Highly successful yatra to Vaishno Devi shrine and the controversial trek to Amarnath cave are not the only two ‘faith’ routes in J&K. Many other yatras go beyond the tree line into the highly fragile ecological zones. Kashmir Life sheds light on some of the lesser known Hindu pilgrimages which are witnessing an upsurge in numbers.
Started not more than four decades ago, the Machail yatra is an arduous trek to a mountain temple located at around 11000 ft above sea level in the remote Paddar valley in Kashmir. The 175 km long, 27-day yatra starts from Bhadrwah’s Chenote temple, takes a day to reach Kishtwar and then another day to Paddar.
The vehicular traffic stops at Atholi, the last point to which a road can take pilgrims. The yatra attracts third largest number of pilgrims after Vaishno Devi and Amarnath. From Atholi, the pilgrims trek 32 kms on foot. Normally, pilgrims halt for a night at somewhere between Massu and Chashoti, and then leave for Machail the next day. Once at Machail, the pilgrims perform a day-long hawan and Jagrata at the temple of Mata Chandi. The next day, the entire caravan starts return to Atholi.
The 2012 Machail yatra officially commenced (departure of Mace is the official start) on August 18 but unofficial pilgrimage starts by early August and concludes on August 24 with more than 300 thousand pilgrims having darshan at the temple. Though Machail Mata Trust organizes the yatra, the state government is managing everything from security to medicare to transport to rations and water. The latest intervention is a commercial chopper service that runs from Gulbgarh (Paddar) and Kishtwar to the temple site.
The yatra was started by a Bhadrwah police man, Thakur Kulbir Singh aka Mata during his posting in Paddar. The myth behind the yatra is the appearance of Chandi Mata, actually endemic to Mindal Bhattas hamlet of Himachal, in the form of Pindi to bless Paddar. Over the years, a full-fledged devotional music has emerged in the name of Mata Chandi Machail Waali. The temple is located in high mountains having thick deodar forests and attractive meadows as the world famous sapphire mines area is located barely a three-hour trek away. The government has initiated laying a road between Gulabgarh and Machail but it is expected to take some more time for completion.
BUDA AMARNATH YATRA
Around 25 kms from the border Poonch town in the main Pir Panchal belt at Rajpora Mandi is a temple of Chattani Baba Buddha Amarnath. The official website of the Poonch district says the spot is located at the “confluence of two gushing streams – Nallah Gagri and Pulsta Nadi” and is surrounded by “snow bounded lofty peaks, thick belt of fir forests, lush green pastures and crystal clear streams.”
The temple at 4600 ft above sea level is presumed to have been constructed out of single stone. It has four doors and at the sanctum sanctorum is a natural Shivlinga of chakmak (flint) as a number of ancient idols collected from nearby villages have also been installed. There are four springs in the premises and the discharge from three springs has been diverted to the fourth one. “The pilgrims first take bath in this spring and then enter in the mandir for prayers,” informs the official site.
The yatra originates from Jammu and reaches the Poonch town wherefrom it leave for Mandi. The procession reaches at Rajpura on the same day in the afternoon where it is received by the district administration, sadhus and workers of the trust with the BSF offering a guard of honour. The yatra that usually take place in late July and early August is officially just a few days affair. Pilgrims return from the temple within a day. The yearly number of pilgrims is around 200 thousand now. The yatra concludes on Rakhsha Bandan.
No exact details of its history are known but Bajrang Dal that manages the yatra says it was revived in 2005 to encourage Hindu minorities in the region to stay put. The pre-requisites for joining the yatra include bringing along “Bajrang Dal’s belt”, according to http://buddhaamarnath.org, a website dedicated to the yatra, jointly managed and manned by VHP and Bajrang Dal. Praveen Togadia launched the website in 2011. Offering “purpose and reasons for the yatra”, the website says: “The yatra to Naushera, Rajouri, Poonch is also a reason to give mental support to the Hindus residing here so that they don’t have to leave this places.
We should not limit our beliefs to worshiping our gods and religions but we should also be faithful towards our National Integrity by coming forward to visit and worship such places and organize or be a part of such yatras.”
KAILASH KUND YATRA
Of the many yatras starting from Bhadrwah, this one is a major one because it attracts large number of devotees. The pilgrimage is an arduous trek to Kailash Kund, a fresh water lake located at an altitude of around 13067 ft from the sea level.
The yatra starts from Gatta village and then goes to Bhaderwah’s 11th century Vasukinag Temple that houses a single stone piece idol of Vasukinag (Vasuki). After leaving the town, the pilgrims start ascending the peaks taking the same mythical route that Vasuki had taken to reach Kailash Kund. A general belief terms Vasuki a king who left his estate and went to Kailash. Every year his subjects would go and try to persuade him to return. The persuasion failed but the tradition continued.
Pilgrims stay at Hayain (Nalthi) for the night in the vicinity of a spring. Next day, the yatra proceeds further to Gow Paeda, a rocky mountain that Vasukinag is believed to have climbed after taking the form of a cow. The devotees then arrive at Ramkund and Gan Thuck and finally at Kund. Carrying tents, the pilgrims pitch their tents wherever they wish. Pilgrims spend the day at the destination and start their puja after taking a dip in the ice cold water of the lake. They start their return the next day.
A dip in the lake is considered to be vital for washing away the sins. The lake is the source of Neru River which flows through Bhaderwah Valley. Interestingly, it is an enchanted crater lake which remains frozen for a greater part of the year.
During the reign of Ghulam Nabi Azad as chief minister, the pilgrimage got special attention. Though aimed at helping Bhadrwah to come on the tourist map, Azad tried his bit to develop his constituency using the Bhadrwah Tourism Development Authority as the main carrier of change. In 2006, Azad and most of the government camped in the town for the Kailash festival during which the private chopper were inducted for the wealthy pilgrims. The tradition continues.
