Amarnath imbroglio: should the Himalayas be de-Sanskritized?
Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani
30 July 2008
Some people may have been surprised to see the dour-faced, acerbic-tongued Peoples Democratic Party chief, Mehbooba Mufti, sitting cozily behind Pranab Mukherji at a recent meeting of the Congress Working Committee, days after she brought down the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Congress-PDP coalition government in over the Amarnath land allotment episode.
Ms. Mehbooba was flown to Delhi by the Congress managers by special plane, in a desperate bid to shore up UPA numbers for the trust vote (22 July). Yet this only demonstrated the extent to which Congress was willing to go in pandering to Islamists, even if it meant making their own man the fall guy. Few in Congress appeared concerned that the same Mehbooba Mufti had only a few days before tried to set the Valley on fire and inflame passions over the issue of allotment of some land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for providing temporary shelters to Amarnath pilgrims.
She thus helped the Islamists bring their anti-India insurgency back almost to the 1990’s level. In fact, it was perfectly in consonance with the “secularist” policy of Congress to ignore all this and unabashedly display insensitivity towards Hindu sentiments – if only to keep its Muslim votebank appeased. After all, there are no differences between the Congress and the PDP of Mufti Sayyid, or for that matter other so-called secularist political parties in Jammu & Kashmir, over their shared agenda of Muslim precedence in the State.
Yet it would be wrong to view the Amarnath issue only in an electoral context. The intensity of the recent explosion of Islamist violence that brought thousands on to the streets in every town and village in Kashmir is reminiscent of the early days of militancy and cannot be dismissed as a sudden outburst caused by the decision to grant some land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. It reflected the jihadi mindset, so deeply entrenched in the social milieu of Kashmir, which views any expression of Hindu faith or culture in the Valley, however feeble, with pathogenic intolerance and regards it an impediment in establishing a purely theocratic Islamic state in Kashmir or securing its secession to Pakistan .
Not that the political establishment at the Centre, or its erstwhile Communist allies, could have any objection to this. It hardly ruffled their secular conscience. Secularism after all has come to a euphemism for anti-Hindu bias in this country. The irony is that it is the Indian taxpayer who is being bled mercilessly to sustain another Pakistan within the “secular” Indian state. How long?
No one knows better than traumatized Kashmiri Pandits who have been hounded out of their homesteads by jihadi insurgents and shamelessly abandoned by the Indian state, what it meant to be a Hindu in Muslim-dominated Kashmir . Hindus have been hapless witnesses to the sordid drama going on in the Valley since Sheikh Abdullah started his Muslim political movement in 1931, of which Amarnath is the latest episode. In the unrest that broke out in its wake against the Hindu Maharaja that year, Kashmiri Hindus were made targets of an unbridled orgy of communal violence.
Incited by the Sheikh, agitating mobs went berserk, killing, looting, torching Hindu homes and damaging their places of worship, particularly in Maharajganj, Vicharnag and other localities in downtown Srinagar . Few people know that some of the slogans raised by the frenzied followers of Sheikh Abdullah then were very similar to those that Hurriyat-organized agitators raised to protest against the allotment of land to the SASB.
This explains why razing temples was a regular feature of Muslim rule right from the time of bigots like Sikandar Butshikan down to reign of the Mughals and the rapacious Afghan governors. The covenant of Caliph Omar which forbids non-Muslims to build new temples or repair old religious structures provided scriptural sanction. Its full text was explained to Sultan Qutubu’din by the 14th century Sayyid Mir Ali Shah Hamadani, popularly known as Shah Hamadan for his leading role in spreading Islam in Kashmir , in his book Zakhiratu’l Mulk.
