Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shah Hamadan/Kali Mandar, 1957

There are some photographs in Brian Brake's 1957 Kashmir collection that I feel deserve individual attention.  This one because comparatively Babri and Hydrabad are simple.

The thought occurred to me a few years ago when I showed a few images on this blog to my Nani. Among these images was an old photograph of Mosque of Shah Hamadan and just for the fun of it I quizzed her if she knew which place it was.

From 'The northern barrier of India: A popular account of the Jummoo and Kashmir territories' (1877) by Frederic Drew
From 'Pictorial tour round India' (1906) by John Murdoch (1819-1904). 

Her answer was quick. With hands held in a namaskar she said, ' Kali Mandar'.

I knew the history of this place, both the oral and the written one, about the fights, about how this spot stood for both a mosque and a temple and probably a Buddhist shrine too, but this knowledge didn't make me realize what this place would have meant for people who lived in Srinagar during a particular era. Most of the old western travelogues I read simply referred to it as the Mosque of Shah Hamadan. Discussed it's architecture and importance is discussed. In one book, 'Houseboating in Kashmir' (1934), an angrez woman, Alberta Johnston Denis, probably finding 'men only' policy of the shrine incomprehensible wrote:
Shah Hamadan was holy, according to the Mohammedans of Kashmir; but whatever he may actually have been, in their loyalty to him, at least, they were intolerant. To this day, this is evidenced in the inscription, elaborately carved on the verandah over the entrance, which, translated, reads: "This is the tomb of Shah Hamadan, who was a great saint of God. Whoever does not believe this, may his eyes be blinded and if he still does not believe it, may he go to Hell." 
In one of these books, I did read about Pandits who while going about their daily business, would pass along this place, stop at a particular spot where water could be seen oozing out and bow down and wash their hands and face. The pull of a hidden holy spring. A spring of strange stories, stories of Kali Nag, an ancient spring, that apparently sprang up just at the moment when Ram killed Ravan, a spring that kids are told holds broken bits of ancient sculptures, a dark spring they say turns you blind if you look into it. Stories of flying chappals and falling gods.

An interesting account on birth and survival of the spot is given by Pandit Anand Koul in his book 'Archaeological Remains In Kashmir' (1935):


Going up by boat, one's attention is arrested farther on by a large building on the right bank between the 3rd and the 4th Bridges, which is called Shah-i-Hamamdan.
There is on this spot a spring, sacred to Kali. There was a Hindu temple over it which was built by Pravarasena II (110-70 A.D.) and was called Kali-Shri. The Mahall, in which it was situated, is still called Kalashpur, a corruption of Kali-Shri-pur. This temple was destroyed by Sultan Qutb-ud-Din (1373-94 A.D.) and, with its materials, he built a khanaqah. The later got burnt down twice and was rebuilt.
Soon after the conquest of Kashmir by Sikhs (1819) the Sikh Governor, Sardar Hari Singh, ordered the demolition of the mosque, saying that as it was a Hindu shrine, the Muhammadans should give up their possession of it. He deputed a military officer, named Phula Singh, with guns which were levelled towards the mosque from the Pathar Masjid Ghat, and everything was ready to blow it away. The Muhammadans then went to Pandit Bir Bal Dhar [a hero, a villian based on which Kashmir narrative you hold dear] who, having brought the Sikhs into Kashmir, was in great power, and requested him to intervene and save the mosque. He at once went to the Governor and told him that the Hindu shrine, though in the Muhammadans, was in a most protected condition and the removal of the mosque would be undersirable as it would simply lay it open to constant pollution by all sorts of people. There upon Sardar Hari Singh desisted from knocking it down.
On the wall fronting the river the Hindus have put a large ochre mark, and worship the goddess Kali there. 
The spot captured by Brian Brake in around 1957. A spot that is now claimed and hidden by a tree gone wild. Claimed by a grayness that now fills the recent photographs of Kashmir. A place very simply once claimed in speeches made in Indian parliament floor as proof of syncretic culture of Kashmir.







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3 comments:

  1. I remember Kali mandir. I went there as a kid,holding my mother's hand, and was surprised to hear from my mother that we were not allowed inside the complex...instead we participated in puja at the spot mentioned by you. However, on my insistance, my mother took me into compound and I remember clearly seeing two KP women pleading with some person (who looked like a care taker)to allow them to go inside the main structure for once but that person was admitting his helplessness on the issue.....needless to say....it had a big impact on me as a kid and this incident got etched in my memory.

    ReplyDelete
  2. //A place very simply once claimed in speeches made in Indian parliament floor as proof of syncretic culture of Kashmir. //
    Hahahaha. The cruelty of irony

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was later 1920s and 1930s again controversy when some Pandit associations wanted to put a shed over the ochre mark. The shed of course never came up.

      Looking from the river, Shah Hamadan (like most shrines) was always marked by trees. When I checked this year, the trees have been brought under controlled...wisely trimmed...the shrine is now more clearly visible. Only the tree cover for ochre mark (the young state of which can be seen in the above photograph) is still there.

      Delete

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