Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

Gosaingund- The Socio-historicity of a Kashmiri Ashrama

R.K. Tamiri*

  Ashramas have played a unique role in spiritual regen­eration and maintaining the continuity of Hindu religious tradition. Secluded and scenic environs of Kashmir valley provided an ideal ambience for the growth and development of Ashramas. This paper deals with the evolution of a Kashmiri ashrama in modern times and the role played by it in the social life of Kashmiris.


Shaiva asramas:

In ancient Kashmir , the main ashramas were Saiva ashramas, due to Shaivism being the predominant religious creed of the people. The guru occupied a key position in these ashramas. He gave diksha (initiation) into Shaiva Yoga. A graphic description of ashrama life, in the time of Abhinav Gupta, has been given by Madhuraja in his celebrated composition, Gurunatha Pramarsha. Tantroloka gives enough insights into how asramas similar to that of Abhinavgupta, existed in the past as well. It was in these asramas risis and others composed authoritative texts and expounded doctrines.In the early development of Saivism, when its followers were in minority, Saiva asramas used to be in caves, far away from the human settlements.

Through asramas the religious tradition was either carried down from father to son or from disciple to disciple. There was no bar on women becoming the head of asramas. In many cases Guru’s asrama was initially his own home and called Mathika. Matha, Mathika, Gotra etc have  all been synonymous with asramas. Mathika was a centre of multifarious activities, where training in music, dance and drama was also imparted to the people. Asramas functioned on democratic basis, where




viewpoints of disciples were duly listened to. Asramas reflected catholicity, where sisyas (disciples) came from all orders and varnas of society. Prof. VN Drabu, the author of Saivagamas observes, “The mathika of the Saivas was the nucleus of social harmony and the Centre of the spiritual giants”. Rajatarangini is replete with instances of the foundation of Agraharas for the maintenance of asramas.


Gosain Padav:

In the early nineteenth century, at least, four asramas-Gautamnag, Uma Nagri, Vyethavotar and Gosaingund, in South Kashmir , were quite well known. Many of the Sadhus, while on visit to the holy cave of Lord Amarnath , would stay at these ashramas. Unlike Saiva asramas of yesteryears, these asramas were more concerned with providing spiritual solace to the people, rather than expounding religious treatises. Gosaingund ashrama, located on Anantnag-Larikpora road, is in Doru tehsil (Verinag). This asrama, spread over fifteen canals of land, used to be called Gosain Padav, a place where Sadhus halted during their journey to Amarnath. Matpora was the nearest Pandit village,  where around twenty Pandit families lived till 1990.


Early beginnings:

In the early years of Sikh rule (1819-1846), an ascetic, Pt. Jagar Nath of Shopian used to visit Sitakund at Shankarpur, a place in the vicinity of Gosaingund. He would go and sit with Sadhus at Gosani Padav. Jagar Nath liked the spiritual ambience of this place and came to stay here permanently. He decided to establish an asrama. He brought idols of Laxminarayan, Gaurishankar and Durga from the bank of the stream flowing nearby and constructed temples. These old  idols had initially been brought from Dumatbal, a flourishing centre of sculpture building in ancient Kashmir .

After the death of Jagar Nath, Jeevan Sab came here. There is a pine tree  at Gosaingund , known to the people as Jeevan Sabaen Yari(Jeevan Sab’s Pine tree). Local Muslims would also hold this in great esteem. Whenever anybody used to  fall ill, they would get clay from this place and apply to the patient. They would say ‘Jone Sabaen Jaya Talah Aniv Maech’( Get clay from the place of Jone Sab’s sacred tree). Muslims would  also  offer first milk of lactating cow  to Jeevan Sab’s tree. Jeevan Sab originally belonged to Shopian. He used to lit ‘Duni’. Subsequently, he moved to Ludov, where also he would keep Duni burning. At Gosaingund, at the place of Duni he planted a burning stick. This stick grew into a tree, called as Jeevan Sabeen Yari. Mahant Atma Ram had asked a local to cut the pine tree. As per local account, blood oozed out from the tree. The locals  then prevailed upon  Atma Ram to stop the felling. Clay was plastered on the cut portion. The man who attempted to fell  the tree died within a week. Till 1990, nobody dared to commit desecration of the tree.

