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Swami Vivekananda in Kashmir

Compiled by Swami Bodhasarananda, Kolkata

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda
(Parliament of World's Religions', Chicago, U.S.A., Photograph)

This article has been compiled from authentic life of Swami Vivekananda. It gives a day to day record of his stay in Kashmir more than one hundred years ago. He visited many shrines. From the visions and experiences he had, we find these shrines surcharged with God's presence. Only we have to open our hearts to allow the God's grace flow inside us.

Swami Vivekananda visited Srinagar twice. The first time he reached Srinagar was on 10th September 1897. At Srinagar he was the guest of Justice Rishibar Mukhopadhyaya. On the third day after his arrival he paid an informal visit to the place of the Maharaja. Since the Maharaja was then at Jammu, his brother Raja Rama Singh received the Swami with marked cordiality and honour, seating him on a chair, and himself sitting with officials on the floor. The Raja was deeply impressed by Swamiji's thoughts on religion and his eagerness to improve the condition of the poor. He voiced his desire to help the Swami in carrying out his plan of work.

Early in the first week of October the Swami was busy filling many engagements, private and public, and visiting the places of historic interest with which Kashmir abounds. Sadhus, Pandits, students, officials of high rank went to meet him.

The Swami left Srinagar for Baramulla and reached Murree on October 8 and from there to Rawalpindi on October 16, 1897.

The second time also Swami Vivekananda had to go to Srinagar via Rawalpindi, Murree and Baramulla. The distance had to be covered partly by tonga and partly by boat. Sister Nivedita, Mrs. Ole Bull and Miss MacLeod accompanied him.

Swami Vivekananda had great fascination for Lord Shiva during his childhood. As he grew older his love for Shiva, the Lord of monks and yogis deepened. And now in the Himalayas, the abode of the Great God, the thought of Him was uppermost in the Swami's mind. To his disciples he spoke of the Puranic conception of the oneness of Shiva and His consort, Uma, under the guise of half-man and half-woman. It represented the junction of two great streams of thought, Monasticism and Mother-worship; or it represented the vision of truth where renunciation through philosophy and supreme love become inseparable. And "he understood, he said, for the first time the meaning of the nature-story that made the Ganga fall on the head of the Great God, and wander in and out amongst His matted locks, before she found an outlet on the plains below. He had searched long, he said, for the words that the rivers and waterfalls uttered, among the mountains, before he had realized that it was the eternal cry `Vyom! Vyom! Hara!' `Yes!' he said of Shiva one day, `He is the Great God, calm, beautiful and silent; and I am His great worshipper'."

While coming from Baramulla when he entered further into Kashmir, the Swami's mind was filled with the legends of the Kashmiris. The Vale of Kashmir had once been a lake; and it is related that at this point where the Swami was entering the Vale, the Divine Boar pierced the mountains with his tusks, and let the Jhelum go through.

The period from June 22 to July 15, 1898 was spent in houseboats (dungas) on the Jhelum, in and about Srinagar. He told his Western disciples many things about Kashmir, for instance, the different religious periods through which Kashmir had passed, with special attention given to the period under Kanishka; the morality of Buddhism and the religious imperialism of Ashoka; and again the history of Shiva-worship.

On June 26, the Swami suddenly felt a longing to leave the party and go to a quiet place. But not knowing that this was his intention, the party followed him to Kshir Bhavani. It was said to be the first time that Christian or Muslim had set foot there. The irony of the occasion was that the Muslim boatman would not allow the Swami and his Christian disciples to land with shoes on, "so thoroughly Hinduistic," says Nivedita, "is the Mohammedanism of Kashmir with its forty Rishis, and pilgrimages made fasting, to their (i.e. the Hindus') shrines."

Among the local excursions that the Swami made with his disciples was that on July 29 to the small, massively built Shiva temple that stands atop the Shankaracharya Hill. This hill is also known as Takt-i-Suleiman, and rises a thousand feet above the surrounding terrain. The famous floating gardens can be seen below, for miles around. The beauty and extensive sweep of the scene drew from the Swami the exclamation : "Look, what genius the Hindu shows in placing his temples! He always chooses a grand scenic effect! See, the Takt commands the whole of Kashmir. The rock of Hari Parvat rises red out of blue water, like a lion couchant, crowned. And the temple of Martand has the valley at its feet!"

On July 4, the day of American Independence, he wrote a poem entitled "To the Fourth of July" which can be interpreted as a passionate utterance of his own longing for the Final Freedom in the Infinite. Time was to prove that it had been penned in a prophetic vein; for, four years later, on that very day, his shackles of work broken, he entered in "springing joy" into the Final Freedom, concerning which he had written.

A desire for quiet and peace seemed to grow more and more upon Swami Vivekananda in these days. On July 10 he left alone for a pilgrimage to Amarnath ji by way of Sonamarg. On the 15th he returned, having found that route impracticable because the summer heat had melted some of the glaciers.

On July 19 the whole party started for Anantnag by boat. On the first afternoon they sought out and found the quaint old Temple of Pandrethan (derived from Puran-adhishthana meaning "old capital"), sunken in a scum-covered pond within a wood, by the side of the Jhelum. This is four and a half miles to the southeast of Srinagar. The temple is a small cell, with four doorways opening to the cardinal points. He drew their attention to the interior decorations, with their sun-medallion, and to the fine sculpture, in low relief, of male and female figures intertwined with serpants. Among the outside sculptures is a fine one of the Buddha standing with hands uplifted. And there is a much-defaced frieze, showing a seated woman and a tree. This evidently represents Maya Devi, the Buddha's mother. The temple is built of grey lime-stone, and dated from the tenth century A.D. "To the Swami," writes Sister Nivedita, "the place was delightfully suggestive," and she adds :

Kashmir, 1897. Sitting on chairs, left to right: Swamis Sadananda, Vivekananda, Niranjanananda, and Dhirananda.

Kashmir, 1898. Left to right : Jesophine McLeod, Mrs. Ole Bull, Vivekananda, and Sister Nivedita.

On a houseboat in Kashmir, 1898. Left to right : Jesophine MacLeod, 
Vivekananda, Mrs. Ole Bull, and Sister Nivedita.

"It was a direct memorial of Buddhism, representing one of the four religious periods into which he had already divided the history of Kashmir : 1) Tree and snake worship, from which dated all the names of the springs ending in Nag, as Veernag and so on; 2) Buddhism; 3) Hinduism in the form of sun-worship; and 4) Mohammedanism. Sculpture he told us, was the characteristic art of Buddhism. The figures with the serpants reffered to pre-Buddhism."

Moving up the river, the party came next day (July 20) to the ruins of the two great temples of Avantipur; legend of which relates to Pandava times. Its sculptures drew his admiration. In his view the temples were more than two thousand years old. Swamiji said in the course of conversation : "In order to strengthen the national life, we must reinforce the current of that life itself along the line of its own culture of ideals. For instance, Budha preached renunciation, and India heard. Yet within a thousand years, she had reached her highest point of national prosperity. The national life in India has renunciation as its source. Its highest ideals are service and Mukti."

On July 21 when the party landed at the temple of Bijbehara, then already thronged with Amarnath pilgrims, he was able to join them for a little while. After visiting the temple, they left for Anantnag which was reached on the afternoon of July 22. He sat on the grass of an apple orchard and he started talking about the rarest of rare personal experiences. Picking up two pebbles, he said, "Whenever death approaches me, all weakness vanishes. I have neither fear, nor doubt, nor thought of the external. I simply busy myself making ready to die. I am as hard as that" — and the stones struck one another in his hand� "for I have touched the feet of God!"

On the 23rd morning the party went to see the ruins of Martand. "It had been a wonderful old building � evidently more abbey than temple — in a wonderful position," writes Nivedita, "and its great interest lay in the obvious agglomeration of styles and periods in which it had grown up."

On July 25 the party went on to Achabal and in the afternoon came back to Anantnag. It was at Achabal that the Swami announced his intention of going to Amarnath with the two or three thousand pilgrims then en route to that shrine. As a special privilege, Sister Nivedita was allowed to join him as a pilgrim. It was settled that his other Western disciples would accompany the party as far as Pahalgam and there wait for the Swami's return.

On July 27 they halted for a night at Bhavan (Martand, also called Matan) and reached Pahalgam on July 28. Throughout the rest of the journey Swami Vivekananda would bathe in the holy waters, offer flowers, fruits and sweets to the object of worship before breaking his fast, make obeisance by prostrating himself on the ground, tell his beads, make ritual circumambulation, and the rest. At every halt, the Swami's tent was besieged by scores of monks seeking knowledge from him. Many of them could not understand his broad and liberal views on religious matters. The Muslim Tehsildar, the state official in charge of the pilgrimage, and his subordinates, were so attracted to the Swami that they attended his talks daily and afterwards entreated him to initiate them.

On July 30 the Swami left for Chandanwari. Next day a steep climb towards Pishu top followed and then a long walk on the narrow path that twisted round the mountain-side. At last they camped (July 31) at Wavjan at a height of 12,500 ft.

Next day (August 1), after crossing the Mahagunus Top, a pass at 14,500 ft., they reached Panchtarani, the "place of five streams".

On August 2, the day of Amarnath itself, there was first a steep climb followed by a descent, where a false step would have meant death. They walked across a glacier till they reached a flowing stream. When Swami Vivekananda reached the cave, his whole frame was shaking with emotion. The cave itself, says Nivedita, was "large enough to hold a cathedral, and the great ice-Shiva in a niche of depressed shadow, seemed as if throned on its own base." His body covered with ashes, his face aflame with devotion to Shiva, the Swami entered the shrine itself, nude except for a loin-cloth, and prostrated in adoration before the Lord. A song of praise from a hundred throats resounded in the cave, and the shining purity of the great ice-linga over-powered him. He almost swooned with emotion. A profound mystical experience came to him, of which he never spoke, beyond saying that Shiva Himself had appeared before him, and that he (the Swami) had been granted the grace of Amarnath, the Lord of Immortality, namely not to die until he himself should choose to do so. Shri Ramkrishna had prophesied regarding this disciple of his : "When he realizes who and what he is, he will no longer remain in the body!"

Never had the Swami, in visiting a holy place, felt such spiritual exaltation. Afterwards he said to his European disciple, "The image was the Lord Himself. It was all worship there. I never have been to anything so beautiful, so inspiring!" Later on, in the circle of his brother disciples and his own disciples, he said dreamily : "I can well imagine how this cave was first discovered. A party of shepherds, one summer day, must have lost their flocks and wandered in here in search of them. What must
have been their feeling as they found themselves unexpectedly before this unmelting ice-Linga, white like camphor, with the vault itself dripping offerings of water over it for centuries, unseen of mortal eyes! Then when they came home, they whispered to the other shepherds in the valleys how they had suddenly come upon Mahadeva!" Be that as it may, for the Swami this was truly so : he entered the cave and came face to face with the Lord!

On the journey back the Swami and party returned to Anantnag, and from there by boat to Srinagar which they reached on August 8.

In Kashmir the Swami and his party were treated with great respect by the Maharaja; and during his stay various high officials visited the Swami's houseboat to receive religious instruction and converse with him on general topics. The Swami had come at the invitation of the Maharaja, to choose a piece of land for the establishment of a monastery and a Sanskrit college. It was a disappointment to the Swami when, about the middle of September, he heard that official discussion of the site that he had chosen, had been twice vetoed by the British Resident.

Following the pilgrimage to Amarnath, the Swami's devotion became concentrated on the Mother. It was touching to see him worship, as Uma, the four-year old daughter of his Muslim boatman. He once told his disciples, during these days, that "wherever he turned, he was conscious of the Presence of the Mother, as if she were a person in the room."

His meditation on Kali became intense, and one day he had a vision of Her, the mighty Destructress lurking behind the veil of life, the terrible one, hidden by the dust of the living who pass by, all the appearances raised by their feet. In a fever he groped in the dark for pencil and paper and wrote his famous poem "Kali the Mother"; then he dropped to the floor, losing consciousness, while his soul soared into Bhava-samadhi.

On September 30, the Swami abruptly went to Kshir Bhavani, leaving strict instructions that no one was to follow him. It was not until October 6 that he returned. Before this famous shrine of the Mother he daily performed Homa (Havan), and worshipped Her with offerings of Kheer (thickened milk) made from one maund of milk, rice, and almonds. He told his beads like any humble pilgrim. Every morning he worshipped a Brahmin Pandit's little daughter as Uma Kumari, the Divine Virgin. He practised severe austerities. He became like a child before the Divine Mother. All thought of Leader, Worker, or Teacher was gone. He was now only the monk, in all the nakedness of pure Sannyasa.

One day at Kshir Bhavani he had been pondering over the ruination and desecration of the temple by the Muslim invaders. Distressed at heart, he thought : "How could the people have permitted such sacrilege without offering strenuous resistance! If I had been here then, I would never have allowed such a thing. I would have laid down my life to protect the Mother." Thereupon he heard the voice of the Goddess saying : "What if unbelievers should enter My temple and defile My image? What is that to you? Do you protect Me, or do I protect you?" Referring to this experience after his return, he said to his disciples : "All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only Mother! Mother! I have been very wrong. I am only a little child."

Another day, in course of his worship, the thought flashed through the Swami's mind that he should try to build a new temple in the place of a present dilapidated one, just as he had built a monastery and temple at Belur to Shri Ramkrishna. He even thought of trying to raise funds from his wealthy American disciples and friends. At once the Mother said to him : "My child! If I so wish I can have innumerable temples and monastic centres. I can even this moment raise a seven-storied golden temple on this very spot."

"Since I heard that divine voice," the Swami later said, "I have ceased making any more plans. Let these things be as Mother wishes."

Thus we see during his stay in Kashmir, Swami Vivekananda was in a different world altogether. Visions of Shri Amarnath, Mother Kali and Kshir Bhavani remained always with him. Later at Belur Math he said : "Since visiting Amarnath, I feel as though Shiva were sitting on my head for twenty-four hours a day and will not come down."

The party left Kashmir on October 11 and came down to Lahore. Swamiji reached Belur Math on October 18, 1898.

The author is the manager of Advaita Ashrama, the publication department of the Ramakrishna Math & Mission, Belur Math, Kolkata.

Source: Vitasta



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