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On the road between Pahalgam and Srinagar

INDIA | Thursday, 19 September 2013 | Views [2292]

 

Road from Pahalgam to Srinagar

 

 Kashmir is full of learning experiences.  Even during the 88 km trip from Pahalgam to Srinagar there was ample opportunity to get glimpses of beautiful ancient temples giving testimony to a glorious past that stands in contrast to the way the people live today.

 

 I had read about an ancient sun temple in Mattan and as we were passing right by there asked to stop.  We arrived at a fairly large relatively modern complex where the sign stated that this is the only Sun Temple in No. India.  It is, because it is the only one that is still for worship.  One enters the temple bypassing a large and two smaller, although still big, ca. 20x30ft, fishponds with ‘holy fish’ before climbing up a short staircase to a guesthouse-pilgrimage rest house off to the left and the temples to the right. A newly constructed beautiful Shiva family chisled from one piece of white marble is in a tent like structure awaiting the construction of a new temple to house it. (The picture didn’t come out well because of the way the light reflected off the glass.) The Sun Temple itself houses a relatively small, ca. 2ft., idol of Surya, the Sun god, who is beautifully clothed. Perpendicular to the Sun Temple is a brightly decorated temple dedicated to Rama, Sita, Laksmani, and Hanuman.  On the side of the first set of pools by the entrance off to the right as one enters is a Guru Nanak shrine for the Sikhs.  We never did make it to the archeological site as the driver didn’t know where it was & I couldn’t explain it to him as the directions I had from the web were fairly vague.

 

 

From there we were supposed to be on a direct course to the Avantipur ruins, but were faced with a number of detours due to “curfew.” We had to take numerous  side & back roads to get to the main Jammu-Srinagar highway, as the roads near Anantnag were closed. Soldiers and police were throughout the region, blocking our path and continually redirecting us. They were there to make sure the people who live here didn’t leave their houses or villages, although we did see a number of people hanging out in front of the shops on the street.  The driver, who regularly shuttles people between Pahalgam and Srinagar had never been on any of these off- track routes and repeatedly had to ask the local people we passed for the directions to the main road.  I was happy to see that the myth of men not asking for directions appears to be a Western construct as here (and in Central Asia) the drivers always check with the locals.  While the detours were somewhat nerve-wrecking for the driver, and the curfew was clearly detrimental to the populace, who after nine days were lacking staples and supplies, I was glad to have this glimpse into some of the villages. We passed huge apple orchards from where the produce is divided into three groups, one for export to the Western countries, one for national Indian consumption, and the remains for the local populace.  We also passed rows and rows of walnut trees that will also provide an income to the villagers.

 

 

After detours of probably about an hour, we got back to the main route just below the archeological site of Avantipur.  This is the remains of a 9th C Vishnu temple, that was laid out in a Greek style with Greek columns lining the periphery which had 69 outside temples that enclosed the central Vishnu temple and six/seven (I couldn’t quite tell) temples in the courtyard around the central one.  Each of the temples was dedicated to another divinity.  What was special about this site, was that one could still make out many of the reliefs in the worn stone structures. The best part of this temple for me was finding a Lakshmi holding a cornucopia much the way Demeter does.  Not far from Avantipur is the temple dedicated to Shiva, built around the same time, in the same style.

 

Kashmir has had a ping-pong like history of rulers trying to control the people, or letting them and their various religious cultures blossom.  The ruler who built these two temples, Avantivarman, was one of the good guys, while in the 14th C Sultan Sikandar came to power and destroyed much of the Hindu and Buddhist artifacts, temples and stupas. It was shortly after this that Islam became the dominant religion in the region, but, for the populace, it was an Islam based in a combination of Kashmiri Shaivism and Sufi mysticism.  It was the mystics who converted the people more than the threat of the sword, which is why there was a fair amount of religious toleration here until Partition. Since then, the border issue is intricately aligned with religious tension. As late as 1991, there was supposedly a movement against the Hindu pundits in the region and they were warned to leave.  Whereas prior to that time about 35% of the population was Hindu, today only about 5% is.  Their land was basically confiscated (they were offered a pittance for it) and much of the former pundit property is where the army now has its bases. Without exception, all of the Kashmiris I spoke with, both Muslim and Hindu, said that there was never a threat from the people against the Hindu community, but that the threat was fabricated by the government.  I’m sure the truth is deeply buried somewhere, and we will never really know what happened. The same is true of the recent killings of five Kashmiri men, which led to the “curfew.” The first four happened a few days before the last one, when unknown men entered the guy’s house and shot him.  The official word was he was killed because he was a militant, but the local story is that since his release from prison three years ago, he hadn’t done anything other than work in the fields and be ‘a family man.’ The Kashmiris are, I think justifiably, upset that someone can simply march into one’s house and kill them without any governmental repercussions. The huge presence of the military, that doesn’t appear to be primarily for border control but for people control, only contributes to their frustration. No one I spoke with had any desire to be with Pakistan; they all said they’re happy to be part of India but don’t like being treated as if they were criminals and the scum of the earth simply because of their religion. This is a theme I heard throughout Central Asia; ‘everyone is killing Muslims’  seems to be a common sentiment. This attitude is being fostered by various t.v. shows with imams and Sharia law scholars and is, unfortunately, supported by international newscasts. Not the least of which is the latest killings in Thailand by Buddhist monks.

 

 After the detours and sacred sites, our trip on the road from Avantipur to Srinagar passed by a number of cricket bat factories, and I was amazed at the number of them.  Not having any knowledge of the sport, I was surprised to see this seemingly active industry in this rather remote area. The driver informed me that Kashmir has a very good cricket team and that Srinagar has the one international stadium in No. India.  Later on I found out that only one international game was ever played in the stadium and that was in 1985.  It seems that Kashmir was playing against Indonesia and to support the Kashmiri team, some people held up Pakistani flags.  Clearly India wasn’t happy with that and so ended the not-so-illustrious career of the sports stadium and the Kashmiri cricket team.

 

 After the cricket factories, came the saffron fields, which were about two weeks away from blooming.  The fields were very well cared for and a few people were out working in them, although it was lunchtime when we passed by. Saffron is said to be a wonderful cure-all and is delightful in Kashmiri tea.  It isn’t cheap, though, even here where it grows.

 

 When we came into the city the road bisects enormous army barracks, in what is called the “Srinagar Containment Area.” I can’t remember ever seeing so many soldiers in one place since I taught at Grafenwöhr Army Barracks in Germany on the Czech border in the 80s. There are a lot of very big guns on these streets.

 

 Finally in Srinagar, I made a beeline to one of the hills in the center of the city that has a famous Shankaracharya Temple and a great view Dal Lake.  I was disappointed that the Temple is now controlled by the army, which, like in Jammu, doesn’t allow cameras on site.  I was completely frisked and literally everything was taken out of my handbag and inspected, including the tissue packages. After getting through the controls and climbing the 330 steps to the Temple, I was greeted by an amazing scene. The view from the top was spectacular; the rain had just stopped, the clouds were hanging about half way on the hillsides so that they reflected on the waters of the lake and were fabulous.  I’m sorry I couldn’t take any pictures to share with you.

 

Shankaracharya Hill has been the site of ancient temples dating back to the 2nd BCE at least. An early Buddhist temple was supposedly built by Jalauka, the son of Emperor Asoka, before the Shankaracharya temple was constructed. A series of structures have been built and destroyed on the site. The current one was built in about the 9th C. A Muslim shrine is on the side just below the major Shiva temple on top.  The hill is also called the “Throne of Solomon” like in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, and there is a local legend that Solomon visited here. Moses’ tomb is supposed to be about 60km north of the city by Bandipur, and Jesus (called here Isa,  Yuz Asaf or Hazrat Yuzu Asaph) is supposed to have been raised by the Lord after the crucifixion, which did not result in his death, but only a deep coma. When he awoke he came to the Kashmir Valley through the Pir Paanchaal mountains following the Doodganga River Valley into Yousmarg where he stayed for a few months before continuing on to Srinagar. According to at least one legend, he also preached from this hill.

 

The http://www.mukti4u2.dk/Srinagar_Shankaracharya_Temple.htm website states:

 

Mulla Nadri wrties in the first history of Kashmir, "Tarikh-i-Kashmir", 1420AD:
"Raja Ach ascended the throne and ruled for 60 years. He founded the town of Achabal in Kotiar, Kashmir. After his death, his son Gopananda ruled the country, under the name of Gopadatta. During his reign many temples were built and repaired. At that time the dome of the temple on the top of Solomon hill had cracked. He asked one of his ministers, named Sulaiman, who had come from Persia, to repair the cracked dome of the temple. On this, the local Hindus raised objections saying that as Sulaiman was an infidel and followed another religion, he had no right to repair the sacred temple of the Hindus.

 

During this very period, Hazrat Yuzu Asaph arrived from the Holy Land, Bait ul Maquaddas, to the Holy Valley, Wadi a Aqddas, and proclaimed his ministry. He absorbed himself in prayers day and night, and having attained an elevated position in virtue and piety, he declared to the people of Kashmir that he was the messenger of God. He called upon the people to follow the words of God, and many believed in him. Thereupon, Raja Gopadatta referred the objections of Hindus to him for his decision. It was under his orders that Sulaiman, whom the local Hindus named Sandiman, completed the repairs of the cracked dome of the temple, in the year 54. Sulaiman also had engraved the following inscriptions on the stones leading to the stairs of the temple: "During this period Yuzu Asaph declared his Ministry. He was Yusu, the Prophet of the Children of Israel".

 

In a work by a Hindu it is said that this Prophet was in reality Hazrat Issa, the Soul of God - on whom be peace and salutations. He had assumed the name of Yuzu Asaph during his life in the valley. The real knowledge is with Allah. After his demise, Hazrat Issa, on whom be peace and salutations, was laid to rest in the tomb in the locality of Anzimar. It is also said that the rays of prophethood used to emanate from the tomb of this Prophet. Raja Gopadatta passed away after having ruled for 60 years and 2 months."

