Goddess Durga walked among people of Kashmir! The story of Rupa Bhavani

In the early seventeenth century, a Kashmiri Pundit named Madhav Joo Dhar lived in Srinagar. He was a deeply religious and philosophical man. He led his life in an impeccable religious spirit. He worshipped Ishwara in the form of Mother Sharika (Durga)

In Srinagar, there is a hill known as Hara Parvat or Sharika Parvat where the Goddess Sharika is worshipped since ancient times.

Legend relates that, long ago, some demons troubled the local people, who prayed to Goddess Durga for protection. She took the form of a Sharika (Maina) bird and dropped a large chunk of earth on the entrance to the cave of the demons to seal them inside the hill. She then took Her abode on the hill to ensure that they do not escape. This gave the name Sharika Parvat to the hill. The Goddess is represented there by the Sri Chakra  in sandy rock, which is applied with sindur. The deity is also called Chakreshwari. Regular worship has been offered at this shrine for centuries.

To this shrine of the Mother Sharika, Madhav Joo came every day to worship in the auspicious hour of Brahmi Muhurta.  For hours he would sit there so transported,  his face would glow with Divine radiance.

It is said that on the first day of the Navaratri, in the year 1620, Madhav Joo arrived at midnighg to uninterruptedly worship mother Sharika.

When his worship was complete, the Divine Mother is said to have appeared before him in the form of a radiant girl child.

On seeing this divine child, Madhav was so filled with intense joy and bliss.  He understood that the mother of the Universe, Mahamaya, was Herself in front of him in the form of this child.

he worshipped the girl, placing flowers at Her feet, With fatherly love he offered Her sweets. The Mother was pleased with the simplicity and love of Her devotee, and granted him a boon. Madhav requested Mother, ‘Since you have appeared before me in the form of a child, take birth in my house as my daughter.’ The Divine Mother granted the boon and vanished. So goes the legend of the birth of Rupa Bhavani.

In the following year 1621, in the month of Jyeshtha, on the Poornima Tithi, in the early morning a daughter was born to Madhav Joo’s wife. He named his daughter Alakshyeshvari, it refers to the Goddess in the formless advaita aspect.

In her father’s house, Alakshyeshvari’s years of childhood were passed in the company of devotees. Alakshyeshvari’s spirituality blossomed early in these favourable conditions. Her father, Madhav Joo, himself became her guru and gave her spiritual initiation.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the prevailing customs of the time, her father arranged her marriage to a young man of the nearby Sapru family.

However, Alakshyeshvari’s married life was unhappy. Her husband, Hiranand Sapru, totally lacked all understanding of Alakshyeshvari’s spiritual nature; and her mother-in-law, Somp Kunj, had a cruel nature. Alakshyeshvari’s life in this house was difficult and joyless. Her mother-in-law was always finding fault with her. Once she accused Alakshyeshvari of going out at midnight, and made Hiranand suspicious of his wife’s fidelity.

The truth was that at midnight Alakshyeshvari would go to perform her sadhana (spiritual practice) at the shrine of Mother Sharika on Hara Parvat. One day Hiranand followed her to see where she went at night. Alakshyeshvari knew this. When she had nearly reached the shrine, she turned around and asked Hiranand to join her. It is said that due to his ignorance he experienced a vast water body between them, he was forced to return home as he couldn’t cross it.

Another incident where she managed to feed a large number of guests with Kheer sent by her father in a small pot.

Even after seeing such miraculous incidents, not just once, but many times,  Hiranand remained foolish and ignorant. Finally, when living there became unbearable, Alakshyeshvari left her husband’s house never to return. It is said that this Sapru family’s fortunes rapidly declined therafter.

She spent many years doing tapasya and kept on moving in search of solitude. Finally In Vaskora(place where vasuki worshipped lord Shiva and became Shankarabharana) , Bhavani began to give spiritual instruction to Bal Joo Dar and Sadanand Muttoo in the form of poetical verses, called Vakhs. One hundred and fortyfive of her Vakhs have been transmitted in folklore. After twelve and a half years (periods of this length seem to recur in Bhavani’s life) had elapsed in Vaskora, Bhavani returned to Srinagar with her numerous devotees, and began to live in Saphakadal.

Many years had elapsed, and Bhavani now yearned to be released from her earthly body. On the Saptami Tithi, in the month of Magha, in the year 1721, Bhavani’s soul took flight forever. The legend relates how her devotees, filled with grief, carried her body towards the cremation ground.

On the way they met the village head who, on seeing the funeral procession, asked whom they were carrying. On hearing that it was Roop Bhavani, he was very startled, for he had just seen Bhavani walking down the road by which he came! The devotees looked inside the coffin and found nothing there but some alak (locks-of hair) and some flowers. The alak are even today worshipped with great reverence.

Rupa Bhavani’s Vakhs are so vibrant with her presence that on reading them one feels that she is very near, giving knowledge to her children with powerful words of renunciation, and fighting ignorance with the weapon of Eternal Truth. May she guide us on the true path of knowledge, towards the Divine Light.

Courtesy: Prabuddha Bharata

Rupa Bhawani – Life, Teachings and Philosophy published in 1977 by All India Saraswat Cultural Organization, Srinagar.

Dr Sindhu Prashanth