The Sayyid from Hamadan, Iran, himself showed the way by demolishing the temple of Kalishri in Srinagar and turning it into a Khanqah for delivering his sermons. This Khanqah-i-Maulla is touted by secularists as a glorious example of religious tolerance and communal harmony in Kashmir because Hindus were allowed to daub a stone engraving on its outer wall with vermilion to worship Mahakali! While most splendid examples of Kashmiri Hindu temple architecture were destroyed in this manner, no new temples were allowed to be built in Kashmir before it passed into the hands of the Dogra Maharajas who revived temple building activity. These later places of worship became an eyesore for contemporary fundamentalist Muslims; continuing the good work of their medieval mentors, they went about appropriating Hindu religious properties, stealing and breaking images, and damaging or destroying temples.
The genocidal process became rather frenzied from the 1980’s when rabid anti-India elements began to be armed by Pakistan for a jihad for “creation of Islamic Republic of Kashmir.” Hindu shrines were attacked and murtis frequently stolen in early 1985. The Indian Express reported on 12 April and 26 April 1985 that 20 murtis, including a famous Mahakali image of rare black stone in Hari Parbat Fort temple built under Maharaja Gulab Singh, first Dogra ruler; a priceless 9th century image from Lok Bhavan in Anantnag and terracotta Ganesh, Balram, Shankahpurusha and Nandi images were stolen, besides other priceless images including that of Goddess Kali of Anantnag, a fossil of the thirteen century, and other images of the fourteenth century.
The same paper reported on 26 April 1985: “Anti-national elements threw a bomb at Shiva temple, and later set it on fire at Handwara … The fire gutted the entire temple complex. Bombs were lobbed at temples in Srinagar also which created a scare amongst the Hindus. It was a calculated device to dissuade them from going to temples and adhering to their way of life”.
But it was in February 1986 that a full-dress rehearsal for the religious cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus was staged and scores of their religious places wantonly demolished, torched, damaged or desecrated throughout the Valley, particularly in Anantnag district. Brutal attacks were made on the lives and property of hundreds of members of the community, causing many to flee from the State.
Attacks on Hindu places of worship across the length and breadth of Kashmir became a regular feature after terrorism peaked in 1989-90, causing tremors that shook the entire Valley. A sustained campaign of religious cleansing, brutal killings, arson, rape and loot frightened the minority away and forced them to live as refugees outside the Valley to save life and limb. Despite their dispersal and dispossession, attacks on their places of worship did not cease. According to a written admission of the Government in the Lok Sabha on 12 March 1992, 38 Hindu religious places were destroyed in the Kashmir Valley between 1989 to1991. In 1992, over 52 temples were wrecked in an orgy of iconoclastic fury after 6 December. The pseudo-secularist media tried to deny these horrible happenings or present them as non-events, in stark contrast to the “masochistic circus” staged over Ayodhya.
In May 2006, Panun Kashmir, a representative political organization of Kashmiri Hindus, mounted a photo-exhibition in Delhi documenting the destruction and devastation of over 70 temples and shrines in “all the districts and tehsil headquarters in Kashmir along with at least twenty villages in each of the six districts.” These included eight temples in the very heart of Srinagar . The exhibition presented a heart-rending tale of demolition of “exquisite temples representing a unique school of temple architecture,” desecration of places of pilgrimage and destruction of sacred images of Hindu deities. The pseudo-secular English press and television channels ignored it so as not to displease the political establishment.
Despite these chilling acts of iconoclasm, the destabilized Hindus of Kashmir have not forgotten their pilgrimage centres and heritage places, such as the shrines of Sharika Devi at Hari Parbat, Kshir Bhavani at Tulmul, Jyeshtha Devi near Srinagar, and of course Amarnath. Kashmiris continue to visit them in ever greater numbers, even at the risk of life, and this is what makes the fundamentalists rage. On the eve of 26 January 1998, they brutally massacred 23 members of three Kashmiri Hindu families, including two infants and nine women in Wandhama village adjoining Kshir Bhavani, for daring to stay back despite the general exodus of the community. This was clearly to deter Hindus from coming to visit their shrines. With the same idea, jihadis have been lobbing grenades at pilgrims to the holy Amarnath cave almost as regular terror tactics. But Hindu faith overpowers fear and a record five lakh pilgrims visited the holy cave this year, to the chagrin of the jihadis.
Amarnath is different from other shrines, which are more of local or regional importance. What happened to them remained largely unknown to the country thanks to our “secular media” and its distaste for truth, and of course the callous ruling class. The yatra to the holy cave, however, has a pan-Indian character. Pilgrims from all over India have been going there for centuries for darshans of the miraculous self-made snow Shiva lingam, with hymns on their lips and a desire for spiritual merit in their hearts. Shiva is believed to have given ambrosia to the gods at this place and made them truly immortal.
This concept of Amriteshwara Shiva is unique to Kashmir Shaivism, but strikes a chord of deep devotion in every Hindu heart. But for the fanatics who want to impose on Kashmir an exclusivist Islamic order, this is an anathema. Politically, this is a corollary to the demand to retain the current Muslim-majority character of Kashmir ; a point on which all political parties in the Valley, Peoples Democratic Party, National Conference and even Congress, are one. This was why Sheikh Abdullah arm-twisted Jawaharlal Nehru to include Article 370 in the Constitution.
It is pertinent that during his tenure as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir , Mufti Sayyid stunned everybody by trying to officially change the names of two well-known hills of Srinagar , Hari Parbat and Shankaracharya, very sacred to the Hindus, to Koh-i-maran and Takht-i-Suleiman respectively. He had to retreat before the stiff opposition. Earlier, 800 historical place names in the Valley were changed to Islamic ones by Sheikh Abdullah and Dr. Farooq Abdullah through government circulars, to wipe out vestiges of Kashmir ’s Hindu heritage. Islamists merely seek to take this to its logical conclusion by ‘freeing’ Kashmir of the pollution of other faiths. They balk at the sight of Hindu pilgrims from all over India coming to pay obeisance at Amarnath.
The recent violence by separatist outfits in the Kashmir Valley was not just over allotment of 100 acres of land to the SASB, but because of the perceived threat to the agenda of turning Kashmir into another Taliban country. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s charge after resigning, that the agitation was funded by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia , is significant. It shows an international conspiracy of Islamic fundamentalists to make Kashmir an arena of pan-Islamic terror.
Their intolerance of Hindu cultural presence in the Valley, whether by way of pilgrimages or any other form, must be viewed in this perspective. Their game seems to be to altogether scuttle the Amarnath yatra by making such pilgrimage places hazardous and inaccessible to Hindus. This has given the issue the dimension of a clash of civilizations. Hindus have to stop the jihadi mindset from guiding the course of events in the Valley.
From Kailash Mansarovar to Panchakedars to Amarnath, Shiva reigns supreme in the whole inner Himalayan region as the most beloved deity, with Devi dominating the outer Himalayas from Kamakhya in Assam to Vaishnodevi in Jammu . Hindus have already lost Kailash to the Chinese because of Mr. Nehru’s ill-conceived foreign policy. Will they now allow Amarnath to be lost to the Islamists? If that happens the whole of the Indian Himalayas will be de-Sanskritized and literally become Hindukush (“Hindu-killer”). History is calling upon us to decide if we will let that happen.
As holy Amarnath with its “wild grandeur of glaciers and eternal snows” shows, Kashmiri Hindus have chosen the most charming spots of scenic beauty in the Valley for pilgrimage and worship. This is not only because such places held a great aesthetic appeal for them, but because “they viewed Nature as the manifold manifestation of the Almighty.”
Unlike the Muslims, the cultural identity of Kashmiri Hindus is shaped by the sacred soil of Kashmir and is not an import from far off lands. Hindus love every inch of this soil and celebrate it in their myths, legends and folklore. To them the Vitasta ( Jhelum ) is not just a waterway draining the Valley, but the loving embodiment of the Mother Goddess, sustaining life. Though uprooted by the perpetrators of jihad, they are trying to hold tenaciously to their civilisational ethos. It is an uphill task. From its very advent, Islamic rule has made every effort to appropriate by force the indigenous sanctuaries of Hindu faith or destroy them altogether, in order to erase all traces of Kashmir ’s pre-Islamic past which they are unable to stand up to.
The author is an eminent scholar