By Swami Harshananda
Kṣirabhavāni literally means ‘Bhavānī, the Divine Mother, who is fond of milk’.
Kashmir is one of the very old parts of the country full of several sacred spots. An ancient and voluminous work called the Bhrñgiśa Samhitā, fragments of which only are available now in the manuscript form, is said to contain details of all these places. Along with the Amaranāth cave and the Vaiṣṇo Devī shrine, Kṣīrabhavānī ranks as the third center of pilgrimage in Kashmir. According to one version, it is one of the 51 Śaktipīṭhas where the neck of the satī Dākṣāyaṇī fell.
The Kṣīrabhavāṇi or the modern Khir Bhawani is situated at the village Tulāmula (or Tulamulla). This village is 4 km (2.5 miles) from Gandharbal and 44 km (27 miles) to the north west of the capital Śrinagar. The temple is a small structure of marble with its dome covered by thin gold leaf.
With regards to the discovery of this place, there are two stories. They are:
- According to the first version, the goddess appeared to one Pandit Govind Joo Gadru and showed him the place. When he saw it, he poured milk which he had brought in number of earthen vessels into the spring.
- According to the second version, a pious brāhmaṇa named Kṛṣṇapaṇḍita was informed by a divine being about the existence of the spring of the Divine Mother. As directed by the being, the Paṇḍit started in a boat and went behind a serpent that guided him to the marshy spot. The paṇḍit then got that spot filled with several loads of earth to prepare the present place of pilgrimage.
The present temple of Kṣirabhavāni was built by the Mahārāja Pratāp Siṅgh in CE 1912. It contains the idols of the Devī known as Mahārājñā and Śiva called as Trisandheśvara. It is situated inside a kuṇḍa, a natural water tank of small size. This tank is hexagonal in shape. The water is constantly supplied by several natural springs. It is about 2 meters (6.5 ft.) deep.
Water often changes its color in this tank. The vivid colors usually seen are white, red, brown, yellow, blue and black. People believe that when the water turns blackish, it is a bad omen for the country.
All worship by the devotees is offered to the waters of the kuṇḍa from outside. Kṣira (milk) and miṣṭānna (rice pudding) are considered dear to the goddess. The little island containing the Devī kuṅda is full of Chinar trees. Each one of the brāhmaṇa families in Kashmir has a kuladevatā. Kṣīrabhavāṇi is the goddess for most of them.
Jyeṣṭha-śukla-aṣṭamī generally occur during June. It is the main festival day when pilgrims throng in thousands. The shrine complex is being taken care of by the Dharmarth Trust of the State. It has effected several improvements as follows:
- A pujāmaṇṭapa measuring 10 by 5 meters (34 ft. by 17 ft.) in front of the kuṇḍa
- Sheds for performing homas, fire-rituals
- An electric pump to clean the water of the kuṇḍa, once in 2 to 3 years
- Dharmaśālas or guest-houses for the visiting pilgrims
A brief account of the local legends may be given here now:
- The Devi got angry with the demon king Rāvaṇa in whose kingdom she had settled. She asked Hanumān along with 360 Nāgas (snake-chieftains) to take her to Kāśmīra. Hanumān did so, settling the Devī in her different aspects, in different places. The Nāgas were also given appropriate places to live.
- According to another version, the Devī shifted to Kāśmīra from Laṅkā and started begging for food from the houses of few brāhmaṇas. They gave her kṣīra or inspissated milk. She settled down at the present place of pilgrimage. Later on, a temple was built there.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore