The Pilgrimage places of Kashmir are located amidst spellbinding and marvellous hills, lakes and greens. The region has been influenced by the best traditions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. A number of temples and mosques can be seen dotting the beautiful landscapes. Pilgrimages of Kashmir are of equal fame as its picturesque natural beauty. A few of them are renowned spiritual and meditation centers. The best part about these pilgrimages lies in the fact that despite belonging to different religions, they co-exist peacefully. Various famous Hindu temples exist along with equally renowned Muslim shrines. The majestic Hari Parbat pilgrim centre is an excellent example of this fact; consisting of a temple (Hindu), a masjid (Muslim) and a gurudwara (Sikh). Some of the famous holy places in Kashmir are:
Surrounded by fairly steep hills, the Amarnath temple is considered to be Kashmir's oldest existing temple, dating back to the 5th century. This Shiva temple is situated in a narrow gorge on the far end of Lidder Valley at an altitude of 3888 m. The 'Yatra' to Amarnath, one of the principal Hindu Dhams, starts from Chandanwari (2,895 m), 16 kms from Pahalgam, in the month of Sawan (July to August). The temple is famous for a 'Shiva-Lingam', (a natural formation of ice, during the months of July/August) believed to wax and wane according the moon's cycle.
There is a mythological story associated with the cave of Amarnath. When Lord Shiva was narrating the secret of immortality to his wife Parvati, a pair of mating doves eavesdropped on this conversation and learned the secret. Repeatedly reborn, they are said to have made the cave their eternal abode. Even today, the people claim seeing the pair of doves when they trek to the ice Shivalinga. The weather is quite uncertain. Rain or snowfall may take place at any time during the Amarnath Yatra. The temperature may fall to -5 degree C.
Shankaracharya Temple, located in the south-eastern part of Kashmir, is an excellent example to showcase the ancient Kashmiri architecture. Built on the picturesque location of Gopadari Hill, this Shiva temple stands on a solid rock and consists of an octagonal basement of 13 layers. The temple was built in 371 B.C. Since then, it has been repaired and renovated several times, yet it boasts of the architectural style of those times. The main shrine is built in a circular chamber and offers a wonderful view of Kashmir Valley, comprising of enchanting lakes and the majestic Himalayas.
Built at a height of 1100 feet above Srinagar city, the temple has a Persian inscription that dates back to the reign of emperor Shah Jahan. People believe that the saint Adi Shankaracharya visited Kashmir in the first quarter of the 9th century to revive Sanatan Dharma. This incident led to the renaming of the temple as the Shankracharya temple.
On the way to Yusmarg, 40 kilometers from Srinagar, there is the pilgrimage destination of Charar-e-sharief, one of the most sacred Muslim shrines. The Dargah was constructed to commemorate the Sufi saint Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani, therefore it is popularly known as the Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali. Commuting to the shrine is a little risky as the region lies near Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Yet people visit this 600 year old dargah. Most of the shrine was burnt and destroyed in 1995, during the battle between the Indian Army and the Pakistani Army. It was rebuilt along typical Asian architectural lines.
Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani, a Hindu by birth, was the patron saint of the Muslims in Kashmir and the initiator of Rishism or mendicant-hood. His school of Rishism was later renowned as the Rishi Mat or Vaishnav Mat. The Charar-e-Sharif in Srinagar is a perfect example of a religious practice that delivers communal harmony, non-violence, vegetarianism and secular tolerance. There are several other shrines such as Kaymoh, Chimyr, Hauchpur, Draygam and Roopvan that are built on Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani's name, but Charar-e-Sharif remains the most popular as the saint's body is buried there.
The Hazratbal Masjid is an important Islamic shrine, located in the village of Hazratbal, on the banks of the Dal Lake. It is an epitome of the love and respect of Muslims for Prophet Mohammad. The shrine is famous and frequently visited so for three major reasons. First, people visit the shrine to see the holy Moi-e-Muqqadus, the preserved sacred hair of the prophet Muhammad. The hair is kept on display for the public on festive occasions. Secondly, Hazratbal is the only mosque in Kashmir with a dome. All other mosques have Pagoda like roofs. Apart from this, the mosque has an extraordinary and unique architecture made of pure white marble.
The Hazratbal masjid is situated in Srinagar, some 8 Kms from Lal Chowk, facing the beautiful Nishat Bagh. The basic structure of the masjid belongs to the early seventeenth century when Sadiq Khan (the Subedar of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan) constructed Ishrat Mahal (Pleasure House), along with a garden, at the site of the mosque in 1623. After visiting the mahal, Shahjahan ordered the conversion of the palace into a prayer house in 1634. When Moi-e-Muqqadus arrived in Kashmir in 1699, Aurangzeb, the then emperor, kept the sacred hair in the shrine of Naqashbad Sahib but later shifted it to Hazratbal, then known as Sadiqabad. The construction of the final shrine with marble structure started in 1968. It took about eleven years and the masjid was completed in 1979.
