Kashmir has, since times immemorial, been the abode of gods and goddesses. The name Kashmir itself is derived from the name of ancient sage Kashyap who by his powers drained off the vast lake that erstwhile existed and inhabited the land. In this heavenly and blessed land, varied religions have flourished through the ages. The flourishing Kashmiriyat culture is aptly evident with shrines of all religions.
Sharada Peeth is an ancient centre of learning located now on the other side of line of control. Between the 6th and 12th century it was among the most prominent temple universities. Scholars congregated here to access its famed library containing texts and for philosophical debates. Adi Shankaracharya, a vedic scholar, founder of Advaita philosophy and known for his eloquence, devotion and purity paid a visit to Sharada peeth.The medival period historian Al-Biruni had mentioned this shrine and pilgrimage in his treatise Tarikh-al-Hind. Efforts are underway to revive the age-old Sharada peeth yatra. In this attempt a Sharada-peeth base camp temple is under construction at Tithwal. The local populace, majority of whom are Muslims are supporting and leading the construction work.
Shankaracharya Temple also known as Jyeshthegvara temple dates back to 200 BC. Adi Shankaracharya visited the temple and the temple has ever since been associated with him. It is located on the summit of the Takht-e-Suleiman hill overlooking Srinagar town and is believed to have been visited by King Solomon during 2629-2564 BC, giving the name Takht-e-Suleiman to the hill. Abu Fazal called this hill as Koh-e-Suleman which later became Takht. Zain-ul-Abdin (1420-1470AD) renovated the roof of the temple that had tumbled due to an earthquake. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built a pavilion in front of this temple, the remains of which can still be seen. The temple boasts an architectural technique reminiscent of prehistoric times.
Amarnath Cave in Anantnag district is situated in mount Amarnath in Lidder valley at an altitude of about 13,000ft. The cave is covered with snow for most of the year and is 120 ft wide, 75 ft high and 80 ft deep with five feet high ice ‘Shivalingam’. The cave is accessible in summer for a short period only. Lakhs of devotees came every year to pay homage to Lord Shiva in his famous Himalayan abode negotiating arduous mountain route. The revered saints Adi Shankarachrya, Swamy Vivekananda, Swamy Ram Teertha had darshan of this sanctum sanctorium. According to legends, Lord Shiva disguised as a Sadhu appeared before a Muslim Shepherd Buta Malik and showed him the holy cave. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik in gratitude and respect. The Amarnath yatra has stood as an example of brotherhood among Hindu – Muslim communities for generations.
Kheer Bhavani Temple in Tulmul is an important shrine of Goddess Ragnya Devi. It is surrounded by a spring in the shape of a hexagonal with chinar trees. As per folklore, Ravana worshipped and offered ‘kheer’ to the Goddess and since then the diety is called Kheer Bhavani. According to belief the Goddess changes the colour of spring’s water, which is ascribed to different manifestations of the Goddess. The temple has its mention in Kalhan’s Rajtarangini and also in Abul Fazal’s ‘Aini-i-Akbari’. The excavations have unearthed ancient stone statues of Hindu and Buddhist period as also parts of an ancient temple. Maharaja Pratap Singh built a marvelous marble temple in the midst of spring which shines like a pearl in a shell. Today the Kheer Bhavani congregations have become a symbol of communal harmony and brotherhood in Kashmir.
Charar-e-Sharif, the tomb of Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Rishi in Budgam is the most popular and revered Kashmiri Muslim Shrine in the Valley. The composite culture of Kashmir is best exemplified by the life of Sheikh-Noor-ud-Din himself who is the pioneer of the indigenous sufi movement known as ‘Rishi movement’ and after his death he was buried at Charar-e-Sharif. The Charar-e- Sharief today is the epitome of a religious practice that preaches communal harmony, non-violence, vegetarianism and secular tolerance. During the annual urs of the saint, people from all faiths visit the shrine to seek the blessings.
Khanquah is a building designed for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood. It is a place for spiritual retreat and character reformation. They often served as hospices for Sufi travelers (Salik) and Islamic students (Talib). Hazrat Amir Kabir Mir Sayed Ali Hamdani built 51 Khanquahas from Kashmir to Kashgar. Most of these Khanquahas decayed with time. Khanquaha Faiz-e- Panah, Tral is also one of them which still exist. The words of Quran are depicted on the interior walls of Khanquah. Khanquah Bulbul Shah is on the right bank of Jhelum. It is the oldest Khanquah of Kashmir. The Khanquah was built by a Buddhisht turned Muslim ruler, Sultan Sardar-ud- Din for his peer, Syed Sharaf-ud-Din Bulbul Shah at whose hands the Sultan embraced Islam. Khanquah-e- Maullah/Shah Hamdan shrine is a mosque of Shah-i-Hamdan, better known as Khanquah-e- Maullah, is situated in the heart of Srinagar city. The mosque, a classic example of medieval wooden architecture, stands on the right bank of the Jhelum against the background of snowy mountains. Apart from being the place of prayer Khanquah-e- Maullah became the Islamic centre during Mir Sayed Ali Hamdani, the famous Sufi saint and a prolific writer.
Jamia Masjid on the banks of Jhelum, Srinagar is the oldest and most spacious of all mosques in Kashmir. Thirty thousand people can offer prayers at a time. The roof of the mask is supported by 400 wooden pillars which are 25ft to 50ft in height. The mosque was commissioned by Sultan Sikander and completed in 1402 AD. The mosque was many times gutted in fire, last during Jahangir’s reign. Its reconstruction took 17 years. It has now four feet thick and fifty feet high walls. It has four gates in maharabi design with tall minars of which the tallest is the Western minar. Maharaja Pratap Singh displayed exceptional interest in the maintenance of this precious heritage.
Hazaratbal is the most revered Muslim Shrine of Kashmir. It is on the West bank of Dal Lake, Srinagar. ‘Moi-e-Muqqadas’ (The Sacred Hair of Prophet Muhammad) is preserved here. Remarkably it is the only domed mosque in Srinagar, the others have pagoda like roofs. Emperor Shahajahan built the mosque in 1634 AD and the relic was kept here in the year 1699 AD. The old structure was replaced by modern architecture in 1979 by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. Hazratbal today is a major pilgrimage centre where people from all religions seek the blessings of Prophet Muhammad.
The above shrines collectively represent rich cultural and religious unity and diversity. These shrines in their own way have contributed towards religious harmony, peace, tranquility and enlightenment of the society. Frequent visits by numerous scholars, saints, prophets, pilgrims and devotees through the ages show the spiritual richness of the valley. The shrines are living examples of ‘Kashmiriyat’ which stand for tolerance, compassion and brotherhood.