Monday, June 30, 2008

Significance of the Amarnath yatra - Jagmohan

Kashmir, the home of Vedic rishis is in news again.

The recent development in Kashmir shrouding the pilgrimage facilities for Amarnath yatris

is anything but unfortunate.

It is hoped that the significance of Kashmir in the map of Sanathanic culture

is recognized by one and all.



Significance of the Amarnath yatra

By Jagmohan

(Deccan Chronicle, June 30, 2008)

The controversy surrounding the Amarnath yatra is unwarranted. It is more a product of pride and prejudice than of any substantial issue. The forest land which had been allotted to the Amarnath shrine board was for a specific purpose — providing basic amenities and temporary shelter to the yatris in pre-fabricated structures. I do not understand how this act could, as alleged in some quarters, change the demographic character of the state or undermine the environment on the yatra routes. On the other hand, it would have made the yatra more organised and environment-friendly. The waste would have been taken care of at the camp sites and better administrative machinery would be available to prevent landslides and protect water bodies. In any case, safety of the yatris is paramount.

Heavy rains and sudden hostility of nature are not unusual in this area. It may be recalled that 256 persons lost their lives in a snow storm during the yatra in 1996. Nor should it be forgotten that India is a party to all the UN decisions and declarations on natural disasters. Experience shows that the nations which are vigilant are able to mitigate losses, while those casual in their approach pay a heavy price. For example, the average Japanese disaster kills 63 people, while in Peru, a disaster of the same magnitude takes as many as 2,900 lives.

It is unfortunate that the controversy has diverted public attention from the cultural significance of the yatra. Of all the Indian pilgrimages, the pilgrimage to Amarnath is considered to be the most sacred.

Recalling Swami Vivekananda’s experience, Sister Nivedita wrote: "Never had Swami felt such a spiritual exaltation. So saturated had he become with the presence of the great God that for days after he could speak of nothing else. Shiv was all in all; Shiv, the eternal one, the great monk, rapt in meditation, aloof from the world." Later on, Swami Vivekananda himself recounted: "I have never been to anything so beautiful, so inspiring."

Such is the impression that the Amarnath yatra leaves on the minds of the yatris. After travelling on foot or horse on one of the most enchanting and enthralling routes in the world, the yatris see the "ice-lingam" in all its shining glory and experience the impact of an invisible, yet all pervading, an incomprehensible, yet all-conveying, force of "what was, is and will be".

The yatris perceive Lord Shiv sitting calmly underneath an imperishable canopy provided by the "mount of immortality" and conveying the message of inseparability of the processes of creation and destruction; of every beginning having an end, and every end having a beginning.

The holy cave is accessible only during a short period of time every year, usually during the months of July and August. At that time, inside the cave, a pure white ice-lingam comes into being.

Water trickles, somewhat mysteriously, in slow rhythm, from the top of the cave and freezes into ice. It first forms a solid base and then on it a lingam begins to rise, almost imperceptibly, and acquires full form on purnima. It is believed that on that day, Lord Shiv revealed the secrets of life to Parvati. It is also believed that while Lord Shiva was speaking to Parvati, a pair of pigeons overheard the talk. And this pair still comes to the cave at the time of the yatra as incarnation of Shiv and Parvati.

The present Kashmir Valley, according to Nilamata Purana, was once a huge lake known as Satidesa. It was surrounded by high mountains. To kill a demon, Jalodhbava, who was indestructible under water, Rishi Kashyap made a cut in the mountains and drained off all the water. The land that emerged came to be called Kashmir, after Rishi Kashyap.

At some spots saints and gods carved out their hermitages for meditation. In the course of time these spots acquired special sanctity and made Kashmir a great nursery of Hindu religion.

If the yatris take the traditional route, they proceed to Pahalgam from where a small road lead to Chandanwari, along thick and green woodlands of breathtaking beauty, with the playful stream of Lidder meandering and dancing in between. From Chandanwari, there begins the ascent to Pishu Ghati, reminding the yatris that the path to salvation involves struggle and stamina. A feeling of having been lifted to a heavenly spot dawns upon the yatris when they reach Sheshnag. After getting refreshed with the bath of ice-cold water of Sheshnag, the yatris take a steep climb to the most difficult spot, Mahagunna. Thereafter, a short descent begins to Poshpathan.

From there, the yatris move to Panchtarni, a confluence of five mythical streams, and then to the cave.

A sense of fulfilment seizes the yatris, and all fatigue is forgotten. Even with the temperature touching zero degree Celsius, the yatris are driven by their faith to take bath in the rivulet of Amravati.

