A Journey to Vijyeshwara

Inner view of Bijbehara temple.

Pratush Koul
“Where one is free from worries, agony and pain
Where it is easy to control oneself and one’s ambitions,
Where peace of mind and spiritual solace can be achieved,
Where spiritually elevated persons remain in un-interrupted meditation,
In that place which is called Vijeshwara, the Devtas aspire to be born.”
(Sahatya Prakash)

After a halt of almost 2 years, I got a chance to visit Kashmir again. After living a life between flyovers and high-rise skyscrapers, It feels soothing to appreciate nature’s magnificent architecture of mountain ranges, streams and springs meeting together to form a gushing river and the wavy lush greens waving over a large field like nature’s own blanket that houses a variety of flora and fauna. Words fall short to describe this serene valley and the mesmerizing aura compels one to stay here till the last breath but alas, there is a world out there that pays for these breaths. In a short visit, it is not possible to explore the valley in its entirety so my areas of visit had to be carefully chosen in such a way that we(My family and I) could optimize our time and checkmark maximum places. I was particularly excited for Bijbehara because I had never visited and only heard stories about it. So finally, after spending the initial days visiting the sites closer to Srinagar, my family and I embarked towards Bijbehara.
Bijbehara, Vijyeshwara, VijyeshVihara or Vyijbror, depending on what time or reign we are talking about, is a small village located around 45-46 KM south of Srinagar. One can even spot sign board near the new highway, directing towards it. I remember as a child visiting the ruins of martand sun temple, visiting the functioning Mattan Temple and staying there for a couple of nights as a kid. However, that was the longest I stayed in Anantnag and as for Bijbehara, we never got a chance to visit there because of the high terrorist activities there since the late 80s. Upon reaching the town I came across a much quiet occurrence. Upon reaching there, I noticed a river flowing nearby. I had read somewhere that the Mughal prince Dara Shukoh had constructed a beautiful garden near this river, and I saw it. It was known as Dara Shukoh’s garden but is presently named as wazir bagh. Huge, majestic chinar trees and Mountains in the backdrop, it was supposably a camping and leisure site in the Mughal era. The structure was like the other Mughal gardens with the tanks and the remains of octagonal towers surrounding the area. There was also a Bridge nearby connecting the two shores over the river. We spent some time over there and left an hour later.
Just a couple of minutes of drive away we finally reach the shiv temple of Vijyeshwar. A single story walled temple with a high shikhar was there to greet us. Inside the temple we found the famous multiple shivling structure that I had seen in an photograph from an old photobook album by Francis Brunel from the year 1977. Inside the sanctum sanctorum, I noticed that 3 shivlings of the total 10 were of different stone type. I was informed later that these 3 had went missing during the 90s and the new ones were installed later. Legend goes that the vitasta flows through 2 tirthas in Anantnag, one being the vijeshwara and other being the chakradhara(Modern day chakdar/Semthan wuddar) Both of these tirthsthals were ransacked and destroyed during medieval times. The present day Vijyeshwar temple was constructed by Maharaja Gulab Singh using stones from the ruins of the ancient shrine. It is mentioned in the Vijeshwar Mahatam that the earlier vijyeshwar temple, built by King Vijaya, was so tall (about 11-12 stories) that during sunrise the shadow of the temple would reach as far as Awantipora and during sunsets, the shadow would touch the Mattan wuddar/Martand Temple. It would be considered a structural marvel in today’s time to use the same sandstones as used in the structures of martand and Avantipora to construct something as tall without the use of modern constructional equipment. One could only imagine such a sight!
In the East of Vijeshwara tirath is the Vitasta, in the south is the Harishchander Ghath, in the west are the Shakti sathals of Jaya Devi and Vijaya Devi. In the north is Chakreshwar……
On further strolling around the temple, I noticed some sculptures that were embedded on the walls of the temple and smeared with a coat of paint. Looking at the details, one can say that these were not a recent work. On later study I found out that these sculptures and depictions dated back to early 8th century. Dr. Bansi Lal Malla’s “Vaishava Art and Iconography of Kashmir” has a detailed work on these sculptures. Since the present-day temple was a modern attempt to restore the original structure, I was curious enough to find the site of the original temple. A couple of steps away I came across a pit where many sculptures were present. It was close to the riverbank. The steps leading to the pit were not flat. I was told by Prof. Makhan Lal Tikoo Malla, who had done a thorough research on Vijyeshwara temple and its history, that during heavy rainfall, the water levels of the river would rise, and this pit would eventually go underwater. After some time when the water level returned to normal, a lot of silt would get deposited in the interiors of this pit which needed to be cleaned afterwards. Once it was cleaned, the stairs would reflect back, and the icons and statues would be shining in all glory. Sadly, due to the forced displacement of pandits and poor management, the silt would often fill up the pit and thus the stairs and other sculptures would remain covered with mud, hence losing key artistic details. Inside the pit, there was a shivling and an animal like sculpture. It was called ‘Brashib’, Kashmri for Taurus. The pit was covered from three sides and one side was open towards the river. On the walls I saw fragments of Sati stone/Hero stone type structures smeared with vermillion. Prof. Malla told me later that these statues and sculptures were fixed on the walls using quicklime, as cement was not present in those days. Many of the sculptures that were excavated later were shifted to SPS Museum where one can still visit to see them.
Since the temple was nearby a river, so back in the days, many people would also come to perform religious ceremonies (Mostly post-death rituals). Ghats were present along the banks of the river, One of the ghats of which I heard of was the Harishchandra ghat nearby where people would come to perform the last rites and immersion of ashes of their dead relatives. Prof. Malla also told me that in the early years of 1960s, a delegation of several Indian politicians including Vijay Lakshmi Pandit had come there to immerse the ashes of a famous person. A huge commotion had gathered to see the delegation back in the day.
As I was walking through the compound of the temple premises, I was reminded of the famous story of Kah-Kah Pal. It was a green coloured, conch shaped stone that weighed around 50 to 60 KG that had a legend associated with it. It was believed that the stone can only be lifted when eleven people would try to lift it with the force of one finger each while chanting ‘kah-kah’ (kah meaning eleven in kashmiri) There is a video available online where a group of foreigners are witnessing this phenomenon and applauding once witnessing it themselves (From the 1977 documentary on Dr. Gopi krishna). There are various speculations and reasoning to this claim but sadly in the 1990s the stone, that would initially be present in the front lawn of the temple, went missing and had never been found since. It was presumed that it might have been thrown into the river but later searches for it went futile.
The temple of vijyeshwara is a place of extreme importance for the Kashmiri pandit community as it holds a strong place in KP religious conscience and finds mention in various religious texts like Neelmat Puran, Sahatya Parkash, Rajatarangni, Vijeshwar Mahatam, Amresh Mahatam, Vitasta Mahatam, Thajiwara Mahatam, Bringesh Samhita. I hope the local administration look after this temple site. May I visit this temple soon enough and try to spent more time here at this site of cultural, historical and religious importance.