Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buddhist Pilgrimage in Jammu

Buddhist Pilgrimage at Ambaran Akhnoor in Jammu 

Rivers, lakes and streams are elixir of life; provide water for drinking, bathing, washing of clothes, cooking of meals, irrigation and what not. In ancient good olden days water was the cheapest and quickest means of transport of man and material. The water mills and water wheels and now turbines are harnessed to yield vast quantities of power to light our homes and sustain the Industry and digital life. The river, lake and stream banks made possible the birth and growth of human life on the earth. The rivers and various sources of water have been worshipped since time immemorial. In the most ancient text of the World, the Rig-Veda, the rivers were regarded as deities having power to purifying the worshipper physically and spiritually. Many of these sources of water continue to be worshipped by the people to this day.

The two great Rivers - Chenab and Ravi pass through parts of Jammu province of Jammu and Kashmir in Northern Part of India. The confluence of Chenab or Chandrabhaga with Marwa River while coming about ten km north of Kishtwar town further runs towards Ramban, then to Reasi. It largely passes through inhabited and inaccessible territory, mountains and gorges leaving its huge water mostly un-utilized. After traveling in mountains and land locked passages it debauches into plains of the Akhnoor town and finally enters into the plains of Pakistan. Akhnoor town is located on the right bank of River Chenab, about 32 Km west of Jammu city. About 10 meters, above the water level, before Akhnoor town, a small hamlet Pambarawan the Ancient Buddhist site namely Ambaran is situated where rich traces of Buddhist monastic establishment were discovered a decades ago. The site is famous for earlier yields of the so called Akhnoor Buddhist terracotta heads with Greeco-Roman influence that now find their place in a number of museums throughout the world.

Buddhism had prominence in the Kashmir valley till 12th century A.D. The remains of Buddhist settlement in the vicinity of Jammu are not suppressing. Ancient Sakala (now Sialkot, Pakistan) hardly 50 Km away from Akhnoor town, then the capital of Indo-Greek King Meander who won over to the Buddhist faith by the celebrated Buddhist monk Nagesena in 2nd century B.C being a proof. The name still survives as Nagaseni region of Paddar (Kishtwar Distt.) bears striking resemblance to the great Buddhist teacher Nagesena.

The British art historian and curator of Lahore Museum Charles Fabari collected few pieces of famous Akhnoor terracotta’s fired clay as surface find from the site. The terracotta comprise of Lord Buddha’s head (figure), torso of bodies and pieces of drapery belonging to Lord Buddha figures or figures of monks and lay men and lay women profusely decorated or embellished on the walls of Buddhist monastery and a Stupa at Ambaran. These terracotta’s are closely related to the terracotta’s unearth at Ushkura (Ancient Haviskapura) near Baramulla and Harwan in Kashmir valley. The beautifully smiling face of a child with curly hair a Greek facial expression was a famous discovery of Charles Fabari.

Buddhism witnessed its Golden period during the Kushan rulers Hushka, Jushka and Kanishka. King Kanishka who convened the Fourth Great Buddhist Council in Kansipura in Baramulla district in Kashmir probably built the monastery. He has also been credited for the excavation of the two colossal images of Lord Buddha at Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan which were destroyed by the Taliban during 2000 A.D.

The Buddhist establishment at Ambaran seems to have been established during Kushan period (1st to third Century A.D.) a formative age of Buddhism in Kashmir valley. One stupa, four votive stupas and walls of a monastery (living quarters for monks) all built in burnt bricks were found in excavations during 1999-2001. The cientific clearance work was carried out in year 2009 also. The Saririka Stupa has a base of 6 x 6m measuring approximately 1.50 x 1.50 m. Four votive stupas were exposed on the western side of the main stupa. The pottery of the Kushan period comprised of bowls, basins, vases, sprinklers, lids including ink pot type of lids, lamps and spout pots are important characteristic finds of Kushan Period. The most important among the antiquities recovered of the second period include the reliquary (relic casket) and its contents with associated objects found along with it in the main stupa. The charred bones along with a piece of tooth suggesting its conception as a Saririka Stupa was also.

The Ancient Buddhist Stupa site of Ambaran locally known as “Pambaran” (Lat 300 54` N and Long. 740 46` E) is located near Akhnoor about 30 kms north west of Jammu on the right bank of river Chenab (Ancient Asikis or Chanderabhaga). The top river terraces of River Chenab, in between two rivulets, which come down from the hills join the river. The site is about 100 m in width from north south. On either side of the river, there are middle Pleistocene boulder conglomerate deposits over which there are loose boulders and pebbles mixed with sand, silt and clay belonging to the late Pleistocene period, which is the natural soil below the cultural deposits.

The Archaeological Survey of India, Srinagar Circle has carried out Archaeological excavation for two seasons (1999 — 2000 and 2000 — 2001) to know the association and startographic position of the famous Akhnoor terracotta heads in the Buddhist Monastic establishment at Ambaran. In addition, it was to study the layout and planning of the site believed to be the only early Buddhist site in the Jammu Region outside the Kashmir Valley. During the excavation, burnt brick structures of various phases encountered. The site seems to have been abandoned sometimes around the seventh century A. D. as attested by two flash floods in the river, which this led to the abandonment of the Buddhism establishment of Ambaran. The excavation revealed the cultural sequence of the following periods:

Period I: Pre-Kushan period (circa second first century B. C.)

Period II: Kushan period (circa first to third century B. C.)

Period III: Post-Kushan (Gupta) period (circa forth fifth century A. D.)

Period IV: Post Gupta period (circa sixth seventh century A. D.)

Period I: No structural remains of period I found. The thin deposit contained grey ware shreds of bowls and red ware vases.

Period II: Buddhist monastic establishment was founded at the site in period II. A stupa votive stupas and walls of a monastery were exposed which was built of burnt brick masonry with bricks usually measuring 36 to 38 x 24 x 6 to 7 cm

Period III: Two distinct structural phases of period II were noticed, the first having structures with bricks measuring 27 x 22 x 7 cm in general and a second phase with bricks and brickbats of earlier structures reused. Remains of an entrance of some important complex, stone pitched pathway were also found. A 2 x 2 m square base of a votive stupa along with evidence of its circular shape structure was found.

Period IV: The large complex, possibly a monastery, partly survived during the period IV when additions and alterations were made in its original structures and repairs were also carried out after the flash flood. Pottery of period II to IV does not have much difference in shape, except that in the last period rims of bowls become sharp and straight. Important shapes are basins, bowls, sprinklers, vases lids, lamps, spouts and storage jars. Stamped designs have also been found. Amongst the spout with grotesque animal head and the pot lugs, an interesting piece bears head of a lion.

Among important antiquities a large number of decorative terracotta figurines, terracotta moulds of human figurines, leaves and ornaments, terracotta skin rubber, beads and gamesmen, iron nails, hooks and rings, copper objects, semiprecious stone beads have been found. A small stone sculpture in Gupta style showing a male attendant holding some object in his right raised hand and the left resting on his thigh. Copper coins belonging to the Kushan rulers Soter Megas, Kanishka and Huvishka were found during the excavations. The unique discovery of relic caskets during the excavations has opened a new chapter in the study of history and culture of the Jammu region discovered for the first time. Significant Buddhist remains have been found in the form of reliquary alongwith three containers copper, silver and gold caskets which could fit into one another was found to be 2.4 cm high with its diameter being 5.6 cm, which comprise 30 circular thin sheets of gold, 2 silver and 130 micro beads of pearl, 12 coral and 2 metallic in the oval shaped silver caskets, a circular gold casket, a bead of amethyst and 3 encrusted copper coins.

Similar Stupas belonging to Saka- Parthian period in Taxila including those as Dharmajika, Kalwan and Jandial (now in Pakistan) Buddhist monastic establishment provide similar structural pattern in their elevation and plan. The Saririka Stupa and votive probably belong to the name architecture feature as found at above sites now in Pakistan which was then in the same political boundary of the empire.

The famous terracotta objects found at Ambaran like busts of women with typical Greek or Gandhara influence or facial features and Greek hair styles this collection formed part of Punjab Museum collection at Lahore. After partition it was transferred to State Museum at Chandigarh from where it was brought to Dogra Art Gallery, Mubarak Mandi at Jammu. There are also a few pieces of Akhnoor terracotta male heads in National Museum Collection New Delhi. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shiv Khori Tourist Circuit

Yatra to Shiv-Khori has become an important component of the religious tourist circuit in Jammu province. Annual yatra to this holy cave located in Reasi District is around one million or so at present and it is increasing. Based on the lines of Vaishno Deviji(where the Shrine Board has brought about marvelous changes by undertaking massive development works from public offerings at the holy Shrine in last 25years),Board for managing Shiv-Khori Shrine has also been constituted. Lot of facilities are being developed on the entire 3.5km long pedestrian route from Ransoo town to the holy cave.

Like Katra occupies a prominent place for Vaishno Deviji yatra as a base town, Ransoo is the base town of Shiv-Khori yatra. Unlike orderly development of facilities on the entire 13km route by the Shrine Board, Katra town presents a dismal urban picture because of its haphazard growth in last 3-4 decades. This town of about 15000 souls is perhaps the wealthiest town in our state through which about 90 lakhs yatries pass annually thus opening enormous opportunities for local population. Many good hotels have come up in Katra but the town as a whole hardly offers any attraction to pilgrims to extend their stay there even for a day. Narrow roads, congested Bus stand, poor municipal services, polluted water body, etc. offer hardly any interest to visitors who mostly confine themselves in their hotel rooms during their brief stay in Katra. Visionary efforts are required from all concerned to ensure that Katra model of growth does not get repeated in Ransoo town. Presently this town is a small settlement with a lot of vacant land but signs of haphazard development especially along its only main road are already visible.

Realizing the opportunity to develop Ransoo as an attractive pilgrim town in future, the State Govt. has notified this town under the provision of state Town Planning Act of 1963. A Development Board has been constituted to prepare a Master Plan which probably is ready by now. But experience of other towns in our state point out that Master Plans even after their approval by Govt. are hardly effective. Mainly it is because the measures to implement Master Plans particularly the urban land management tools are not spelt out clearly in our state urban development laws. We understand that necessary amendments through various urban reforms in this behalf are on the anvil but the same is taking a long time to mature. As such strategy to develop Ransoo town within the best possible existing framework needs to be chalked out.

How can Ransoo be developed as an attractive halt town? At present, excepting for the roadside lands which have developed under commercial use, most of the land in Ransoo town (spread over a sloping plateau of about 900 kanals) is still under agriculture use. But now pressure for conversion of these lands into commercial urban use are building up with each passing year due to increasing yatra traffic. The rural face of Ransoo town is changing fast. Wealthy & influential people (mostly hoteliers from Katra) are buying vacant undeveloped lands in this town. The resultant exorbitant land prices in Ransoo are testimony to these land transactions. These investors shall play a big role in shaping the growth of this town in near future. If regulated properly, they can do wonders. But if left to themselves by a loose Govt. response, Ransoo town too shall be another Katra in making. Thus the state govt. is required to play a proactive role. Perhaps the most appropriate option could be that all developable lands in Ransoo are acquired through negotiations and an attractive compensation (both economic & financial) is paid to land owners. Acquired land ,after development, can then be used as a resource to generate funds (through auction of commercial sites)required to provide quality infrastructure like a good Bus Stand, wide roads, proper water supply/electricity/sewerage systems, green spaces, development of Dudh Ganga rivulet, etc. This approach, however, is not likely to be acceptable to the local people as well as local politicians as they eye only short term gains. Awareness to motivate and educate them that a planned Ransoo town shall ultimately benefit their economic development in the long term perspective, need to be undertaken by the Shrine Board/other concerned. It is to be realized that network of wide roads not only spreads economic activities in all parts of any developing town more evenly but it is also very essential to efficiently lay the distribution networks of all infrastructural services required to ensure quality living in any town.
Another option could be a Land Pooling scheme under which land parcels of all land owners are pooled, reconstituted and then 50% of the same land is returned to the same owners for their use as per an approved layout plan. 50% of the land acquired from the farmers is utilized for laying roads, parks and other public facilities. This method known as Town Planning scheme has been a very popular & effective urban management tool in Gujarat and Maharashtra state. In fact it is an important provision in their urban planning & development laws & is generally referred to as Land Acquisition without tears. But since relevant Acts in our state do not have this provision and land owners are not likely to agree to this cooperative concept very easily in Ransoo, best course is perhaps acquisition of all vacant lands by any nominated Authority to be entrusted with development of Ransoo town. Funds for acquisition can be partly taken as a loan and partly State Govt./Vaishno Devi Shrine Board could help in this venture. No doubt it looks harsh for the poor farming land owners but if the land acquisition costs to be paid to them are attractive and their economic rehabilitation is addressed humanely, it sounds to be the best option keeping in view the long term interest of this upcoming town.

Besides, Ransoo town should be atleast notified under the Municipal Act so that a Municipal Committee comes into existence to look after its day to day civic needs.

In a nutshell, Ransoo town deserves priority. Opportunity to develop it( which may not be easily available later on) as an attractive town developed on planned lines should not be lost. This town, most likely will grow whether the State Govt. intervenes effectively or not. The choice is whether it should grow as a pilgrim friendly base town for Shiv-Khori yatra or it should follow the unpleasant growth model of Katra Town. Shiv-Khori Shrine Board needs to own and play a vital role in framing and translating this perspective (of developing a planned Ransoo town) into reality unlike Vaishno -Devi Shrine Board which kept a distance from investing in the infrastructural development in Katra town may be for some compelling reasons.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ram Leela Celebrations of Basohli

