The Junior Union Home Minister Kishan Reddy said the Government would restore and reopen thousands of vandalised temples in Jammu and Kashmir. Will there be a revival of the Hindu heritage in the Valley soon?
An idol of Lord Ganesha, believed to be from the 7th Century CE, lies neglected under a chinar tree at Vijeshwar Temple in Bijbehara, south Kashmir.
IN 2014, an exiled Kashmiri Pandit couple, now settled in the US, visited their homeland. Their driver-cum-guide took them for shopping near the Dal Lake. Inside a shop, as the wife was being shown shawls and papier-mâché items, the man spotted a dusty glass cupboard in a corner. As he looked inside, he was surprised to see a few idols of Hindu gods that looked quite old. Upon enquiry, he was told that these were removed by ‘miscreants’ from various temples. As he took some of the idols in his hands, the man realised that these had been cleanly severed from their foundations.
“I was so overcome by emotion that I forgot shopping and told the dealer that I wanted to buy these,” says the man who does not wish to be named. Since the dealer quoted an exorbitant price, the man says he could only buy five such relics.
In 1990, the Hindu minority had to leave Kashmir in a matter of months as Islamist extremists began targeting them. In most cases, the fleeing families could take very little with them. There were instances when families were prevented from taking their belongings with them. The Pandit families begged truck and taxi drivers to take them across the Jawahar tunnel to Jammu; they left in a hurry in darkness, with tears in their eyes, their hands folded in reverence to the gods they were leaving behind.
In their absence, there was no one left to recite the hymns of Adi Shankara. The aartis, the leelas, the calls to Lord Shiva and his consort Uma, went silent. In torn tents in refugee camps, even the sheer act of living became a defiance.
As per government figures, out of 438 temples in the Valley, 208 have been damaged. But according to the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), a body of a handful of Pandits who chose to stay back, the number of temples in Kashmir Valley is over 1,000, of which more than 500 have been damaged while vast tracts of land belonging to temple trusts have been encroached upon.
In the absence of Government intervention, many ancient temples have just disappeared. In many cases, idols and manuscripts have been damaged or smuggled out. A tenth-century idol of Goddess Durga stolen from a temple in south Kashmir was smuggled to the US and found its way to a museum in Germany. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which had no idea about its existence, was alerted by a Kashmiri Pandit living in New York. After a protracted effort, the idol was finally returned to India by the German government in 2015.
A group of Pandits performing the ancient Gangbal pilgrimage in 2016 found a Shivling thrown into the lake there. They performed some rituals after taking it out, but later chose to put it back in the water. “Had we put it in its original place, someone would have come in our absence and broken it this time,” says Rashneek Kher, who was part of that group.
Kher says he is pained to visit the ancient Naranag complex every year. “A big board outside it says that it is under the ASI, but ever year we find more Shivlings broken inside,” he says.
Consider the case of the ancient Vichar Nag temple near the Anchar Lake on the outskirts of Srinagar. It has two old Shiva temples and a main spring. Today, a visitor will only find garbage and excreta in the temple complex. The spring is long choked with muck, and the slimy green water is malodorous.
In south Kashmir, the Vijeshwar temple in Bijbehara is believed to have been destroyed along with hundreds of other temples by the 14th-century iconoclast, Sikandar Butshikan. Later, the Pandits built a new complex over the ruins of the old temple. It has a Ganesha idol belonging to the 7th century CE. In his 2014 work, the scholar John Siudmak said it had gone missing. But it was later found to be in a corner of the complex. Obviously, without any protection, there is no guarantee that it will remain safe in future.
In Srinagar, one of the temples in Abiguzar was destroyed in the floods of 2014. The few Pandit families who live nearby tried their best to renovate it. But due to lack of funds, there has not been much progress.
Recently, the Junior Union Home Minister G Kishan Reddy said the Government would restore and reopen 50,000 vandalised temples in Jammu and Kashmir. The number is highly exaggerated, of course, and serves as a reminder that the Government is not serious aboutrestoring Kashmir’s glorious Hindu past at all. Even when the BJP had an alliance with the PDP in the state, a Government tourism ad did not show even a glimpse of the Valley’s Hindu heritage.
“The temples have been ignored just like the Pandits who lived here in Kashmir,” says a man who has come to pray at a temple in Srinagar. At times, he says, the temple doors are opened for a festival and then is ignored for months. “A sin is committed every day,” says the caretaker Pandit who looks after one such forgotten temple in Srinagar.
In the past, the BJP Government has made several promises to the Pandits that it will ensure their return to their homeland. Nothing has happened on the ground, though. But the least the Government can do is restore the dignity of their gods. And it has to be done now, before it is too late.
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