The Amarnath Yatra may culminate next month but the magic of Lord Shiva’s silver mace, Chhari Mubarak, with its lovely Urdu name, will linger on the whole year

The silver mace of Lord Shiva will, after the month-long yatra, reach its annual destination, the holy cave of Amarnath and the ice lingam, which waxes with the full moon. There are many stories about the mace (known as the Chhari Mubarak) and how it came to be associated with the pilgrimage. But off the beaten path one heard this one at the shrine of Sheikh Kalimullah in Delhi, where the Kashmiri woodcutters and shawl sellers camp during their winter migration and is tempted to repeat it now that there is so much concern over the yatra because of a terrorist threat. Incidentally, Kalimullah means one who talks to God and the name was originally given to the patriarch Moses. But Kalimullah, the saint whose shrine is situated opposite the Red Fort, was a religious reformer in the reign of Aurangzeb and had his hospice at the spot where he was later buried.

In the 1960s, the Kashmiri labourers used to migrate to the Capital in large numbers to escape the rigours of winter in their home state. Since one did not stay very far from the shrine, it was possible to visit it every evening for the qawwalis that were a regular feature then. Sitting outside one of the tents in front of a logwood fire on which the handi was being cooked, it was a pleasure to listen to a bearded man, who spoke of the time when the custodian of the Chhari Mubarakwas a Kashmiri Pundit, who had embraced Islam.

The man, who will have to remain nameless as the storyteller just referred to him as the “former Pandit”, would bring out the Chhari every year to cries of “Nare taqbi”. His family saw to it that the occasion turned into a real festive one, with drummers playing before the house since early morning. After the community feast the pilgrims used to assemble. Swinging the chhari, the ex-Pandit would proceed towards the mahantand hand it over to him with due ceremony amid cries of “Har har Mahadev”.

The custodian, his sons and other male members of the family would accompany the procession for 500 yards while the women looked on. Then after embracing the mahantand enjoining on him the duty of bringing back the chhari safely, the custodian would return, but five of his relatives accompanied the mace right up to Amarnath. On the day of the full moon when the mahantreached the holy cave he would offer the chhari to the ice lingam, the visible form of the ever present Shiva, for it was actually his walking stick, which he missed the whole year. How it was bestowed to mankind is another story

Once while descending from his Himalayan abode, Shiva met a lame man who couldn’t move out of his way fast enough. His retort brought the reply from the lame man that he too would move fast if he had a silver walking stick. The kindhearted god immediately handed over his mace to him. The chhari remained in the man’s possession ever since. It was handed down from father to son until it came to the exPandit. Well, he revered the heirloom all right and on the final day of the pilgrimage distributed sweets to mark the culmination of a great event.

And then on the return journey, when the runners brought word that the Chhari procession was only a few miles away, the ex-Pandit and his family began preparing for the reception. Preceded by the nishan (flag) and drummers, the Chhari came into view and the custodian went forward to receive it. He embraced the mahant again and swung the mace three times in the air to a deafening cheer and slogans, both of Hindu and Muslim faiths. Everybody in the family rejoiced that the priceless heirloom had arrived safely, to be kept away with thanksgiving for another year.

We know how the Chhari now begins its journey from Jammu, arrives in Srinagar, where it is kept at the Dashnami Akhara, and then taken by MahantDipender Giri after the puja to Pahalgam, from where it proceeds to the cave shrine via Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni. But the bearded man’s tale, redolent with cries of “Allah ho Akbar”, “Nare taqbi” and “Har har Mahadev”, had its own charm and comes to mind as a symbol of communal amity, more so now because of the threat by the Harkatul-Ansar and other terrorists.

The pilgrimage may culminate next month but the magic of the Chhari Mubarak, with its lovely Urdu name, will linger on the whole year. One does not know if that old man still comes for his annual sojourn at the shrine of Kalimullah Sahib, but even if he doesn’t there must surely be someone still who relates such tales while the evening meal is cooked, for how can a Kashmiri forget the hallowed mace of Lord Shiva? Even Allama Iqbal, such a proponent of the initial idea of a Pakistan homeland, revered the god because of his Kashmiri Pandit ancestry that made him refer to Lord Rama as “Imam-e-Hind” and the Ganges as the life-sustaining sacred river. To quote from the poet: “Ai Ab-e-rood Ganga hai yaad din woh tujko / Uttara tere kinare jab karavan hamara” ~ a lucid reference to the arrival of the Aryans. The Chhari Mubarakalso is a relic of that cherished past.

The same shair (poet) went on to eulogize the mother country with this remarkable verse: “Yunan, Misr, Rooma sab mit gaye jahan se / kuch baath hai ke hasti mitthi nahin hamari. (Greece, Egypt and Rome have gone into oblivion after their heyday, but isn’t it amazing that Indian civilisation still continues to flourish as of old?).”

The Amarnath Yatra, which started for the cave shrine with its ice lingamon 28 June, is a vital strand in the perennial fabric that envelops Bharat Mata and the belief in Lord Shiva. But fewer Kashmiri woodcutters and shawl sellers, came to Delhi now, though the legend of the silver mace lives on.

According to another story, the mace of Shiva was welded under the supervision of Vishwakarma and was originally seven feet in length and weighed 20 seers. Once the demons sneaked into Swarg to steal the Amrit churned out from the ocean, Parvati woke up the god from his trance and told him to protect the nectar which could have made the Rakshasimmortal. Shiva look hold of his mace and threw it at the demons with whose impact they were buried under Mount Kailash. Every year they tried to get out of the crushing burden on them and every year Shiva used the mace to subdue them and keep them in bondage, until they were finally annhilated.

With a view to keeping this happening alive, Bhole Nath told Rishi Markande to organise a yearly yatrato his cave in Amarnath. The Chhari Mubarakwas handed over to the Rishi, who had defied death by sending back even Yama with his tapasya when he came to take his “prana” after he had attained the age of 16, which had been fixed as his life-span by Shiva, following the penance by the rishi’s parents for the birth of a son and heir. Rishi Markande sought out a man who could keep the Lord’s mace in safe custody for the Yatra. He eventually found a Pandit, who was a celibate and had never cast an evil glance at any woman, despite the efforts of apsaras sent by Indra to tempt him to break his vow of Brahamacharya. The Pandit was a Kashmiri named Pran Nath, who lived to the grand old age of 150 years after Bhraspati, the physician of the gods, had prolonged his life by making him drink a few drops of his own blood.

When the time came for Pran Nath to relinquish his mortal coil, he called his chief disciple, Gopal Nath and handed over the mace to him. Thereafter it was handed down generation after generation to the Akhara members of Pran Nath and is still with them. When the end of the world comes the Chhari Mubarak will pass on to Kalpi Maharaj who will, after his sojourn on earth, return it to Shiva so that he can use it to usher in a new world order after pralaya. How true these stories are is a moot point but they nevertheless perpetuate the legend of the Chhari Mubarak that leads lakhs of pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine.