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Pilgrimage Tourism in Sindh Valley (Kashmir): A Case

Study of Kheer Bhawani Shrine

Article · July 2015


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Shyju P J Iqbal A Bhat

Banaras Hindu University KHALLIKOTE UNIVERSITY


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SAJTH, July 2015, Vol. 8, No. 2

Pilgrimage Tourism in Sindh Valley (Kashmir):

A Case Study of Kheer Bhawani Shrine


*Iqbal Ahmad Bhat, Research Scholar (Tourism), Department of History of Art & Tourism,
Banaras Hindu University, India.
**Dr. Shyju P.J., Ph.D. Assistant Professor (Tourism), Department of History of Art & Tourism,
Banaras Hindu University, India.

This study is an effort to showcase the importance of pilgrimage tourism in the Sindh Valley.
The present study is based on the notion that pilgrimage tourism of late in the Valley of
Kashmir has remained restricted to the annual Amarnath Yatra which is being now seen more
political than religious. In order to make pilgrimage tourism a more viable and sustainable
tool for the overall development of tourism in Kashmir Valley, the present study focused on
Sindh Valley, which is one of the important side valleys of the region. The study conjugates
with notion that pilgrimage tourism not only represents the ethos of Kashmir but also helps
in the sustainable development of tourism in the Sindh Valley. The present work is based on
the researcher’s continuous visits to the shrine of Kheer Bhawani and interaction with the
local people and shrine authorities. The present study, which was undertaken during the
annual festival in the month of May 2014, consists of a random sample of 150 participants.
The study uses factor analysis to find out the dimensions for the promotion of pilgrimage
tourism in the Sindh Valley. The findings are conceptual in nature and reveal that pilgrimage
tourism is not only important from the perspective of religious fervour but it also helps in the
promotion of peace, communal harmony and improves the guest-host relation. It is concluded
from the study that pilgrimage tourism, if promoted in the Sindh Valley, will not only help in
the promotion of sustainable tourism but will also help in the preservation of Kashmir ethos
which is the corner stone of mutual brotherhood, peace, perseverance and religious
tolerance, which is simply known as Kashmiriyat.
Keywords: Pilgrimage tourism, Kashmir ethos, Paradigm, Sustainable tourism,

Sindh Valley is considered as one of the largest side valleys of Kashmir having
huge tourism potential. The valley extends from the Ganderbal district in the
erstwhile Lar Pargana and owes its name to the Sind River, which rises in the
mountains at the eastern extremity, and near the cave of Amarnath (Bates, 2005).
The valley which is traversed by Ladakh road forms one of the important links
between Kashmir and Central Asia. The Sindh River empties into the River Jehlum
after travelling in a south-west direction at Shadipur which is few miles above
famous Manasbal Lake. The temple cum spring of Kheer Bhawani is located at the
mouth of Sindh Valley at a village known as Tulmulla.

