Another Babri Masjid in making? Sangh Parivar's yatra to Kashmir cave threatens peace in Valley

The proposed pilgrimage by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar headed organisation could trigger face-off in the Himalayan state where social faultlines are deepening

Another Babri Masjid in making? Sangh Parivar

A Sangh Parivar affiliate’s decision to start a new Yatra to Abhinavgupta cave in village Beerwah of the central Kashmir’s Budgam district is stoking tensions with people from the area opposing the proposed pilgrimage to be held in the second week of this month.

The Acharaya Abhinavgupta Sheshadri Samroh Samiti, which is organizing the Abhinav Sandesh Yatra said the pilgrimage would start from New Delhi and would be open to participation for every one including people from Jammu and Kashmir.

“We will be organizing pooja at Kheer Bawani in Ganderbal on June 10 and other temples before starting the yatra to the Abhinavgupta Cave the following day for holding pooja there too,” said convener of the yatra, Ajay Bharti.

The Samiti, according to Bharti, is an amalgam of different organisations with members from all across India and is headed by the Art of Living Foundation  founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

However, Anjuman Mazharul Haq, a Muslim religious organisation from the area has threatened to hit the roads in case the Samiti decides to go ahead with the pilgrimage. “This cave has no historical or religious significance,” patron Anjuman Mazharul Haq, Moulana Syed Abdul Lateef Bukhari said. “We will resist in case the government allows this yatra. This can harm communal harmony.”

Bukhari said the cave in the past was used by a Muslim saint Mian Shah Sahab for prayers and thereby a sacred space for the Muslims. “According to the revenue records Mian Shah Sahab prayed in this cave. This makes the cave a holy place for Muslims,” he said. “It is our request therefore to not to forcibly hold a yatra to the cave. And if it is still done, it can disturb the traditional amity between the communities.”

He said there was no historical evidence that Abhinavgupta had stayed in the cave with his disciples nor was the site called Batta Gof (Kashmiri Pandit cave).

Citing court order that rules out that the cave had ever anything to do with Abhinavgupta, Bukhari said the pilgrimage was politically motivated. “Honorable Court in its judgment vide number DCB/PIL.SQ.14.639-43 dated 5/5/2014 has stated that they are of the opinion that the tale of Abhinavgupta is not based on any historical evidence but it seems to be a story concocted by the petitioners,” Bukhari said.

Anjuman Mazharul Haq also attempted to address the media in Srinagar, but authorities reportedly denied them permission.

Earlier, RSS general secretary Suresh (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi said in a statement that pilgrimage to Abhinavgupta shrine will be a true homage to him. The statement said the Samiti will celebrate Abhinavgupta’s literary and spiritual contributions “to enlighten the whole world, especially the youth of Kashmir, with the life and deeds of the legend who interpreted the ancient spiritual and cultural heritage of Kashmir in a new unifying philosophy with the challenges of times, in this era of ideological fanaticism.”

Earlier in the year, Ashutosh Bhatnagar, secretary-general to the Sangh’s Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre, also told media that RSS will hold a seminar in Srinagar in Abhinavgupta’s memory later this year.

“We will have four-five international seminars through 2016, 50-60 national seminars and 250-300 workshops on Acharya Abhinavgupta. His memory is still cherished in Kashmir and no section of society will have any problem with him,” Bhatnagar told media.

In 2014, the proposed Kashmiri Pandit yatras to Gangabal and Kausarnag lakes had threatened to push Kashmir into turmoil.

A Kashmiri Pandit group, All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee had drawn up the yatra calendar for the year which announced dates for the pilgrimages to the two pristine high-altitude water bodies in Kashmir Valley: one to Gangabal, a freshwater lake at the foothills of the Harmukh, the highest mountain peak in Kashmir Valley. This yatra was supposed to be resumed after hundred years.

And another to Kousar Nag, a mountainous lake in South Kashmir located 12000 feet above sea level in Pirpanchal range. This pilgrimage was started in 2009 from Reasi in Jammu and now the Pandits planned to undertake it from Valley, with Kulgam town as its base camp.

The proposed pilgrimages had set up the stage for a face-off along communal lines in a state already sitting on several social faultlines. The insistence on adding new yatras to the pilgrimage calendar of the Valley plays into deep existential fears in Valley.

In dominant public perception, the attempt to start fresh yatras are seen as a part of the larger plan to “dilute the Muslim character of the Valley” and at its most extreme, a calibrated effort to “change the demographic character of the state”.