This year, the form has become formless.
But the priest insists
After a glimpse of the void
we retrace our path
back to the tenth ox.
The story of the tenth ox is like this. Some Japanese Buddhist traditions use a series of ten pictures of a bull and a man known as the Ten Oxherding pictures. These are accompanied by notes or poems to depict the stages of spiritual progress. The bull is a symbol of untamed mind. The eighth picture is blank to denote that the bull and the man have merged into the nothingness. The tenth picture denotes the return to society after enlightenment.
Gautam Buddha came back to society after getting enlightened. But Buddha was never ordinary. Before his spiritual journey he was a prince. After getting enlightened he became a king of kings. He never seemed to belong to this world.
But the man of the Ten Oxherding pictures need not become a master or someone special in the tenth stage. In some series of pictures the man in the tenth picture was shown as relaxing under a tree and sipping wine. This was to indicate his complete re-integration with the society as an ordinary man. It is said that such tenth pictures were thought of as blasphemous and destroyed. That is the reason only nine pictures are found in some places.
From the Amarnath cave, we returned back for night halt to the camp site at Panjtarni well before sunset. I do not remember anything of what happened on the third day. Maybe, the hard drive of my mind was too tired to record anything for long term memory. Maybe, I did not need to remember because nothing unusual must have happened that day.
What I remember is that after coming back to Pahalgam we booked into a hotel. The stay in the hotel was comfortable. We were told that before the dawn of insurgency in Kashmir, such hotels could have been unaffordable to budget travellers like us.
Why not? If you come across a Bollywood song of sixties or seventies where the heroine gyrates along enticing mountain brooks or rolls languidly on lush meadows with snow capped mountains at the backdrop, you could be ninety percent sure it must have been shot in Pahalgam. After visiting Pahalgam all your doubts would be set to rest regarding why Kashmir is referred to as the heaven on earth.
But right now insurgency has made it worse than hell. It is a lose lose situation for all parties involved. The Kashmiri Pandits have been driven away from their homeland. Those who are left behind are caught between the Scylla and the Charybdis of security forces and the terrorist organisations.
The above song of the movie ‘Mr. Natwarlal’ was most probably shot around Pahalgam. It ends with the boy asking Mr. Natwarlal, ‘Lekin aap to zinda hai‘; to which Mr. Natwarlal answers, ‘Yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai re Lalu‘. Well, that summaries the plight of a common resident of Kashmir.
Had there been no insurgency, with flourishing tourism and other industries, Kashmir could have been one of the economically progressive states of India. Contrary to what the so called liberals of Hindustan would like us to believe, terrorism is the cause of economic degradation of Kashmir. Not the other way round. With such abundance of natural resources, Kashmiris would not have needed special packages after special packages to survive at the level of subsistence.
Pakistan, to some extent, has succeeded in continuing its proxy war with India with the support of local leaders. Radio stations of Pakistan located near the border belt out anti India propaganda twenty four seven. With terrorism legitimized and the young minds radicalized, will peace ever return to the valley in near future? Will Kashmir ever regain its glory as the ‘heaven on earth’? Will the Kashmiri Pandits ever return to their homeland to resettle peacefully?
In spite of meticulous security arrangements the shadow of sudden terrorist attack always looms large. In fact the very presence of heavy security is indication of the dangers lurking just around the corners. Fatal terrorist attack on pilgrims happened in 2000, 2001, 2002, and most recently in 2017.
We went to the yatra knowing fully well all the natural and man made risks involved. Thousands continue to go there knowing fully well all the risks involved. It is nothing short of an adventure and a test of one’s faith both on divinity and humanity.
Our Pahalgam sight seeing started with our visit to an ancient Shiva temple at Mattan nearby. The shrine that houses the lingam is inside a pond. Other than a few temples like these, hundreds of temples in Kashmir are in ruined and neglected state for obvious reasons. There are travel enthusiasts who take much delight in ruined and dead things. In case peace returns to the valley, such ruined structures too would attract hordes of delighted lay visitors as well as specialists like historians, travel bloggers, and youtubers. It is a different story that these temples are not the remnants of an ice age but were deliberately destroyed in the recent past.
After breakfast we took a tour of the scenic view points of Pahalgam. The weather was wonderful. Crystal clear streams of water of the Lidder flowed playfully. At a distance pine trees stood guard between the lush meadows and the mountains. This is enlightenment of a different kind. Disturbing thoughts and emotions related with fear, anger, or regret stand in suspended animation. You don’t feel like coming back to the mundane world of daily routines. Then you are reminded, you have promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep.
PS1: For authentic and latest information about Amarnath Yatra, visit the official website of Amarnath Shrine Board.
PS2 : The stanzas are from ‘A Trip to Amarnath’, from my poetry book PEBBLES AND WAVES.