Celebrating the Life of a Kashmiri Saint in Switzerland
Since time immemorial Kashmir has been the home of Rishis (Vedic seers); its origin is documented in the Nilamata Puran and its history has been enshrined within the Rajatarangini written by the 12th century Kashmiri Brahmin Kalhan. The very name of Kashmir is derived from the illustrious Kashyap Rishi; once a vast lake which geologists have dated back to 50,000 years ago it was drained and created the blissful Kashmir Valley. The Kashmiri Pandits are the descendants of these celebrated Rishis and though driven out of their homeland through insurgency, they have preserved their culture and rich heritage wherever their destiny has taken them.
Year 2009 in Geneva, Kashmiri Pandits from Europe and India, their family and friends marked the birth anniversary of one of Kashmir’s most celebrated Saints, Jagadguru Bhagavaan Gopinath ji Bhan fondly known as Gop-Bap or Tathi Bub by his followers. Geneva has been the home of Kashmiri Pandit Shri Autar Tikou for over the past four decades. Though originally from Srinagar, Autar ji like many Kashmiris has safeguarded the Kashmiri traditions and ethos which emanate from the divine Vedas and hosted the Havan Yajna to commemorate Gop-Bap ji’s birthday (3rd July).
Each guest who graced the joyous occasion irrespective of nationality or creed was treated with the utmost of love and reverence in line with the Vedic precept ‘atithi devo bhava’- the guest is divine. They witnessed the authentic Kashmiri Havan Yajna performed by the undersigned and all joined in with traditional bhajans in the Kashmiri style. At the conclusion of the service, all were treated to a sumptuous vegetarian feast of sanctified food, which in the Kashmiri language we call ‘naivad’ arranged by Autar ji and his family.
In Autar ji I perceived a true philanthropist; a selfless ‘karmayogi’ who helps others without expectation of reward, through inherent nature and the goodness of the heart.
Bhagavaan Gopinath ji’s message was clear and unequivocal; in line with the philosophy of Kashmiri Shaivism, all around us is Shiva and Shakti. He never differentiated between Hindu and Muslim; indeed the intermingling of Advaita and Sufism is commonplace in Kashmir. Though some Muslims consider singing and music to be ‘haraam’ Kashmiri Muslims actually sing in their places of worship during prayers. We cannot achieve union with the Almighty unless we love and serve all humans and this begins with those around us. Once someone confronted Bhagavaan Ji with the intriguing question of whether saints should render assistance to people in the spiritual and temporal spheres. Does such help not exhaust the spiritual treasure acquired by a saint after great penance and sacrifice? Bhagavaan Ji replied, 'A man or an animal with a muscular and bulky body can afford to swim across a river. Can a small insect like an ant do so without help? It has to be helped.'
Though Pandits have been forced out of their idyllic ancestral homelands turning many into refugees, we all hope and pray for peace in the Valley of ‘Sharda Peeth,’ and a return to its former glory. Recent troubles these past two decades demonstrate that exclusivism and extremism are not the way forward. Only the eternal Vedic ideology of ‘unity in diversity’, tolerance and freedom can provide a lasting solution.
Dr Raj Pandit
Executive Member Hindu Ceremonies
Hindu Council UK