Banpuri Ashram Revisiting the legacy of faith

Nitan Sharma
Banpuri Ashram, seat of Shri 1008 Sadhguru Baba Kanshi Giri Ji, is an important spiritual place located at a distance of about 100 kms (approximately two and half hours) from Jammu. The Ashram is situated at village Banpuri, tehsil Sunderbani in District Rajouri surrounded by mountains on three sides.
Originally the seat of this shrine was located at Ban Gang of village Khujjratta, Tehsil Kotli in District Mirpur which is now occupied by Pakistan. People belonging to different religions had faith in the supremacy and blessings of this holy seat. Every year one day before Baisakhi, (which corresponds to 30 Chaitra as per Samvat Year) a mela used to be organised which was attended by the disciples of Guru ji in large numbers who sought blessings for their well being. All went well till the division of British India in 1947 which resulted in the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan. Over 14 million people were displaced along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crisis in the newly constituted dominions. The people who left their home and hearth underwent severe physical and material looses but during these strict hours of untold misery and pain, they did not lose faith in sanctity and authority of this holy seat which was revered by their ancestors in pre-partition period. The faith of the people in the holy seat bore fruits along with the efforts of Brahmlin Shri Gosain Mela Ram Ji, and consequently, the foundation of the shrine was laid at Banpuri (present-day India) in 1965.
The first annual congregation cum gathering was organised in 1965 on the same day as it was organised in undivided India. It is pertinent to mention here that the history of displacement and sufferings of POJK displaced section of 1947 corresponds with the history of the evolution of Banpuri Ashram. People who got displaced and settled in different parts of India particularly in J&K, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana made their presence felt without fail every year on this day at Banpuri. There is constant rise in the number of devotees attending this religious mela due to accessibility of the area and facilities now being made available at the ashram.
It is, however, significant to mention here that the work of the shrine has undergone gradual shift since its establishment, from providing spiritual and therapeutic services to its disciples to assuming the role of a prime reformist movement among the disciples hailing from different parts of the country and most importantly those living in district Poonch, Rajouri, Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur. Contrary to the idealised notion that youngsters usually remain away from being involved in the socio-religious activities of religious sects and shrine, one can find the majority of mass between 12-30 years of age organising and participating in different events organised at the Ashram, be it on Guru Purnima, Srimad Bhagwad Katha, Baisakhi Mela, Health Camps, Awareness drive on social issues etc. The reformist approach undertaken by the present head of the shrine Guru Brij Bhushan Ji has shown incremental dividends in the field of women’s education, increase in general literacy rate, prohibiting the evil practice of dowry, drug addiction, orthodox caste system etc.
The widespread Feeling and way forward The above description of the Banpuri Ashram succinctly describes the religious, historical and social importance of the Shrine. Disciples from all over the India give due reverence to the present place and the values and principles that it seeks to propagate. However, those people who happened to be a part of annual congregation cum gathering at Khajrutta Village in Kotli Tehsil have an intense longing to visit the original seat after partition. It is very sad to note that most of them have left for heavenly abode without their wishes being fulfilled. It is, however, important to mention here that their feeling or wish has not taken the form of an articulated opinion or demand, primarily due to the successive wars fought between two nations and the belief that borders are impermeable structures incapable of any human ingress without any risk to one’s life. The aforesaid feeling has gained momentum in the form of a well articulated public opinion after the opening of Chakka da Bagh Trade from Poonch in 2002 when besides trade, many separated families have acquired the chance to visit other parts of the erstwhile J&K territory without any fear. They have also narrated the occurrence of this annual gathering at their native place before 1947 and some of them even shared the accounts narrated by their ancestors regarding the sanctity and authority that this shrine holds in the whole J&K during that period. It is, however, overwhelming to note that the original location of the shrine is still popular among the locals as Ban Gang. Such oral accounts have further strengthened the resolve of the disciples who gather annually on Baisakhi Mela in large numbers to deliberate upon this issue and to explore any possibility to visit the holy shrine. But no substantial achievement has been made in this respect so far. One Sahil Khajuria from Poonch said he is attending the Baisakhi Mela organised at Banpuri from the last 20 years, every year there is an increase in the number of disciples attending the gathering but one thing is common that is the collective concern shown by the disciples assembled from different parts of the country as to find the ways to visit the original place of shrine on special occasions. He expressed that there is every possibility that they would meet the same fate as their ancestors. Their wish to visit the original Ban Gang shrine will remain unfulfilled.
In the light of current developments between the two countries, particularly in the context of opening of Kartarpur Corridor and Sharda Peeth, the disciples hope that the case of the aforesaid shrine can be considered on the same analogy. If considered then it has the potential to create an environment of trust between the people living on both sides of the Line of Control and regular contact will further ensure creation of constituencies with vested interest to keep this going without any disruption. Such initiative on the one hand will fulfil the aspiration of near about half million souls associated with the shrine while on the other hand instrumental in maintaining harmonious relations between the two nations.
(The author is Research Scholar, Department of Law, University of Jammu)