From ancient times, the shrines, centres of worship and maths have played an important role in the lives of the people. These are the centres of the community life and have also enchanced the national integration. Moreover, the religious shrines have influenced our spiritual education and have been a source of inspiration. At present, too, pilgrims in lakhs go to the holy spots to worship with full faith.
The area of Jammu and Kashmir is the abode of gods and goddesses and famous for scenic beauty. The temple of Kheer Bhawani and the pilgrim centre of Maharagya Devi is situated at a distance of 14 miles east of Srinagar against the background of natural sight near the village of Tula Mula. This temple, made of marble stone, is located in the middle of a spring, around which there is a vast area whose floor has been covered with smooth and beautiful stones. In it exist large and old chinar trees beneath which the pilgrims sit or sleep on mats of grass. The colour of the spring goes on changing and it is said that whenever any horrifying and unfortunate event has to happen, the colour of its water becomes black.
Maharagya Pradurbhave is the history of Kheer Bhawani itself. In it is written that Maharagya was pleased with the devotion of Ravana and appeared before him and Ravana got an image of the goddess installed in Ceylone. But the goddess became displeased with the vicious and licentious life of Ravana and so didn't want to stay in Ceylone. Therefore, under the command of the goddess, Hanuman got the image from Ceylone and installed it at the holy spot of Tula Mulla. In those days there was a deep relation between Kashmir and Ceylone, therefore the father of Ravana, Pul Satya Muni, lived in kashmir and performed his meditation (tapasya). Walter awrence writes that Kheer Bhawani is the great goddess of Kashmir and the spring of Kheer Bhawani is considered very pious but it is little known that the cult of worshipping this goddess has started from Ceylone.
The hymns and devotional songs of this goddess are found in the Sanskrit Book Rudrayamala Tantra.
The mention of Kheer Bhawani is found in Kalhana's Rajtarangini. Kalhana writes that the sacred spring ofTula Mula is situated in a marshy ground. The name of the spring is Mata Ragini Kund.
Maharagini is the form of Durga Bhagvati. The Brahmins of Kashmir worship this spring and pilgrims from every comer of the country visit to have the darshan of the place.
Further, it is written therein that Jayapida who ruled for thirty-one ears in the last part of the 18th century also founded the town of Inderkot, This Jayapida confiscated the lands of the Brahmins of Tula Mula and ninety-nine Brahmins committed suicide for this reason by jumping in the river; but it had no effect on the king and he did not return the Brahmins their lands.
One day when the Brahmins of Tula Mula went with a complaint to the king, the guards of the palace beat them but still they were successful in sneaking into the palace. They told the king that if the Brahmins got angry they could unite the earth and sky together and make the mountains level with the plains and also finish the king.
Hearing this the king became red with anger and rebuffed them by saying that they were being vicious. Although they lived by begging they talked like rishis and munis. At this one Brahmin whose name was Diyannu Attal replied, "if we are not so spiritual as were our ancestors neither are the kings any longer so great". The king replied that he was no Vishvamitra or Agnsth. The Brahmin replied that he could also show prowess like Vishvamitra. Diyannu Attal shouted at the king, "Oh unfortunate Raja! May goddess destroy you before my very eyes". So, according to Kalhana, the heavy pole of the throne's canopy fell down on him and after a few days of great agony he died.
In Rajtarangini Tula Mula is considered very sacred and the Brahmins of Tula Mula were very great and powerful. The spring of Maharagya was very sacred. Thousands of years ago many floods occured in Kashmir and the sacred spring of Tula Mula also was inundated under its sway and the holy place could nowhere be traced. All around was water. At last Kashmir's Yogi Krishna Pandit had a dream in which the goddess appeared to him and ordered that she would swim in the form of a snake at the proper place and that he should stick large poles and when the water subsided there the holy spot was discovered. This event happened during the Samvat 4041.
According to Jona Raja Sikander, the iconoclast destroyed most of the temples and tried to make this temple as well the target of his impious action but failed. Kamudi in her book, "Kashmir-Its Cultural Heritage" writes that this temple remained lost for quite a long period and no pilgrim visited this place till one Pandit Krishna Taplu again discovered it and once again its prominence rose and pilgrims started coming here.
The mention of this temple is also found in Abu-i-Fazal's book Aini-Akbari in which is written that the area of Tula Mula extended over the area of hundred bighas of land, which got sunk in the summer season and formed into a marsh. The advisor of Dara Shuku was Sham Sunder Koul about whom Shri Balkak Dhar writes in an article that Sham Lal Koul was a great saint and a devotee of Shakti cult and used to make the offering of meat and wine to gods and goddesses. When one day he came to Tula Mula he offered the same things according to the precepts of his cult but what is astonishing that the meat, etc. were changed into vegetables.
In his article Mr. Dhar has further written that a devotee Krishna Kar, who contemplated on this goddess got a high spiritual power. This very Krishna Kar was the Guru of the famous Rishi leer Pandit Padsha whose birthplace vas in Batta Yar, Ali Kadal. Both the Hindus and the Muslims used to come to pay their devotion to the goddess. Swami Rama Tirtha and Swami Vivekananda also visited here to have the darshan of the place.
