It is really thought provoking as to how the charms of Kashmir are able to lift the soul of a human being. The charm which everybody feels, even those who do not try to analyse it.
It is attributable to its magnificent woods, the pure limpidity of its lakes, the splendour of its snowy mountain tops and the loud murmur of its myriad brooks sounding in the cool fragrant air coupled by the grace of its ancient buildings which forces our spirits to climb the splendid heights.
In Bollywood movies, the doctors would advise the burnt out patients to visit Kashmir for an overhaul of body systems. It may presumably have an effect on the nervous and endocrine system thereby stimulating various neurons and glands secreting the juices of life.
Our ancestors viewed nature as the multifold manifestation of the Almighty. It was for this reason that they invariably chose the most naturally beautiful spots for their sanctuaries. Much of the charm which the religious buildings of Kashmir undoubtedly possess is due to this fact. The main features of the temples that were made in medieval period in Kashmir usually consists of a single chamber with a portico, and is, as a rule, at the point of intersection of the diagonals of the courtyard. The entrance, which is almost equal in dimensions to the main shrine, is a double chambered structure, and is built in the middle of a shorter side of the peristyle. The chambers are divided by a partition wall, which is open in the middle and was probably closed by wooden doors. The entrance has a double flight of steps, one external and the other facing the temple. The stairs are flanked with plain stone rails and sculptured sidewalls.
Some of the temples possess subsidiary shrines. They are usually built in an angle of the courtyard and are similar in plan to the main shrine. The walls are built of finely dressed and massive blocks of limestone. Mortar was used, though not in considerable quantities, as the stones were secured by iron clamps. The joints are usually very thin. The surface was often carved with sculptured reliefs, geometrical and floral patterns.
Time travel machine is what keeps a Kashmiri Hindu latch onto these sanctuaries though many travel throughout the year to get blessings from their gods who stand unravelled by the effect of time and hostilities. Here is reproducing a few eye witness accounts of the major temples .
The Shankaracharya temple is situated on the summit of the Takht - i - Suleiman hill, to the south east of Srinagar. Neither the hill nor the temple preserves its ancient name. In Hindu times the former bore the name of Gopadri, and the latter Jyeshthesvara. The temple is built on a high octagonal plinth approached by a long flight of steps enclosed by two side walls. The greater part of the wall has now fallen. It is believed that Raja Gopadatya got the temple constructed in 371 BC, giving it the name of Gopadri.
The hill of Hari Parbat, crowned by the fort which is visible from every part of the city, has from time immemorial been a place of great sanctity in Kashmir. The name is the Kashmiri equivalent of the Sanskrit Sarika - parvata, “ the hill of Sarika ” (haer = Indian nightingale). A huge lake once housed the water demon Jalodbhava, the monster wrought havoc among the mountains of the adjacent districts, but being invulnerable in his own element, and declining to fight at a disadvantage on land forced Mother to assume the form of a Sarika bird (maina) and taking a pebble in her beak dropped it at the spot where she knew the demon was lying, lulled into false security, finally the pebble swelled into gigantic proportions and crushed the demon by its weight. The pebble to this day survives under the name of Hari Parbat.
The small village of Pandrethan is situated 7 kms above Srinagar on the Anantnag road. The biggest attraction is the mediaval temple behind the willow grove on the left hand side of the Anantnag road . The Pandrethan temple, locally known as 'Paani Mandir' was said to be built around 921 AD and is a great example of Kashmiri temple architecture. The temple seems little externally, and belongs to mantapa type being open on all the four sides. The unusually bold projection of the pilasters which support the pediments of the porches is “ a great improvement upon the ancient architecture. The walls afford a great and pleasing variety of light and shade which is altogether wanting in some parts of the more ancient buildings. The roof is of the usual pyramidal type, but its monotony is relieved by an ornamental band of dentils which divides it horizontally into two storeys.