The unique yatra satisfies the individual’s urge to take his soul to soaring heights, to experience spiritual passions and see Mahadev in his greatest image and in his finest abode. But the significance of the yatra does not end at the personal level. It extends to the much larger issue of cultural unity and vision of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kathiawar to Kamrup.

When some people talk of Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of India only in terms of Article 1 and Article 370 of the Constitution, I am surprised at their ignorance. They don’t know that the relationship goes deeper.

It is a relationship that has existed for thousands of years in the mind and soul of the people, a relationship that India’s intellect and emotions, its life and literature, its philosophy and poetry, its common urges and aspirations, have given birth to. It is this relationship which inspired Subramania Bharati to perceive Kashmir as "a crown of Mother India, and Kanyakumari as a lotus at her feet", and also made him sing that "She has 30 crore faces, but her heart is one."

Jagmohan is a former governor of Jammu and Kashmir and

a former Union minister


திவாண்ணா said...

people should take note of the mentality that has been nurtured among the kashmiris. petty politics and a weak center that lack vision has led to this crisis. we need a strong center with the correct attitudes to set this right.
sigh...too much to hope for!

Anonymous said...

muslims wants development of facilities under govt patronage not under bhangedi greedy sex maniac nankana saheb pakistan they have converted this sleepy municipality into vibrant five star city with mall&hotels etc.

Jayasree Saranathan said...

The shrine and the state
Dhiraj Nayyar

(The Indian Express, Tuesday, July 01, 2008 at 0159 hrs)

The curious hybrid that is Indian secularism.

The violence and bitter politicking over the transfer of land by the J&K government to the Amarnath Shrine Board has again raised questions on the nature of secularism in India. Often, the debate on secularism simply goes around in circles. It is important, therefore, to break out of the maze and view the issue from a broader perspective. After all, India isn’t the only country grappling with a complex debate on secularism.
Secularism at its most fundamental means a separation of religion and the state. More elaborately, secularism requires an agnostic, religiously neutral, state. The state should guarantee freedom of worship. The state must not involve itself, financially or organizationally, in the religious activities of citizens. All laws and political decisions should be free from religious considerations. If one broadens the discourse to what makes for a secular society then one must also include a preference for scientific knowledge over religious belief and the diminished role of religion in the personal lives of people.

Apart from hard-line theocratic states, we can classify ‘secular’ states into three broad categories. Let’s begin with the most secular.

Ironically enough, countries with the most secular states and post-religion societies are those where there is actually no constitutional separation of the church and the state. Countries like UK, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are, strictly speaking, Christian countries, as was Netherlands until 2000 when the Church was disestablished. Yet, there is absolutely no influence of Christianity in public life — laws are secular and political decisions do not have any religious colour. There is also complete freedom to worship. Most people are not very religious and there is a strong bent towards scientific thought and action. What the experience of these liberal societies shows is that secularism ultimately comes from the belief held by the people at large, even when there are no constitutional provisions. That said, religion is creeping back into the public space in these countries, but through immigrant communities. The demand by many Muslim groups to introduce Islamic personal law in the UK is one such example. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the near term.

In the second category, there are countries like France and Turkey which were forcefully secularised at different points in their political history. Thus, even today these countries have a very aggressive form of state-driven secularism, bordering on secular fundamentalism. In both France and Turkey the freedom to display religious symbols is strictly circumscribed — in Turkey the headscarf is the most symbolic, while in France minorities including Sikhs have run into trouble for sporting turbans and other such religious attire. These countries are the polar opposites of the first category where secularism evolved from bottom up. The top-down method is running into particular resistance in pious Turkey where the electoral success of the right wing AKP has pitted the majority conservative establishment against the minority secular elite. The tense situation in Turkey, and the often violent protests by religious minorities in France, exposes the severe limitation of secular fundamentalism imposed by the state.

In the third category, we find countries like India and the United States, which constitute the middle ground. Both were declared secular in their written constitutions at the time of independence. Yet, the people are, on average, deeply religious, so the two societies would not necessarily qualify as secular, post-religion, societies. The US has done a much better job at keeping the government away from religion—-the state is agnostic, there is freedom of worship, there is uniform civil law based on secular principles, there are no holidays for any religious festivals, and the state does not generally fund religious activities—-even though George W. Bush’s neocons have been accused of funding faith-based groups in recent times.