With the pouring of milk and throwing of sugar candy in the spring by the pilgrims, a thick and solid layer was formed at its bottom. When it was cleared, the ruins of an old temple and shrine slabs engraved with figures were discovered. Here many images were also found but nobody rebuilt the temple till the Samvat 1969 when Maharaja Pratap Singly who was the disciple and worshipped this goddess, got a marvellous temple of marble made in the midst of the spring which shines like a pearl in a shell.
Pandit Aftab Kaul has written in his book "At the Feet of the Master" that for spiritual knowledge, spiritual perfection and salvation there are four prescribed stages in a journey from Srinagar to Kheer Bhawani. First stage is the holy spring of VicharNag; second, is the Kawaj Nar (the Land of Lire). From Vichar Nag on the right side of the road is the beautiful Lake of Anchar (Achar) which before the opening of the motorable road, was a short-cut and a charming way to Tula Mula. Aftertis the next stage is one of Tengul Bal (the Hill of the Burning Embers). After crossing all these stages the pilgrim reaches at the feet of Maharagya Kheer Bhawani. This is like "Pilgrim's Progress" written by John Bunyan.
Some people are of the opinion that there was a mulberry tree near holy spot of Kheer Bhawani which, in Kashmiri, is called Tul Mul. But Tul Mul is also derived from the Sanskrit phrase-Tul Muli-that is of great value. This means that all other pilgrim centres are of lesser value than this one. It is said that after Ravapa fnished the worship of the goddess he offered the kheer (rice pudding) to the goddess which she accepted and since then it is called Kheer Bhawani. The worship of Kheer Bhawani can done under Vedic mantras as well as Tantric mantras. According to Tantric system, the mantra of Maharagya Kheer Bhawani is :
Om Heem Shree Kaleem
Bhagvatya Ragya Swaha,
All the desires and hopes of a person are fulfilled by repeating this mantra.
The Bhagvati Parvati has got nine forms:
2. Vrhama Charini
3. Chander Ganta
9. Siddhi Datri.
It is said that Ragya form is more eminent than all other eight ones.
The sacred place of Kheer Bhawani has been the centre of Sanskrit learning and literature since many ages. The Brahmins of this place had achieved excellence in religious and yoga knowledge.
The festival of Bhagvati Kheer Bhawani is held in the Ashtami of Jeth and Har. Therefore, in these two days, crowds of people go there in buses and doongas. Three or four days before the festival, large markets come into existence. The road journey to the village from the Kheer Bhawani is lined with decorated shops containing many things of common use. The pilgrims before worshipping bathe in the nearby holy stream. There is a separate arrangement for the bathing of women. The eating of meat is strictly forbidden hers. It is said that anyone who does not act on this precept is severely punished by the goddess.
It is a matter of experience that the effect of piety on the mind of the man by going to this holy place and by bathing in the stream, is one of peace and joy. Even an atheist, when he comes here and looks inward and does introspection, gets immense pleasure and is aware of the divine power. It is such a place where lakhs of people sing the same kind of prayer. In the evening when the fragrant breeze blows and lakhs of oil lamps shine and flowers ofvarious hues swim on the surface of the spring, one feels a unique influence and forgets all sorrow and griefs. Although many hymns have been written in praise of this goddess in Sanskrit, Persian and Kashmiri yet the best one is known as Ragini Sabassai Nama.
The management of this holy place is under the Dharmarth, which has done a lot for the improvement of this holy spot. More land has been purchased to give extension to the place so that large number of people can be accommodated here. Now there is more than twelve kanals of lands around the spring. Dharmashalas on modern lines have been constructed for the pilgrims to stay here without rent. The needy are given blankets as well. Many new shops have been constructed and taps also arranged for the supply of water.
This is a paradise for those people who want to derive pleasure from the natural scenery. It is a peaceful place for those who desire mental peace. For spiritual upliftment and worship this is an excellent place. One undertakes the pilgrimage both by road and river. Around Kheer Bhawani flows the bubbling brooks and murmuring streams and far away are seen picturesque mountains. In short, this is the most captivating place for anyone. The people have great faith and respect for this holy place. The atmosphere of this place at night, too, is marvelous. At different spots here groups of people sing hymns in Kashmiri with a melodious voice. These devotional songs have such a sweet charm as can be seen from the few verses of the devotional songs written by Krishna Razdan. Its English rendering is as follows:
Devi, remove all my sorrows!
I offer the flowers of devotion.
Bestow me your benign darshan
And my illusion will be dispelled.
Goddess, remove all my sorrows!
Devi, favour me with your kind look;
Goddess, remove all my sorrows
Before you all the time sit Rishis;
Thus have they your darshan
They sit bowing their heads Goddess,
remove all my sorrows!
They ignite incense before you
And play on sitar and santoor;
Drums and varied musical instruments.
Goddess, save me from all sorrows!
I have no knowledge
Nor incantation of Mantras
Save my life's boat every time
Goddess, remove all my sorrows!