Another five kms above Pandrethan, the road branches off to the sulphur springs at Wuyan and the Khrew. The branch road skirts the foot of the hills, and after nearly 20 kms, joins the main road at Barus. The village of Loduv is situated on this road at a distance of 5 kms from the latter. It contains two temples, the larger one of which stands in the middle of a shallow tank of water which is fed by a spring in its north east corner. The temple is a very simple square structure externally. It differs from every other temple of Kashmir both in plan and in appearance. Externally the walls are without decoration, their bareness being only partially relieved by a cornice which consists of three courses of stone adorned with projecting fillets.
The village of Avantipur, situated at a distance of 18 kms from Srinagar on the Anantnag road, represents the town of Avantipura, founded by Avantivarman, who reigned Kashmir in 9th century. Its chief attraction are two magnificent temples with which its founder embellished it. The first and larger is the temple of sada Shiva - Avantisvara, whose massive walls rise in forlorn grandeur outside the village of Jaubror, half a mile below Avantipur. The temple, which has been sadly mutilated, is situated in a courtyard enclosed by a massive stone wall, the western face of which is adorned externally with a row of fluted columns, but without any recesses behind. The gateway is in the middle of this wall, and is divided into two chambers by a cross wall. Its walls are not decorated with figure sculpture. The niches and the panels are quite plain. Recently the temple was put to modern abuse by Bollywood where a musical medley was shot with cheerleader dancing.
Half a mile farther up is the small but much more ornate and better preserved temple of Avantiswami Vishnu. It is the work of Avantivarman and has been reclaimed by the removal of an enormous mass of silt which during a thousand years of neglect (for the temple had already silted up when it suffered from the iconoclasts) had accumulated to a height of about fifteen feet and buried the whole structure except the upper part of the walls of the gateway and a shapeless heap of stones in the centre. The wall surface of the entrance is both externally and internally ornamented profusely with sculptured reliefs. The larger female figures on the right and left hand walls of the outer chamber represent the goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, easily recognised by their respective vehicles, the crocodile (makara) and the tortoise. The scenes in the rectangular panel on the right hand pilaster of the wall represent probably a king and his two queens seated.
The most sacred, oldest and important temple dedicated to Divine Mother in Kashmir is of Maharagni (Kheer Bhawani) also known as Tripura Sundri at Tulamula about 24 kms in North East of Srinagar in Gandherbal Tehsil of Sindh valley. There are many references of this temple in Kalhan's Rajatarangni. The holy spring of Tulamula is situated on the bank of a branch of river Sindh, called according to Nilamat Purana, "Tsandara Baga". A curious phenomena observed here is that the water of this mysterious spring changes colours occasionally like purple, light green, faint rosy, milky white and so on. It is said that black colour is inauspicious and is indication of bad and hard times ahead. This temple dedicated to the Goddess Kheer Bhawani constructed over a sacred spring surrounded by Chinar trees. This historic temple was built by Maharaja Partap Singh in the year 1912.
The Shrine of Bala Devi in village Balhama, named after Goddess, is 13 kms from Srinagar and is surrounded by village Wayun in the east, Zewan in north and Pampore in the west. The shrine is connected by a link road and is about 2 kms from Pampore. The temple around five Devdar trees was built by the Dogra rulers in the year 1942. Earlier the shrine was open from all sides, but was fenced in 1975. This ancient shrine has a Shiv Linga, around the five sacred devdar trees, there are twenty stone idols of Gods and Goddesses. The three eved Bala Devi has the moon crescent above her forehead, she has in her hands the book and beads, the other two hands are in Abhay and Dhyan Mudra. She is of red complexion and wears red clothes. At the age of the years she became terribly angry after seeing Bandasura and his thirty sons who were marching ahead for a war. Bala Devi requested her Mother Maha Bhatarika Sri Lalita Tripura Sundari to allow her to fight Bandasura. Her Mother was reluctant to grant permission because of her tender age. After great pursuance she got it. Apart from Mother's blessings she got a shield for her protection, then she proceeded on a chariot towards the battle field. After an intense fight she was able to kill the thirty sons or Bandasura.
