2 Jul 2022

Kashmiri Muslim, 95, discusses a special family bond with Amarnath Yatra

As Amarnath yatra resumes after a two-year gap, 95-year-old Ghulam Nabi Malik recalls the obligation his family shared with a sacred cave allegedly found by his ancestor Bota Malik.
In Batakote village in Pahalgam, Ghulam Nabi Malik repeated the prayers he used to perform in the sacred cave of Amarnath while helping yatris to perform darshan in the cave sanctuary.

Mr Malik, considered a living legend, has been practicing yatra for about 60 years. He remembers his family's association with the cave and how it strengthened the bond between Hindus and Muslims.

The discovery of the cave dates back to 1850 when Bota Malik, a Muslim shepherd, was said to have discovered an iceberg formed in the interior. From then on, Mr. Malik's family conducted the yatra until 2005, when the Amarnath Shrine Board abolished the old practice.

Mr Malik said he first visited the cave 70 years ago. He remained a part of the procession and began helping people to perform the yatra and puja in the cave sanctuary.

He defies the separation of the family and the sanctuary of the cave and blames politics for it. Due to old age, Mr Malik has not been able to visit the cave for many years but still repeats the puja words he used in the cave.

In yatris, the Malik lived as priests in a cave. The 95-year-old suspect said, "No one would care if we were Muslims or Hindus."

His fondest memory involves accompanying Maharaja Hari Singh's wife Tara Devi to a cave in 1947. She was also presented with a memorial gift by Tara Devi as well.

"I started helping people make yatra in a cave more than 70 years ago. I went with Rani (Tara Devi). We held a puja there. Rani gave me a majma, which is a copper tray full of days," he said.

In the Malik family, Bota Malik is still a respected figure. They said many yatri consider their trip to be complete unless they are visiting the family.

However, due to the strict security rules of yatris, no one is visiting them.

"A well has sprouted near Bota Malik's grave and has been collecting drinking water from the well for many years," said Mr Malik.

His relative Mohammad Akram Malik said the yatris who do not know the origin of the pilgrimage would visit them to find out more about Amarnath yatra, about how Bota Malik found the cave and the family's contribution to the practice of yatra.

"Lake came back with a group of yatri from Shishnag when they heard that the Malik lived here. They started looking for us. At that time we were in the houses of Pahalgam. They said they should meet Malik before performing darshan," he said.

This year, strict security measures have been put in place by the government that have created difficulties for locals and tourists alike.

In addition to the large security building already operating in the Valley, an additional 350 military companies have been deployed to monitor the yatra.

The Maliks, along with many Kashmiri, believe that safety should not obscure the yatra as it represents the long journey of cultural harmony in Kashmir.

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