The preparations to this end are being made at war footing and all those efforts are being made which will go a long way in making the celebrations a complete success so that it may leave a permanent impact on the viewers. Wide publicity is being given to it to attract a good number of the viewers from within and the adjoining states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. In order to make it interesting and colorful, the assistance of many state departments is being sought.
According to the information available from the senior most citizens of the town, Ram Leela celebrations in Basohli date back to early twentieth century i.e. from Oct. - Nov. 1911. Before the celebrations reached the present stage it passed through many social, administrative problems and financial constraints. In the beginning years of the celebrations, Ram Leela was celebrated in the open ground amidst a big disciplined crowd surrounding the arena where the artists used to perform their roles attired in very simple costumes. The artists distinguished themselves from the spectators wigs and beard made from the bark of Dhamman tree called saels (used for making strings for weaving cots). The presentation was called Ras Leela which was performed by the artists (Raas Dhari) from the locality and from the villages of the adjoining Punjab and Himachal Pradesh states. The mode of presentation of Ram Leela went on changing with the passage of time and later on the presentation covered the whole chougan. Earlier, the ground was divided into five stages one each for Ram Durbar, Ravan Durbar, and Ashoke Vatika and for Sumeru Parbat where as rest of space is reserved for use of sets for Panch Vati, huts for Saints/ seers and for different battles between various fighting factions of that time. Those days Ram Leela used to start in the afternoon in the broad day light due to the non availability of lighting arrangements. At night hours famous Hindi nataks (dramas) of that time like, Krishan Sudama, Bilvamangal, Rukmaniharn and Shravan Kumar were staged in the bright light of the patromaxs. The pitch of the artists used to be very high which could be heard from half mile distance without PA system as is available these days. Achievements in the celebrations and innovations in the presentation required much money which was very difficult during those days with poor economical conditions of the natives and little or no means of livelihood. The graph of presentation of Ram Leela showed gradual decline year after year till it reached its end.
Before Ram Leela could fade from the village management of the organization came in the able hands of Late Sh. Khushi Ram Padha and his devoted and honest team comprising of S. Sh. Ishwar Dass Padha Nathu Ram Abrol, Pushap Raj Purohit, Hari Krishan Nayyar, Prem Mahajan, Jagan Nath Gulehi, Ram Mehta, Sdershan Mishra/Chouhana, late Sh. Kishori Lal Sharma and many devoted persons who brought the financial condition of Ram Leela on concrete footing.
The present life like scenes pertaining to glowing of Lakshman Rekha, descending of Lord Hanuman from sky with mountain, Dhanush Yagya, felling of seven tar trees with one arrow by Lord Ram and crossing Sarju by boat by Ram, Sita and Lakshman were the brain child of Mulkh Raj Gupta, Govind Ram Kapoor, whereas the management of costumes etc. was taken care by Madan Lal Chang and Dev Raj Raina. Ram Leela feels proud in having a vocal classical musician Sh. Devinder Nath Premi, who has got no match in the whole state, and who had been working as music director of Ram Leela for many years. Krishan Chand Pathania, Sri Ram Kapoor and Nikka ram Achrya had been the extraordinary comedians of Basohli stage. Among the past artists the names of Late Tara chand Pangotra, Nathu Ram Purohit, Chand Kishore Ranadey are worth mentioning.
Ram Leela festival excels in many ways in the matter of its secular character as Muslim brothers have been taking keen interest in making the festival a complete success in the matters of presentations and management. Nazir Ahmed Chouhan, Shuker Din and others had played famous characters of Ram Leela. This is the festival when all the married daughters and employees from all the communities come to their homes and spend few days with their families and friends.
Now-a-days Ram Leela Basohli by dint of its presentation and devotion has carved out a place among the popular festivals of the state and the country. Life like presentation, sanctity and devotion of the people attracts good number of visitors during the celebrations every year. This year, being the year of centenary celebrations has got some special attractions like:
Illuminationof roads and buildings in the town.
Organising cultural shows from different states
Free langar for the persons coming from outside the town.
Organising exhibition and workshop on Basohli painting by NGO Vishavsthali during the festival.
Prize distribution for the outstanding services rendered by the citizens.

Like every year the state government is again requested to declare the Basohli Ram Leela as state festival on the pattern of Sindhu darshan of Leh and Jhiri Mela of Jammu and deploy the information Deptt. And Door Darshan to cover the festival for its telecast on the national network. It is requested to all to turn up in good number and add to its glory.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kashmir Tourism in Summer

Here Arrives New Blissful Summer! 
As you walk past Dal lake, you can see a picture being painted of a beauty, a beauty so realistic yet never imagined. With colours and faces everywhere, lights and noises everywhere a different hush, a different bliss, a new summer is here!
As the mercury has started soaring in the valley life seems to have come to a full bloom for Kashmir. A walk along the Dal lake gives a picture of the delight the summer heat has brought.

Since the last unrest it is now that people seem to have been enjoying the outside more than just the inside their homes. Streets have become claustrophobic for the pedestrians and cars are honking away, with people ready for a new destination everyday.

