To feel India’s connect with Kashmir, go to Amarnath
Jagmohan (Asian Age, July 10, 2009)
July.10 : Few of the present generation of Indians know that Swami Vivekananda, accompanied by a couple of his European disciples, undertook a yatra to the Amarnath shrine from July 28 to August 8, 1898. Sister Nivedita, an Anglo-Irish social worker and a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, has left a brief but beautiful account of the journey which shows how significant this yatra is from the point of view of culture and national integration.
About Swami Vivekananda’s experience at the holy cave, Sister Nivedita has recorded: “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. Shiva was all in all; Shiva, the eternal one, the great monk, rapt in meditation, aloof from the world”. Later, Swami Vivekananda himself recounted: “I thought the ice-lingam was Shiva Himself. And there were no thievish Brahmins, no trade, nothing wrong. It was all worship. I have never seen anything so beautiful, so inspiring, and enjoyed any religious place so much”.
In August 1986, when I was the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, I travelled on foot, from Chandanwari to the cave, taking the same route as was taken by Swami Vivekananda and his party. It was a journey to remember. The route is certainly one of the most enchanting and enthralling routes in the world. It transmits a feeling of being “upward and divine”.
In a state of heightened sublimity and with his faith fully surcharged and the awe and majesty of the sights around him, the pilgrim perceives, with his mind’s eye, Lord Shiva, sitting calmly underneath an imperishable canopy provided by the “mount of immortality”, and conveying in hushed silence 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 located in one of the “purest and firmest peaks” of the Himalayas which, in the Hindu tradition, is itself a symbol of sublimity, serenity and strength. And there is a very close relationship between these “silvery mountains” and Lord Shiva. This relationship finds best expression in the words of Adi Shankara when, overwhelmed by the physical and spiritual beauty of the white peaks, he reflected: “Oh Shiva, thy body is white, white is thy smile, the human skull in thy hand is white. Thy axe, thy bull, thy earring all are white. The Ganga flowing out in foams from your matted locks, is white. The crescent moon on thy brow is white. Oh all-white Shiva, give us the boon of complete sinlessness in our lives”.
The cave is accessible only during a short period of a year, usually in 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 Shiva revealed the secrets of life to his consort Parvati, the beautiful daughter of the Himalayas. It is also believed that while Lord Shiva was speaking to Parvati, a pair of pigeons appeared and overheard the talk. And this pair still comes to the cave at the time of the yatra as incarnation of Shiva and Parvati.
The most captivating spot on the route is the lake of Seshnag. This lake symbolises the cosmic ocean in which Lord Vishnu, the preserver of this universe, moves, reclining on a seven-headed mythical snake. After getting refreshed with a bath of ice-cold water of Seshnag, the pilgrim takes a steep climb to the most difficult spot, Mahagunna (4,350 metres). Thereafter, a short descent begins to Poshpathan which is covered in wild flowers. From there, pilgrims move to Panchtarni, a confluence of five mythical streams, and then to the cave. A strange sense of fulfilment seizes the pilgrims, and all fatigue is forgotten. Even with temperatures touching zero, the pilgrims are driven by their faith to take bath in the almost-freezing rivulet of Amravati.
This is what Sister Nivedita has written about Swami Vivekananda’s experience: “With a smile he knelt, first at one end of the semi-circle, then at the other. The place was vast, large enough to hold a cathedral, and the great ice-Shiva, in a niche of deepest shadow, seemed as if throned on its own base. To him, the heavens had opened. He had touched the feet of Shiva. He had to hold himself tight, he said afterwards, lest he “should swoon away”. But so great was his physical exhaustion, that a doctor said afterwards that his heart ought to have stopped beating, and had undergone a permanent enlargement instead. How strangely near fulfilment had been those words of his Master: “When he realises who and what he is, he will give up this body!” Afterwards he would often tell of the overwhelming vision that had seemed to draw him almost into its vertex. He always said that the grace of Amarnath had been granted to him there, not to die till he himself should give consent. And to me he said: “You do not now understand. But you have made the pilgrimage, and it will go on working. Causes must bring their effects. You will understand better afterwards. The effects will come”.
The significance of the pilgrimage, however, 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. Its importance as an underlying integrating force needs to be recognised. 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 do not know that this relationship goes much 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 Subrmania 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 J&K and a former Union minister