Believed to be one of the oldest muslim shrines in Kashmir and perhaps with a maximum number of reconstructions too, the shrine of Shah-e-Hamdan or Khanqah e Moulah is situated on the banks of river Jehlum in the old city. It was constructed by Sultan Shah Sikandar in 1395, in memory of the Muslim preacher Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who used to visit Kashmir for meditating and preaching. The word “Khanqah” literally means a lodge or resting place for Sufi saints.
The shrine was first destroyed in a fire in 1480 and the ruler Sultan Hassan Shah reconstructed it on the same pattern in a larger area. After a gap of 13 years (in 1493), it was demolished and reconstructed in a two storeyed form. The shrine witnessed another destruction in 1731 and was reconstructed by Abul Barkat Khan. Presently, it is shaped like a cube with a pyramidal roof. Despite its troubled history, the shrine is appreciated for its intricate woodwork, carvings, and papier machie work on the walls and ceilings. Cedar wood was used for the construction of this Khanqah. It is an excellent and unique example of the medieval wooden style of Kashmir's Muslim architecture.
This Hindu shrine, devoted to Goddess Ragnya Devi (a form of Maa Durga Bhagwati) is visited by a number of Muslims as well. The temple is called Kheer Bhawani because of numerous devotees who offer milk and kheer (a desert made of rice, milk and sugar) to the Goddess. Situated 27 km from Srinagar, the temple was built by King Maharana Pratap Singh in 1912.
Another major charm of the temple is a hexagonal spring, which changes colour from time to time to various shades like red, pink, orange, green, blue, or milky white. Any dark shade is considered inauspicious for the society. Once it turned a shade of black in 1947, when the Pakistani raiders attacked the valley. The temple is the centre for celebrating the annual festival of Jesht Ashtami (the birthday of Goddess Kheer Bhawani), in the month of June. Another occasion of special importance is Shukla Paksh Ashtami. Several Hindu rituals like Havana/Yagna are performed along with observing a full-day fast to please the Goddess.
Hari Parbat Fort
Visit the famous 'Hari Parbat' hill, surrounded by almond orchards, to get a lovely sight of the enchaning lakes, greens and other majestic hills. Hari Parbat, now famous for its Mughal Fort, is a major spot of attraction. The impressive Hari Parbat Fort was built between 1592 and 1598 by Atta Mohammad Khan, an Afghan governor. The architectural pattern of the walls and gateways of the fort bear evidence that the Mughal emperor Akbar also contributed to the construction of this fort. Apart from being a historical monument of Srinagar, it has religious importance too.
Sharika Devi Temple, located on a hill, is an ancient temple, and one of the holiest places of Kashmir. The temple is the abode of the eighteen-armed Goddess Mahashakti- the Divine Mother Jagatamba Sharika Bhagwati (also known as Maha Tripursundhari or Rajrajeshwari). The Presiding Deity of Srinagar city, Godess Sharika is represented by Shrichakra (consisting of circular mystic impressions and triangular patterns with a dot at the Centre). This Shrichakra can be seen engraved on a vertical holy rock at the centre of western face of Hari Parbat. According to the Hindu calender, people gather here on the auspicious occasions of Phagun Krishna Paksh Ashtami (Hora Ashtami) and Ashad Shukla Paksh Saptami, Ashtami and Navami (Har Satum, Har Aatham and Har Navum) and perform holy rituals. They celebrate Ashad Navami (Har Navum) as the Birthday of Goddess Sharika.
Shrine of saint Makhdoom Sahib
Another famous shrine of Hari Parbat hill is that of Saint Makhdoom Sahib. The shrine lies on the southern side of Hari Parbat and is admired by Muslims as well as Hindus. The mosque is quite close to the Hari Parbat Fort and is amongst the most sacred shrines in Kashmir. The major attraction of the mosque is its double storeyed, multi-pillared architecture.
Makhdoom Sahib, also called Hazrat Sultan, was a Sufi saint. He contributed tremendously in spreading Islam in Kashmir. A flight of stone steps takes you up to the shrine and also goes down towards Dal Lake, crossing the ruined mosque of Akhund Mulla Shah, built by Shah Jahan's son Dara Shikoh in 1649. One can easily reach the hill from the Tourist Reception Center in Srinagar.
Sikh Gurudwara Chhatti Padshahi
Chhatti Padshahi Gurudwara is one of the most peaceful and sacred places and the most important Sikh religious place in Kashmir. Located in Rainwadi, Srinagar, it is an important site for Sikh devotees who assemble here to offer prayers. The shrine is located on the southern gate of Hari Parbat Fort, i.e. Kathi Darwaza. This is the most important Gurudwara built by the sixth guru of Sikhs. A gurudwara has been built at every spot he had halted to preach, while travelling through Kashmir The most important one among these is Chhatti Padshahi gurudwara.
The gurudwara is admired by devotees of all faiths and religions. TheSangat and District Gurudwara Committeeruns its management. A free dispensary is operated by theGuru Nanak Mission Hospitalto facilitate the devotees. Apart from this, devotees are provided withGurmat classeswith emphasis onSikh historyand culture. People flock to the gurudwara to attendKirtan classes and Langar.There is a good library inside the gurudwara with books/granthas on religious/spiritual topics. Chhatti Padshahi Gurudwara witnesses heavy crowds in January during the annual event ofGurmat Samagam.