Gangbal is situated on the hills of Harmukh range in north east of Kashmir, at a height of 12000 feet. It is surrounded in abundance by natural beauty. It is also the abode of Lord Shiva from whose hair locks (Jattas) the Holy Ganga flows down forming a divine lake. This is centuries old pilgrimage center of Kashmiri Pandits. It is on the Ganderbal - Sonamarg road, the last village Wusan is about 20 Kms. from Srinagar, there onwards the hilly track is to be covered on foot. Ramradhan is the first pilgrimage center about 5 Kms from Wusan. Onward journey to Yam Haer is about 6kms. It is a steep ladder like path, perhaps that is why it is called Yam Hear (Lord Yama's Ladder). After covering it, there is a lake with black water known as ' Bramsaar '. This lake has also divine sanctity. Another stop is at Hamsdar, a beautiful place surrounded by snow clad mountains, is known as gateway of Gangabal. It is now a steep journey towards Sukh Nag, a hot water lake, and then to Dukh Nag, a cold water lake. Pilgrims take bath in both these lakes and proceed finally to Gangabal lake which is just 5 kms away from this place. Gangabal is also called Karmukat Ganga and is believed that this place as pious as Haridwar. The pilgrims perform shradh and immerse the ashes of their dead here for salvation of the souls of their deceased. This Temple Complex was built Lalitaaditya Muktipada one of the most celebrated Kings of Kashmir of the Karkota Dynasty. The current structure was built around the 8th Century. The return journey is from different route via Naran Nag. It is on banks of a rivulet called Krenk Nadi with beautiful temples around. Karakota King Laltaditya Muktapida enlarged and embellished the Jyesthesha and Bhutesha temples at Naran Nag. The temples made of local grey granite are situated in the midest of deep green pine forests.
Kapalamochan Tirtha, popularly known as Nagbal, is a shrine located on the right bank of river Rambiar at Divpora, Shopian, just 2 kms from Shopian, 25 kms from Pulwama proper and about 50 kms from Srinagar. The Tirtha is also known as Balgaya. The Tirtha, named after the holy Nag, Kapalamochan, has been one of the sacred shrines and a pilgrimage centre of Hindus since ancient times. In the shrine, there are four Nags with approximate sizes of 50 ' x 25 ' (main Nag), 20 ' x 15 ' (Sapt Rishi Nag), 100 ' x 60 ' (where gents have Snan) and 20 ' x 15 ' (where ladies have Snan). The main Nag and the Sapt Rishi Nag have fish in abundance. The shrine finds a mention in Rajatarangini. The Mahima (importance of this Tirthasthan is described in Kapalamochana mahatmya (part of Bhringisha Samhita). According to Aurel Stein, " The sacred spring of the latter is supposed to mark the spot where Siva cleaned himself from the sin attaching to him after the cutting - off Brahman head (kapala).
Uma Nagri is a place in Uttarsoo, Anantnag, about 16 kms from Achhabal and 18 kms from Anantnag. The place is famous for Uma Devi Asthapana, also known as Uma Nagri temple complex, comprising of 4 Nags, called Kond, (Brahma Kond, Gauri Kond, Shiva Kond and largest one with a marble temple of Uma Bhagwati, a Dharamshala, forestland and orchards. Goddess Uma is believed to have chosen this place. There is a legend, which talks of how this Asthapana came to light. It is said that, in 1972 AD, a pious person by name Pandit Shiv Ram used to supervise the collection of paddy from the peasants at village Brah. One day after finishing his job, the peasant asked him to clear the paddy grains, sticking to his shawl, before leaving the place. The sarcastic remark from the peasant was too much for him to bear, so he decided to renounce the worldly affairs. He surrendered before the goddess and with great devotion started meditation at a place at Brah. Thereafter, Uma Bhagwati is said to have blessed him and guided him to perform Tapasya at the Nag at Uttarsoo instead. Pandit Shiv Ram went to Uttarsoo, identified the Nag, chose a place nearby and started his Tapasya in front of a burning Dhooni, because of which, he came to be known as Dhooni Baba. In his later years, he became Swami Shivananda. A number of relics of swami ji are preserved at the shrine.
