Revival Of Kashi, A Harbinger For Kashmir?

Dr Lakshmi Bandlamudi
Updated: 17 December, 2021 4:39 pm IST
Amarnath Cave Temple, Pahalgam, Jammu & Kashmir
Amarnath Cave Temple, Pahalgam, Jammu & Kashmir

I bow to the eternally sacred abodes,

Whose deity is Hara,

Whose activities are worthy of Hara,

And whose breath of life is dedicated

Only to Hara.

–    The Shivastotravali by Utpaladeva (#20)

The eternally sacred abodes of Shiva are innumerable. For that matter, it is the entire Universe and creation; and eventually one must find the most important abode in the Sky of Consciousnesswithin the self. To reach the innermost shrine, we most certainly need external abodes. While countless shrines are scattered all over India and even in many other parts of the world, Kashi and Kashmir stand out as important abodes of Lord Shiva.

The inaugural festivities of Kashi Viswanath Dham Corridor on December 13, 2021, Somwar – a day incredibly auspicious for Shiva worship was indeed a momentous occasion. A shrine, so important, has been for centuries tucked in overcrowded narrow lanes with no grand entrance and no easy straight path to the flowing Ganges. Now, as the Phase I of the project is being completed, we see a clear path to Ganga and a majestic entrance gate and a vast compound that houses the Sanctum Sanctorum. From late 2019 to early 2020, I spent a few months in Varanasi and at that time there was only a whole lot of digging and discoveries of numerous buried temples around the shrine. The visuals that we see now are simply spectacular. It appears as if the pandemic period was well utilised to accelerate the pace of work to transform the ancient city and restore its well-deserved glory.

The expansion and rebuilding of the temple and the city in general give immense hope and delight in our ability to reclaim and revive civilizational landmarks, even after centuries of assault and destruction. With the construction of a temple in Ayodhya and revival of Kashi, my hope is turning towards another important abode of Lord Shiva – the Kashmir Valley.

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Kashi and Kashmir carry the imprint of the force, depth, and beauty of a very ancient and living civilisation. While both regions have faced the onslaught of Islamic invasion and brutality, the markers of a living faith are still visible and alive in Kashi, although the recovery of original Jyotirlinga from the well in Gyanvapi mosque is still an unfinished task. Whereas, in Kashmir there are hardly any visible signs. Hindus have either been converted, slaughtered, or chased out of the region and so there are no Pandits roaming around freely in this region. Furthermore, the ruins of Sharada Peeth are in POK. Even the yearly pilgrimage to Amarnath is fraught with uncertainty and danger. Kashi and Kashmir are magical in their own way and most certainly sacred, as they both stand as seat of learning since time immemorial. If Kashi is where we atone our sins and depart to heaven, Kashmir is where the mind is awakened as Devi Saraswati resides here and Prakriti displays her divine beauty making it a heaven on earth.While its physical beauty is still intact, the spiritual vibrations – the Spanda as the erudite Acharyas of Kashmir have explained, is practically shut down. That is why, even as I celebrate the revival of Kashi, I am saddened at the absence of any indicators of bringing a rich civilisation back to life in Kashmir.

It is said in Shiv Purana that the Asur King Ravana categorised Vedas and Agamas in Kashi and even set many verses to music, much to the delight of Mahadev. This Holy City is the birthplace of so many mystics and saints like Tulsidas, Kabir, Ravidas and many more. If Kashi gave us Sastras and methods for rituals, Kashmir gave us some of the most profound philosophies that covered every aspect of Shiva Tattva coming under the banner of Kashmir Saivism. The Siddha, Utpaladeva gave us the great devotional poetry Shivastotravali and philosophy of Pratyabhijna –re-cognition of one’s true self that is Shiva. In Sanskrit, poetics Dhvanyaloka by Anandavardhana stands as an epoch-making work on aesthetics. The great polymath, Abhinavagupta gave us the most detailed commentary on Natya Sastra and Tantraloka and much more. Lord Shiva embodies NavaVyakarna, and the sharpest philological work was given to us by Bhartrhari. The most stinging satire came from Kshemendra, and Bhatta Jayanta and they also gave the philosophical exposition of Shiva’s Attahasa – boisterous laughter. The list of thinkers is really very long. If Kal Bhairav is the guardian of Kashi, it is the Bhairava Consciousness that the great minds from Kashmir concentrated on.

Today, Kashmir is not only bereft of Pandits, but also Pandityam – the great intellectual traditions that this abode of Shiva gave birth to. Even so, I dare to hope with a conviction that a place tormented by violence and falsehood can also become a fertile ground for the rebirth of ideas that emerged from its soil. I pray that the revival of Kashi is a harbinger for Kashmir.

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(Dr. Lakshmi Bandlamudi is a Professor of Psychology, LaGuardia Community College, City University New York)

[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal.]

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