J&K has many religious places for pilgrimage. The state at one time was the main centre of Shaivism sadhana and you get to see innumerable Shiva temple spread all around J&K. We know about Amarnath caves, what many are not aware of is the Shivkhori caves in Raesi district. Reasi is an ancient town of Jammu that was established by Raja Bhim Dev during the 8th Century and was also the erstwhile capital of Bhimgarh Estate. The caves are naturally formed where you see naturally formed deities like Shiva, Parvati, Kamdhenu, Trishul and so many. Though Shivkhori is not a very popular pilgrimage place to visit but it has its own importance. And a visit to the place takes our faith to another level.
The walk from the moment you enter the cave and reach the inner sanctum is sheer thrill. It is nothing short of a divine heavenly experience filled with adventure at every step. The pathway is too narrow at places and even low. You need to stoop low, crawl or bend sideways to move ahead. They have lights placed yet it is quite low and at many points it’s almost dark. Oxygen level also gets low as you enter deep into the cave. All factors together makes things bit suffocating inside. The cave is supposed to be protected by Naagraj Vasuki. Some say its protected by Sheshnaag. But one interesting thing to see is the walls of the cave. It looks exactly like a snake skin!
River Doodh Ganga flows at this point and water of this river trickles inside the cave. When you reach the inner sanctum you see a swayambhu shivling, interestingly just above it you see water from river Doodh Ganga dropping over this shivlng nonstop. Here you will find natural impression on rocks which would resemble not just Lord Shiva but also Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesh, Nandi, Kamdhenu, Sudarshan Chakra etc. It’s a place where all Gods are present in their natural form. In this cave there’s another cave which directly goes to Amarnathji according to a saint who lived there named as Baba Ramesh Giri. It is now closed as some sadhus who dared to go ahead never returned.
As legends go that pleased with the demon Bhashmasur, Lord Shiva had bestowed him with a power that could make him kill anyone by keeping his hand on its head. Bhasmasur wanted to kill Lord Shiva to test the boon. So Lord Shiva fought with him but could not kill Bhasmasur. Fearing his wrath Lord Shiva threw his Trishul that made indents in the earth’s crust creating the now famous Shivakhori (Khori means Cave) and entered in with Maa Parvati and Nandi for safety and asked Lord Vishnu to help him out. So it was Lord Vishnu who then killed the asur through trick. Once the demon was killed Lord Vishnu entered the cave along with all the other Hindu Deities and later returned back home. According to devotees, the incredible amounts of natural formations found inside the caves of Shivkhori are considered the holy images of those same Deities.
Personal eclipses come and go in our lives. A time, maybe brief, maybe longer, when we feel the light has gone and the darkness is all we perceive. Through spiritually, lunar eclipses are important in that they ask us to let go of the old, the negative, and the stale in our lives and embrace the new, the positive and the fresh state of mind.
31st January 2018 we had rare astronomical phenomena. It’s a rare celestial phenomenon as three Lunar events occur at the same time.
This is the second full moon in a month (hence called Blue Moon, it’s just a name not that moon turns blue) – which is rare and it’s a total lunar eclipse, which is considered to be rare as well. Continue reading
Beautiful scenery at the temple
On the banks of river Liddar in Pahalgam, Kashmir, is situated the ancient Mamalaka Shiva Temple. Liddar river divides into two branches at this point in Pahalgam and the temple lies on the bank of right branch. It is known as Mamaleshwar and was a popular destination for all pilgrims going to Amarnath. Now the temple is a protected one under ASI as its the oldest temple of Kashmir dating back to AD 400 and they have taken some steps to preserve this ancient temple of historical importance. This ancient temple finds itself in Kalhanas Rajatharangini.
Come 21st December, and the harsh winters of Kashmir get started. With snow at every nook and corner, Kashmir do looks beautiful. But the life of locals gets really tough especially with regards to warming the houses. They have found some unique methods to keep themselves warm. There’s Kangri that they use. It’s a basket with an earthen pot inside carrying burning coal/wood. It keeps an individual warm. But they also have ways to keep the rooms warm especially those which have been constructed of concrete.
With each passing day, we move forward leaving the old behind. Newer ways of life have affected even the architecture of our houses; many old architecture practices suited to weather have given way to newer fancy architectures. But somehow in Kashmir, age old hamaam seem to have made its entry in households, more because of the scarcity of electricity during winters. In a place like Kashmir, where round the clock electricity is a distant dream, this is reason enough to make Hamaam popular. The common man of the old times could only enjoy the benefits of the community Hamaams, and till recently only in the mosques, it was a unique aspect of the Kashmiri mosque-going culture. People, most of them poor, would wait outside mosque bathrooms at dawn since this was the only place that offered affordable hot-water baths. It still is where community members gather to discuss politics and local mohalla issues. Continue reading
Kashmir is known as the Paradise of Earth for no other reason than the mesmerising beauty it casts in all four seasons of the year. Spring comes in the floral blossoms of charm, while summers flourish in lush green colour charm, breath taking snow fall in winter prime, the autumn comes in an essence of brazen charm that no one in love with life can ignore. The harud (autumn) is when the hustle and bustle in Kashmir villages begin with the season of harvest. The green turns to gold and then to russet and red; leaves fall to melodious cracking sounds under the feet of passers-by beneath the shades of the Chinar (maple) trees. In autumn the crimson red-carpeted gardens in Kashmir are a feast for the eyes.