In Naushara, two Shiv Temples at Vichar Nag (spring), 12 kms from Srinagar on its outskirts, were built by King Meghwahan's wife Queen Amrita Prabhalocated in 552 AD, midway between Nowshehra and just half a kilometre inside the Srinagar - Tulamulla road. It is an ancient Tirthasthan, which is known for the holy Vechar Nag and two ancient Shiva temples , one made of chiselled stones and standing on the edge of the holy Nag. At the centre of the holy Nag is a cylindrical stone to which rests a Shivalinga. The Tirtha was known as sath ras Nag . It is said that there were seven Nags, out of which presently 4 exist. One of the Nags is sulphur Nag having the properties of curing the skin disease.
Ropa Bhawani Asthapana at Vaskura (ancient name Vasak Kund) is the shrine where Mata Ropa Bhawani performed her Sadhana for next twelve and half years. By this time, her spirituality had fully blossomed and she began to spread the message of devotion to God. Besides Sanskrit, she also knew Persian. Like Lal Ded, she also gave her messages and teachings in the fom of vaakhs, which besides Sanskrit also show the influence of Persian. Her vaakhs, numbering one hundred and forty five in all, have not received the same appreciation as the vaakhs of Lal Ded did. It is said that at Vaskur she got a well dug by a blind potter, whose eyesight got miraculously restored. A local family, Mattoos by name, has maintained the hut and the well. Her relics, in the form of kant ' opiu (cap) and mas (hair), which had been preserved there, were looted during 1947 AD Qabaili raid. The shrine at Vaskura was developed in 1959 AD and the complex has two double storey buildings, housing a school, a holy well and some landed property. At the shrine, devotees every year perform Mata Ropa Bhawani ' s shraad during kambiur pachh on sahibanhanz satam falling on euushid qat ' iu pachh satam. Her followers also built an Asthapana at Jammu.
Bumzu is a place at a distance of 1 km from Mattan, Anantnag. The place is famous for three cave temples situated on the left bank of Liddar Nala, 60 feet above at a close distance to each other. The one of the caves is a carved architectural doorway, which through a passage leads one to the cave temple. The temple, 10 feet square, is on a raised platform and is reached by a flight of steps. The old square doorway had statues, which were defaced. There is a legend, which gives the origin of these cave temples and links the Bumzu caves and the Chakradhara with king Nara, who succeeded his father Vibishana in the year 993 BC. One day, he beheld Chandrasaha, the daughter of Susravas, a serpent - god, whose place was in a lake and decided to carry her away from her husband, a Brahmin. The plan failed, upon which the enraged Brahmin asked Susravas to avenge the insult, a storm was called up and the earth opened and swallowed the king and his whole Court.
Buniar, located at a distance of 20 kms from Baramulla, is a place famous for an ancient stone temple, known as Buniar Mandir. The temple is identified as the Shiva Rilhaneshvara temple, built by Rilhana, Jayasimha's minister, around 1135. The temple was partly damaged in the attack by the Qabaili raiders (invaders from Pakistan, who raided Kashmir in 1947 AD) with a grenade. However, most of the temple is reported to be in good shape. According to Cunningham, the name Buniar must have come from Bhawani, name of goddess.
