Kashmir is a heaven on earth with majestic mountains, colourful chinar trees and crystal clear water bodies. This paradise is not only a scenic beauty but also a spiritual haven.
Kashmir, known as the Pir Waer or Rishi Waer (an alcove of Sufis and saints), was once host to the propagator of Advaita Vedanta, Adi Shankara in the ninth century. It is said that the saint resided in the Jyeteshwara Temple on Gopadri Hill. After his visit, the hill and the temple were named ‘Shankaracharya’.
Ever since I heard about this temple from my friend, I have been wanting to visit it. During my recent trip to Kashmir, I hailed a cab from Dal Gate to the Shankaracharya Hill. The temple, I was told, is located at a height of 1,100 feet. I endured a 30-minute drive uphill navigating through the hairpin bends. Dizzy and queasy, I was glad to get out of the cab at the foot of the hill. But I knew my relief was short-lived when I saw a flight of 243 steps ahead of me.
On my way uphill, I picked up a conversation with a fellow climber who explained the Advaita Vedanta philosophy to me in simple terms. He explained about the inner consciousness called the Atman present within each of us. This Atman is a part of the universal consciousness called Brahman. Further, he said the goal of life is to know the Brahman through Atman. According to the philosophy, when an individual understands the nature of Atman (and hence Brahman), they will grasp the interconnectedness of all existence. The philosophy propagates looking beyond our differences, letting go our sense of discrimination, and realising that we are all one.
Upon entering the shrine, I felt my spirits rise for inside was a Shiv Ling, an abstract representation of Lord Shiva, which to me seemed to echo the abstract nature of Brahman.
In simple terms, this school of thought says you and I may have taken on a variety of identities on this earth. I may identify myself as a doctor, you as an engineer. I may call myself an Indian, you an American. But beneath all these superficial and man-made differences, we are all fundamentally one.
As I reached the top, I was welcomed by a bust-size marble statue of Adi Shankara. I bowed before the saint in reverence before heading to the terrace that surrounded the main shrine. The terrace had several viewpoints from where one could see the entire city of Srinagar. Thirteen stone stairways further rose from there and led to the main shrine–a small circular chamber. I climbed the final flight of stairs. Upon entering the shrine, I felt my spirits rise for inside was a Shiv Ling, an abstract representation of Lord Shiva, which to me seemed to echo the abstract nature of Brahman.
After the darshan, I walked towards the viewpoint. Somehow, I could no longer distinguish between the serene Nigeen Lake and the commercialised Dal Lake. I could no longer recognise the places I had come across in Srinagar–the crowded Lal Chowk or the posh Rajbagh. It was as if my senses had lost their ability to differentiate. All I could see was one city–Srinagar.
A cool breeze snapped me out of my reverie. I may have a long way to go before I discover my Atman or experience the Brahman. But the visit to Shankaracharya hill and temple certainly gave me a peek at universal interconnectedness and oneness. It taught me to look beyond the differences and appreciate the bigger picture.