temple is dedicated to Jagdamba Sharika Bhagwati, considered the presiding
deity of Srinagar. (Express Photo by Yashee.)
Srinagar is Hari Parbat, a hill home to a fort, a temple, a Gurdwara and a
Dargah. The temple here is dedicated to Jagdamba Sharika Bhagwati, considered
the presiding deity of Srinagar.
concertina wires lie on the long flight of stairs leading up to the temple. A
CRPF jaw an proffers a register, where one must note down their name and phone
number before entering the temple. Inside, on the afternoon of February 16,
around 10-15 people are busy with Kirtan. It is a few days before Shivratri,
and the temple is gearing up for the festival.
come here this time of the year in the 1980s, you wouldn’t have space for one
sesame seed on the ground, so crowded would the courtyard have been. Had you
come in the early 90s, you wouldn’t have found anyone,” says Virendra Koul, a
retired government employee.
“Oh, things are better. You see this gathering in the temple. We aren’t fearful
of living our normal lives anymore. Over the years, a few Pandits have come
back, some because of the government’s rehabilitation package, some because the
situation improved,” says Koul.
this Tika on Koulji’s head? He has just come from Old Town (considered among
the more disturbed areas of the city) sporting this. No one bothered him.
There’s no hostility. Times have changed dramatically from the 90s, though it’s
still not a fairy tale,” Sushil Kumar, a government employee, joins in.
back to Kashmir last year under the rehabilitation package, Koul never left.
They both live in Barbarshah area of Srinagar.
Fairy Tale Because?
minority is always a minority. I lived in Uttar Pradesh and NCR for years.
Muslims are a minority there, don’t they feel insecure? We Pandits will always
feel that here. Also, the horrors of the 90s can’t be forgotten,” says Kumar.
jawan passes by, listening intently, but not interrupting the conversation.
things I could tell you about the 90s!” says Koul. “Till late 1980s, everyone
lived in harmony. And then suddenly, we had little children on the streets
chanting slogans of a Muslim empire. I have heard with my own ears,
announcements from mosques saying Kashmir would have Muslim rule. People fled
leaving behind homes, properties worth crores. Then, as the Hindus left, I
watched Kashmir change. You must have spotted beef shops on your way here, but
earlier, beef was never sold openly. There is a mosque every few kilometers
now. This temple, and the others you see open, survived because of the Armed
Forces. We got used to praying in the shadow of guns.”
voice softens. “But you know what, there is another, undeniable truth — the
Hindus who stayed back survived because of their Muslim neighbours. When a
Hindu died, Muslims made all efforts to arrange his funeral, often at personal
breaks in: “Also, if you notice, there are many temples locked up today because
there aren’t enough Hindus to pray in them. But they lie undisturbed. They were
never vandalised. Muslims living around made sure the evil forces never got to
them. Even today, Muslim families have keys to temples. They have them cleaned
and swept, they maintain them.”
smiles. “Individually, Kashmiri Muslims are lovely people. They will lay down
their life for you. But in a mob, something happens to them. They start
behaving and even thinking differently. They get so paranoid. Now that Article
370 is gone, they think Hindus from outside will occupy Kashmir and turn it
into Syria. An unnatural fear has been created in their minds, for years.”
mentality, I guess,” says Koul. “But I don’t think the worst days will ever
come back. That unmaad (frenzy) is gone. The Kashmiri Musalman is at heart a
gentleman. Even when a cock dies, they give it a proper burial.”
jawan is back. He stands in a corner, listening, but not joining in.
Kashmiri blood is gentle. We Hindus too don’t want revenge. We just want to get
on with our lives,” says Kumar. “The rest of India tries to oversimplify our
story depending on the narrative they want to sell. Few actually understand
There is a
general murmur of agreement about the innate excellence of Kashmiris, Hindu or
think Kashmir is the most dangerous place in India,” the CRPF Jawan finally
joins in. “But for us, a Chhattisgarh is far more dangerous. I am originally
from Meerut and have been posted in Kashmir several times since 1994. Here, the
militants number in hundreds, whereas in places like Chhattisgarh, we are
surrounded by thousands of Maoists.”
to him eagerly. What does he think about Kashmiris in general, compared with
other Indians? “We don’t really interact much with people. We stay in our cantonments,
do our jobs,” the Jawan says.
foothills of Hari Parbat lives Haji Hamid. “My family has lived near this
temple for generations. We would wake up to the sound of mantras and temple
bells. For some years, they had been completely silenced. It is good to hear
them again,” says Hamid.
whitewash what happened in the 90s — the threats, the killings. Militancy,
politics, all contributed to the flight of the Hindus. Also, a fear psychosis
was created in their minds by those with vested interests. But the ordinary Muslim
doesn’t wish the Hindus ill.”
recites a mantra to Maa Sharika, in Sanskrit and in Kashmiri. “If I had any
hatred for Hindus, would I remember the mantra?”
temples around being maintained by Muslims? “Of course. We can go to one right
temple is located near the Khwaja Makhdoom Sahib Dargah, on the southern slope
of Hari Parbat. Some enquiries are made in Kashmiri, and a man appears with a
set of keys. Inside, the temple is clean and well-maintained. “There’s no electricity,
but I can show you around with my torch,” says the man who unlocked the temple.
On a wall are stuck coins — wishes made by devotees. “I open the door for
anyone who comes to ask, tourists or local Hindus. I am holding this temple in
trust. It’s more important than my own home for me,” he adds.
a travel operator who takes tourists to the Makhdoom dargaah and the Sharika
temple, joins in: “When the Hindus fled, they were exiled. But we lost our home
too, you know. Kashmir has never been the same. We now live in a city we don’t
recognise, where not one moment is peaceful, where the shadow of fear
accompanies you everywhere, whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim.” He points to
the dargah and the temple. “May either of the Gods return the peaceful, secular
Srinagar we all knew. May we all get back our home.”
Headline: At Srinagar’s Sharika Devi temple: ‘Pandits were driven out, but
those who stayed, survived thanks to Muslims’
Source: The Indian Express