After Jeevan Sab left, Swami Ganga Ram became the Mahant of Gosaingund asrama. He hailed from Mattan .Maharaja Pratap Singh  often visited this place. He had sanctioned Rs 60 per year for Puja material from Dharmarth Trust. This custom  continued till 1990. After Swami Ganga Ram, Pandit Tota Kak became the Mahant. He was an outstanding Vedanti scholar and was extremely popular among Muslims also for his piety and miracles. They looked upto him in adversity.

Swami Tota Kak was an institution-builder. Lot of development work  took place under him. He planted fruit trees and also  dug a well. Asrama looked like a Tapovan. His miracles made Asrama a popular place of pilgrimage. One of his disciples was Pandit Bakshi from Srinagar . His two-year old child in one winter, slipped into coma, after catching fever. The family members presumed the child to be dead. Pandit Bakshi forbade his family members to weep, and decided to take the child to Tota Kak at Gosaingund Asrama.It was snowing. After covering nine miles on foot, the Pandit, his wife and her sister reached asrama at 10 PM. Swami Tota Kak asked them to keep the child near him. He put a blanket over him, and asked the ladies to prepare the tea. Swamiji demanded a glass of tea for the child also. He gently tapped the child’s face, telling him, “Vathu Nikah Chay Cheh (Dear child get up and take tea)”. The child  lay  motionless. Swamiji, repeated this a couple of times, every time tapping child’s face a little harder. The child got up and opened his mouth. He demanded tea. Pt. Tota Kak made him drink the tea. The child had been in coma for nearly 24 hours. Bakshis felt astonished. Their second generation also used to visit ashram regularly and would send donations. It was during Tota Kak’s time that Maharaja Pratap Singh granted a Jagir of 175 kanals to the asrama for its maintenance. This Jagir is about sixty yards away from the asrama.

Sona Kak succeeded Tota Kak as Mahant of the ashram. He belonged to Shopian. By now the fame of the ashram had spread far and wide. Large number of people  visited ashram on important occasions. Sadhus ,going to Amarnath yatra, would also stay here for a month or so.

At the nearby Vyethvotra ashram, Swami Bira Kak of Mirhama was Mahant. Vyetha Truvah used to be a  major festival here. Sona Kak was a good friend of Swami Bira Kak and also visited Gautamnag and Uma Nagri asramas. Swami Krishnanand was Mahant at Uma Nagri. These Swamis often assembled together to hold Satsang.

At Gudar shrine in Kulgam, every thirteen years there used to be a festival, which coincided with particular configuration of stars. The Mahants of the four ashrams on one such occasion had  decided to attend the festival together. On return journey, they passed through Kulgam bazaar. A 16- year old boy, Aftab Koul, son of Raj Koul  on seeing them felt quite impressed and followed Mahant Sona Kak.  Aftab  refused to heed the pleadings of his father to return home.

Sona Kak was well read in scriptures. Initiation of Aftab Koul as Sona Kak’s future successor was celebrated with great pomp and show. People from the vicinity and the neighbouring villages turned up to witness the occasion. Choicest dishes were prepared and peasants were served tea. As Aftab was initiated as Atma Ram, Chantings of  ‘Maharaj Atma Ram Zindabad rent the air”. Aftab was totally illiterate, but his intelligence was superb. Sona Kak would feel amazed at Atma Ram’s capacity in taking lessons in scriptures.


Atma Ram Takes Over:

Sona Kak passed away on Magh Shukla Ashtami day. Atma Ram worked very hard to make Gosaingund an ideal ashram. He renovated some old buildings and reconstructed new ones. He purchased new beddings, utensils etc. to take care of the ever increasing rush of pilgrims, who thronged the ashram. Mahant Atma Ram maintained meticulous record of bankuth’, the ashram store.

During his time, the visits of well-learned scholars from different parts of India became a routine affair. Atma Ram arranged a cook and a helper for Langar. A servant was appointed to take care of 10-15 cows, at the ashram Gaushala.

