[Reader-list] Amaranth Yatra

S. Jabbar sonia.jabbar at gmail.com
Mon Jun 30 13:08:17 IST 2008

Dear Rashneek,

It seems that the truth is located somewhere between what you said and what
I said.

I have located and now quote from the relevant section from Aurel Stein’s
notes on the Ancient Geography of Kashmir:

...At its northern end and close  to the great snowy peak..is the tirtha of
AMARESHVARA or Amarnath known by its Ks. name as Amburnath...it is now the
most popular of Kasmirian pilgrimage places... Judging from the scanty
references made to this Tirtha in the Rajatarangini and the Nilmata, it
appears doubtful whether it could have enjoyed in old times quite such great
celebrity as now...

Lawrence writing a good two decades earlier speaks of the Malik family of
Batkot and their share of the offerings (p.298):

The offerings of the cave are divided into three parts— one goes to the Lal
Gir Sadhu, one to the Pandits of Mach Bawan, and one to the Maliks of

It seems unlikely to me that the Lal Gir Sadhu or the Pandits of Mach Bawan
would have agreed to share in the offerings if the Maliks had been mere
transporters.  I think their claim of discovering the cave is not simply a
fiction of Kashmiriyat.

Taking Stein’s work into account and that of Walter Lawrence I’d hazard a
guess that the yatra was a minor one in the days of the Rajatarangini and
over time eventually fell into disuse.  Once the cave was discovered in the
mid-19th c by the Maliks the yatra benefited from royal (Dogra) patronage —
Lawrence has an amusing anecdote of Maharaja Ranbir Singh racing to reach
the shrine before the sadhus, and the sadhus not being amused— and the yatra
grew to become a regular feature.

Whatever its provenance, the point is that the yatra has become a political
tool for all groups concerned and that fragile environments cannot support
wanton pollution, whether it is the Lidder or the Jhelum or the Dal Lake.