 

 

Issa is said to have lived until the very ripe old age of 120 and his tomb is in Rozabal a section of Old Town Srinagar, which is now a very poverty stricken area. The tomb is under lock and key and I wasn’t able to find anyone to open it for me, but was instead confronted with some very irate men who upbraided me for taking pictures of the structure.  Nonetheless, there was a small side window open, so I was able to get a rather lousy picture of the tomb inside now covered with green blankets.  On the web, you can find a much better description and good pictures by someone who was able to get in:

 

http://www.mukti4u2.dk/Jesus_Rozabal_Srinagar.htm

 

 

The justification for Moses in Kashmir is synopsized on: http://nitaaiveda.com/All_Scriptures_By_Acharyas/Nandanandana_Dasa/The_Vedic_Prophecies/The_PROPHECY/MOSES_IN_KASHMIR.htm

 

MOSES IN KASHMIR

 

 

Not only was Solomon in Kashmir, but there is significant history and evidence that Moses was also here. In fact, Kashmir is considered to have the burial site of Moses. There is a grave-site that has been maintained for over 2700 years near the plains of Mowu, once called Moab, above Pishnag, once known as Pisga. This is on Mount Nebo and about 15 kilometers across from Bandipur, which was  once known as Behat-poor and Beth-peor. This is considered to be the burial place of Moses. The logic behind this is that the book of Deuteronomy (34.4-6) explains that Moses died in the land of Moab  and was buried near Beth-peor. "And the Lord said unto him, 'This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed; I have caused thee to see it with thine own eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.' So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord."

 

 It is also explained elsewhere in the chapter that Mount Nebo in the Abarim Mountains, Mount Pisga, and Heshbon are in the vicinity. The biblical land of Moab is now called the plains of Mowu. Biblical  Pisga is now called Pishnag. Beth-peor was later called Behat-pur near the Jhelum River, which is called the "Behat" River in Persian. Now Behat-pur is called Bandipur, and the village with the biblical  name of Heshbon {Deuteronomy 4.46) is now called Hasba or Hasbal. This area is about 80 kilometers north of Srinagar. If we travel to this area today, Bandipur (Beth-peor, meaning "the place that  opens") is near where the Jhelum (Behat) River opens into the plains of Lake Wular. Another 18 kilometers north we find the village of Hasbal, both towns mentioned in the Bible. Mount Nebo, in the  Abarim Mountain range, is across from Bandipur and above the village of Pishga. Mount Nebo offers a great view of the heavenly land of Kashmir.

 

 Twelve kilometers north of Bandipur we come to the town of Aham-Sharif. From here we go by foot to reach the village of Booth at the base of Mount Nebo. We head west for an hour, taking a vague  path up a steady slope. Several fields away is the tiny town of Booth with Mount Nebo rising behind it. Here we'll need to get the attendant of the grave, called the "Wali Rishi," to guide us the rest of the way. He leads us up to an open garden where there is a small mausoleum. This is the burial site of Sang Bibi, an Islamic female saint, and two of her followers. Nearby is a stone column in the grass that stands about a meter tall which is accepted as marking the grave of Moses. Other places in Kashmir are also related to Moses. Near Shadipur north of Srinagar, the cliffs near the confluence of the  Jhelum and Sindh rivers are called Kohna-i-Musa, "the cornerstone of Moses," where Moses is said to have rested. Three kilometers north of Bandipur is another of Moses's resting spots at Ayat-i-Maula. About 46 kilometers south of Srinagar is a place called Bijbihara. This is a spot on the river bank referred to as Moses' Bath. The stone lion there is said to be about 5000 years old. At Bijbihara's cemetery there is an inscription in Hebrew on an old grave. Further evidence is found a few kilometers away where you can see the Temple of Martand that resembles the steps, vestibule, pillared hall, and interior of a traditional Jewish temple, in spite of the Hindu demigods carved on the outside.

 

 

The Kashmir Valley has often been called “Paradise on Earth,” so it is not at all surprising to find legends that tie the founding fathers of the various Biblical traditions to this area.  It was also the home of some of the leading thinkers and scholars in both Buddhism and Hinduism, including Nagarjuna, Vasumitra, Kumarajiva (who brought Buddhism to China), and Kashmiri Shaivist scholars Vasugupta and Abhinavagupta, as well as Shankaracharya, who almost single handedly reinstated Hinduism on the subcontinent after centuries of Buddhist thought. Near Harwar, just north of Srinagar, there was a leading Buddhist University, that was only second to Nalanda in importance. Given this illustrious history it is sad to see the state of education today. Given the ‘curfew,’ exams for the university have had to be postponed twice, which makes it very difficult for students to be prepared to sit for them, and I repeatedly heard that the government schools do not prepare the students to do well on the exams.  Whoever can scrape the money together sends their children to the private schools, but even there the delay in exam dates, often for six months or more, hinders their progress.

 

 

One can only hope that the situation for the people here improves. I have found them to be extremely gracious and hospitable.

 

 

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