One of the most important places of worship for Hindus of Kashmir is the temple of Kheer Bhawani, located 25 kms north-east of Srinagar, in the village of Tulmul, district Ganderbal. It is dedicated to Bhagwati Ragnya also called Devi Rajna, a form of Goddess Durga. It is located in a sacred spring. Kheer (milk and rice pudding), because devotees offer it to appease the Goddess.
The story of the Goddess is found in the Hindu scripture Bringesh Samhita, an ancient text written by Sage Bringesh, a highly revered sage of the ancient times who lived in the southern part of Kashmir. It is mentioned as a narration by Lord Shiva to Goddess Parvati in this scripture. Thousands of years ago floods inundated the spring and this temple. A Kashmiri pandit Yogi Krishna Pandit Taploo of Bohri Kadal, Srinagar had a dream in which the Goddess appeared to him and directed him to the location of the holy spring. A snake in the form of Lord Shiva outlined the seven-sided shape of the wall surrounding the spring. This place is also mentioned in “Aini Akbari” by Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak as an area of Tulmul extending over a region of 100 bighas of land, which used to sink in the marshy lands during the summer season. Like-wise Kalhana’s Rajatarangni, a chronicle about Kings of India (years 1148-50) especially Kashmir, also mentions it as a holy spring situated in a marshy land.
According to religious beliefs, Ravana, the king of Lanka and an ardent devotee of Shiva was also a great devotee of the Mata Bhawani. The Goddess was pleased by his devotion. However, when Ravana abducted mother Sita, she became furious at this act and left the place in Lanka. She asked Lord Hanuman to remove her idol and place it at some other place far away. Hanuman ji removed the idol and placed it in Kashmir at the present place on the directions of a divine power.
The faith of the devotees in the Goddess is intense. My mother told me that I could not speak alphabets except “Ama” till I was 3 years of age. On the other hand, my first cousin who was my age could speak fluently. Worried by my dumbness, she took me to our family priest, who advised her to make a tongue of silver and donate it at Kheer Bhawani temple. She did it and lo and behold I started speaking within a few week. There are several such anecdotes of miraculous cures happening through the worships in this temple.
The holy spring is formed into a heptagonal shape and in the centre of the spring is the idol of the Goddess. A wall with railings has been constructed around it. The holy spring changes its colours with various hues of red, orange, violet, pink, green, blue, white and rarely black. A black colour is believed to be inauspicious. It was reported to become black in 1990 at the time of Kashmiri pandit exodus and also in 2014 when terrible floods struck the valley.
Walter Lawrence who was the settlement commissioner for the land in 1886 visited the spring and reported it to have a violet tinge, as mentioned in Sir Francis Edward Younghusband’s book on Kashmir. The significance of these colours is not very clear and debated except for black which signifies a bad omen. Dogra Maharajas showed a lot of interest in this shrine and made constructions around the spring and the temple. Maharaja Ranbir Singh made a Dharamshala here. The current form of the spring, temple pond and the temple were built by Maharaja Partap Singh in 1910s and Maharaja Hari Singh the last ruler further renovated the temple. The idol of Lord Shiva next to the deity was installed by Maharaja Partap Singh. The temple area also called the Devi Angun (court yard) is tiled and has a number of old big Chinar trees under which the pilgrims sit or sleep especially during the summers on eco-friendly mats of grass (Waguv) which keep users cool during summers and warm during winters.
An annual mela is held here on the “Zyeshta Ashtami”, as per the Hindu calendar. This year it falls on 14th June 2024. It is the 2nd largest gathering of Hindus in Kashmir following the Amarnath pilgrimage. The mela was threatened by terrorists after the exodus of Pandits in 1990. It was, however, restored by the Army contingent placed at Ganderbal. Currently a contingent of CRPF is deployed at the temple complex for several years now keeping the sanctity and sensitivity of this place in mind. The renovations and new constructions around it was continued. In 2006 the then CM Mr Mufti Mohammed Syed started the construction of one room flats for visiting devotees and a toilet complex around the Sanctum Santorum which was completed by Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad the CM in 2008. The Hawan-shala (Prayer platform) was also expanded to accommodate more people in 2008.
The annual mela at Kheer Bhawani temple in the recent years is growing in size and increasing number of pilgrims, mainly Kashmiri Pandits visit it. The year 2023 witnessed an unprecedented surge, with over 1.87 lakh devotees making the journey. The state government took all the steps to facilitate a smooth and peaceful conduct of the fair. More than 50 State transport buses were pressed into service to bring the devotees. Many social and political organizations set up stalls in the mela area, The local Muslims set up shops to sell milk, flowers and other required things to perform the rituals at the prayer platform as used to be customary. Such events are very important to forge the age-old amity between the major religions of the valley. It is also important for all of us to understand the sentiments behind these ancient sacred places and respect them.
Prof Upendra Kaul, Founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation