Dialogue July-September 2008, Volume 10 No. 1
Socio-historicity of a Kashmiri Ashrama
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
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.
early nineteenth century, at least, four asramas-Gautamnag, Uma Nagri,
Vyethavotar and Gosaingund, in
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
time, the visits of well-learned scholars from different parts of
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 ‘
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”.
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.
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
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.
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
Sarvanand in his life time had taken extensive pilgrimages, going
to all the four dhams. In
fostered communal harmony. Surrounding villages benefited a lot from the ashram.
It practised catholicity and preached love and mutual help.
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,
|Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati|