The 700-year long attacks on Beerwa Cave
by Rakesh Kaul on 23 Jun 2016 9 Comments
Bahurupajayi Laksminidhir acyutataadam

Samalam sa nrshimho ‘tha daityasriyam ivadunot

[Having conquered Bahurupa, this courageous man, an ocean of luck, ravaged (the north-western district of) Samala, which was clinging to a state of impregnability and abounded in enemies. It was as if Visnu (nrsimha) on whom Laksmi, (the Goddess of Luck rests), had conquered Siva (bahurupa) and assailed the Daityas power, (who) had pressed him hard - Translation by Walter Slaje]


Thus memorializes Jonaraja, the Kashmiri historian, of the first attack on Bahurupa (modern day Beerwa) around 1338 (Kingship in Kashmir, AD 1148-1459). The victorious general was none other than Shah Mir who was the treacherous commander in chief of Kashmir under Kota Rani and her husband Udyandeva. The historian notes in passing that it was a symbolic victory over Siva (bahurupa).


Fast forward to today and you have the entire machinery of militants, separatists, government, legislature, joining hands to stop a miniscule number of Kashmir Pandits from visiting the world famous Beerwa cave in connection with the Abhinavagupta millennium celebrations.


This is the cave where the famed polymath is reputed to have gained moksha with 1200 of his followers, leaving no trace behind. J&K Courts have been pressed into the matter with the police, revenue service and other administrative arms reportedly filing rationale in affidavits to stop this visit. How could this disappearance be physically possible, how could Pandits possibly make a claim that they be allowed to visit the cave, founded on a preposterous assertion?


This, in spite of the fact that this knowledge is commonplace among Kashmiri Muslims. The eminent Dr. K.C. Pandey, foremost authority on Abhinavagupta, writes in his magnum opus (1935) on Page 24 and 25 about his field trip to the Beerwa Cave. He accosts a random Kashmiri Muslim who confirms to him about this event in history. Urban and educated Kashmiri Muslim families were very familiar with this oral history. Dr. Grierson in his paper in 1910 in the Journal of Royal Society of Arts (JRAS 1910, Page 1334- 1336 n. 1) which predates Pandey, confirms this traditional belief.


None of this should be terribly surprising. Rishis in Kashmir from times immemorial have stayed in caves to plumb the innermost depths. The locally well-known Nund Rishi meditated in a cave in Qaimoh. Locals go there and make offerings out of piety. Nobody stops them. The phenomenon is universal. Prophet Mohammed himself received the first revelation from Allah while in a cave called Ghar Hira cave. Trip Advisor rates it as #4 on the list of attractions in Mecca. To the degree that there is hagiography associated with these sacred spaces, courts and other government institutions have wisely stayed away from opining on the merits or demerits of what is seen as a miracle.


Not so in Kashmir. What explains this 700-year unending war against Beerwa cave? The answer is remarkably simple. Islam entered Kashmir around the eight century and coexisted peacefully for a while until a new group of social engineers arrived in the Valley. To establish their hegemony, it was critical that the indigenous social system of rewards and joys be pushed into new pathways. These killjoys were represented by Sufis such as Shamsuddin Araki. An indoctrinated populace deprived of happiness and maddened by deprivation of sensory and aesthetic pleasures could then be controlled by groomers who would spell out through diktats a perverse reward system for their own theological ends.


Abhinavagupta represents an existential threat to these killjoys. Among his many contributions is one where an experience of aesthetic pleasure leads a seeker to divinity. Rasa, the taste of life, is the force of life. Professor Sheldon Pollock of Columbia University has stated that Abhinavagupta’s insight and body of knowledge is India’s greatest gift to humanity. A way of life which is joyful will always be one of fullness and pro-life.


It is this battle that is raging around Beerwa cave. But the battle has essentially been won by Abhinavagupta’s followers. In major universities around the world his works are being studied with fervor. It is the dawning of the age of Abhinavagupta. His millennium celebrations around the world have an element of amazement - could such a man have really lived?


The militants, separatists and their proxies who administer day to day life in J&K are adhering to strictures of a bygone age. The evidence is clear: the incidence of mental illness, misogyny, drug use, a failed economy and other destructive behaviors in the local Kashmir population are all a result of a negation of the self.


Kashmiris will inevitably discover who they are. When they do, Kashmir will get back on the right path. Until then, it behooves the Pandits to join hands with right thinking Indians on this issue and protect their rights. It would be good if the Jammu-based organizations took the lead. Those who want to turn off the lights on the Beerwa cave have a deep darkness in their hearts. Kashmir Pandits and like-minded global citizens should be allowed to celebrate in front of and inside the Beerwa cave, the cave of Joy.


Light the lamp please and sing the Bahurupa song. Joy to the world, there is nothing to fear.


Rakesh Kaul is author of The Last Queen of Kashmir, HarperCollins India 2016, on the little known Kota Rani, one of the greatest queens of the land. He can be reached at, @rkkaulsr or FB page The Last Queen of Kashmir  

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