Pilgrimage In Kashmir

Charar-i-Sharief counts amongst the most sacrosanct Muslim shrines in India. It is situated approximately 40 km from Srinagar, enroute to Yusmarg near POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). A wooden shrine, the Charar-i-sharif is approximately 600 years old. Popularly known as the Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali, the shrine was built to commemorate Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani, a Sufi saint. The life of the Sheikh is full of legends and tales. He was born as Nund Reshi or Sahazanand to Salar Sanz in 1377. It is said that he refused to drink> milk till the third day after his birth, when a Yogini (female saint), Lal Ded fed him with her own milk. Later, she left the house after saying that the child would be her spiritual heir.

Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani or Nund Rishi was the first one to start Rishism in the valley. Later, this Rishism got renowned as Rishi Mat, a Vishnav Mat. The saint preached communal harmony, non-violence, vegetarianism and tolerance to the people. He gathered many followers who called him by different names. Some of the names conferredon the saint are Sheikh-ul-Alam, Sheikh Noor-ud- Din Noorani, Alamdar-e-kashmir, Sarkhel-e-Rishiya, etc. Apart from preaching, the Sheikh made numerous contributions in the field of philosophy also, in the form of verses and poetry.

The saint led a very simple life throughout. It is said that nine lakh people gathered at the Shrine of Charar within two days of his death, in 1438. The King Sultan Zainul Abdin also took part in his funeral procession. Charar e Sharif served as his final resting place, where his mortal remains were buried. The Charar-e-sharief of Kashmir, India, has been destroyed twice. The first time, the shrine and its surroundings suffered ruination was when a battle took place between the Indian Army and the Pakistani Army. However, the shrine was reconstructed on the lines of central Asian architecture. But, again in 1995 Islamic militants destroyed a major part of the shrine in a fire. Still, after all the assaults the shrine continues to be revered and respected by both the Hindus as well as Muslims.

Hazratbal, a world-famous shrine of Muslim followers, was established as early as the 17th century. The pious Mosque of Hazratbal which stands with elan on the banks of the popular Dal Lake of Srinagar is also referred as Dargah Sharief, Dargah, Assar-e-Sharief and Madinat-us-Sani. In 1623, Sadiq Khan who was the then subedar of the great Mughal King, Shahjehan, built a palatial edifice on the spot where Hazratbal was stands. However, in the year 1634 Shahjehan instructed his men to transform the edifice into a holy shrine of Muslims. In the year of 1699, the sacred hair of the devout Islamic Prophet Mohammad was brought to the valley and initially it was preserved in the Naqashbad Sahib. As the followers started gathering in the site in large numbers to view the Moi-e-Muqqadus or the pious hair, it was transferred to Hazratbal immediately. Previously known as Sadiqabad, Hazratbal today is a major pilgrimage center of Jammu & Kashmir where not only followers of Islam faith but also people belonging to all other religions come to gather the blessings of Prophet Mohammad. The current architecture of Hazratbal which consists of marble construction was carried out by the Muslim Auqaf Trust from the year 1968 to 1979. Moi-e-Muqqadus being the center of attraction in Hazratbal, the entire Mosque structure depicts the holy bliss of Mohammad. Local people flock to the site time and again. Also, tourists from all over the world who come to Jammu & Kashmir make it sure that they visit Hazratbal at least once. Hazratbal can be reached through NH1A which links Kashmir with other parts of India. Also the nearest railway station to Hazratbal lies at a distance of 300 km in Jammu. Whereas the Badgam district which is 25 km away from Hazratbal houses the closest air terminal. Upholding the religious sanctity of the life of Prophet Mohammad Hazratbal inevitably comes in the itinerary of Jammu & Kashmir pilgrim tourism.

Shankaracharya Temple
Shankaracharya stands tall on the holy contours of Kashmir. Being one of the most sought-after pilgrimages of the state of Jammu & Kashmir Shankaracharya is associated with a pious heritage which attracts large number of tourists as well as devotees o its premises every year. The religious archives of Jammu & Kashmir states that the temple of Shankaracharya came into being in one of the earliest periods of history. It is believed that from 2629 to 2564 BC Shankaracharya was erected by the then Emperor Sandiman. The Shankaracharya temple can be seen set on the top of a hill which is around 110 feet high above the ground level. The hilltop is called by the name of Takht-e-Suleiman. Devoted to the Hindu religion, Shankaracharya temple boasts of a magnificent architectural splendor. The ancient ruler of Kashmir who took the responsibility of building this extraordinary temple is still remembered for its excellent constriction skills. Shankaracharya of Jammu & Kashmir is quite popular not only in India but also in the entire world. This is due to the reason because the temple of Shankaracharya symbolizes the very core of rituals that form the base of Hindu faith. Be it the chanting of slokas or be it the offering of prayers to the presiding deity, Shankaracharya represents the traditional beliefs and customs of Hinduism. Ever since the Hindu religion came into existence in India a wide array of customs and practices followed it. Combining all these ritualistic customs Shankaracharya today offers a complete view of Hindu faith to those who wish to get accustomed to this oldest religion of the country. Quite naturally Shankaracharya is regarded as one of the appealing destinations of Kashmir pilgrim tourism.

