Restoration and Preservation of Temples & Shrines in Kashmir

RELIGOUS BELIEF is a prominent Cultural Marker of our Community? Temples and Shrines are material Symbols of this belief. We have had abundance of these in our midst in Kashmir. This was brought out by an Exhibition /Intellectual Discourse on the subject in Jammu on 26th & 27th Nov.2016 by Zeashta Devi Prabandhak Committee, Temples and Shrines Management Board & Save Temples of Kashmir Movement. The fact that most or all of these have either been vandalized or destroyed is very painful.


Dr. R L Bhat & his team under the aegis of PPNBMT has brought out a book titled Hindu Shrines of Kashmir. Prof. K N Pandita describes this compilation as a “lasting document of great historical importance”. The book indicates that there are 975 Temples and 428 Shrines in Kashmir spread in 647 villages and towns in 10 districts of Kashmir. The inventory also indicates that these religious places collectively hold 20 thousand kanals of land in all districts of Kashmir.


The desecration and vandalization has always been there. Records of this is abundantly available. It is in the post exile period that we have woken up to this reality. The book documents destruction of 347 of these. Prof. K N Pandita illustrates the problem thus – “the shrine of Gosaen Gund ashram occupying 20 kanals of land and 250 kanals of endowment, has not only been subjected to cartographic engineering, and reduced to just 96 kanals 9 Marlas in the latest revenue records, but has also been bestowed with a new name of Gond-e-Navroz. This illustration will show the odds we are against in this endeavor.


The helplessness on the part of Biradari on account of our dispersed LOCATION (another Cultural marker) due to our forced exile adds immensely to this situation.


In this context, the noble Mission of the newly formed "Temple and Shrines Management Board "-- "SAVE AND PRESERVE OUR TEMPLES AND SHRINES" assumes a great importance. It deserves to be applauded and supported in all earnestness. It is supported by ZDPC which has excellent credentials of restoring and preserving our shrines as can be seen at Zeshta Devi Shrine in Srinagar.


The Temples & Shrines Bill in J&K Assembly is in doldrums for many years with no hope of getting passed in near future. PPNBMT is an organization which has been relentlessly crusading for passing the bill. TSMB has maintained that it supports the passing of the bill and stands with all Organizations who are fighting for this cause. TSMB believes that something needs to be done meanwhile for restoration and preservation of our shrines and temples. It feels that an action-oriented project for this cause needs to be undertaken while parallelly fighting for passing of the bill. We understand Temples and Shrines Management Board has decided to go ahead with this Objective. With no meaningful political clout & the vested interest in other similar Organization opposing the bill, we cannot not remain a prisoner of one view alone.


We all know that execution of this Mission is an uphill task. The CHALLENGES we shall face are many.


We   believe that such a Mission should have a strong   INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT. PPNMBT has not apparently spelled out any plans to restore and preserve our shrines and temples pending bill getting passed and perhaps the reigns getting passed onto it through the bill. Formation of Temples & Shrines Management Board is the right step to do some work on the ground by way of restoration and preservations. PPNMBT should harbor no misgivings in the motives and objectives of TSMB. In fact, efforts are being made to unite all organizations fighting for this cause, to pool in the resources for the project.


The other challenge is FUND RAISING for this Project. There has to be an estimate of funds, a ball park figure at least will be required to initiate anything in this regard. We may also have to necessarily seek State support for this Project.


One of the greatest Challenge in our opinion is that of SECURITY both during reconstruction and beyond. We understand currently no security is available. This is an issue where we need support from the State. The importance of the Bill in limbo resurfaces here. It could provide a legal support for this issue.


In order to plan activities for the project, we need a strong DATA BASE of the sacred shrines and temples we are interested in preserving. The photographic Exhibition conducted by TSMB etc. is only an indicator. Interestingly a huge written material by our community writers is available. TSMB has formed a team working for the same. Many of these may fall in ASI definition of monuments to be protected by law. Following list of Shrines & Temples are already in the list of Protected Monuments of Kashmir by ASI ---Ancient Temple at Narastha Tral, Ruins of Ancient Temple and Spring of Kothier, Nowgam, Anantnag, 'Mamleshwar Temple' at Mamal, Pahalgam, Ruins of Temple at Firozpur, Drung, Hari Parbat Fort, Srinagar, Ancient Temple at Village Batermulla, Mansbal Sonawari, Parhaspora, Pattan, Barmulla, Hutmura Pahalgam.


The greatest Challenge is perhaps PRESERVATION of these shrines and temples. The security measures will ensure physical security. The CHALLENGE will be to rekindle the "Aastha " that preserved these through ages. Our appeal is not to ignore this aspect of revival of our Temples and Shrines. Another Team has been set up by TSMB to bring out a catalogue giving brief details of all our Shrines and Temples under consideration. This is intended to enthuse our community especially younger generation apart from supporting the execution of the Project. In this connection, we should remember what Henny Sanders wrote in her book entitled Kashmiri Pandits - A Study of Cultural Choice in North India......


"The Pandits similar to some Chinese portrayed by Levenson, loved their world, not only because they inherited it, but because they thought it good. Yet they did not cling to their inheritance. On the contrary Kashmiris proved remarkably willing to jettison their tradition which they had previously identified once the rationale for its acceptance was gone." We keep generating rationale for abandoning our traditions as liberal individuals but keep lamenting about it as a society.


The destruction of our Shrines and Temples due to militancy is one aspect. I suppose these were already neglected by the generations. Assume there was no militancy, what would be the state of these Shrines &Temples today? Community efforts to preserve these were lacking even when we were in Kashmir. Religious belief in these symbols was waning, even then, on account of our so called liberal and modern outlooks. How could a highly intelligent and literate community like ours, mess up this important Cultural Marker--RELIGOUS BELIEFS is a mystery. Rituals (Karamkand) nearly replaced our religious beliefs & that too we outsourced to our not so revered Purohits. Kashmir Shaivism being rated as a great spiritual thought process, we continued to believe perhaps, that following rituals is the only belief. This short cut to being Religious brought our beliefs to a lowest common multiple factor. In future, if we want to preserve our shrines and temples, we need to seriously tackle this aspect of reformation in the long run.


In the short term the Project undertaken by our community (ZDPC, TSMB & STKM) deserves all out support. It will go a long way in restoring our faith as well as providing a familiar religious ecosystem. It may even boost our confidence to return to valley with our cherished symbols intact.


In the long term, we need an in-depth review of the preservation aspect taking into account our current dispersion.