet could save you. Although he had thrashed me only once, that thrashing was enough for my life time. It was not thrashing, it was a third degree torture. Influenced by a cinema ad in my 7th grade, I had purchased “chewing tobacco” and he had caught me with that. He took me into a room, removed my trouser and smeared my sensitive parts with red chilly powder. I had never seen him so angry and after that punishment I even today refuse to look at the chewing tobacco. But I knew, if I have to go for the vacation, there is only one person on this planet that can make it possible and that man was my Uncle.

It was a Sunday; he was out in the garden, having a smoke. Gathering all my courage, I went to join him in the garden. I knew he will raise the topic of my tuitions. And he did the same. “When are your tuitions starting? Who are going for math, which have you decided for Science. Go to Durganath for Science, he is good and a friend of my mine. He will take care of you”. I diligently answered all his questions and I said I have a request to make. He looked at me for a moment, and I don’t know why, I still believe that he knew what was in my mind. I cleared my throat and started “the tuitions are not going to start for the next 20 days. And it is going to be hard work with no vacations for the next three years, till I complete my 12th. Iqbal is going to Bijapur for 15 days to meet his sister and he wanted me to accompany him. He will not be alone; his mother and younger brother are also going with him. He wanted me to join him, as he says that this is going to be the last and only vacation, for the next 3 years. Please, can I join him?

Papa, my uncle looked at me for a long time, and then suddenly smiled and said when do you guys want to leave. For a moment, I could not understand what he was asking. He again repeated “kar chuv nerun (when do you guys want to leave” and I said in next 2-3 days. He said ok, inform Iqbal you are coming and I will also call Kaul sahab of Indian Airlines to ensure that you get confirmed tickets as all flights are going full.

I called Iqbal to give him the good news. He informed me that even Mohinder is coming along. He had also spoken to Gaurav, but then Gaurav had to attend the marriage of his cousin and hence could not come. I immediately took out my cycle, and started riding towards Iqbal’s house. It was a good 10 km distance from my house. We sat and planned the whole trip. Next day we met at Indian Airlines Office to book our tickets. The rush was unprecedented with all flights full. We got a waiting list of 685 (yes it was 685 as waiting list number for a flight). Luckily my Uncle had made the call, and Kaul sahab, immediately converted the waiting status to ‘confirmed.’

Finally d-day came; it was 8th of December, 2009. The flight was to depart at 3.00 pm but I was up by 6.30 am. It was a cold winter morning but then my excitement was good enough warmer than any of the best woolens available. My grandmother gave me my breakfast, rice bread and a big mug of kehwa. I rechecked my bag again and again. I had packed best of my clothes, new tooth brush, cologne that was gifted by my cousin in US last year and I had not used it, looking for an opportune moment.

As my house was on the way to airport, Iqbal had promised to pick me up. He arrived around 12.30, and my father, uncle, cousins, sister and grandmother came to see us off. Not in my wildest imagination, did I know that this was the last time I was seeing my house.

We had moved to Srinagar few years back from Lucknow. After my mother’s demise in an accident, my uncle and my grandmother persuaded my father to move to Srinagar so that me and my sister who were small could be taken care of. My father was to be promoted that year but family situation forced him to give up the promotion and take a posting in Srinagar.

As the move was planned to be permanent, we sold our house in Lucknow, liquidated all investments and built a large big house along with Uncle in Srinagar. Who had known that we would be homeless in just 3 years?

At the airport Mohinder joined us and we reached Delhi well in time. My dad’s sister and her husband had come to pick me and Mohinder up, while Iqbal, his mother and brother were staying at Guest House in Chandni Chowk.

Next day we three friends met at Connaught Place, enjoying our just recently confirmed status as grown-ups. We ogled at girls, were mesmerized by the bright trendy clothes in an air-conditioned underground market, known as Palika Babzar, a must visit for all tourist to Delhi in those days

In about two days we left for our final destination Bijapur, travelling by train to Sholapur and then by bus to Bijapur. We had a great time at Bijapur, and even visited the famous the Gol Ghumbuz .

After spending a week at Bijapur, it was time to return back. We returned back to Delhi and were supposed to take a flight 2 days later to Srinagar. But then something unexpected happened. Beginning of the 1989, Kashmir had seen sporadic acts of terrorism. There were bomb blasts, although most of them had not done much damage, some targeted killings, but then no one had even thought the things will turn worse in just few months. Suddenly there had been an increase in bomb blasts and cross fires in Srinagar. Infact just the previous day there were 12 bomb blasts in a single day and many Kashmiri Pandits in last few days had been killed as part of targeted killing. My aunt was very clear that it is not safe to travel back now and my ticket had already been converted to open ticket. Mohinder and Iqbal was also advised the same. Mohinder stayed with us, while Iqbal and his family again went back to the hotel at Chandni chowk.