Amarnath ji Yatra
One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time.

Shiva is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for "he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud."

Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).

The trek to Amarnath ji, in the month of Shravan (July - August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.

According to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust which manages the shrine.

Yet another legend has it that when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnathji for them became Shiva's abode and a centre of pilgrimage.

Whatever the legends and the history of Amarnathji's discovery, it is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and though the route is as difficult to negotiate as it is exciting, every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.

Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in four or five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.

Since the base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam, a large tented township springs up to accommodate the pilgrims. The conduct of the yatra is a gigantic task in which the State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam, and a Yatra Officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.

Trek to Amarnath ji Cave
For those who journey with faith, it is a rewarding experience, this simple visitation to a cave-shrine, the home of the Himalayan mendicant who is both destroyer and healer, the greatest of the Hindu God"

The trek from Pahalgam to Amarnathji cave is on an ancient peregrine route. The 45 - km distance is covered in four days, with night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag (Wawjan) and Panchtarni. The distance from Pahalgam to Chandanwari (16 km) is now covered by motor transport. The pilgrims camp here or at Pahalgam on the first night out.

The first day's trek of 13 km from Chandanwari is through spectacular, primeval countryside. The main centre of attraction on this trek is Sheshnag, a mountain lake which derives its name from its seven peaks, resembling the heads of a mythical snake. The journey to Sheshnag follows steep inclines up the right bank of a cascading stream and wild scenery untouched by civilisation. The second night's camp at Wawjan overlooks the deep blue water of Sheshnag lake, and glaciers beyond it. The lake is also associated with legends of love and revenge, and at the camp these are recounted by campfires, to the stillness of a pine-scented, Himalayan night.

The second day's 12 km trek steadily gains height, winding up across Mahagunas Pass at 4,600 m and then descending to the meadow - lands of Panchtarni, the last camp enroute to the holy cave.

From Panchtarni to Amarnathji is only 6 km, but an early morning's start is recommended for there is a long queue awaiting entrance to the cave. The same day, following darshan, devotees can return to Panchtarni in time for lunch, and continue to Wawjan to spend the fourth night out; or continue further to Zojibal, returning to Pahalgam on the 4th day.

Entrance to the cave is regulated, and darshan a hasty affair for there are many others waiting outside to pay homage before the awesome Shivalingam. The devotees sing bhajans, chant incantations, and priests perform aarti and puja, invoking the blessing of Shiva, the divine, the pure, the absolute.

Khanqah-e-Moula is situated in Srinagar on the bank of the Jhelum. This shrine, which is believed to be one of the oldest shrines in Kashmir, was built in the year 1395 by Sultan Sikandar and dedicated to the Muslim saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani better known as Shah Hamadan. The saint is believed to be the main person behind the spread of Islam in Kashmir. This shrine is a two storied structure made of wood and incorporates features of Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic architecture. When you enter the shrine of Khanqah-e-Moula at Srinagar, you will find that the interiors of the building have beautiful paintings and carved woodwork. Antique chandeliers add to the beauty of the wooden structure. You will find 14 cloisters and a small shrine inside the shrine. On the doorway of the saint’s shrine on the northwest corner, you will find the date of the saint’s death is engraved.

The tomb is beautifully decorated with glass and glazed tiles. At the walls of the prayer hall you will find panels with woodwork displaying the name of God in gold. At the center of the hall, there are four decorated wooden pillars supporting the ceiling. They have lotus motifs at the base and leaf patters at the top. The heavily decorated roofs are sloping and pyramidal and separate the two tiers of the shrine. In the first tier of the Khanqah-e-Moula in Srinagar, you will find balconies with covered two tiered passages encircling the building except the main entrance. At the second tier, however, you will find a single arcaded balcony. All the balconies have wooden grills and columns, which are also heavily decorated. The base of the spire at the second tier you will find, decorated windows and the apex is covered with gold. At some parts of the roof you will find terrace gardens adding to the beauty of the heavily decorated wooden structure.

The Khanqah-e-Moula in Srinagar has undergone lots of additions and alterations. The shrine was completely burnt down in 1480 and was reconstructed and restored by Sultan Hassan Shah. It was again demolished in 1493 and got two stories during the reconstruction. The year 1731 saw the shrine face ruination again due to another devastating fire and then the final renovation was done by Abul Barkat Khan.

The best day to visit the Khanqah-e-Moula of Srinagar is on the 6th of Zilhaj, which is the last month of the Muslim calendar. It is the death anniversary of the saint Shah Hamadan. On this day, large number of devotees comes to the annual congregation that is formed at this shrine for paying their tribute to the saint.

