Kashmir is one of the rare places on earth which is associated with nearly all major faiths of the world. The valley of Kashmir and its people have been linked with not only ancient Zoroastrian, Rig Vedic faith and pre-biblical Judaism but also Shaivite Hinduism, Buddhism, and more recent faiths like Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, all of which have together woven a unique tapestry of diverse cultures and faiths. Kashmir’s very own Sufi way of life has glued all these diverse religious traditions in a syncretic pattern, which is often described as “Kashmiriyat”, a quality that makes a Koshur person, regardless of faith or social class, distinct from non-Koshur people.
Nothing symbolises this “Koshurness” more than a short trail that starts from Hari Parbat or Koh-e-Maran and ends at Imambargah Hassanabad in old Rainawari, Srinagar. This heritage trail embodies within itself Kashmir’s unique and diverse history and traditions that include both Abrahamic as well as Dharmic faiths. In many ways, Hari Parbat or Koh-e-Maran is the singular and most prominent identity marker of Srinagar (from Sanskrit, “The Great City”) also known as “Shehar-e-Khas” (from Persian, “The Special city”), the historical capital of Kashmir valley. This imposing hillock separated from the mighty Zabarwan mountain range by the sprawling spread of Dal Lake has been a spiritual guardian of Koshur people and repository of Vedic, Buddhist, Sufi and Sikh traditions, something which makes it a potent cultural symbol of Kashmiriyat.
The ancient name of this hillock is Hari Parbat, and contrary to popular belief, the “Hari” in the Hari Parbat has got nothing to do with the Hindu god Krishna but is actually a Koshur word for Myneah bird –Hari Parbat thus means the hillock of the Myneah. According to popular ancient local Hindu legend, the mountain was abode to demons called by various names such as “Jalobhava”, “Chanda” and “Munda”, who used to harass the people of Kashmir valley and it was Devi Parvati who took the form of a Myneah and dropped a giant pebble on these demons and crushed them to death. The pebble is said to have grown into a hill and as a mark of gratitude there is a temple dedicated to Devi Parvati, who is worshipped there as “Sharika” in the form of “Shri Chakra”, a tantric motif made by flowers on a vermillion-smeared rock edifice, a symbol of “Shakti” or cosmic energy that pervades the universe.
The place is also sacred to Buddhists as the 10th-century Buddhist literary masterpiece “Mokshopaya” was believed to have been composed on the peaceful and pristine slopes of Hari Parbat. Buddhism was a major faith along with Vedic and Shaivite Hindu faiths in ancient Kashmir. Buddhism had a lasting cultural impact on Kashmir. Most Islamic Sufi shrines in Kashmir are said to have adopted the Kashmiri Buddhist stupa spire in making canopies of Sufi shrines.
Hari Parbat’s association with Islam has given it another name – “Koh-e-Maran” and nothing embodies that more than the world-renowned Sufi shrine of “Makdoom Sahab” named after Hazrat Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom (RA), also known as “Sultan-ul-Arifeen” and “Mehboob-ul- Alam”, who hailed from north Kashmir and belonged to a Chandra Vanshi Rajput clan that is said to have descended from Rawan Chandra, brother of Maharani Kota Rani, the last Hindu queen of Kashmir. The greatest thing about Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom (RA) was that he did not adhere to any one particular Sufi tradition but studied them all and integrated them with Kashmir’s own Rishi Sufi tradition. Even though trained in Kubrawi Sufi silsilah, he later on drifted towards Suharwardi Sufi silsilah. He served as a meeting point for Suharwardi Sufi saints belonging to Kashmir’s Rishi order and encouraged interaction among them. It was the charismatic wisdom of “Makhdoom Sahab” that prompted Afghan governor Atta Muhammad Khan to mint a coin in the name of “Makhdoom Sahab” and “Nund Rishi” as a mark of respect to these two legendary Sufi saints of Kashmir valley.
The fortification seen on top of Hari Parbat is of more recent origin, built during Mughal rule. The imposing fort is built in typical Mughal architectural style and is a symbol both of Mughal rule over Kashmir and the love of Mughal emperors for Kashmir. It was during Mughal rule that “Koh-e-Maran” also enveloped the sacred wisdom of Sikhism, when the Sixth Guru of Sikhs – Guru Hargobind Singh – made a visit to the hill, the exact spot at which stands the historic Gurudwara Chatti Patshahi today. Guru Hargobind Singh was the first Sikh Guru who integrated the tradition of “Bhakti” or “Piri” with “Shakti” or “Miri”. A local blind lady called “Mai Bhagbari” is said to have prepared a special “Chola” (robe) for the Guru, which she gave him when he visited her on the foothills of Hari Parbat. Guru Hargobind was instrumental in the establishment of many Gurudwaras and spread of Sikh faith in both Jammu region and Kashmir valley.
This amazing trail of Kashmiryat that begins at the temple of “Sharika” Devi ends at the beautiful Shia Imambargah of Hassanabad that caters to a large Shia population that lives in the area surrounding Dargah Hazratbal on the banks of Dal Lake. The foundation of this beautifully built Imambargah is believed to have been laid in the middle of the 19th century by Mirza Muhammad Ali and was reconstructed later in Kashmiri-Persian architectural style by Aga Syed Ahmed.
Where else can one find such a beautiful example of coming together of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh traditions than the sacred slopes of Hari Parbat or Koh-e-Maran that remains a powerful symbol of Kashmir’s secular and sectarian unity – all embodied in the unique and unparallel way of life called “Kashmiriyat”.
—The writer is an aspiring politician, political analyst, and columnist. Views are personal. [email protected]