Bijbehara (called vejibror in Kashmiri) is a historical town 46 kms from Srinagar. The town is famous for the ancient temples of Vijayeshwari, Kalsheshwar and Mein Mutt, collectively known as Bijbehara Mandirs, as well as for Jyotish Vidhya. The Mandir, built by Raja pand, was 300 yards in height and had a gold plated Kalash. Avantivarman repaired it during his reign. Sikandar Bhutshikan destroyed the grand temple, which was a Tirtha of the Valley since ancient times, and used its material to build Vijeshwar Khankah.
Kalishree Mandir was built by Raja Pravarasena on the right bank of Vitasta at a place presently known as Khankah. Sultan Qutub - ud - din destroyed the temple and foundation of mosque of ' Khankahi maula ' was laid with its material. Ever since Kashmiri Pandits have used a Shila, anointed with Sindhur, on the bank of Vitasta to offer prayers.
Sheuudpur or Shadipur Tirtha, popularly known as Prayag, is a place near Ganderbal at a distance of about 30 kms from Srinagar in its North West. The famous Tirtha is the confluence of two rivers Vitasta and Sendh (Sindhu) and is a sacred place for the community. The name Shadipur (Shadipora) is not very old. It is a contraction of the original form of the name, Shihabuddinpur, name of the town founded by sultan Shihab - ud - din.
Rishi Pir Asthapana, known as bod ' Mandir (bigger temple), is located on the right bank of Vitasta at Batapora, Sopore. The Asthapana, co - located at the Shiva Mandir, has an Icon in the form of a chinar, which is worshipped by the devotees. It is said that a branch of buuen, put upside down at the place of his Asthapana, to the surprise of all after some time took roots and is standing now as a symbol of faith in the form of a fully grown buuen around which a railing has been put.
Mamaleshwar Mamalishwara or Mamishor Mandir is an ancient Mandir located 2 kms from Pahalgam on the right bank of Liddar Nala in Mamal village. The stone temple, considered to be one of the oldest temples and dating back to 8th century, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This ancient temple finds a mention in Rajatarangini and Amreshwar Kalp. The temple is 8 square feet internally and has inside the sanctum sanctorum a Shivalinga, which, according to Rajatarangini, is called Mamishor. It is said that Ganesh Ji was placed as doorkeeper not to allow any one to enter without his permission. So it was called Mam Mal - don ' t go.
Sheetalnath Mandir , named after Sheetalnath, the Bhairava, at Sathu Babrbarshah has an ancient past and has been a witness to the ups and downs of the community over centuries. Besides the religious importance, its campus has historical importance too. Pandit Nehru and Smt. Indira Gandhi, during their visits to the Valley, addressed public from daises in its premises. Many theatre groups are known to have conducted their dramas in its premises. Every year devotees would congregate here for two major events, namely, Basant Panchami and Janam Ashtami. On Janam Ashtami jhaankis would be decorated and taken out in a procession through the city. ASKPC operated from here and The Martand, the newspaper, was started from the complex.
Zeshta or Jyeshta Devi Asthapana, popularly known as Ziethyar , is a Tirthasthan of ancient origin. The shrine has, besides the Mandir of Zeshta Devi in the holy Nag about 15 ' x 20 ' in size, a Puja Mandap, a Shiva Mandir with the Shivalinga shifted from Ganpatyar, a Shila of Lord Ganesh anointed with Sindhur, a Hawanshala, two Dharamshalas, 3 meditation centres and a kitchen block. The shrine is located on Zabarvan hill on Raj Bhawan Marg close to Intercontinental Grand Hotel, old Oberoi Palace Hotel. The locale is known for its greenery in the backdrop. It is believed that the wishes of those who visit the shrine on 7 consecutive Thursdays in the month of zeeth and haar and offer prayers are fulfilled. For this reason, many believers visit the shrine on Thursdays and pay obeisance. In support of their wish they normally tie a thread on the branch of the chinar tree adjacent to the Mandir.
Shurahyar Mandir, also known as Shivatyar Mandir, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located in the foothill of Shankaracharya hill on the right bank of Vitasta. The Mandir is a little inside the Dalgate - Sonwar road just ahead of and on the opposite side of Durga Nag Mandir. The temple is considered as the entry point of the Vitasta into the Srinagar city. The Mandir has a historical importance as the river procession on Maharaja Hari Singh ' s birthday used to start from this Mandir. It is said that on his first visit to the Valley Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, had performed his morning Puja at this Mandir.
Hanuman Mandir is located on the left bank of Vitasta adjacent to Amira Kadal. Pandit Diwan Anant Ram, son of Diwan Kirpa Ram and Prime Minister of Kashmir during Dogra Rule, built the temple 1879 AD. The temple is the only temple in the Valley with the Murti of Panch Mukhi Hanuman.
Gadadhar Mandir, Srinagar was built by Maharaja Gulab Singh in the year 1905 Vikrami (1848 AD) in the back portion of Shergarhi, a fort built by Pathan Governor Amir Khan in 1770 AD. The Mandir is located adjacent to Badshah Bridge on the left bank of Vitasta. The Mandir has a gold plated Kalash (top), which is estimated to have used 2000 tolas of gold for the purpose.
Shiva Mandir located at Dhumpora, Basantbagh, is located on the right bank of Vitasta. Pandit Tika Lal of Badiyarbala, a social activist of the area, with the support of the locals, both Pandits and Muslims, renovated the Mandir. He is also credited with getting and installing Murtis of Durga and Ganesh Ji in the sanctum sanctorum. The shrine has also attached to it some landed property.
The Ganesh Mandir, dedicated to Lord Ganesh, at Ganpatyar is located on the right bank of Vitasta at a place between Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal at Srinagar. Because of the construction of a new bridge, adjacent to Amira Kadal, the temple now stands between Badshah Bridge and Habba Kadal. Maharaja Gulab Singh constructed the Mandir in its present form in the year 1911 but it seems to be historical.
Kathlishwar Mandir is a Shiva Mandir located at Zaindar Mohalla, on the left bank of Vitasta, between Badshah Bridge and Habba Kadal. Besides the Shiva Mandir, the shrine also houses Arya Kanya Girls School, which had given fillip to the spread of education among girl children.
Gopinath Ji Ashram, established in honour of Bhagavaan Gopinath Ji, is co - located at Durga Kharyar, Srinagar. This is the first Ashram, which was founded by the followers of Bhagavaan Gopinath. Later on other Ashrams were established. All these Ashrams are run and managed by Bhagavaan Gopinath Ji Trust, which is a religio - cultural organisation set up by his followers in1971 AD with thirty - one trustees. Finally, the trust has enlarged and renovated the Ashram at Kharyar.
Durga Mandir, popularly known as Vaikhri Durga Mandir, is located Kharyar The Mandir is very old and has, besides the sanctum sanctorum with Murti of Durga, a verandah for devotees and a compound. Bhagavaan Gopinath's Ashram is co - located in the complex.
Ahhavankar Devi Mandir is located on the right bank of Vitasta at Shalyar, Habba Kadal. The Asthapana of Abhayankar Devi Murti was done at the existing Dharmiksthal in 1962 AD.
Soomyar Mandir, located on the right bank of Vitasta adjacent to Habba Kadal to the Lord Someshwara. The Mandir is held in reverence because of its importance of Soma Amavasya, which occurs when Amavasya falls on a Monday, People used to come on pilgrimage to this place, take Snan and offer prayers at the complex.
Raghunath Mandir is located on the left bank of Vitasta at Raghunath Mandir, between Habba Kadal and Fateh kadal. The original name of this Mandir is Ranbir Swami Mandir, built by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1875 AD.
Diwan Mandir is located on the right bank of Vitasta at Fateh kadal, Srinagar. Because of the construction of the new Fateh kadal, the Mandir now stands on the left side of the bridge. Prime Minister Diwan Kirpa Ram built the Mandir during the Dogra rule in 1927.