Harud (Autumn) is also connected to history of Kashmir. Kashmir during the reign of King Yusuf Shah Chak, lost its freedom to Emperor Akbar after defeating him twice earlier. And this happened during the season of harud in the year 1856. (P.S: Kashmiris never accepted the rule of Mughals and indulged in stone pelting on them.)
‘Harud’ in its literal sense stands for ‘melancholy’. In Kashmir, it’s a time when whole nature is at its glory. The poetic nuances over Kashmir’s Harud are indeed beautiful in poetic sense.
‘Harud’ is the harbinger of the long winter of freeze – Yes the “Freeze” that has set over Kashmir over years!
Kashmir has pristine natural beauty to offer us. Even people here are really loving and warm by heart. They truly believe in Atithi Devo Bhava. They go extra mile to see their guests are happy. I had my booking at a hotel in Lal Chowk and within two days got very friendly with the guy who was entrusted to look after to my needs. And after that he simply refused to allow me to stay in the hotel and took me to his house as an honoured guest. Faisal his name, he stays with his younger brother while his family is in some remote village in Pampore. He guided me to locales where no usual tourists visit, treating me to some great food and visiting different temples & mosques while updating me with the local history behind them.
This article is all about Kashmir’s enticing offering, its food especially Wazwan! Faisal told me that he cannot let me leave Kashmir without treating me to authentic wazwan. It’s usually cooked during some special occasion like marriages. One served in restaurants are really not authentic ones, Faisal said. And I did get the chance!
Wazwan is the most mouthwatering Kashmiri full-course meal, which makes you believe that Gluttony is no sin. And yes, it’s more than just food. It’s the pride and culture, a symbol of hospitality and is treated with great respect. Its preparation is considered an art. The course has some 30 odd dishes and of those 15-20 are all lamb & chicken preparations. Continue reading
For most, Kashmir connotes violence, bombs and disturbance. But Kashmir is lot more. It’s a place that deserves the name Heaven on earth in true sense. Pristine serene nature, it’s like a fairy tale journey! Before visiting the state I had decided to not just visit the usual touristy places, I had made up my mind to visit the off-beat destinations too. And I was not disappointed. The pristine natural beauty, untouched by the evil effects of pollution, honks or population burst, the lesser known Kashmir portrays the real enigma of this heavenly charm on earth!!
And one such trip was to visit the backwaters of Dal Lake and see the waterborne rural life of Kashmiris there. It’s the whole stretch between Dal Lak and Nagin Lake, which is crisscrossed by small water lanes which can easily be called as the Venice of India. After my usual shikara ride on Dal, I decided to take the backwater tour. There do exist some security concerns, so I took along with me my local Kashmiri friend with whom I was staying. With continuous disturbance for years they have now learned to live with it. They know how and when or where to go if trouble arise. Continue reading
On my journey into learning about Shaivism, I knew once I’ll need to visit Kashmir, the home of Shaivism. And finally when I reached here, my first wish was to visit the Shankaracharya temple. The temple, situated atop the hill Takt-e-Suleiman, was built around 371BC by Raja Gopadatya. The works of Kalhana’s Ranjatarangini gives details about the history of this temple. Adi Shankaracharya stayed here when he visited Kashmir to revive Sanatan Dharma and hence the current name.
The Shankracharya Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is thought to be the oldest shrine in the Kashmir valley. The temple, as it stands today, has undergone many repairs throughout its life. The temple is of great importance, not only from the point of view of religion, but also from architectural viewpoint. A high octagonal platform supports the temple, approached by a flight of approximately 250+ steps. The sidewalls of the steps once bore some valuable inscriptions which are now lost after repairs. There is also a Persian inscription inside the temple.
Though the stair’s inscription was not saved, in Kalhana’s work you do get to know the details of the inscriptions. The hill had different names time to time and finally got the current name after a person named Sulaiman (also called Solomon) invaded; he came along with his throne, hence the name Takt-e-Sulaiman. The Persian inscriptions on the stairs said about a visit of a person with the name Yuz Asaf during the reign of Raja Gopadri. He supposedly with his followers renovated the temple. The inscription mentions Yuz Asaf as a prophet from Israel. If you go through Persian literature, you do get to read about a saint named Yuz Asaf. The Jami – uf – Tamarik, Volume II mentions him, you get to read about him also in Agha Mustafa’s “Awhali Shahai-i-paras” that tell of Yuz Asaf’s travels and teachings all over Persia. Continue reading
There is a tradition in India of chewing paan. In Benaras, it becomes integral part of everyone’s life! Benaras always brings forth in mind the “Benarasi Paan”. And every Benarasi gets very emotional when it comes to their Paan. For them anyone can wait but not the Benarasi Paan.