© South Asian Journal of Tourism and Heritage


Shrine of Kheer Bhawani: A Historical background

According to Sir Walter Lawrence (2005) every Kashmiri Hindu with some
exceptions is called Pandit or Brahman and is the follower of Shiva. Though Kashmir
is dotted with many religious or sacred places but the shrine of Kheer Bhawani is
regarded as the most sacred among the followers of Hinduism. The Goddess Ragnya
Devi or Mata Kheer Bhawani originally from Sri Lanka is famous for spring, the
water of which is known for changing colours. This phenomenon is explained by
Lawrence (2005), “when I saw the great spring of Kheer Bhawani at Tula Mula, the
water had a violet tinge, but when famine or cholera is imminent the water assumes a
black hue”.
According to the historical accounts, the ruler of Lanka Ravana used to worship
goddess Parvati (Shama) for his temporal powers the goddess manifested herself to
Ravana in all her nine forms. After Rama’s victory over Lanka and misdeeds of
Ravana, goddess cursed him and ordered Hanuman to take her to Sat Sar (Kashmir)
on her vehicle along with 360 Nagas (Koul, 2001-02). The place chosen by Hanuman
(presently day Tulmulla Village) is surrounded by adjoining villages of Borus
(Bhawanish), Ahatung (Tungish), Ladwun (Labdawan) and Wokur (Bhageh). The
goddess of Kheer Bhawani or Ragnya Devi mostly prefers milk, sugar, rice and all
forms of vegetarian offerings. The sacredness of the spring of Kheer Bhawani is
deemed to have such an immense power that according to Sir Aurel Stein (translator
of Rajatarnagni), “when he (Jayapida) was approaching the land of Tulamulya, he
heard while on the bank of the Candrabhaga, that a hundred Brahmans less one had
sought death in the water of that stream…” (Koul, 2001-02). When Swami
Vivekananda visited the shrine in the summer of 1898, he became so much devoted
to Ragnya Devi that he averred, ‘no more Hari Om know’ it is all ‘mother now’(Tiku,
2001-02). Swami Vivekananda had spent some time at the shrine and meditated
under the Chinar tree which is still present there and now a Sadhu from Varanasi
has made it his shelter shed.
The main spring dedicated to the goddess has an irregular shape with an apex
called ‘Pad’ (feet) facing east. The northern and southern sides are longer than
western side which is called ‘Sher’ (head).The temple of Kheer Bhawani was built by
Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1912. The renovation and restoration of the temple was
undertaken by Maharaja Hari Singh. An annual festival in the month of May- June on
the eve of Jesht Ashtami is celebrated every year at the shrine which caters
thousands of devotees across the country. The Jammu and Kashmir Dharmarth
Trust Council under the chairmanship of Dr. Karan Singh controls most of the
temples in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and as such Kheer Bhawani also comes
under the trust.

Annual Festival
An annual festival is held at the Shrine of Kheer Bhawani on the occasion of
Jeshth Ashtami. The festival commemorates the coming back of Kashmiri Pandits
who left the Valley of Kashmir during the turmoil period of 1990s. The occasion for
most of the Pandits is seen mostly to re-establish contact with their long lost friends
and relatives (Dewan, 2004).The occasion is equally important for the people of
Kashmir, especially Sind Valley dwellers, who had been very close to their Pandit
brethren. The festival is celebrated on the 8 th day of the first lunar fortnight which is
the month of May-June (Jeth). The date is very important, as it is said that Ragnya
Devi first revealed herself on this day. Devotees offer Kheer (rice pudding) and milk
to the goddess and chant prayers with lamps filled with butter and incense sticks
(dhoop), and whole temple is reverberated with chanting of hymns and ringing
bells. On the occasion of festival or visit to shrine devotees abstain from all types of
non-vegetarian food items. There are small shops and dabas inside the shrine
complex offering different varieties of vegetarian food. These shops are mostly run
by the Muslims, hence making the place an emblem of unity in diversity and symbol
of pluralistic society. The other occasions when pilgrims visit the shrine include
Shukla Paksh Ashthami of any month. During this time special prayers in the form of
Hawans are performed. The occasion is the eighth day of the first fortnight of every
lunar month. Besides this, Pandits also visit the shrine on the occasion of Navratri
and offer prayers in the form of ‘arti’ on the last day. Though Shrine of Ragnya Devi
is important mostly for Kashmiri Pandits, but people from all over India have been
visiting here as Sindh Valley forms the traditional route to Amarnath via Baltal.

Review of Literature
The concept of pilgrimage or the travel for religious cum spiritual purposes
assumed much significance during the period of middle ages. The era witnessed
rapid growth of Christianity and numerous pilgrims making their way to the holy
land of Jerusalem. According to Davidson, L.K and Gitlitz, D.M. (2002), the
fundamental beliefs for pilgrimage travel fall into three categories. Firstly,
conviction about the forces infinitely larger than ourselves like—gods, superheroes,
the tectonic plates of history, which make an influence on our lives. Secondly,
Human beings have the potential to initiate a meaningful relationship with afore
mentioned forces and finally, there are certain special places where the remote,
transcendental power of those forces seems close enough for us to touch.
The prime motives of taking pilgrimage have been religious and the place is
seen being far away from the pilgrims’ own place of residence (Cohen, 1992). The
journey may involve visit to a sacred shrine, a temple, mosque or any such place
revered as holy. The location of such a site or holy place is separate from one’s own