To accommodate the large number of people, who came to visit ashram, Atma Ram constructed a nine-takh, three-storeyed dharmashala. It could accommodate one thousand people at a time. The wood-work of the new dharmshala  reflected  fine Kashmiri architecture. People from distant places visited to see the architecture and Atma Ram was called ‘Vishwakarma’. There were two houses, which addressed the climatic needs during summer and winter. Satsang Bhavan was in bungalow. An extra kitchen and paddy store-house was also added. A tank 8 ft x 8 ft was constructed and lotus seeds put into it. As lotus leaves sprouted, it presented a fine spectacle. All types of birds were seen chirping around. Sadhus sat around Talab and conducted Satsang. Kitchen garden  was laid out by Atma Ram, keeping  in view the aesthetic and scientific requirements.

Atma Ram made ashram self-sufficient. Ashram had 175-200 kanals of aabi land and 10 kanals dry land. There was never any  shortage of rice or vegetables. Income from the orchard and offerings (chadav) took care of other needs. Affluent people like Pt.  Dev Koul Vessu and Pt. Jia Lal Killam also helped from time to time by sending additional paddy.

Mahant led a simple life. He used to get up at 2 AM to take bath and conduct Puja till 8 AM. His disciples got up at 4 AM and joined him in puja. Then in baithak tasty kahwa, prepared with cardamom, dalchini and masala would be served in Kashmiri cups. Swami Ji  himself gave directions for preparing this kahwa. Two vegetables, as per the choice of the disciples, would be served during lunch. 2-4 havans were performed every year.

During Atma Ram’s time, Pt. Rughnath Mattoo, popularly called Jenab Sab, was posted as Wazir Wazarat (DC), Anantnag. He too became a regular visitor to the ashram and admired Atma Ram. ‘Jenab Sab’ appointed Pt. Ramji Mongroo for liaison work with the ashram to attend to its problems. Religious scholars from outside, who stayed here for long duration, found the ambience of ashram enchanting.



In the neighbouring Vessu, a young boy, Sarvanand’s heart was more in ascetic life, rather than in studies. He had  left home and enrolled himself as pupil of Swami Madhavanand (of Mirhama) at Nagbal, Anantnag. One day the young boy was watching a brawl in the vicinity of a butcher’s shop. This infuriated Swami Madhavanand, who was watching this  from his quarter. He called Sarvanand and asked him to leave his ashram.

Sarvanand then went to stay at Gautamnag ashram, under the guardianship of Swami Gash Kak. He worked hard and soon achieved mastery over scrip­tures. Around this time, Shankar Pandit of Uma Nagri, a noted scholar , well-known even outside Kashmir for his scholarship, visited the ashram. Shankar Pandit used to train scholars and the Mahants of ashrams in religious scrip­tures. He was against narrow interpretations of religion. It was at his insistence that the mem­bers of a Pandit family in Kulgam had allowed the head lady of the house to re-use family’s utensils. She had an attack of insanity and had taken food in the  family of other community’s house. For fear of social ostracisation, with great pain, the family members  used to keep her uten­sils separate.

Shankar Pandit had no son and expressed to Gash Kak his wish to take young Sarvanand in adoption . Shankar taught him for six years. Mahant Atma Ram was quite impressed with Sarvanand and would tell him that his knowledge was far better.

On his refusal to marry, Shankar Pandit was angry with Sarvanand. The former relented when Sarvanand took Sukhdev Maharaj of Fatehpur to Shankar Pandit , Sarvanand himself went to Gosaingund ashram. Atma Ram already knew him as dis­ciple of Gash Kak.


Miracles of Atma Ram:

Like Tota Kak Atma Ram too was credited with performing miracles. He and Mahant  Shiv Ratangir of Durganag were good friends. Shivjee would stay at Gosaingund for one or two  months  every summer. Atma Ram would also invariably stay with him in Srinagar . One winter Shivjee passed away. Heavy snowfall had taken place. Nobody could venture going out . Just before retiring to bed Atma Ram felt sad and expressed to his disciples that he would be unable to attend  10th day Kriya of his friend. A few days later one of Shiv Jee’s disciples happened to visit Gosaingund and claimed having seen Atma Ram at the 10 Day Kriya.        