Best regards

On 6/30/08 11:30 AM, "rashneek kher" <rashneek at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear Sonia,
> I am afraid about your understanding of the "recentness" of the Amarnath
> Piligrimmage is far from correct.Please do read Rajatarangni and you will know
> that this was a piligrimmage even in ancient times.It was called Amreshwar
> then.Just go the appendix of the Stein's translation to see how old the
> piligrimmage is.
> I cannot say with precision who started this new idea of it being a recent
> pilgrimmage but it somehow seems to suit the Kashmiriyat wadis to say that.It
> was only re-discovered in 1860 by the Malik shephered.
> While I agree that the piligrimmage should be restored to its 15 days time and
> no more,I cannot cannot understand how 100 acres of land could have changed
> the demography of Kashmir.Strange as it may seem the very people who by
> driving away almost the entire Pandit population have changed the demography
> seem to be crying foul now.
> It is also pertinent to note that while Vitasta was used to receiving the
> nirmal(the water post the pooja mixed with flowers) it was Sheikh Abdullah who
> built all the toilets on the Viatasta banks so that the Hindus could no longer
> pray or do Sandhya(the prayer rituals) on the banks of the Vitasta.Did that
> not pollute,I wonder.The Anchar and Nallah Maer were reduced to garbage dumbs
> and so were the abodes of Mangleshwar Bhairava and Nandkeshwar Bhairwa(in
> small ponds)so that somehow their sanctity could be defiled.In process not
> just the environment but entire Kashmir got polluted.Eve Dal is a pale shadow
> of its past.Who has occupied it?Certainly not the SASB or any Indian Agency or
> the Army.
> The very leaders who are now at the forefront of this agitation including the
> venrable Geelani Saab are the biggest encorachers of land in Kashmir.Why did
> they not speak out when thousnads of kanals of Forest land were being cleaned
> over Shopian and Bandipore,I wonder.?
> The Lingam is melting because even the Lord is sick of us
> "Kashmiris".Meanwhile "the curse of Lakshmi lives on"
> Love
> Rashneek
> On 6/30/08, S. Jabbar <sonia.jabbar at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Dear Friends,
>> A considerably flattened and shortened (read boring) version appeared in the
>> HT today.
>> Best
>> sj
>> Politics of Pilgrimage
>> By Sonia Jabbar
>> Until two weeks ago, the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave in the high
>> Himalayas bore testimony to the symbiotic relationship between Kashmiri
>> Muslims and the Hindus of the plains.  The continuing communal tension,
>> bandhs, demonstrations, stone-pelting mobs, and retaliatory fire by the CRPF
>> and police that have taken the lives of four lives so far, threaten to
>> overturn it.
>> For once the Government of India cannot blame Pakistan. The credit for the
>> chaos that recalls the vitiated atmosphere of the 1990s must firmly be
>> placed at the feet of a few key players in the state, some of who have tried
>> to gain dubious advantage in an election year.
>> The first on the list of honour is the head of state, Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha
>> (retd.).  Due to retire on June 4 this year, the octogenarian governor
>> nonetheless insisted that the state government, in a wholly illegal move,
>> transfer 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB)
>> of which he is the president.  This was done ostensibly to build permanent
>> accommodation for the pilgrims en route to the cave.
>> Correspondence between the concerned departments reveal that the Forest
>> Department had strongly objected to the transfer, citing the fragile
>> environment and the downright illegality of taking over forest land, but the
>> Forest and Law Ministers had pushed it through regardless.  Was it
>> cussedness, corruption or a sheer slide into dementia that prompted these
>> gents to do what they did?  One will never know, because the former Governor
>> has retreated into a stony silence, and the ministers in question are too
>> busy doing gymnastics to appear as the injured party.
>> Once the information of the land transfer was leaked, and the concerned
>> Forest Minister, Qazi Afzal of the PDP questioned, his party turned tail and
>> placed the blame squarely on the Congress.  The Congress blackmailed the PDP
>> into obliging the governor and would have blocked the construction of the
>> Mughal Road, which is to link the Muslims areas of Rajouri and Poonch with
>> the Valley.  Or such was the breathless claim of a personage no less than
>> the Deputy Chief Minister, Muzaffar Hussain Beig.  The Valley erupted.  The
>> Congress was accused of communalizing the atmosphere and the PDP threatened
>> for the nth time to pull out of the government.  In a stunning revelation,
>> the PDP accusation turned out to be a complete hoax, but by then no one was
>> listening.
>> The Hurriyat, that had been unemployed the last few years because of
>> Pakistan¹s internal problems suddenly woke up to an Œissue¹ and declared
>> that the land transfer was the first move towards a demographic change in
>> Kashmir.  No one bothered to ask the venerable leaders how many million
>> Œoutsiders¹ would fit into 100 acres of land at an altitude of 10,000 ft.
>> Though the leaders have been at pains to state that this was not a communal
>> issue, the fact is that neither the 700,000 kanals of land that have long
>> been occupied by Indian security forces nor the several thousand kanals of
>> land given to projects like the rail link to Kashmir have generated a
>> similar response.
>> Across the Pir Panjal in Jammu, in a move mirroring the Hurriyat, the BJP,
>> Bajrang Dal, VHP and sundry Hindu groups organized a strike to oppose the
>> Kashmiris.  How the people of Jammu should be affected by the building of
>> permanent structures or not on the Amarnath route no one stops to ask
>> because passions have been inflamed and everyone is out on the streets
>> screaming blue murder, and all of this helps thugs to substantiate their
>> claim of being the sole custodians of Hindu interests.
>> It takes a particularly diabolical genius to manufacture a crisis out of
>> thin air.  In a secular state the government has no business getting
>> involved in religious affairs, whether it is meddling in Hindu pilgrimages
>> or providing an entirely questionable Haj subsidy to Muslims‹ one that only
>> bankrolls a bankrupt Air India.
>> The Amarnath pilgrimage, compared to ancient Hindu tiraths is a fairly
>> recent affair, and came into being only in the 1850s when the cave with its
>> ice lingam was discovered by a Muslim shepherd.  His descendents, together
>> with Hindu sadhus, continued to be involved in the organization and
>> logistics of the pilgrimage until 2001. From all accounts the pilgrimage ran
>> smoothly for a hundred and fifty years, even at the height of militancy,
>> until the J&K Government stepped in.
>> If there is a case of fixing something that ain¹t broke it is this.  Ever
>> since the government took over, the SASB has been mired in controversy.  In
>> 2004, the Governor decided to extend the pilgrimage from one to two months.
>> Why, when the ice lingam has a life of a month, don¹t ask.  A second route,
>> bulldozed through fragile mountains via Baltal from the north, 30 km shorter
>> than the traditional route, was regularized. All kinds of new and Œimproved¹
>> facilities, including a helicopter service to the cave were advertised. The
>> result was an increase in traffic from a few thousand pilgrims to 400,000.
>> Can high altitudes sustain large populations, even if it is for a short
>> period?  The State Pollution Control Board complained bitterly about the
>> sheer quantity of garbage and human waste that was generated during the
>> yatra, and which flowed straight into the pristine Lidder River. The SASB¹s
>> response to this environmental disaster of its own making was a promise to
>> build more toilets. In 2005, on a hike in the sylvan Betab valley soon after
>> the yatra closed, I walked straight into the lies and realized to my horror,
>> that the 400,000 much preferred a lota and the woods to the sarkari
>> latrines.
>> In 2006, the mahant who had been involved in organizing the yatra all these
>> years, Deepender Giri, resigned from the SASB in disgust, accusing the
>> Governor of creating an artificial lingam.  The ice lingam had begun to melt
>> earlier than normal because of unseasonal heat and the unreasonable number
>> of pilgrims entering the cave.  In a move to stem the melting lingam and the
>> howl of protest by the pilgrims who felt they¹d been cheated, the Governor,
>> without consulting the board, had ordered bags of dry ice to be placed
>> around the lingam.  Another howl of protestŠ
>> In all this cacophony the wise pilgrim should pause and consider the object
>> of pilgrimage. In this case it is Shiva. Once, a long time ago a Bengali
>> babaji who lived in the Khir Bhavani temple in Ganderbal reminded me,
>> ŒPlaces that are associated with Vishnu are calm and peaceful.  Kashmir is
>> always in ferment because it belongs to Bhairav and Kali.¹  Shiva is the
>> creator, preserver and destroyer.  In the skandas he is constantly called
>> upon to maintain order, to restore the balance of the universe. This he does
>> sometimes by dancing the tandav, the dance of destruction.  The wise pilgrim
>> should ask why it is that the lingam has begun to melt.
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