The 700-year long continuing attacks on Beerwa Cave

Bahurupajayi  Laksminidhir acyutataadam
Samalam  sa nrshimho ‘tha daityasriyam ivadunot

Thus  memorializes Jonaraja, the Kashmiri historian, of the first attack on  Bahurupa (modern day Beerwa) around 1338. The victorious general was  none other than Shah Mir who was the treacherous commander in chief  of Kashmir under Kota Rani and her husband Udyandeva. The historian  notes in passing that it was a symbolic victory over Siva (bahurupa).

Fast  forward to today and you have the entire machinery of militants,  separatists, government, legislature, joining hands to stop a  miniscule number of Kashmir Pandits from visiting the world famous  Beerwa cave in connection with the Abhinavagupta millennium  celebrations.

This  is the cave where the famed polymath is reputed to have gained moksha with 1200 of his followers, leaving no trace behind. J&K Courts  have been pressed into the matter with the police, revenue service  and other administrative arms reportedly filing rationale in  affidavits to stop this visit. How could this disappearance be  physically possible, how could Pandits possibly make a claim that  they be allowed to visit the cave, founded on a preposterous  assertion?

This,  in spite of the fact that this knowledge is commonplace among  Kashmiri Muslims. The eminent Dr. K.C. Pandey, foremost authority on  Abhinavagupta, writes in his magnum opus (1935) on Page 24 and 25  about his field trip to the Beerwa Cave. He accosts a random Kashmiri  Muslim who confirms to him about this event in history. Urban and  educated Kashmiri Muslim families were very familiar with this oral  history. Dr. Grierson in his paper in 1910 in the Journal  of Royal Society of Arts (JRAS 1910, Page 1334- 1336 n. 1) which predates Pandey, confirms  this traditional belief.

None  of this should be terribly surprising. Rishis in Kashmir from times  immemorial have stayed in caves to plumb the innermost depths. The  locally well-known Nund Rishi meditated in a cave in Qaimoh. Locals  go there and make offerings out of piety. Nobody stops them. The  phenomenon is universal. Prophet Mohammed himself received the first  revelation from Allah while in a cave called Ghar Hira cave. Trip  Advisor rates it as #4 on the list of attractions in Mecca. To the  degree that there is hagiography associated with these sacred spaces,  courts and other government institutions have wisely stayed away from  opining on the merits or demerits of what is seen as a miracle.

Not  so in Kashmir. What explains this 700-year unending war against  Beerwa cave? The answer is remarkably simple. Islam entered Kashmir  around the eight century and coexisted peacefully for a while until a  new group of social engineers arrived in the Valley. To establish  their hegemony, it was critical that the indigenous social system of  rewards and joys be pushed into new pathways. These killjoys were  represented by Sufis such as Shamsuddin Araki. An indoctrinated  populace deprived of happiness and maddened by deprivation of sensory  and aesthetic pleasures could then be controlled by groomers who  would spell out through diktats a perverse reward system for their  own theological ends.

Abhinavagupta  represents an existential threat to these killjoys. Among his many  contributions is one where an experience of aesthetic pleasure leads  a seeker to divinity. Rasa,  the taste of life, is the force of life. Professor Sheldon Pollock of  Columbia University has stated that Abhinavagupta’s insight and  body of knowledge is India’s greatest gift to humanity. A way of  life which is joyful will always be one of fullness and pro-life.

It  is this battle that is raging around Beerwa cave. But the battle has  essentially been won by Abhinavagupta’s followers. In major  universities around the world his works are being studied with  fervor. It is the dawning of the age of Abhinavagupta. His millennium  celebrations around the world have an element of amazement - could  such a man have really lived?

The  militants, separatists and their proxies who administer day to day  life in J&K are adhering to strictures of a bygone age. The  evidence is clear: the incidence of mental illness, misogyny, drug  use, a failed economy and other destructive behaviors in the local  Kashmir population are all a result of a negation of the self.

Kashmiris  will inevitably discover who they are. When they do, Kashmir will get  back on the right path. Until then, it behooves the Pandits to join  hands with right thinking Indians on this issue and protect their  rights. It would be good if the Jammu-based organizations took the  lead. Those who want to turn off the lights on the Beerwa cave have a  deep darkness in their hearts. Kashmir Pandits and like-minded global  citizens should be allowed to celebrate in front of and inside the  Beerwa cave, the cave of Joy.

Light  the lamp please and sing the Bahurupa song. Joy to the world, there  is nothing to fear.

Rakesh  Kaul is author of The  Last Queen of Kashmir,  HarperCollins India 2016, on the little known Kota Rani, one of the  greatest queens of the land. He can be reached at, @rkkaulsr or FB page The Last Queen of Kashmir 

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