Atma Ram was perfectionist to the core. Each room in Dharamsala had separate lan­tern, cleaning cloth, match stick, broom-stick, bedding, wooden/ nylon sandals for guests. Leather shoes were not allowed inside the rooms.During Atma Ram’s time popularity of the ashram gained new heights. He helped the needy peasants by giving on loan paddy during the difficult months of Jyeth/Vaisakh. They would repay it at the time of harvest. This practice was con­tinued by his successors also. Ashram’s strength was its ex­cellent rapport with the locals. On marriages, locals  belonging to the majority community would  bring dry rations for ashram Sadhus. On other occasions,   locals would  carry  Havan Dal in Degchi to their homes. All this fostered mutual respect and tolerance.

Atma Ram’s popularity also carried authority. In the neighbouring villages he was often invited to arbiter social disputes. His judgements were always fair. He was powerful but wise also. No revenue or police official dared to interfere in his work.

Among notable disciples of Atma Ram were Prem Nath (Levadora), Vishnath Cherwoo (Anantnag), Patwari Jia Lai Razdan (Bulbul Lanker), Kanth Koul (Nai Sarak), Thokur Kaul (Krandigam) etc. Mankak, Patwari of Fatehpura was bosom friend of  Atma Ram. He assisted him in  ashram affairs. Matpora and Gosaingund also came in his jurisdiction. During a visit of ‘ Jenab Sab’, Atma Ram had requested him to post Mankak as per  his choice. A Girdawar had rivalry with Mankak. This led to suspension of Mankak. Atma Ram was angry with DC and told Mankak, “instead of helping you, how come he has suspended you?”. The Mahant shot off an angry letter to DC through Mankak. The latter thought that  the quite harsh tone of the letter would invite further trouble. So he decided not to show him Atma Ram’s letter.

DC had already come to  know that Mankak was waiting  outside his office. The peon led him in. Jenab Sab stood  up from his chair to receive him and made him to sit in  the chair next to him. DC told him, “Please forgive me. I am also going to meet Swamiji. You help me in seeking pardon from him. I have committed a wrong. Your Girdawar had lodged a false complaint against you. The same night Swamiji woke me up in a dream and looked quite angry. I apologized and rescinded the order. My messenger informed me that you had already left for this place”.Mankak had done a translation of Gita into Kashmiri under the supervision of Atma Ram. Thousands of copies of the book  had been sold all over Kashmir .


Visit of Amin DC :

After 1947, NC government had started implementing Mujwaza practice (forcible pro­curement of paddy) quite harshly. Subhan Rishi had gained notoriety for this. On the basis of a complaint that the ashram paid too little paddy, DC, Subhan Rishi and other officials turned up at the ashram, to in­vestigate the matter. It was lunch time. Mahant Atma Ram, was taking food. DC, popularly called ‘ Amin DC , was led in and, the officials were asked to relax near the tank till the head of the ashram finished his lunch.  By the time Atma Ram reached,  DC had seen more than twenty people taking lunch and many more were waiting outside.

As Atma Ram came to occupy his asana, DC stood up to pay his regards. After the two exchanged pleasantries, DC asked Atma Ram,   “Twenty people have come out, 20 more have gone inside to take lunch. How do you manage all this? Do you have sufficient Paddy?” Atma Ram replied, “If we fall short of Paddy Pt. Jia Lal Killam and Pt. Dev Koul Vessu replenish it”. Atma Ram asked Sarvanand to prepare salt tea, as there was no sugar. After a little thought he called Sarvanand again and  told him he had some ‘nabad’candy). After the tea was served, DC called his peon and issued or­ders for forty kgs of sugar to be  given to the ashram. DC also told numberdar to deliver 18-20 Khirwars from Khushkharid (Procured Paddy) to Atma Ram. Officials felt flab­bergasted and asked DC whether he had come to Ashram for this purpose. DC replied, “I will speak the truth. As I entered the ashram a strange feeling envel­oped me. I cannot explain it and did not know what to do. I felt ashamed why I decided to come here to seek Khushkharid. Swami Atma Ram is a spiriually elevated person—Pir-i-Kamal. I did what was desirable”.