There are interesting stories related to Paan here at Benaras. It’s said once there was a very devoted Benarasi. Every morning he would pray to Kashi Vishwanath with full faith then start with work. One day the Lord, pleased with his devotion, came to him with “Amrit” when he was sitting on the banks of Ganga. He asked the Benarasi to have some of this amrit. But the Benarasi refused saying, “Sorry but how can I have it now?” Lord was surprised; he enquired what the problem was! Benarasi replied calmly, “Maharaj, O Ka Hain Na Ki, abhi eigo benarasi paan ghole hain”. Continue reading
Shimla always evokes a special feeling. Though, Shimla town itself was not where we lived, but all our activities were connected to this British era winter capital. On my last visit to this town, popularly called as Queen of Hills, I decided to take a nostalgic journey to all the points, mainly food joints, which were our favourite ones. Shimla now has all the new joints like Sol, CCD, but the old ones they are still busy ones. We all old “Shimlaites” still swear by those shops. They used to be affordable, fitting perfectly our pockets.
When I was a toddler my Baba used to take me to Indian Coffee House whenever we would visit the town. While others would sit on those old chairs, I was made to sit on the table. And then Baba would let me drink coffee with a spoon.
Mehar Chand sweet shop, popularly called as Mehru’s in Lower Bazaar. This is one of the oldest sweet shops in India, established in 1902. This was our favourite spot to have chhole bhature and Jalebi with lassi. Continue reading
A cup of tea makes everything better but a kullad of chai makes everything the best.
Kullad Chai is what keeps you going in this cold, helps you hopping around, doing your chores outdoor and adds to the fun too. Tea in those plastic cups or even the glasses never tastes the same as one in kullad. Chai from a clay cup; that taste and smell of earth, mixed with sweet milky tea, yes that is the taste of India!! And not to mention the gratifying, childlike pleasure that comes with tossing the single-use clay cup and hearing it crack as it hits the ground and break into bits. In Uttar Pradesh, the common fun name for them in many of the station is, Pee-Ke-Phut. Pee Ke meaning drinking the tea and Phut meaning, the sound it makes when broken.
Ajanta Caves consists of a total of 29 Buddhist monasteries and sanctuaries belonging to the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions dating from 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. These caves were hidden away for thousands of years until British soldiers led by John Smith stumbled upon them while on a hunting mission. They were astonished to see the architecture, stupas and the wall paintings and murals. Unfortunately Smith vandalized the caves by scratching his name on these priceless mural paintings.
Lot of the paintings has deteriorated beyond repair and significant damage had been done to the architecture as well. Several attempts have been made in the past to preserve this wonderful architecture but the unscientific methods adopted in the past were not very successful. To make things worse, certain conservationists coated the murals with shellac (kind of varnish) in a later stage which has become very hard to remove. Climate, Humidity, Ultra-violet radiation, Noise levels, Carbon Dioxide from the exhalation of humans, all such factors affect the conservation of wall paintings. ASI and USESCO have imposed very strict norms to the visitors now. Number of visitors at a time has been restricted; camera flashes and tripods are banned as well. The natural light and at places tiny LED lights is what you get to capture the mural paintings.
The temple at Kedarnath enshrining the Jyotirling of Lord Shiva opens only 6 months a year (April-November). The priests then go to Urvimath, where the worship of Kedareshwar is continued during the winter season. The temple sits at the bottom of majestic Himalayas, peaks always covered under snow, it looks beautiful.
Amazing Ancient Architecture Engineering!
Legend Behind Kedarnath Temple
Legend goes that Nara and Narayana – two incarnations of Vishnu performed severe penance here. Pleased with their devotion, Lord Shiva appeared in front of them and said that they may ask for a boon. Nar and Narayan requested Shiva to take up a permanent abode as a Jyotirling at Kedarnath so that all people who worship Shiva shall be freed from their miseries. According to yet another popular legend, Goddess Parvati worshipped Kedareshwar to unite with Lord Shiva as Ardhanareeswarar. Besides, the Pandavas are believed to have visited this area several times. Arjuna is believed to have come here to pray to Shiva to obtain the coveted Pashupata Astra. Continue reading
There are fire crackers going off around me as I write these words even though Diwali is tomorrow. I took out all my diyas, collected last few years and kept safe. I have this habit of buying different kind of diyas, all shapes and sizes, some painted, others decorated with bright colours. And I keep few for next year.
There is really something so compelling about these earthen lamps. Perhaps somehow they connect me to the earth. Lighting an oil lamp made of mud on Diwali, to me personally feels like somehow akin to rooted to mother earth. And not to mention that fragrance of oil, earth, soot and flame, I come across this smell in old temples that still use these oil lamps and haven’t yet resorted to ugly fluorescent lights. Continue reading
I was sitting on the banks of Ganga at Belur Math. Far off I could hear the bells and conch. Bringing back many memories of many such evenings spent here. I was just back from Israel posting. A company which followed no human work hours, a boss who knew only to talk about codes, no holidays even to come home and top of it family & friends who felt I was deliberately ignoring them; all this had taken a toll mentally. And in this, for the second time my IPR was stolen by a colleague with blessings from top! There was numbness, memories flashing in slow motion. Boats passing by, crossing the Ganges ferrying people to Dakhineshwar but my thoughts were somewhere else. Continue reading