Numerous shrines in J&K call every believer to reason, to accord
In a time and age torn asunder, courtesy communal conflicts driven by religious fervor and divide, it becomes increasingly relevant to pause and reflect; pause and reflect at how we have landed where we are, how we have fallen prey to disharmony. From as long as history has been recorded, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been a host, with arms wide open, to the development and burgeoning of multiple faiths and religious persuasions and, of that, our predecessors have left tangible proof: the plethora of religious sites, shrines and temples that have stood the turbulent tests of time and are still heard calling every believer to reason, to accord.
Unarguably, Islam is the dominant faith in our state and significant in this phenomenon is one pious and much-revered soul who goes by the name Sheikh Noor Uddin Wali, or Nund Rishi, as given to him by his devotees. He is regarded widely as the patron saint of Kashmir and was a Muslim mystic revered by the Muslims and the Hindus of the region alike. Now that his physical bodice has departed, we now have the Charari Sharief, a shrine-encompassing township in itself, standing upright, to remind us of his poetic teachings even now. The land of the shrine is the very same place where he would routinely say his Friday prayers. From his birth and right up to his death, he was abound in divinity and transcendence – Legend has it that on birth, he refused to be suckled till he was three days old, when the celebrated Lal Ded (known as Lal Ishwari amongst Hindus and Lal Arifa amongst Muslims) fed him with her own milk. Further, it has been passed down to us that following the death of Nund Rishi, his coffin, after being airborne and flying some distance, descended gracefully at the site where the shrine lies and where this proficient preacher is laid to rest. This saint wielded so much positivity and influence that countless Hindus adopted Islam on being touched by the grace with which Nund Rishi went about this religion. He preached communal harmony, non-violence and tolerance to the people, and each time one approaches the shrine, one is sure to find a piece of Aalamdar-e-Kashmir’s illumined existence that he can take back home.
Having received the immortal kiss of nature, our state displays tremendous symbiosis between nature itself and religion at the blessed Amarnath Temple, one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. Technically, it is a cave at an altitude of over 3,000 m and yet another manifestation of the ideals of harmony, for Hindu scriptures have it that it is the site where Shiva, the god representing the delicate balance of Creation and Destruction, explained the secrets of life, eternity and perennial bliss to his divine consort, Parvati. The cave itself, situated beyond Pahalgam, is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summers, which is when it is open for pilgrims nationwide. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees make an annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave across challenging mountainous terrains and rocky pathways. The stellar structure here, though, is a stalagmite (a rising column formed of calcium salt deposits) which is formed due to freezing of water drops that fall from the roof of the cave on to the floor and grows up vertically from the cave floor. It is regarded as a depiction of the iconic Shiva Linga by Hindus. The majestic Lingam waxes during May to August, as snow melts in the Himalayas above the cave and the resultant water seeps into the rocks that form the cave and gradually wanes thereafter. This cyclic waxing and waning of the structure has been called as an analog of the phases of the moon by Hindu renditions and sacred texts. As countless Hindus annually fight the harsh terrains in a quest for fulfillment of the soul’s needs, it is in fact a manifestation of the struggles and inner-wars we face each and every day in our lives, only to emerge stronger with a sanctified battle symphony playing across our lips.
Perhaps the heftiest ornamentation a place of religion could receive are the pure and unified sentiments and sounds yearning for God’s closeness echoing through its walls. Such is the case of the Roman Catholic Church in Srinagar, christened The Holy Family Church. It is a structure free from unnecessary ornamentations and full of the quiet and calm the heart of a believer seeks. This church, with a history of a hundred and thirty two years lending it passion and glory, has also served as a cathedral in The Curia, which is the group of administrative institutions and the central body through which the Roman Pontiff conducts the affairs of the universal Catholic Church. It acts in his name and with his authority for the good and for the service of the particular Churches and provides the necessary central organization for the correct functioning of the Church and the achievement of its goals. To experience universal bonhomie, one has to do nothing but frequent this Church on Christmas Day – joy and brotherhood, amidst melodious church bells and decorations, is abound and so palpable you can almost touch it.
Yet another relic as old as from the 11th Century is the Hemis Monastery in Leh, the capital of the Ladakh province. Besides the spiritualists of all religious persuasions that throng its threshold, this Buddhist monastery is also host to the vibrant Hemis Festival – a beautiful melding of the spiritual as well as the worldly joy, the ignition and union of which we all endeavor to achieve. The monastery is a haven for young Buddhists who stay back and train to become highly disciplined and accomplished monks. To bring gushing forth into the open the ethos wrapped away in the heart of every Buddhist, the Hemis Festival is dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), venerated as the Dance Performance at the monastery, representative of the reincarnation of Buddha. He is believed to have been born on the 10th day of the fifth month of the Monkey year as predicted by the Buddha Shakyamuni and that his life mission was, and remains, to improve the spiritual condition of all living beings. So, on this day, which comes once in a cycle of 12 years, the festival observes a major extravaganza in his memory. The observance of these sacred rituals is believed to give spiritual strength and good health. The Hemis Festival takes place in the rectangular courtyard in front of the main door of the monastery. The most esoteric of festivities are the mystic mask dances. The Mask Dances of Ladakh are referred collectively as ‘Chams’ Performance, much in resonance with various traditions across the world, including Sufiism, that seek to unite with the divine through ritual dances and devotional music.
With a portfolio of relics of religious importance as wide and expansive as this, we all ought to seize the continual and universal messages of harmony and fraternity that each structure still, hundreds of years, seems to sing to us in a gripping lullaby, and extend them into our routine tasks and the core of our very existence. Only then will we find ourselves traversing a boulevard of inner peace that is contiguous with the pathway to a feeling of belonging, a belonging to a larger global community of God’s subjects.