Nathji of Vicharnag, a young handicapped person used to stay with mahant Gash Kak at Gautam Nag. During a visit  to Gautamnag, Atma Ram decided to bring him to Gosaingund and give him the charge of conducting Puja in the  ashram. He was soon adopted as IInd disciple by Atma Ram, the other being Sarvanand.

In 1963, in the month of Kartik, Atma Ram fell ill. The new doctor at Dooru-Shahbad, Dr Gopi Nath Khashu, a disciple of Saint Govind Kaul trekked four kms. everyday to take care of Atma Ram. On ekadashi of Shuklapaksh, the Mahant passed  away  at the ripe age of 83. He was cremated in the ashram pre­mises, as per the practice. A Samadhi built with marble stone stands at the place.

Nathji and Sarvanand took control of the ashram work. Some new constructions—a 3 Takh 2 storeyed house were added. Barbed wire fencing was erected around ashram . Orchards were expanded. A portion of the new building was given on rent to a Girl’s School.

 Fatehpur village, 2½ kms from the ashram has held spe­cial importance for ashram. The road to Vessu, Sarvanand’s birth place lay through Fatehpur, the village where lived the family of Lassa Bhat.  His many generations became ascetics at the ashram. Lassa Bhat was disciple of Sona Kak. His son Madhav Bhat was adopted by Atma Ram. Madhav’s son-Prem Nath chose Sarvanand as his guru, even during the  life time of Atma Ram. Sarvanand also brought Prithvi Nath, son of Raghav Bhat from Bonagund(Verinag) to ashram. He taught him Vedas (Panchadashi), Tota bodh, Atmabodh etc. Shamboo Nath Brahmchari of Batapora, Shopian used to stay at Durga Nag with Shivjee. Atma Ram had also brought him to Gosaingund.

After some years, Nath Ji designated Shamboo Nath as his successor, while Sarvanand made Prem Nath as next in suc­cession to him. It was in 1973.  Sarvnanad had donated his property at Vessu to the local temple. He had to go there to lay the foundation stone for Dharmshala. While leaving for Vessu, he had premonition of his end. At Zainapura, where he had halted for night, he suffered a massive stroke. As his condition wors­ened at district Hospital Anantnag, he was shifted to Gosaingund, where he expired on Vaisakh Shuklapaksh ekadeshi (1973). He was 63. As per ashram norms a similar Samadhi was built for him.

Sarvanand in his life time had taken extensive pilgrimages, going to all the four dhams. In Srinagar he used to stay at the house of Chanderjoo Vakil at Tankipora. Here many sadhus used to stay. One of them,  Swami Ashokanand started Nagdandi ashram. Sarvanand, unlike Atma Ram,  wore simple dress. He wore Turban, Rafal pheran and pohs, chadarpati and  loin cloth  and chappals. For his simplicity sadhus often called him ‘Shukdev’. His other disciples at Srinagar   included Amarnath Bujoo (Sathu), Kanth Koul (Nai Sarak) and Brij Nath Ganjoo (Rainawari). Other families from Rainawari-Motsib, Ganjoos, Kalposh visited ashram regularly. After Sarvanand, Nathji became Mahant of the ashram. When Shamboo Nath expired Prithvi Nath was appointed as his  successor. Nathji also expired soon after on Jyeshtha Krishnapach Triyodashi. As per ashram practice, Veda Havan was done on 13th day and a Samadhi was built for him.

Ashram fostered communal harmony. Surrounding villages benefited a lot from the ashram. It practised catholicity and preached love and mutual help.

After the death of Sarvanand and Nathji, ashram was being run by Prithvi Nath and Prem Nath. While Prithvi Nath Ji had left somewhat  earlier due to his illness, Prem Nath Ji left Kashmir along with other Matpora Kashmiri Pandit  families on 4th April, 1990 during night.In 1994, 3 storeyed dharmshala was burnt. All the three centuries old idols of Gaurishankar, Laxmi Narayan and Durga were taken away. In exile the Mahants — Pt Prem Nath and Prithvi Nath are running the ashram from Tomal, Bohri, Jammu .

Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati