I was going through some archival British resources and a news item attracted my attention. It said “Mr ‘A’ Enthroned In the city of Temples”. It was a news piece of 1926, which was describing Maharaja Hari Singh taking up the throne as the last Dogra Monarch of Jammu and Kashmir in the City of Jammu.
The latter part of this headline was really enthralling, given the fact that many of us associate Jammu being called as ‘the City of Temples’ a relatively new phenomenon. Or perhaps, Jammu, unbeknown to majority of non JKiians, was getting shortchanged everytime it desired to flaunt that identity in a mark to present itself as a disparate entity of this UT. Therefore, to cultivate this identity at a broader level, it’s necessary that institutional mechanisms are evolved to approach something which is but not derivative of the same old cliched Kashmir centric model.
This shall happen only when the dormant pilgrim tourism potential of this region is duly exploited. And for that, we don’t need to look much beyond. Amritsar, barely situated at a six hour drove away from Jammu, has shown that how, with nagging persistence and fortitude, one can make any unexceptional thing into a grandiose colossal and attractive monument. And, today, rightly so, Golden Temple and the adjoining areas attract millions of tourists every year. The way the Punjab Government has redeveloped that entire area is just phenomenal. But, why can’t we do that, here in Jammu city for the Mubarak Mandi and the adjoining temple complexes.
Jammu is fortunate to have many temples in close vicinity, Panjtirthi only, boasts of 5 major temples which are more than 150 years old and are considered by the people of Jammu as equivalent to the PanchTiraths. These 5 temples are: Sardareyaan Mandir, Billu Mandir, Baldau Mandir, Satya Narayan Mandir and Batmalu Mandir. Out of them Baldau temple is the oldest one, which is more than 3 centuries old but the present structure is about 180 years old constructed under the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh. Similarly, Sardara Mandir is also more than 150 years old which was constructed by Sardar Attar Singh during 1850s. Billu Mandir too, is around 190 years old which was constructed in 1830s by Bhai Charan Das and has some esoteric tales connected with it. Similarly, Batmalu and Satya Narayan Mandir are the products of the second half of the 19th century.
This circuit, if developed, then can be extended to Bhairav Mandir, Mahalakshmi Temple (300 years old with the idol from Jaipur, present structure constructed largely under the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh), Rani Kahluri Temple (130 years old, constructed by Rani Subh Dei after the death of Maharaja Ranbir Singh), Ram Talai Temple (200 years old), Diwan Mandir (160 years old,temple was built by Diwan Jawala Sahai the Prime Minister of both Maharajas Gulab Singh and Ranbir Singh) etc. These historic religious structures can attract lakhs of pilgrims every year, if serious efforts are put into place. I’ve deliberately kept Raghunath and Ranbireshwar temples out of the list because of them being relatively better positioned when it comes to their tourist footfall. All of this must be developed as a peripheral area to the core being the refurbishment of the Mubarak Mandi Palace and its associated temples (Shiv Nabh, Gadadhar Temple etc).
If everything gets into place as desired, then one can really hope that Jammu city, in particular, can emerge as a desired pilgrimage destination in the north. From Amar Mahal a route can be developed for the Electric vehicles, which can traverse this entire circuit, with the end being Raghunath Temple. This way, Jammu can hold pilgrims visiting for Shri Mata Vaishno Devi for at least two days in the city itself, if not more. I’m not estimating the jobs- direct and indirect, that it’ll create, apart from the push that it’ll give to local economy. This’ll not just apprise people of the great legacy that our Dogra rulers have left but also help the locals in realizing that the ‘factored position’ they thrive in is full of identity markers and cultural figments, which their forefathers patronised and strengthened. The sobriquet of Jammu being “City of Temples” should reflect itself on the ground.
However, I feel that the Tourism department is absolutely clueless when it comes to Jammu city. A perception of “Jammu being just a business city” rules the roost and any meaningful step just gets nipped in the bud. We have seen that how some states like Gujarat have led many successful tourism campaigns by using the best possible means, earlier, by utilising the image of Amitabh Bachchan and now, it seems that they have used the services of some of the online content creators like Flying Beast to popularise the newly added tourist sites in the state. Why can’t J&K Tourism Department think on the same lines and try to rope in some of these bloggers, who can really bring millions of eyeballs to these sites in a very short span of time.
By being submissive and quiet, Jammu has already painted itself into the corner, only to lend credence to the fact of Kashmir being numero-uno in this relationship, if any, of sorts. If Jammu has to rise above its parochial sense of inferiority complex, then it has to reconcile itself with its identity, which has got muzzled in its due course, especially in the last seven decades. In the meantime, we must expect that a gradual overhauling process is undertaken to revive these structures and make them aesthetically pleasing and visually attractive.