Chatti Padshahi
Gurdwara Chatti Patshahi, Kathi Darwaja, Rainwari, Srinagar is one of the most important Sikh Gurudwaras in Kashmir. It is believed that the sixth guru of Sikhism traveled through Kashmir, stopping to preach occasionally and stayed for few days. Gurdwara Chatti Patshahi, Kathi Darwaja, Rainwari, Srinagar is one of the most important Sikh Gurudwaras in Kashmir.

This historical Gurdwara is included in the tourist place of Srinagar city of Kashmir valley. It is situated just outside the southern gate of Hari Parbat fort. The sixth guru of Sikhism travelled through Kashmir, stopping to preach occasionally and stayed for few days. Gurdwara Chhevin Patshahi - Srinagar, on the bank of Jhelum River and Dal Lake, is located at the site which was visited by Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Hargobind as well. Some sources also list a visit by Guru Har Rai, but the historical Sikh shrine here is named after Guru Hargobind alone the Chhevin Patshahi or Sixth Master, it is located outside Kathi Gate of Hari Parbat Fort at the site of the house of Mai Bhagbhari, who had long been yearning for a glimpse of the Guru when Guru Hargobind fulfilled her wish by his visit and wearing of her now famous gown. The Gurdwara comprises a rectangular hall with the sanctum in the middle and a spacious terrace in front. An old well nearby is said to have been dug on the orders of Guru Hargobind. A big Gurdwara building has been constructed recently. Langar (Free community kitchen) and accommodation is available here round the clock. To mark the holy visit, there is a public holiday by Government of Jammu and Kashmir ("J&K") on every year on the Parkash Utsav of Guru Hargobind Sahib. Outside Punjab, J&K is the only state where there is a Gazetted Government holiday on Parkash Utsav of 6th Nanak Guru Hargobind Sahib.

Imambara Hassanabad
Imambara Hassanabad is one of the oldest shrines in the region, which is worshipped by over one million Shia Muslims. This shrine is located to the south-west of the main city and is surrounded by Hazratbal Mosque, Chatti Padshahi Gurudwara and Maa Sharda Devi Temple. There is also a Mughal graveyard named, 'Baba Mazar' situated near this shrine.

This graveyard was the resting place of people like Syed Mirza Shah, Baba Ali and Hab Saheb Mulla. There are around five main entry points to this shrine that are constructed specially for women followers. This shrine was constructed in 1857 in a shape of octagon. The architectural style of this shrine has been influenced by the Indo-Iranian construction skills.

Imambara Budgam
IMAMBARA, Budgam is a major religious place for the Shi'ate Muslims of the Valley. The building of the Imambara was originally constructed in 1857, under the supervision of Aga Syed Mohammad, on the place where famous Shi'ate religious leader Aga Syed Mehdi used to offer prayers. Inside the building was designed by Asgar Ali of Mirgund, Budgam. In 1924, extensions where carried out on the existing structure by Aga Syed Sahib and paper machie work was also under taken. In 1955, another extension was carried out by the Anjuman-e-Shari Shian under Aga Syed Yusuf Al- Mosavi Al-Safvi.

The present octagonal Imambara has five main entrances each of 12 ft. width. One of the entrances is reserved for the women. Adjacent to the Imambara is a mosque constructed by Aga Syed Yusuf Al-Mosavi Al-Safvi. The Indo- Iranian piece of architecture, the Imambara commands great reverence in the of Shia community of the Valley. Apart from its religious significance, it is equally important as a piece of monumental value.

The Shrine of Khan Sahib
Situated in the Khan Sahib block of district Budgam, the shrine is associated with a famous saint - Hazrat Salen Khan - who belonged to Pakhla village (now in Pakistan) and came here in the sixteenth century along with his father, Ismail Sahib. On the day of the birth of his son, it is believed, 99 saints visited the house of Ismail Sahab to see the new-born child. At age 5, his uncle, an influential man in the area, wanted to adopt Salen Khan but Ismail Sahib would not agree. When the former exerted pressure, Ismail Sahib took his son along and travelled on foot to Kashmir. On way, Syed Salen Khan met a famous saint - Bu Ali. Syed Salen's father took his son to Baba Naseeb-ud-Din Gazi, a well- known saint of Kashmir, where the two stayed for over a year. Later, the Baba granted Ismail Sahib permission to leave and Syed Salen Khan stayed back and took religious and spiritual guidance from the baba for 13 years. Syed Salen Khan also meditated for almost a dozen years in a cave and also stayed for some time in the Srinagar city. Later, he chose a place in a jungle for prayers and meditation. The cave, where he meditated, still exists. During his stay in the cave, people began to visit Syed Salen Khan and soon he was widely known to be a saint of high order. The place came to be known as Khan Sahib after him. Hazrat Syed Saleh Khan passed away on Zeelqad 17, 1019 Hijri. He was a fine calligrapher and a copy of the Holy Quran calligraphed by him is available at Watal Kadal, Srinagar. In the month of Zeelqad, a week-long urs (festival) is held at the tomb of Syed Saleh Khan Sahib.