place and the ceremonies attain a meaningful strength from their positioning
beyond the complex realities of the everyday home community (Morinis &
Crumrine, 1991).
The literature available on pilgrimage and tourism is so abundant that it
becomes very difficult to filter one from the other. The review of literature shows
there is a paradigm shift from the traditional notion of pilgrimage to the
postmodern notion. This has resulted in the differentiation between pilgrimage and
tourism which started in the 1970s. It was MaCanell (1973) who argued that pilgrim
as a tourist was searching for something different, for authenticity. But Graburn
(1977) drew a parallel line between pilgrimage and tourism which is interpreted as
‘sacred journey’. This prompted researchers from across the different fields to find
the relationship between complicated issues like economic, socio-political and
psycho-emotional relationships between pilgrimage and tourism. Scholars like
Cohen (1979); Smith (1992); MacCanell (1973) have given different typologies and
theories of pilgrims and tourists on the basis of differentiation between a visit and
real life experiences. The works of Dubisch and Winkleman (2005); Morinis (1992);
Shinde (2011); Singh (2011); Stausberg (2011) and likes of Turner & Turner (1978)
suggest that Scholars from various academic disciplines have examined the role of
pilgrimages to find its intricate relationship with various socio-cultural, economic,
political and even environmental dimensions inherent in the society. The
interdisciplinary approach to the subject of tourism has allowed many scholars to
inculcate awareness among the people between religion and tourism. According to
Holloway and Vallins (2002), the researchers have started to recognize more fully
the powerful and the mass roles of religion and spirituality on various fronts like
corporeal, institutional and even geopolitical.
Kreiner (2010) in her research has shown that there is a shift to a postmodern
approach within the study of pilgrimage. This has become more evident particularly
because of the more confusing line being drawn between tourism and pilgrimage
which is reflected in the terms like secular pilgrimage and religious pilgrimage.
From the available body of literature, the management and planning of pilgrim
sites fall in the category of production concept. The concept of production demands
an intricate relationship between different players associated with tourism
infrastructure. These players are known as religious entrepreneurs (Shinde, 2010).
The other dimension is of consumption where the works of Cohen (1991); Collins-
Kreiner & Killot (2000); Raj & Morpeth (2007); Smith (1992) have tried to make a
distinction between pilgrims and tourists. According to this distinction, they have
mapped pilgrim as a sacred and tourist secular on the basis of motives. Similarly
Cohen’s (1991) distinction is based on the direction of journey undertaken.
Accordingly, there is a difference of pilgrim and ‘pilgrim tourist’ on the one side and

the traveler and the ‘traveler tourist’ on the other side. The former becomes a prey
towards their socio cultural center and do not wish to change it while as later moves
in the opposite direction. On the contrary the studies of Hudman & Jackson (1992)
show that the travel for pilgrimage often combines the religious and a pleasure
variable. The conclusion drew from this study that a pilgrim can simultaneously be
labeled as a tourist as well. While reviewing the literature Maoz & Bekerman (2010)
paid more attention towards the traditional concept of pilgrimage as it is overtly or
covertly held by most of the individuals. According to them, the role of pilgrimage is
to provide a means of influence both on the person’s fate as well as future when
there are no other means. On the other hand, the goals and motives may be varying,
for example; one may be searching for salvation or seeking enlightenment, seeking
remedy to personal problems by the means of miracles.
There are few studies which focus mostly on the meanings associated to pilgrim
sites and spiritual centres. In their study of Kumbh Mela; Buzinde, Kalavar & et al
(2014) have shown how meanings are ascribed to the pilgrimage travel within the
scholarship of tourism. By quoting two examples of evangelicals travelling to Israel
and Indian pilgrims to Varanasi, authors have shown the political impact of
pilgrimage sites dominating its spiritual aspect.
The growth of religious or pilgrimage tourism has seen an upward trend. Every
year the estimates at global level show an increasing movement of people for
pilgrimage or spiritual travel. The estimates of United Nations World Tourism
Organization show that there are six hundred million National and International
religious and spiritual travels in the world. Among this estimate 40% take place in
Europe and over a half in Asia (UNWTO, 2011). The overall impact of this trend is a
positive sign for the economy of any Nation. If the case of country like India is taken
there are tour operators who have honed their skills only for pilgrimage tourism.
For example, Buddhist Circle which covers the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh has
internationally acclaimed tour operators. This in turn has given rise to a new
industry which looks after only for pilgrimage tourism with specialised man power
and technology. This paper attempts to highlight the gaps in the research works of
the past and emphasize that pilgrimage tourism should not be seen without
considering the cultural ethos and essence of the locale (Kashmiriyat in the case of