This yatra follows the Mani Mahesh Yatra that takes off from Bhaderwah, Doda’s bewitchingly beautiful town that is also known as ‘chouta (little) Kashmir’. It almost follows the same route. Mani Mahesh Peak is located 35 km from Bharmour at an altitude of 5486 meters in Himachal Pardesh. In Himachal, it is also called Chamba Kailash. Within 15 days of Janamashtami, the yatra coincides with a fair being held at Mani Mahesh Lake. People from J&K and Himachal are the main participants in this fair. After the yatra is over, some pilgrims go to the ancient Chhatrari temple situated between Chamba and Bharmour.
SHIV KHORI YATRA
For more than three years now, this yatra is being managed by Shri Shiv Khori Shrine Board (SSKSB), the third Hindu shrine Board in J&K after Vaihno Devi and Amarnath. More than half a million Hindus visit the shrine and the numbers are surging year after year. Though the shrine is open round the year, it has a special festival in March that lasts three days. It is a cave shrine housing four-foot high Svayambhu Lingum. Legend is that the cave is half a kilometer long but the pilgrims are not permitted beyond 130 meters because of oxygen depletion. The cave is wide at the two ends and very congested at the center. The width of the cave is so less at certain place that a person can barely crawl through.
Cave opening is a 20 x 80 ft hall with 22 ft height. It is nearly 80 feet in length. Natural impressions of deities and gods are located in this hall. It leads to the sanctum sanctorum where natural water is seen dripping from the ceiling on the shivlingham.
To reach the shrine, one has to trek a 3.5 km distance from the Ransoo village, which functions like the base camp of the yatra. The shrine is around 110 kms from Jammu on Rajouri road via Akhnoor. The cave was known to few people but evolved as a shrine only in the last few decades. Almost three fourth of the pilgrims are from outside the state. The yatra board has laid an exit tunnel from the cave to ensure smooth movement into the cave.
Officially, it is a day long festival that is celebrated at the start of the tourist season for the river Indus that originates from the Mansarovar in Tibet. As part of the celebrations, various groups from different states in India bring water from the other mighty rivers in the country in earthen pots and immerse these pots in the Sindhu, thereby mingling the river water with other waters of the land.
The festival was started on October 10, 1997 by the Delhi government as an “event of national pride” at Sindhu Ghat in Sheh Manla, six kilometers upstream near Leh. Though in 1998 it was organized in August, it continues to be celebrated in the first June almost every year. It is a festival that Union Tourism Ministry funds. During NDA government, it was one of the top priorities of the BJP leaders. L K Advani, as home minister and Deputy PM attended the festival many times.
Once, the festival witnessed a religious conference that was attended by top religious heads of various faiths and it ended with a “Sindhu Declaration” on religious harmony suggesting peace is the only solution to every conflict. Even a writer’s meet of all languages was organized. Then it was literally outsourced to RSS mouthpiece Panchjaney that would decide almost everything.
Indus, an over 2,900 kms long river takes off from Southwestern Tibet at a height of 16000 ft from Kailash Mansarovar and enters Leh. It flows through Ladakh, PaK, NWFP, Punjab and Sindh prior to its fall in the seas. Though the organizers of the Abyan insist that it has a religious significance as it stands mentioned in Rig Veda and hymns of Aryans of Ancient India, the importance was discovered only at the fag end of the twentieth century in 1997.
Interestingly, when the UPA took over from NDA, the first thing they did to Ladakh was to change the name of the world famous Sindhu Darshan to Ladakh Singhey Khabab Spring Festival suggesting the name smacked of ‘Hindu Darshan’. The festival survived the name, however, UPA-II did not object!
SHREE HUDH MATA TRISANDHAYA YATRA
At an estimated 12000 ft above sea level, Shri Hudh Mata Trisindya shrine is located in Nanth Nallah hamlet of Dachhan (Kishtwar). Trsindhya is a stream located a few kilometers away about which it is being said that it normally remains dry but it has a good discharge thrice in a day, hence the name. Pilgrims who see the water discharge are believed to be blessed. Myth is that the shrine has a snake a pair of pigeons.
This yatra was started by Mahatma Dina Nath Teerath Wasi from Jammu’s Geeta Bhawan in 1983. After his death in Kathua in 1997, the yatra takes from there in June or early July. The week long yatra passes through some of the most beautiful and panoramic mountain ranges including the Brahma Peak, on the foothills of which the shrine is located. The route of the yatra is Dharalan (Kathua), Jammu, Kishtwar, Dachhan, Anantmatta, Bhawan, Trisandhaya, Dood Ganga and Brahmsar. Though located 310 kms away from Jammu, the pilgrims normally trek a distance of more than 42 kms from Dangdhuroo to Brahmsar. Night halts are fixed at Jammu, Gouri Shanker Mandir Sarkoot, Kishtwar, Radha Krishan Mandir, Sounder Dachhan, Virat Mata Mandir Dilgooth Dachhan, Gowkooth, Anant Nallah, Dachhan and Kaikooth (Ram Mandir) Dachhan, Hud Mata Bhavan.
The shrine is considered to be the abode of Shiv Parivaar (Shiv Ji Maharaj), Mata Parvati (Sati) and Ganesh Ji. There is a small cave in which three natural Shivlingams exist. There are many legends associated with this shrine. Authorities do arrange private chopper services between Kishtwar and Bhawan.
The 2017 yatra was formally launched by NC leader Devinder Singh Rana.
(Note: The copy was revisited June 26, 2017 and Shree Hudh Mata Trisandhaya added. At the time of writing the main copy in August 2012, authors of this copy were not aware of this pilgrimage.)