By Virendra Bangroo
The town of Bijbehara or Vijbror is 28 miles from Srinagar and two and a half miles from district headquarters Anantnag. Vijbhor is derived from Vijayeshwar and was the site of an ancient sacred shrine of Shiva Vijayeshvara. The site was one of the famous tirthas of Kashmir.
The place has a hoary past and king Ashoka, as per the account of Kalhana, replaced the stuccoes enclosure of the Shiva Vijayeshvara temple with that of stone. The king built two temples within this enclosure called Ashokeshvara.
Being a famous tirtha of Kashmir the temple must have gone through a number of additions and alterations. During the time of Raja Susala (1112-1120) the rebels used the temple premises as fortification. The temple and the town were burnt down during the reign of king Ananta. King Ananta at that time was residing in the tirth of Vijayeshwara. Raja Kalasha (1163-1189) restored this shrine and embellished the temple with a golden Kalasha.
The temple and the ancient linga of Vijayeshvara were completely destroyed by Sultan Sikander.
Aurel Stein visited the place in 1889 and found some ancient slabs and architectural fragments on the bank of vitasta. According to him the local Purohits also confirmed to him about the ancient site which was 15 feet below the surrounding terrain. General Cunningham visited this place in 1847 and found the ruins of an ancient temple, which he attributes the temple of Vijayesha. The story of the ancient site mentioned in Mahatmyas and the historical accounts of Kalhana and Jonaraja does not end here. The sanctity of the area remained alive in the oral traditions (shruti).
The traditions never die and the same is true about the sanctity of the Vijayeshvara shrine. The local Purohits, as stated by Kalhana, were aware of its exact location: the river bank, opposite the bridge, though the site was destroyed hundreds of years ago by the Muslim fundamentalists.
The temple being situated on the pilgrim route to Martand and Amarnath never lost its importance. In 1859 Dogra ruler Ranbir Singh built a temple a furlong away from the old site on the National Highway. The temple is presently known as Harischandir temple but Stein refers it as the new temple of Vijayeshvara. It is said to be built of the stone materials of the ancient temple.
The temple is made up of stone and stands on an 8 feet high adhistana. Instead of the pyramidal roof, the stylized ancient architecture of Kashmir, it has a curvilinear roof, which was adopted by the Dogras from the temple architecture of north Indian plains. Three golden Kalsas and a pointed spire surmount the temple. The temple has a circumulatory path. Inside the temple there is a pitha having eleven lingas called Ekadash Rudr, which is the main pitha for worship. Besides it, there is an idol of Ganesha, which is of 2-ft height.
There are three huge Chinar trees in the compound of the temple. There is a sculpture of Nandi or Vrashab in the temple compound besides many fragmented sculptures of ancient date. A peculiar stone called Kah-Kah pal is a curiosity for the pilgrims and tourists alike. As per the local belief the stone could be only lifted by eleven individuals using only index finger. In Kashmiri the Kah-Kah pal means a boulder lifted by eleven individuals. Nothing is known about the origin and historicity of this boulder but it has been there since times immemorial, fascinating the public and also issued a message that unity is strength.
Pandit Harijilal was looking after the temple till 1990. Dogra ruler Pratap Singh gave his forefathers the charge of temple maintenance. 160 canals of land were also attached to the temple as Jagir. The land is located in the nearby Pazalpora village. The revenue collected from the land was used for the upkeep and maintenance of this temple and also to arrange food and accommodation for the pilgrims and sadhus on their way to holy cave, Amarnath. The Chari Mubarak used to reach the temple on the sixth of Shravan Shakul Paksh.
In the close vicinity of the temple is the Mughal garden. Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru is said to have visited the Mughal garden a number of times and relaxed under the shade of the Chinar tree. The place as mentioned earlier gives boons. Bathing in the river vitasta one gets rid of crores of sins and attain salvation in the either world. By dispersing ashes of the departed souls, one could achieve moksha. Smt. Vijayalakshmi Pandit as per the wishes of her friend Ms. Naidu dispersed her ashes at the Gath of the temple and performed her last rites. The state government made the arrangement for her visit and a priest and friends accompanied her.
As per Sh. Trilokinath Tikoo, age 62, resident of Bijbehara, he along with his three friends. Sh. Ved Lal Tikoo, Sh. Bansi Lal Tikoo and Sh. Dwarka Nath Raina were the first to visit the temple around 4 AM and offer worship regularly till the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990.
In 1986 there was widespread violence against the Kashmiri Pandits. The fundamentalist mob of the nearby villages damaged and desecreated the temple and broke the sacred linga and threw it in the river. It was only after the repeated appeals by the locals the government came into action and ordered the restoration of the temple. Professional divers were called and the lingas were collected from the riverbed and restored back in the temple. Till 1986 the temple was covered with a mud compound wall and later on it was replaced by a concrete one with iron grills and barbed wire.
In the aftermath of exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 these abodes of god were left unattended. Pandit Harjilal and his family also left the place in March 1990 to an unknown destination.
*Pandit Trilokinath Tikoo presently resides at Laxmipuram Colony, Jammu; Pandit Vedlal Tikoo expired in 1998 at Bijbehara; Pandit Bansilal Tikoo presently stays at Burnai, Jammu; Pandit Dwarka Nath Raina is presently residing in Udhampur.
*Virendra Bangroo, Documentation Officer, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Janpath, New Delhi.