The main objective of the present study is to understand the importance of
pilgrimage tourism in Sindh Valley with focus on Kheer Bhawani.
1. To study the importance of Kheer Bhawani Shrine from the pilgrimage tourism
perspective with main focus on annual pilgrimage

2. To formulate the suggestions for the promotion of sustainable pilgrimage

tourism practices in Sindh Valley keeping in view the opinions and aspiration of
guest-host relations.

Research Methodology
The present study follows an exploratory research design and uses both
primary as well as secondary data. The sampling for present work took place at the
shrine of Kheer Bhawani for understanding the importance of pilgrimage tourism in
the Sindh Valley. The sample size for present study is 150 calculated with the help of
internet based Survey System technique. A self structured questionnaire on a five
point Likert-scale was distributed during the annual Mela among the target
population consisting of Prospective Pilgrims and locals. Secondary data was
collected from sources like published books, journals and articles. Data is analysed
with the help of SPSS 20. Factor analysis has been used to determine the key factors
for the successful completion of the study’s major aim.

Data Analysis and Results

Data has been collected with the help of questionnaire having ten statements
named as components. The data is measured on the five point Likert scale to know
about the agreement or disagreement of respondents.
The present study used factor analysis which is a multivariate statistical tool
with main focus to define the underlying structure in a data. The broader objective
of factor analysis is to address the problem of analyzing the structure of the inter-
relationships (correlations) among the large number of variables. According to Hair
et al (1998), factor analysis serves the two primary uses which are summarization
and reduction of data. The primary data for the present study consists of 150 filled
in questionnaires and the description of the same is provided here as under.
The KMO and Bartlett’s test indicated that the measure of sampling adequacy is
0.564, with an estimated chi square value of 91.629 with degree of freedom 45. All
the measures tested shows that the test of variables in the study is appropriate for
factor analysis (Gupta and Gupta, 2011).
Table No. 1 contains the information regarding the ten possible factors and their
relative explanatory power which is expressed by their ‘Eigen values’. The four
factors retained represent 54.81% of the total variance explained. Following fig.
shows the Eigen values marked on a scree plot.

Fig. I : Graph showing screen plot

The rotated component matrix shows the value of elements in the four factors
which are retained at >.5 (Gupta & Gupta, 2011). All the four factors were given
separate labels as: (i) importance of religious festivals which constitute 17.52% of
variance (ii) importance of sustainable development which constitute 14.70% of
variance (iii) community involvement which constitute 12.30% of variance and
(iv)strengthening guest-host relationship which constitute 10.27% of variance. The
labelling of factors is provided diagrammatically:

Table No. 1: Rotated Component Matrix

S. Component
No. 1 2 3 4
Kheer Bhawani festival represents unique -.523 .121 -.387 .014
ethos of Kashmir
Such events are necessary for peaceful .794 -.004 -.157 .125
It is an occasion of rebuilding the lost .509 .187 .120 .299
glory of Kashmir
Events like this help in the preservation of -.066 .354 .655 .306
heritage of Kashmir

S. Component
No. 1 2 3 4
5 It brings different communities together -.026 .063 .229 .513
It show cases the real hospitality of the .063 -.129 -.115 .812
people of Kashmir
Events like this promote community -.047 -.753 -.081 .136
centric development programmes
More such events should be promoted for -.007 .727 -.096 .088
the sustainable in the Sindh Valley
Such events generate employment .035 -.136 .765 -.019
opportunities for host community
It is imperative for everyone to preserve .713 .001 -.025 -.240
the fabric of Kashmiriyat
Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization
Taking above factors into consideration, a proposed model of pilgrimage in the
Sindh Valley is designed which takes into account the overall development of
tourism as a vehicle for peace, communal harmony, community participation and
local employment. The overall impact of this will result in the showcasing of unique
ethos of Kashmir which is the backbone for the promotion and development of
peaceful environment and sustainable tourism in the Sindh Valley.