A young boy dives into the Dal splashing water all over and creating ripples in the lake, as various other children around him jump in joy. The summer has set in. As you look at the opposite side you can see the popular parks abuzz with the activities of tourists and locals of the valley enjoying some hot snacks and getting mesmerized with the ghazals and music being played or performed live. The famous ‘Chhalli’ point looks livelier with parked cars and windows drawn down and some young faces enjoying hot `Chhallis’ sprinkled with salt and lemon juice.

On the other side while you walk on the Boulevard Road along Dal, you can see many colorful shikaras like the gondolas of Venice more like ferry rides taking tourists up and down in the lake. Often you can spot a vendor selling Kashmiri craft in some of the Shikaras while photographers making tourists wear Kashmiri traditional dress and clicking pictures can also be seen. Far at a distance you can see family pictures being taken in the Char Chinar island in between the Dal lake.

You can also see some European tourists and some Indian tourists on the decks of the house boats basking in the sun, reading magazines and newspapers or often just looking over their house boats at the majestic view of the Dal lake.

Around the valley you can also see huge number of children, school students and college students, standing in queues in front of the ice cream vendors and gol gappa stalls. Shoppers are seen relaxing and taking ice cream breaks and cold drink sips while little kids are seen with caps and colorful sun glasses. 

Family picnics have also geared up for places to visit in kashmir  the valley; not only the Boulevard Road but other tourist spots in and around Kashmir valley have been the hubs of locals and tourists in the past few days.

“Tourism is in its in full swing as of now. As we had expected, every resort is receiving its due proportion of tourists,” said an official of the tourism department.

“Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Manasbal are doing extremely good as far as tourism and business is concerned,” he added.
Daksum, Doodh Patheri, Aharbal, Wullar lake, Nageen lake, Yusmarg, Bungus Valley are the recently developed tourist spots that are picking up pace in Kashmir. Families settled outside, students studying abroad and in and around India are back in Kashmir and making the most of their vacations while beating the summer heat and are venturing around these new exotic places of Kashmir.

Asma, a student of Delhi University says she is glad to be home. She added, “Kashmir has always been home and it feels great to come here. Delhi has tall buildings and more freedom, but it lacks the scenic beauty like Kashmir has. We get more family time here and we can go around to the mountains and gardens and enjoy.”

“Life is so fast and hectic outside,” says Irtiza who lives in the US and works in an IT firm. “Life becomes smoother and more relaxed; I can almost feel my pulse at a smoother and calmer pace. It is breathtaking here, my family and I are enjoying and making the most of the one month I have here till I fly back,” he adds with a smile.

From Shikaras owners to top business men, every one is doing a great job. And as the summer soars in, they are expecting a greater trade this year. “Last year our business was bad, we lost a lot of money, but with God’s grace we are doing fine this year,” said Imran a shawl weaver.

With the kashmir tourism season just taking over, tourists as well as the traders are hoping for a great summer this year. And so do we, walking past Dal, picture this beauty into a reality and the threshold reaches new horizons!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Amarnath Yatra commencement decided

Pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave in the Himalayas has a long history, one that could be called a model of tolerance and coexistence among the people of various faiths. Three years ago, the issue of pilgrimage to the holy cave was politicized by stakeholders taking recourse to very small and not too serious matters connected with the pilgrimage. The miscreants wanted to create a wedge between two communities by inducing them to adopt confrontational stances. However, fortunately, this did not happen, and after some intervention by saner elements in civil society and the government, the irritants were removed and normal course of pilgrimage was restored. An understanding of sorts was arrived at and stakeholders were happy that an atmosphere of peace and amity was restored. But perhaps this attitude of understanding and mutual respect did not suit the elements with vested interest and each year on the occasion of the beginning of the pilgrimage, some issues are stoked and over-exaggerated just to recreate the atmosphere of controversies and misunderstandings. This time, the controversy was raised about the duration of the pilgrimage and when should it commence. The government and the Shrine Board looked at the entire issue from security point of view and also the feasibility of the track leading to the holy cave, while the organizers of the pilgrimage (NIYAS) wanted that the pilgrimage begins on a date of their choosing and much in advance of the Shravana Purnima, the day on which the lingam in the cave comes of full size and the pilgrims want a darshan of the same. It appeared that postures were getting hardened on either side and the fear was of repetition of earlier stalemate.

But the good news has come in just when we were waiting in wings to advise both sides not to lose their cool. The state government on Monday, in its last-ditch effort, finally succeeded in settling the controversy over the duration of the annual Amarnath yatra. Three senior functionaries of the government flew into Jammu to facilitate talks between the Shrine Board and the contesting groups. During their meeting with the representatives of Baba Amarnath Yatri Niyas (BAYN)--- - an amalgam of several political, religious, social and trade organizations---the government functionaries successfully brought a consensus over the start of annual Amarnath pilgrimage. Talking to the media persons soon after the meeting, the Niyas president Surinder Mohan Aggarwal claimed, "We have reached an agreement with the government that two members of the NIYAS and as many from the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) will perform pratham (first) darshan pooja (pay obeisance) at cave shrine on Jyeshta Purnima that falls on June 15. We were in favour of start of Yatra from Jyeshta Purnima so that pratham darshan are performed. The government agreed to perform pooja on June 15, marking the start of the Yatra." As per the agreement, also approved by the Governor in his capacity as the Chairman of Shrine Board, two members of the NIYAS and as many from the Board would pay symbolic obeisance at cave shrine on June 15, marking the start of pilgrimage.

The news of an agreement on the controversy about the commencement and duration of the pilgrimage has come at proper time to the relief of everybody concerned. This shows that if handled properly and justifiably any ticklish issue can be resolved without causing irritation. It is also a matter of relief to know that the negotiating teams agreed to decide the date of commencement and duration of next year's pilgrimage also so that nothing is left to speculation.

Though an amicable resolution of the matter has been arrived at through the intervention of the government but the fact remains that in a secular democracy, governments normally avoid interfering in religious matters and their dispensation is left to the discretion of accredited religious leaders only. We hope that in future, the Shrine Board will exercise its powers and skills judiciously to resolve any issue relating to the Amarnath Pilgrimage or any other religious function. That is usually safe for the government. We do understand the inevitability of the state government intervening in the issue owing to the awkward history of the Amarnath yatra during past three summers and the disturbed conditions of the State. But as soon as normalcy returns to the valley, we hope the government will have no need to supervene in controversies of religious nature.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Saint Bhagwan Gopinathji

Bhagwan Gopinathji is one of the most eminent saints of India. He has the distinction of being acknowledged as Bhagavaan in his lifetime. He possessed all the attributes of a Jeevan Mukta. His was the state of Shambhavi Avastha or what the vedantins term a Brahmasthiti.

Gopinathji was born in a middle class family at Banamohalla, Srinagar on 3rd July, 1898. He lost his mother Haarmali when he was only 12 years old. His father, Pandit Narayan Joo Bhan, also passed away when Gopinathji was in mid-twenties. He was conversant with Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Sanskrit languages besides English. Gopinathji's father had given up his possessions leaving no permanent house for his family to live in. Consequently Gopinathji moved from one rented accommodation to another. During his last two decades of earthly sojourn he lived in his niece's house at Chandapora, Habbakadal. When still in his early teens he had to work in a local printing press as compositor for a couple of years to earn a living for his family. Subsequently, after giving up the job at the printing press, he ran a grocery shop, but there he was mostly oblivious to his surroundings because he was engrossed in meditation and to the advise of insistence of his elders and relatives to marry. He remained a Brahmachari. His friends once tried to lure him to visit a courtesan but they were astonished when the youngman (Gopinathji) chastised the woman for violating norms of morality. He valued celibacy but did not try to object to his devotees' conjugal life as grahesthies.

Bhagavaanji was above any consideration of caste, creed or religion. He traversed the path of divine journey starting with Panchaanga - Upaasanaa, with Mother Sharika as his ideal, of whom he had an intoxicating vision at the age of twenty seven. Then he moved to "nirguna upaasanaa". In his thirties he had the tryst with a seven year old for sacred Sadhanaa, relinquishing intake of food etc.

During his earthly sojourn and even after abandoning earthly coil he cared for his devotees in and outside Kashmir and India. He was seen physically at warfronts guiding and directing our troops in 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999 though he was sitting in his room or had already left the physical frame. Bhagavaanji attained Nirvana (Nirguna form (formless form) on 28th of May, 1968.

Bhagavaanji helped earnest seekers experience and realize their spiritual yearnings. One such seeker underwent three long life-cycles in a matter of three terrestrial hours. Other two Sadhaks were helped to have vision of Jagadamba as a Kanya (young girl).

Many devotees were relieved of their mundane problems and difficulties when they earnestly approached Bhagavaanji.

After Bhagavaanji assumed Nirvana, His disciplies built an Ashram at Kharyar, Srinagar, where His marble statue was installed in 1973. This ashram has become a centre for spiritual upliftment for His devotees.

After displacement from the Valley, other Ashrams came up at Udaiwala Road, Bohri Jammu, and at Pamposh Enclave, Greater Kailash-I, New Delhi. At these Ashrams all the activities that were regularly performed in Srinagar Ashram, are being followed. The number of devotees participating in all such activities is increasing day by day.