India, on the other hand is only half-way secular. While the state is agnostic and there is freedom of worship, there is still too much involvement of the state in religious activities and religion does play a role in political decisions. The current J&K issue, where the state is redistributing land to a religious trust is an example of what should not be done. The overturning of the Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano was another. The Babri Masjid demolition had a strong political colour. So did the controversy over the Ram Sethu. Subsidies to Haj pilgrims are an instance of state support to religious activities. And last but not least there is the controversial issue of religion-based civil law, almost a contradiction in terms to the entire notion of constitutional secularism. Therefore, strictly speaking India doesn’t really qualify as a secular state. Yet, as a people, we are fairly secular despite strong religious belief. The majority of India has repeatedly rejected the notion of becoming a theocratic or Hindu state. And there remains a silent respect for different religions, a violent bigoted minority notwithstanding.

What does this entire analysis mean for India? Perhaps the most important lesson is that the belief in secularism must come from bottom-up—-it is difficult for governments to enforce it if people are unwilling. There are a couple of things to worry about in the Indian context. First, India’s political parties cynically and repeatedly exploit religion as a means to garner votes. Second, while experience elsewhere in the world suggests that as countries become more prosperous they become less religious and more secular, in India it seems to be the opposite — the affluent tend to be more conservative especially on issues of religion and secularism. So the future of secularism in India hangs in the balance. One can only hope that liberal citizens win the battle of ideas in the sphere of public debate that will ultimately determine the outcome of the fraught relationship between religion and the state in our deeply religious and vibrantly democratic country.

Jayasree Saranathan said...

From Praveen swami's article in the Hindu, dated July, 1, 2008

"Competitive communalism

Few of the arguments against the land use rights granted to SASB stand on firm empirical foundations. No evidence exists, for one, to support the Islamist claim of large-scale settlement by non-State subjects. Nor is it clear just why putting up prefabricated restrooms for pilgrims will increase environmental threat.

The fact is large numbers of Kashmir residents see India as an existential threat. Part of the reason for these fears lies in a still-unfolding project to sharpen the ideological boundaries of Islam in Kashmir, which cast Hinduism as a predatory threat. In the first decades of the 20th century, Jammu and Kashmir saw the emergence of a new middle class that vied with traditional Muslim leaders for power. New forms of Islam, which privileged text over tradition, were used to legitimise their claims to speak for Kashmir’s Muslims.

One major development was the arrival in Kashmir of the Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadis, a religious order that was set up by the followers of Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Bareilly. Ahmad died at Balakote, now in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, in 1831 while waging an unsuccessful jihad against Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom — a campaign that, historian Ayesha Jalal reminds us in her new book Partisans of Allah, still fires the imagination of a number of Muslims in South Asia.
Ahl-e-Hadith ideologues like clerics Siddiq Hasan Khan and Nazir Husain rejected the accommodation Islam in India had made with its environment.

Sayyed Hussain Shah Batku, a Delhi seminary student who carried the Ahl-e-Hadis message to Kashmir in 1925, denounced the key practices of mainstream Islam in the State such as worship of shrines and veneration of relics. Along with his followers, Anwar Shah Shopiani, Ghulam Nabi Mubaraki and Sabzar Khan, Batku attacked traditionalists for following practices tainted by their Hindu heritage like the recitation of litanies before namaz. Not surprisingly, Batku came under sustained attack from traditionalist clerics, who charged him with being an apostate, an infidel and even the Dajjal — or devil incarnate. His response was to cast himself as a defender of the faith, railing against heterodox sects such as the Ahmadis and the Shia, Hindu revivalists and Christian missionaries, all of whom he claimed were working to expel Islam from Kashmir.

Despite its limited popular reach, the Ahl-e-Hadis had enormous ideological influence. As historian Chitralekha Zutshi has pointed out in her work on the making of religious identity in the Kashmir Valley, Languages of Belonging, the “influence of the Ahl-e-Hadith on the conflicts over Kashmiri identities cannot be overemphasised.” While the reflexive media association of the Ahl-e-Hadis and terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba can be misleading — the head of the Srinagar unit of the crack counter-terrorist Special Operations Group is also an adherent — there is little doubt that the vision of Islam it propagated prepared the ground for the rise of the Jamaat-e-Islami and modern jihadists."

Anonymous said...

Amarnath Land Transfer Dispute-Impotent Facade of Secular India

The heated debates and discussions in relation to the recent disturbances in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is not being projected objectively by the media. They are relying on the words of shady ministers and other political power mongers in the state. Consequently, not only the main issue is being sidelined but these unscrupulous people are using it as a podium for their political aspirations and careers.

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