Figure II : Showing Labelling of Factors


Fig. III : Proposed model for Sustainable Development of Religious Tourism in

Sindh Valley (designed by Authors on the basis of analysis).

Pilgrimage Tourism


Overall development

Peace Communal Community Local Employment

Harmony Participation

The Kashmir Valley has been one of the ancient seats of learning and served as
an important centre for many religious events of international repute. Out of the 14
known ancient reference places of cultural heritage, 12 places of such reference
belonged to this region (Ministry of Tourism). The importance of Religious festivals
in a society plays an essential role in building and strengthening the healthy
atmosphere. The communal harmony of religious festivals commonly known as
Melas in Kashmir is witnessed during the celebrations which start right from the
Baisakhi festival in the spring season at famous Badamwari or almond orchards
(Dewan, 2004). The festive tradition in Kashmir is witnessed in every district and is
regarded as the main tool for peace, communal harmony and common ethos of
Kashmiriyat. A typical Kashmiri Brahmin regards Haramukuta or Shiva’s Diadem as
the holiest of all the places (Ashraf, 2008). But the importance of Kheer Bhawani
and the annual festival held in the month of May/June or Zetha Ashtami can be
understood from the fact that it has been declared a public holiday for Kashmir
province by the state government (Ashraf). The annual festival at Kheer Bhawani is
not only a religious affair but also return of Kashmiri Pandits scattered all over the
country. According to Dewan (2004), “for most of the Kashmiri Pandits this now is an
occasion they re-establish contact with their long lost friends and relatives”.
Kashmir is known for its Kashmiriyat which is an elusive term for its socio-
cultural ethos. The importance of Kheer Bhawani Shrine and annual festival can be
understood from the fact that it promotes ethos of Kashmir which not only
improves the community well being but also strengths the relationship between

guests and hosts and helps in sustainable development. Moreover, the religious
festivals like Kheer Bhawani are unique in the sense that it helps in promoting
socio-religious harmony and establishing the very Kashmiriyat. According to Gupta
(2007), pilgrimage tourism is the best form of sustainable tourism at any
destination. If negative impacts of tourism are properly addressed, it is evident that
the market for pilgrimage tourism for promoting any place for sustainable
development is bright (Venkatachalam & Patwardhan, 2011). All these facts are
aptly proved in the present study which is evident from the emergence of factors in
the data analysis.

The story of the civilization of Kashmir is deep rooted in its socio-cultural milieu
of Kashmiriyat. The value of Kashmiriyat is profoundly found during different
religious festivals when people from different communities participate with great
enthusiasm. The notion of Kashmiriyat serves as the best tool for the promotion of
Pilgrimage tourism in Sindh Valley. This fact is aptly witnessed during the annual
festival at the shrine of Kheer Bhawani. The study has opened a new perspective for
developing and promoting a pilgrim circuit in the Sindh Valley, which will cover
‘Srinagar- Kheer Bhawani-Manasbal’. The shrine of Kheer Bhawani is in the vicinity
of Srinagar city and Manasbal Lake is the next door neighbour of Kheer Bhawani.
Therefore, there are ample opportunities to promote tourism based on sustainable
practices in the said circuit (Bhat & Shyju, 2014). The need of the hour is to pay
more attention towards the abundant religious sites in Kashmir for the promotion of
tourism. The department of tourism needs to formulate a proper plan to organize
the Kheer Bhawani Pilgrimage by opening reception centres in Mumbai, Delhi,
Chandigarh and Amritsar to attract more pilgrims were the recommendations made
by Santek Consultants while preparing a report on 20 Year perspective planning for
promoting sustainable tourism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This report was
submitted to the Ministry of Tourism in 2005, but till now the state has neither a
tourism policy nor have there been efforts to promote the pilgrimage tourism on the
basis of said recommendations. Therefore, it is necessary that government comes
out with a tourism policy for the promotion of sustainable pilgrimage tourism in the
Valley of Kashmir. Adequate measures are required for publicity of tourism with
thrust on local art and craft by developing traditional markets in the tourist villages
of Sindh Valley. This will not only ease out the problem of unemployment but will
also help in the promotion of the ethos of Kashmir which is the corner stone of

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