During last five years the Trust has expanded the activities of three ashrams as well as augmented and added to the infrastructure. With the ever increasing number of devotees across the globe, Ashrams, meditation centres and Satsang Mandals at Vikaspuri, Mumbai, Pune, Australia, Switzerland are rapidly coming up.

Activities of the Trust
Every year the trust organizes a number of socio-religions functions which include Navreh, Zangtrai, Mahayagnya, Painting Competition, and other functions.

Philanthropic Activities: Financial help is being provided under the category of destitute aid, medical aid, education aid and handicapped aid. The aid is provided every month to the destitute, mostly widows, orphans, handicapped, needy students and patients irrespective of caste and creed. Total amount paid upto December, 2010 is Rs. 9,23,800.

O.P.D: An OPD functions at Jammu Ashram on every Sunday when free check up by specialists are provided to the selected patients.

Other Services/Activities:
Mentally retarded and orphan children and inmates of old age home are provided material as per their requirements, in the shape of uniforms, stationery, blankets and clothes.

Medical Camp: The trust conducts medical camps at different places round the year. Free medical checkup and free medicines are provided to the patients in these camps.

Relief aid: In order to provide some sort of succor to victims of Natural calamity due to floods, earthquake, fire etc. The Trust always makes a point to donate relief materials viz., blankets, clothes, medicines, utencils etc. besides cash donation to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.

Recently the Jammu Ashram has been brought on the pilgrimage destination of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism map by the J&K Govt. Tourism Department alongside Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, Shiv-Khori, Sudhmahadev.

On 21st of November, 2010 Vice Chancellor Mata Vaishno Devi, University, Prof. R.N.K. Bamezai and Swami Girishanandji, Secretary, Rama Krishen Mission inaugurated a new developed Heritage Hall at Jammu Ashram. Speaking on the historical occasion, the valued and learned guests remarked that on coming out of this hall, they had the feeling of having performed a pilgrimage.

Heritage Hall: The Heritage Hall depicts various places where Bhagavaanji resided and the pilgrimage centres he visited. The various articles of daily use such as fire-pot (Kangri), the chillum, pheran etc. used by Bhagavaanji form a captivating aspect of the Heritage Hall. Our posterity is sure to be proud of such an ancestor who became a Jagadguru in his lifetime.

Gopinathji was born in a middle class family at Banamohalla, Srinagar on 3rd July, 1898. He lost his mother Haarmali when he was only 12 years old. His father, Pandit Narayan Joo Bhan, also passed away when Gopinathji was in mid-twenties. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Maha Kali Temple Jammu

Mata Kali Temple in Bahu Fort
The outer Himalayas or Siwaliks of Jammu Region are well known for a large number of religious places. Among them, the most renowned ones are Mata Vaishno Devi, the Sukrala Mata, the Shiv Khori, the Sudh Mahadev, the Bawe Wali Mata etc. The Bawe Wali Mata also known as the Goddess Maha Kali is confined to the inside of Bahu Fort. The Bahu Fort situated in the submountain track of Jammu Siwaliks lies quite opposite to the old Jammu City on the otherside of the river Tawi which is known as Surya Putri (daughter of the Sun).

The temple of the Goddess Maha Kali built on an elevated plat form, is dated back to about 3400BC, and as such this temple is considered to be one of the oldest temples in India. Together with Mahamaya temple in Bahu Rakh, it attracts a lot of local pilgrims. An additional attraction has been created by the Department of Environment and Remote Sensing in collaboration with J&K Paryavarn Sanstha in Bahu Rakh (in microwatershed) lying between the two temples is the Environment Park. This Environment Park sprawls over an area of 220 ha but presently only about 10-12 ha area of this park is fully developed. The rest will also be developed in due course of time.
It is believed that black stone image of the Goddess Maha Kali housed in the temple was transported from Ayodhya much earlier than this temple came to fore by the kings belonging to Solar Dynasty namely Raja Bahu Lochan and Raja Jambu Lochan.

Although there are still no positive evidences that who first constructed the temple of the Goddess Maha Kali inside the Bahu Fort yet it has emerged from its structure that atleast Bahu Fort used to exist during the attack of Amir Timur which happened to take place in 1399 AD. Some of the legends relating to the construction of the temple are as follows:-

