The scenic beauty of Kashmir is famous all over the world, and attracts every year thousands of tourists who seek relaxation, enjoyment and the charms of nature. Few people outside the State, however, know that it also abounds in a number of pilgrimage centres. Indeed, a popular Sanskrit verse says, `All the holy places of the world are found in the region of Kashmir'. Living as they do in geographical isolation from the rest of India. Kashmiris have learnt to keep the roots of their culture alive by identifying their rivers, lakes and places with the holy tirthas of the mainland. Thus they see the Ganga in their own Gangabal, and Prayaga in the sangam (confluence) of their own rivers - the Vitasta (more commonly as the Jhelum) and the Sindhu at Shadipur.
From Vedic times to the twelfth century of the present era, Kashmir was one of the important centres of Hindu culture, religion and philosophy. The vitality of the past still survives in the faith, traditions and ways of life of Kashmiri Hindus. Every Hindu who believes in the Sanatana traditions worships God in the form of Pancayatan, the Five Deities (literally, the `five abodes') namely, Ganesa, Siva, Visnu, Devi and Surya. We have in Kashmir temples and tirthas (holy places) dedicated to all these deities and also to Avatars like Sri Rama. Let us first note some of the important places of pilgrimage associated with these deities before taking up a general survey of the holy places in Kashmir.
THE SHRINE OF KHAN SAHIB
SITUATED in the Khan Sahib block of district Budgam, the shrine is associated with a famous saint - Hazrat Salen Khan - who belonged to Pakhla village (now in Pakistan) and came here in the sixteenth century along with his father, Ismail Sahib. On the day of the birth of his son, it is believed, 99 saints visited the house of Ismail Sahab to see the new-born child. At age 5, his uncle, an influential man in the area, wanted to adopt Salen Khan but Ismail Sahib would not agree. When the former exerted pressure, Ismail Sahib took his son along and travelled on foot to Kashmir. On way, Syed Salen Khan met a famous saint - Bu Ali. Syed Salen's father took his son to Baba Naseeb-ud-Din Gazi, a well- known saint of Kashmir, where the two stayed for over a year. Later, the Baba granted Ismail Sahib permission to leave and Syed Salen Khan stayed back and took religious and spiritual guidance from the baba for 13 years. Syed Salen Khan also meditated for almost a dozen years in a cave and also stayed for some time in the Srinagar city. Later, he chose a place in a jungle for prayers and meditation. The cave, where he meditated, still exists. During his stay in the cave, people began to visit Syed Salen Khan and soon he was widely known to be a saint of high order. The place came to be known as Khan Sahib after him. Hazrat Syed Saleh Khan passed away on Zeelqad 17, 1019 Hijri. He was a fine calligrapher and a copy of the Holy Quran calligraphed by him is available at Watal Kadal, Srinagar. In the month of Zeelqad, a week-long urs (festival) is held at the tomb of Syed Saleh Khan Sahib.
Vaishno Devi Temple
The Vaishno Devi temple is located in the Trikuta Mountain at 61 kms north of Jammu at a height of 5,200 feet above the sea level. The shrine can be visited throughout the year, but in winters, it is difficult due to snowfall.
The legend has that the three main manifestations of Goddess like Mata Maha Kali, Mata Maha Lakshmi and Mata Maha Saraswati united together one day and pooled the collective Tejas or spiritual strength. Then a bright light emanated from the place where a beautiful young girl emerged out of this Tejas. She was told to live on earth, spending her time in upholding righteousness and later merge into Vishnu. So, the girl was born to Ratankar and his wife who called her as Vaishnavi.
The only holy place connected with Lord Visnu in Kashmir is Vishnu-Pada or Kaunsar Naga. This is a big lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 feet in Anantnag district. The lake is shaped like a foot and it is believed that Lord Visnu had placed his holy foot in the place where the present big lake is found.
Sun temple at Martand
Only five miles away from the town of Anantnag on the way to Amarnath, is a village known as Mattan or Bhawan. In ancient scriptures the name of this place is given as Martand (the sun). Here is a beautiful spring and a small rivulet flowing nearby known as the Chaka. On the banks of the Chaka thousands of devotees from northern India perform sraddha to their deceased ancestors in adhikamasa months and Vijaya Saptami. About 21/2 km. from the spring are the ruins of a magnificent temple dedicated to the Sun known as Martand. The temple in Indo-Greek architectural style was built by Lalitaditya, a great king of Kashmir. Swami Vivekananda visited this place at least three times.