A long cherished desire to participate in the celebration of Mata Baderkali festival at Handwara, Kashmir was at last realised. The Mata Baderkali Sathapan Committee made it possible for me and I remain indebted to them on this account.
The experience is a matter of satisfaction and revealing one though the wish realized this October at the twilight of mortal frame after seventy plus summers. Slender had become the thread between to be there and the final abode! But well said “better late than never” perhaps it was all predestined.
Two things which had baptised the fire to visit this shrine had been the influence of my dear mother who often visited this holy shrine in her childhood days when her father was posted in the Forest Department, sometime about 1930 and resided in village Chanam. The other one as transpired about forty years ago from a book that late Syed Ahmed Shah, who retired as Inspector General of Police, popularly known as Shamji, during his childhood days was not keeping good health, a caused of worry in the family.
It was here at Mata Baderkali shrine his mother Dulhan Begum (from Udhampur) wife of late Syed Ahmed Ali Shah of Teetwal who too served the Forest Department, paid obeisance and prayed for her son’s good health. It is believed that a Sadhu in the shrine assured that her prayers had been accepted and called the child Shamji. From then onwards the name ‘Shamji’ stuck with the boy’s name and later in his adult life.
Just utter the name Mata Baderkali to any Kashmiri anywhere on this planet, irrespective of faith, and the person without hesitation shall respond suffixing it with “of Handwara”. Situated about 7 kms west from Handwara connected by all-weather motor road the abode of Mata Baderkali is situated on a small hilltop amidst a rich and thick coniferous Deodars forest covering an area of about 116 Kanals. Earlier there used to be a wooden structure and wooden idol of Mata. However, as narrated by Late Keshav ji Darbari, my maternal grandfather, the wooden idol was replaced by a Shila. A bi-annual three-days celebration is organised during Navratras with a Maha Yaga performed for peace prosperity for all with of blessings Baderkali.
The Maha Yaga starts from the evening of the 7th of Navratra with Kalash Pooja and followed by the other religious ceremonies amidst Vedic Mantras recited for whole night till its conclusion next afternoon with a Puran Ahuti. And on the third day that is called Ramnavmi, a goat is sacrificed as per rituals and traditions sanctimonious to Maa Kali. Devotees from nook and corner of the country and even overseas make it a point to visit the shrine to pay obeisance.
Apart from the Kashmiri Pandits, once residents in the state, and the business class called Khatris, whose Kuldevi is Baderkali, participate in the Yaga and seek blessing. A little below where the shrine is situated is the village called Baderkal at the foothill which has cent percent population that followers Islam, but as a tradition inhabitants all along ensure the sanctity of this holy shrine is maintained at any cost against all heavy odds .
Down below once thickly populated Hindu population of the village Wadipora ,under whose care primarily the shrine used to be are known to have look after the shrine before the recent migration of the Pandits .It were they who after the biannual celebratory function used to pay daily obeisance to the deity, traversing about 8 kms to and fro throughout the year in all seasons even in inclement weather through mountain of snow , braving the threat of carnivorous and ferocious wild animals like bear and leopards. In that sense their faith complete devotion has been exemplary.
Wadipora at present has a complete deserted look and in ruins. A silence of a grave yard prevails all over and presents very depressing scenario.
Needless to add that in earlier times the devotees from other area also used to participate in full number in the Maha Yaga and offered sacrifice of goats. Even Langars used to be found spreads all around here and there during the occasion. The hustle and bustle gave a festive look. Shops of essential items used to be erected by the locals adding to the look of a big Mela. Tragically, the migration of the Pandits has topsy-turvy to the old tradition.
It followed with the shrine being subjected to desecration by the fanatics that made the army to step in and take control and repair the shrine. Currently the army performs daily Puja. It is learnt that during 2004 the authorities in the army were of the view that tradition be carried by the Baradrian itself to restore confidence as the scenario then appeared inching towards normalcy. Sanatan Dharm Sabha Handwara came forward and revived the tradition even when the entire population of devotees in Kupwara, Baramula districts and other places had shifted per force outside the valley for safety despite this still the heart and memories of the devotees lay in the valley.
During Ramnavmi the devotees conduct Bhandara regularly at Jammu which serves as a meeting point for confabulations to chalk out the future line of action as to how to protect the shrine in difficult times while carrying on and keeping alive the tradition as per faith. Towards this objective a unanimous decision was arrived at to form a Mata Baderkali Asthapan Committee in 2012.