Days turned into weeks and there was no sign of things improving in the valley. Infact they were turning worse. My dad’s brother-in-law who was a public prosecutor had to represent state against Shabhir Shah, a known terrorist, who had been arrested few days back. To ensure that he does not object to bail hearing, some terrorists had paid a visit to my uncle’s house, put a gun on the head of my 6 year old cousin, his only child and warned my uncle, that his objecting to bail application will result in more dreadful consequences. The very same night my uncle moved his entire family to Delhi and he moved to an unknown location. Next day after completing his duty, he quietly fled in a pre-arranged car to Jammu to join his family.

It still did not occur to us that days of the original inhabitants, the aborigines of Kashmir are almost over in the land of their fore fathers. Bad news just started flowing in. Few more Pandits had been tortured and killed in the most barbaric ways. My uncle called to inform my aunt that terrorists had visited our house and other Pandits houses in the neighborhood, and were insisting that they buy guns including AK-47 and pistols to join the jihad against India. Pandits had resisted and complained to the local Muslim leaders. While the leaders had assured them the Pandits will not have further visits, they did not seem convincing.

Next day my advocate Uncle and his family moved to Delhi as they wanted to move far from the state of Jammu & Kashmir, as there were intelligence reports that his family may be attacked in Jammu. Now my Aunt’s 3 bedrooms had 8 family members living there. No one even at this stage knew that this number would continue growing in the coming weeks.

Bad news was becoming a habit. In few days, another bad news came. My Uncle who had a restaurant on Residency Road had been attacked and burnt to ashes. Infact the restaurant was located in an area where almost all establishments were either owned or run by Kashmiri Pandits or Hindus and it was clear that this act of arson was well planned and the area deliberately chosen.

Things were turning from bad to worse in the valley. Anarchy was replacing governance and terrorist were ruling the roost. Posters had started appearing on houses of Kashmiri Pandits. Posters threatened the Kafirs with dire consequences. Many notable Pandit personalities like Tika Lal Taploo, Justice Neelkant Ganju had been killed. Then came the most heart chilling and fearing poster. The poster read “We want Kashmir without Pandit men but with Pandit Women”. Along with that came news of many Pandit women being kidnapped and raped by JKLF of Yasin Mallik. An Indian family can face and suffer any hardship, including the threat to life. But what it cannot bear is the threat to the dignity of its women folk. While many Muslims did condemn the posters and the act, the condemnations seemed more political in nature than sincere. While Pandits were still wondering what to do with this threat, the situation in valley was going out of control.

The mosques were broadcasting non-stop threats to Kafirs (infidels). Loudspeakers were on full volume, asking Muslims to join the jihad, kill the Kafirs and take their property and women as booty of Jihad. Pandit houses were attacked with stones, petrol bombs and gun fire.

There were protest marches every day and Pandits and Sikhs were forced to join these anti-India marches against their wishes. Pandits were forced to be in the first row of protestors so that in case of firing by the security forces, Pandits are the casualties. Pandits & Sikhs were used as human shields.

News was flowing out in bits and pieces. Communications lines like letters, telegrams were almost inaccessible and telephone lines functioning was erratic.

On 19th morning, my uncle called my aunt and said that things are going out of control; two of our neighbours, one Pandit and another Sikh have been killed by terrorist in an attack at their homes. Our muslim neighbors have advised us to move out of the valley as soon as possible. But getting out was not easy as the government had placed the entire state under curfew and not a single transport was available.

Cars in those days were a luxury and very few families had it. Meanwhile my Maasi (mother’s sister) who lived in down town had decided that moving the girls was a priority and had to be done the same day. The family had a car and driver was instructed to be on stand-by. She then called my uncle at Srinagar and told him that they have arranged a curfew pass and the driver will pick-up the girls at 3.00 pm. My other uncle who was an army contractor had managed another pass and sent his car to pick my other girl cousins from their homes. It was agreed that all girls will assemble at my maasi’s house and two cars will leave the same day with all girls to Jammu, at midnight. All girls’ cousins, except for one with one small incident of stone throwing assembled safely at my maasi’s house. It was 6. 00 pm and it was decided that they will leave at 9.00 pm non-stop to Jammu. One car was to be driven by my cousin and other by the driver.

At 9.00 both cars were loaded with goods, the drivers instructed on the route to be taken and tea and food packed. Total number of passengers were sixteen, 14 girls and 2 male drivers Instructions were clear; the journey to Jammu has to be non-stop. Nonstop driving through narrow, curvaceous road for minimum 8 hours. Then something unexpected happen, one of the cars, an ambassador broke down. It just refused to start. The situation with it brought in more complex decisions, decisions which could scar your relations, your sub conscious and capabilities of making decisions all your life. Someone recommended we move ahead that the elder girls need to leave first, some others said that at least one girl from each family goes. Some said let’s mix the age because it will not be easy to travel next day with little girls.

While in traditional Indian families, women do not generally take decisions, my maasi by virtue of being the eldest daughter-in-law, had more say than other women in the family. She stepped in saying that all will go. And all will go tonight. With the situation in the valley being unpredictable, anything could happen. And a house with so many women, it surely will be the most targeted house next day. So all elder girls were made to move in the car and sit tightly. In the front seat, three girls sat and in the rear seat, five sat. Then the smaller girls were to sit on laps of these elder girls. Total girls that sat in front seat were 5 and 9 were forced to fit in the rear seat. Even a pack of sardines as a phrase can’t describe the passengers of the car.

My cousin was nominated as the driver. Everyone was emotional, the ladies cried, the India men who think they are above all emotions cried more. And then the car left. It traveled non-stop to Jammu with just one stop of five minutes at Ramban for the girls to freshen up. I still don’t know and still can’t figure out that how fifteen people fitted in one car. But that is fact that can’t be denied.

Meanwhile things at the valley were turning dangerous. The state government had resigned; Jagmohan had to be recalled as the Governor of state. He was a successful administrator with an impeccable record and a successful stint as governor in Jammu Kashmir earlier.

On 20th January around few lakh people gathered from various parts of Kashmir and decided to march towards the central business district of Srinagar. The terrorist and Pakistani insurgents had a clear agenda and using the innocent people as shield they wanted to attack All India Radio, Cental Post Office and Doordarshan. Their plan was to take over these centers and declare independence. This would have been a great symbolic victory.

Jagmohan was a no nonsense administrator. His quick action prevented what otherwise would have been the biggest shame on our nation. Swift action from what was an ineffective government just few days back shocked the terrorist and they retaliated by attacking security forces at many places. And in the cross fire many protestors, some innocent, some guilty died. Around 50 protestors died in the cross fire on that day.

The militants were so sure of the success of their plan that the failure of the same made them act like they were possessed by the devil. Hindu homes were attacked, many burnt, and many Pandits were dragged from their homes and killed.

The fear psychosis gripped Kashmiri Pandits. Lack of communication made things worse. On the night of 20th Jan more than 50% of the valley’s Hindu and Sikh population just left the valley. They traveled on any form of transport that they could lay their hands on, carrying just necessities and some clothes. Even then no one believed they will never be going back home. Every one believed that once things improve and the government is in control of situations they will be back.

My father, my uncle, aunt and grandmother also fled the same night. Just carrying a suitcase my father reached Jammu and then he along with my sister and my paternal cousins, my grandmother traveled to Delhi. Suddenly the 3 bedroom house in Delhi was accommodating eighteen members of the family.

Many Kashmiri Hindus were not as lucky as us. For many this was the first visit they had ever done outside Kashmir valley. With no relatives or friends outside Kashmir, they were left to find a shelter for themselves. Camps were set up by Jagmohan to accommodate these refugees in their own country. NGO and Hindu organizations stepped in to help in the biggest migration post partition.

The deaths were innumerable. Many died of snake bites, heat, lack of sanitation, infections and of diseases, which most of us had never heard of. Some estimates put the death toll to more than 50,000.

Slowly my aunt’s house in Delhi had 30 people living in. Most people still hoped and believed that things will improve in valley and all will soon be back in their homes. But the inflow of refugees was telling different things. More horror stories were coming in. Hindus were now being openly targeted and many well known and unknown names had been brutally killed. Sarla Bhat a nurse in a prestigious hospital was raped and then cut into pieces alive with a saw by the terrorist leader Yasin Mallik. Satish Tickoo was killed in the heart of the city in front of his entire family by his own neighbours.

Meanwhile my father had managed to get a transfer to Chandigarh. By end of April, I along with my sister and grandmother moved to Chandigarh. My father was sure that even if things improve in Kashmir, he is not going back. He did not have any faith on majority community of the state and he was not willing to repeat his mistake twice.

For the first few days we stayed at Yatri Niwas, meanwhile my father searched for a house. Finally a house was located and thankfully it was quite close to one of our old family friends who had settled in Chandigarh long time ago.

With all belongings left in Kashmir, the house acted more as a Shelter of four walls than home. Our family friends provided us with beddings and few utensils. My poor grandmother in an age where she should have been resting was forced to work in the kitchen again. For many months we slept on floors with no beds or furniture in the house. Summer had started; the temperature had started crossing 40 C. My grandmother, who had spent all her life in valley where people had seen fans just in movies, was now hoping that the same fan will help her survive summer. While she never complained, she started keeping unwell. Her whole body had rashes and she seemed de-hydrated. My father, who had little savings to bank on, borrowed some money from his colleagues and purchased a cooler. While a cooler was surely no replacement for the wonderful climate of Kashmir, it did help.

New sessions were starting; my father was now focused on getting mine and my sister’s education back on track. And the fool in me still believed that same is not necessary as we will be soon going back to Kashmir and I will be joining my old school. Two slaps from my father made me see things his way.

Slowly and steadily, my father rebuilt the entire home. We got beds, TV, refrigerator, gas connection. It took us few years to be a fully functional home. The unexpected migration brought miseries to three generations at once. The senior citizens suffered the most physically and mentally. At an age when they should have been resting and enjoying the services of their children, they were coping with the brutalities of nature. They were now experiencing heat, which they believed only, existed in a baker’s oven. Most of them could speak only Kashmiri and with the community now scattered into pieces they had no one to talk to, no one of their age they could share their happiness, pain with. Many died ill, bed ridden, with broken hearts and pain which they never shared but their eyes clearly expressed.

The second generation to suffer was our parents. Most of them had invested their savings in Kashmir and spend half of their life building their homes. And now when it was the time to start enjoying the fruits of their labour, they were forced to restart their lives again, that too from scratch along with responsibilities they had not faced when they started their career. Now they had children, wife and retired parents to take care of.

The third generation of was our generation. We were neither children nor adults. We were a generation who was still dreaming and had started working to make those dreams come true. And suddenly we see that the entire karma bhoomi, the conditions, the battle field has changed over night. Yes, I agree these conditions trained us to handle crisis better in life, made us strong, but then I am sure no tree can grow really strong away from its roots; The Roots in Kashmir.

For years I longed to go back to Kashmir, I wanted to meet Iqbal, see my house, meet my neigbours, visit Mata Kheer Bhawani and do endless things. Finally my grandmother’s body could not handle the summer of Indian plains anymore and in the year 2000, she died a painful death, with rashes and boils all over her body. How much I wanted to take her ashes to Kashmir and immerse them in river Vitasta, but could not. And I don’t think I will be able to forgive myself for that.

I got married in 2003 and my job had taken me to a city in South India. And in Oct 2004, I and my wife decided to visit Kashmir. She along with her parents had migrated in January, 1990 and had not traveled back after that.

My travel agent booked our tickets. On d-day, we landed in Srinagar. My father-in-law’s friend, Bhan sahib, who had recently been transferred back to Srinagar, came to the airport to receive us. He straight away took us to his house where he lived on rent. He was now a tenant in the same house which he had owned pre-migration and was forced to sell it to manage the financial crisis post migration.

The journey from the airport to my father-in-law’s friend’s house was nostalgic. This was the same route I had taken 15 years back to go on a vacation. It took me 15 years to take the same route back. Tears started flowing from eyes. It was an outburst of emotion which I could not handle and neither wanted to handle. My wife and Bhan Sahib understood and did not try to stop me. The let the pent up emotions come out.

Next day, I woke up early in the morning and thanked God that there is no call for strike or protest. I wanted to see the house. Iqbal who was living in Srinagar, had promised to take me there. He arrived at After customary wishes with Bhan Sahab and my wife, he drove us to my house in his car.

15 years is a lot of time, things had changed. There was a new Rambagh bridge, many old buildings had vanished. The route seemed right but not the surroundings. A couplet from the movie Umrao Jaan was ringing in my ear “ye kis makaam par hayaat muz ko leke aa gaee, naa bas khushee pe hain jahaa, naa gam pe ikhtaiyaar hai’ (to what resting place has life brought me to, where I have neither command over joy, nor power over my sorrow?)

Finally I reached my house and raised my hand to ring the bell, a thought came to my mind “Who would believe I left my home as a traveler and returned back as a tourist”