i) One of the legend goes by the fact that Bahu Fort temple was first built by the King Bahu Lochan during 8th century as reported by Sh Shiv Kumar Sharma and Dr D C Sharma, well known writers. Their assertion is based upon the source of Archaeology Department, Government of India.
Early Muslim rulers including Amir Timur attacked this place many a time but none of them had mentioned it under the name of Bahu Fort. It has rather been referred to by the name of Jammu Fort.
ii) Another legend relates to the attack of Amir Timur during 1398-99 AD on Bahu town vis-à-vis Maha Kali's temple and Mahamaya temple.
iii) Third legend concerns with attacks of Mohamad Gauri and Mohammad Gagnavi on India. It is believed that during these attacks a number of Rajput families were forced to flee from Rajasthan and got settled in Siwalik hills, and laid down foundations of principalities around Jammu hills. One such principality belonged to Raja Kirpal Dev who became the ruler of Bahu town and his brother Sangram Dev became the ruler of Jammu. The other leading rulers of Bahu principality were Jagdev, Paras Ram, Krishan Dev and Azmat Dev during 1570 - 1580, 1580 - 1610, 1610 - 1635 and 1635 onward AD, respectively. But in due course of time Jammu principality became supreme among all these principalities. Later on with the emergence of Maharaja Ranjeet Dev, a strong ruler of Jammu, the principality of Bahu was merged with Jammu.

Rebuilding of the Temple
There is also a belief that after plundering of the Bahu Fort by the invaders, Maharaja Ranbir Singh who ruled from 1857 to 1885, had a dream wherein the Goddess Mahakali exhorted him to rebuild the destroyed temple. Accordingly Maharaja Ranbir Singh built the temple and constructed the Bahu Fort also. Some say, it was built by Maharaja Gulab Singh.

Throwing of the Goddess Maha Kali's Idol into River bed: It is said that during the rule of Maharaja's Partap Singh (1885-1925), a saint who was totally against the practice of animal sacrifice, took out the idol of the Goddess Maha Kali from the temple. He then tossed this into the bed of river Tawi but in a secret place. After this incident, Goddess Maha Kali appeared before the Maharaja Partap Singh in a dream and bade him to fulfill the desire of the saint by ceasing the sacrificing of animal in the shrine. Maharaja Partap Singh called on the saint and told him to bring the idol of the Goddess Maha Kali and the same was installed again in the temple. Since that day instead of animal sacrifice to please the Goddess Maha Kali either the goat is brought there or purchased from the Pujari and offered to him after reciting some hymns and the devotees sprinkle a handful of water on the back of the goat that begins to shiver. As soon as the goat returns to the previous state, the offering is said to be accepted which is locally known as "Shilly Charana".

Firing of Canon
Before 1947, it was the usual practice to fire the canon. It had resorted to create awareness among the people about the daily times as a few families had watches/clocks in their homes. The canon used to fire thrice a day i.e. 4 A.M. 12 Noon and 8 P.M. from the Bahu Fort. This function was performed by the army personnel as fort was used by Army of Maharaja Hari Singh to stay. Canon firing practice though remained upto 1950 yet it used to fire only once in a day i.e. 12 Noon. Its voice heared upto Sailkote.

Means of Transport 
Before Independence, the people from large number of villages used to visit the Bahu Fort temple on foot or by tongas. Tongas carried the passengers only upto Jammu old city and from there they reached the Bahu Fort either through crossing the river Tawi or by boats. Two boats floated in the river Tawi, one from Pacci Dhaki Tawi Ghat and other opposite to graveyard via Jammu Tehsil Office route. During Navratras temporary wooden bridges used to be build opposite to Gujjar Nagar on the river Tawi. Such means of transport however, got extinct owing to building up of pacca roads and declining of water level in the river Tawi.

The people of Jammu possess stern belief that the Goddess Maha Kali always save the Jammu city from air attacks. It is quite evident from Pakistan Air Force attack made during Indo-Pak war in 1965 and 1971. The air attackers did their best to destroy the Tawi bridge but never succeeded. They were hindered to their task as they found nothing visible except a small girl holding a earthen lit lamp in her hands.

Bahu Fort Mela
Prior to pertaining of the country, people of Jammu city and villages generally used to visit the temple during Navratras, especially during Ashtmi and Navmi, when big Bahu Fort melas happened to celebrate. Navratras come off twice a year, one during March - April and second during September - October. Navmi of March - April Navratra, coincides with the Ram Navmi (birthday of the Lord Ram). People of Jammu city came to the temple regularly in groups, particularly on Tuesday and/or Sunday. Some of them after worshipping the Goddess Maha Kali, went to Mahamaya temple too.

Now a days with the availability of cheap transport one can see a huge rush of devotees even on ordinary days but to talk of Navratras and /or Sunday and Tuesday, who pay their obeisance to the Goddess Kali. They also offer her flowers, sweets, money, gold and silver. These days even Jammuites and tourists come to pay obeisance to Mata Kali at night or in the evening after visiting from Bagh-e-Bahu as the temple remains open from 3 A.M. to 10.30 P.M. with a break of one hour from 3 to 4 P.M.

                                                                                                                        Post By Prof. R . D. Gupta