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Bada Shivala of Rani Katra

A historic symbol of Kashmiri Shaivism

By Dr. B.N. Sharga

Kashmiri Pandits re basically the worshippers of Lord Shiva, Kashmir is abode of Baba Amarnath. Every year in the month of Sawan according to Hindu calendar lacs of pilgrims from all over the country visit the holy cave of Amarnath to pay their obeisance to naturally formed ice lingam, a rare phenomenon with no scientific explanation. Kashmir even otherwise is a unique place in the sense that it has innumerable asthapans, shrines, temples and other holy places spread all over its area connected with different gods and goddesses. These holy places are not only of religious and historical importance but are actually symbols of distinct cultural identity of Kashmiri Pandits. So they should be protected and preserved at any cost,  because they represent our centuries old customs and traditions and our existence as a distinct ethnic group in this vast sea of humanity.

The Kashmiri Pandits who had to leave their motherland for whatever reasons in different periods being Shaivites built a number of Shiva temples and Shivalas in different important cities of North India in the 18th and 19th century as nerve centres for their community just to keep their heritage alive and vibrating even in newly acquired surroundings. These exclusive religious places used to serve as important centres of their social activities and mutual interaction to strengthen the community bonds as religious functions and social gatherings in that period were generally organised at these places for certain reasons to maintain strict privacy on such occasion. This system actually helped our ancestors to a great extent in preserving their distinct ethnic identity without any dilution for about 200 years, which otherwise would not be possible in evolving their social history.

Since Delhi, Lucknow and Lahore used to have a big concentration of Kashmiri Pandits diaspora before independence outside the Kashmir Valley so naturally these three important cities have a large number of Shiva temples and Shivalas built by Kashmiri Pandits in different times to carry out their religious obligations without any difficulty and to keep their heritage intact.

Oudh occupies a very important place in the social history of Kashmiri Pandits disaspora. Its ruler Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula due to some personal differences with his mother Bahu Begum and grandmother Sadrejahan Begum shifted his seat of government from Faizabad to Lucknow in 1775. With this change a large number of Kashmiri Pandits employed in the country also shifted their base from Faizabad to Lucknow and a locality after their name known as Kashmiri Mohalla came into existence, which subsequently played a key role in shaping the destiny of many Kashmiri Pandits with the independence of the country in 1947. It became a nerve centre for social awakening under the able guidance of the stalwarts of the community who were the real visionaries and pathfinders. Various social and political movements were launched by these men of calibre and integrity from this place to infuse new life in the community and a bring certain reforms in it to face the new challenges boldly and squarely.

Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula (1775-1797) was a liberal ruler so he gave employment to many Kashmiri Pandits on important posts in his court. One of them was Pt. Zind Ram Chowdhary, who became the incharge of the salary of "tankha" department to give salaries to the court employees. His descendants subsequently adopted Tankha as their surname.

Pt. Zind Ram Chowdhari was originally a resident of Chowdhari Bagh of Rainawari in the Srinagar district of Kashmir. His ancestor Pt. Shankar Das Chowdhari was a mansabdar during the rule of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707) in Kashmir. He earned a lot of fortune and built a number of houses in Rainawari, his son Pt. Mahesh Das Chowdhari became a great builder when Saif Khan (1668-1671) was the governor of Kashmir. So that way Pt. Zind Ram Chowdhari Tankha inherited the construction traits from his ancestors.

Actually a branch of this Chowdhary clan left Kashmir during the rule of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707) around 1670. They settled down first at Barielly, which was the capital of Rohilkhand then. They lived there happily for four generations. When Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula of Oudh conquered Rohilkhand in 1773 and made it a part of Oudh Pt. Bishambhar Nath Chowdhary and Pt. Uncha Nath Chowdhary then shifted their base to Delhi whereas Pt. Zind Ram Chowdhary came to Lucknow to join the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula.

Bada Shivala

It is said that a great famine broke out in Lucknow in 1778. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula then to provide succour to the hungry subjects started the construction of Asafi Imambara for which skilled masons and artisans were called from Iran and some other places to execute this project. But according to historian P.N. Oak it was actually a reconstruction and remodelling work which was undertaken to give a new look to the already existing structure known as Panch Mahal and some ancient ruins of a fort built at that spot probably by veerver Lakshman the founder of the city.

Pt. Zind Ram Chowdhary Tankha grabbed this god sent opportunity and engaged the same skilled masons and artisans to build a magnificent structure in Rani Katra known as Bada Shivala, which now some locals call as Sankata Devi Ka Mandir. There are many stories connected with this rare piece of architectural beauty. This marvellous edifice of great historical importance was a nerve centre for the activities of the Kashmiri Pandits for a very long time when the whole area was inhabited by them. This Bada Shivala is one of the ancient Shiva temples in the Lucknow city. How its Lingam was brought in the narrow lane and placed inside the sanctum sanctorium is still a big mystery.

This temple complex besides a unique lingam a symbol of cosmic power has other idols of gods and goddesses as well. A well chiselled idol of Kashmiri Pandits' Kuldevi Ragyna made of snowwhite Maccarana marble also adorns this complex. The locals worship it as Sankata Devi. There is also a Yagna Shala in its compound for performing havans and other vedic rituals. During the life time of Raja Brij Narain Tankha whose ancestor built this whole complex its purohit used to run a Vedic Pathshala in its precincts to teach Karmakand to young disciples. The idol of 'Ragynadevi was dressed in typical Kashmiriattire with 'dijahaoos" and "authoor".

On every Navratra and Shivratrai this complex attracts a very large number of devotees from all parts of the city due to its religious significance. It is an important landmark of Lucknow's history. On every Monday in the month of Savan the whole complex is beautifully decorated with flowers and coloured lights. The state government is now contemplating to make it a destination for religious tourism to earn foreign exchange. In absence of any legal authority to run its affairs and to properly look after its management unscrupulous elements are now desperately trying to usurp this uncared valuable property to mint quick money. This property is mentioned as H.No: 407/118 in the records of Lucknow Municipal Corporation. Its real owner Pt. Ratan Narain Tankha now lives at Laxmi Niwas, West Field Estates, off Warden Road, Mumbai-400026. The matter was also brought into the notice of the office bearers of Lucknow Kashmiri Association several times for some action but uptill now nothing concrete has been done in this regard. The Kashmiri Association is giving more importance to bhawan and havans as if other things are meaningless for them. It seems that there is dearth of selfless leaders in the community to do something for a social cause with a missionary spirit. Actually we have lost the will to act, may be due to the influence of Kal Sarp Yog one can take a horse upto the water body but cannot force it to drink. Under the influence of western way of life we have already left many things far behind. Now it is turn of leaving this mortal frame to attain complete salvation, Jai Shiv Shamboo!

Kashmiri Writers B.N. Sharga
 

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