A 15 members committee was constituted through consensus with Dileep Pandita, President, Sh Ashok Kumar Kaw, General Secretary and Chnand ji Pandita as Organiser.
The Committee works in complete cohesion that lends it the strength for a multi-pronged strategy to deliver by way of restoring the biannual Maha Yaga at Mata Baderkali shrine with its earlier traditional gaiety and glory through the spirit of cooperation , volunteerism and devotion .
The committee ensures that those who wish to perform pilgrimage do not encounter any impediment or obstacle. Such efforts have attracted more and more devotees over the passage of time resulting in restoring the glory of Mata’s celebrations at the shrine in its zenith. Apart from these activities the Committee also is making efforts, for persons who cannot undertake arduous journey due to old age infirmity and other reasons beyond control to the holy shrine, to build a replica of the shrine by way of a temple at Jammu itself where majority of devotees live after migration. In these efforts about 13 Kanals of land already stands purchased.
The Committee further intends to add more land subject to funds besides build a complex, apart from the temple of Mata, comprising institutions like school and all going well an old age home as well. For the present writer the pilgrimage was most revealing in its totality and was a satisfying one.
The Mata Baderkali Asthapan Committee over the years has perfected the deliverance system for smooth hassle-free celebration of the event even as every bit of items for Yaga, arrangements for the Yatris at the shrine has to be catered from Handwara with a limited manpower which though is also not an easy job.
However, it may be pointed out that the shrine lacks accommodation for the participating devotees and also, requires sanitation facilities as per requirement besides the electricity facilities. It may be recalled that during his Prime Minister ship of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad electricity was provided right up to the Holy Shrine.
However, with a passage of time after him all that is gone except that the Baradrian still remembers it vividly and are grateful. In more recent years, the devotees in large numbers have started performing pilgrimage to shrine once again but still miles away what it used to be earlier or has the potential for. It is laudable that the administration renders all necessary help and courteous cooperation to make Yatra a success by providing adequate security from both the ‘gun and wild animals’ for all those who brave during night at temperature of one or two degree centigrade. Essential services such as medical assistance, portable water, food items, fire Services were there. That apart, the Holy Shrine needs a number of Yatri Bhavans, community halls ,adequate modern toilet facilities, assured transport service, reliable electric supply and more importantly reliable Net services for connectivity in the remote and vulnerable area as it is.
The minuscule community of the Yatris deserves ample confidence from the government to convey that their needs are recognised; while as from public it is readily available and that too in plenty which makes this Yatra possible. For greater popularity of the Yatra ritual a master plan needs to be formulated and submitted to government in consultation with the Mata Baderkali Asthapan Committee a duly registered body for the development of adequate facilities of the Yatris.
All praises deserve for the efforts in arranging this Mela which is being revived in its original festivity by the Committee that is inching towards its pristine glory as a model of brotherhood. In order to have a greater festive look of the Mela and connected celebrations, other aspects of the event should cover broader canvass of activities. Stalls of Information Department would be welcome as the Pandit community is book lover who always seek knowledge .
Heard elders during late hours deliberation literature, most of it from the persons of other faith not confined to any particular faith, there lies our strength .The writer learns that Vishvanath Raina nearing eighties from the area is producing a documentary film on his personal experience about the composite culture of Kashmir thrived once despite diversion of faiths got worst beating. The initiative needs to be restored. Culture activities presenting local culture has to be presented for the youngsters who may have heard but never seen, tourism informative activities to be stressed upon area has rich spots both religious and otherwise.
Large number of locals from various villages both male females children thronged to this place to find and meet their acquaintances was a scene to watch which gave joy of one fraternity at the same time pain why a separation befallen and brought suffering on both side. One suffered due to migration, rendered houseless from well off to pecuniary on the other hand those left behind suffer from charged atmosphere. In its totality both sides suffers how long no one knows. It is the Rajwar Tigers Brigade has been managing the Yagna and rendering ever kind of comfort to the yatris since it has taken charge of its protection through one of the Rashtriya Rifles command under whose jurisdiction it falls. With military precession every item is being taken care for the function.
(The author is a Jammu based environmentalist)