Abhinavagupta (950 – 1016 AD) was a prominent Hindu teacher (AchArya). He was a multifaceted personality and was an achiever in ADhyAtma, mystic, musician, poet, and dramatist who is reported to have had 35 major works to his credit. He taught advaitha is known as Kashmiri shavism. According to the tradition, he went into a cave called Bhairava cave with his 1200 disciples for dhyAna and samAdhi and never returned.
Accounts about AchArya Abhinavagupta is recorded by various historians and are widely accepted by locals of all faiths. For example, Moulvi Ghulam Hasan Shah (1832-1898) in his arikh-i- Hasan has reiterated the traditional account by refering AchArya as Anbud and Bhairava cave as Qasbah Birwah. According to him, along with AchArya Abhinavagupta, 12 of his disciples entered the cave. Similarly, K.C.Pandey in 1935 has recorded the tradition and testimonials from aged local Muslim population.
The Bhairvana cave is about five miles from Magam, a place midway between Srinagar and Gulmurg. A village in its neighborhood and a brook is running down below the hill within which the cave is situated. Both village and the brook are also caled by the name Bhairava name. The mouth of the cave is at a sufficiently great height from the foot of the mountain and from below it looks like a crevice in a rock. The cave goes deep down into the earth. The opening of the cave is very narrow so that a man can not get into it very easily. One can not walk but has to crawl into it and that too at places with great difficulty. It has several ways leading to places where one can sit undisturbed and medidate. One of these places is big enough conveniently to accommodate forty to fifty persons. The cave is round in shape and at a great height there is a chink towards the sky. But it does not allow the rays of the sun to penetrate so far into the cave as to be perceived by the persons within. There is a small hole far inside the cave through which a child can find passage. It is said that Abhinavagupta went in that way. It is stated that the hold was much bigger in earlier times, but has slowly and imperceptibly getting smaller with the passing years. Although the mouth of the cave is narrow, it suddenly opens inside into a wide cave. But further, again it becomes narrower ahead in some places. The resident said that the cave has two smaller caves inside and in all there are three exits including the main entry.
Abhinavagupta is rediscovered by Swami Lakshmanjoo, who died in 1991. Swami Lakshmanjoo is the most recent authoritative teacher of Kashmiri shaivism. He has translated Abinavagupta’s the Spanda K?rika and the Spanda Sandoha which are considered a key resource by Shiavite followers. In India, the legacy of Swami Lakshmanjoo is continued by Iswar Ashram Trust (IAT) and outside Indian, an NGO is based in Los Angeles is propagating the contributions of Abhinavagupta and Lakshmanjoo through Universal Shaiva Fellowship and Lakshamnajoo Academy.
Prior to militancy, visitors, both Indian and foreign, used to visit the Bhaivara cave and the local used to guide them to explore the inside details. But, after the onset of militant activities, the number of visitors dwindled and the locals turned hostile to the Hindu traditions. Political compulsions also increased the non-cooperation of the locals to the visitors. The local, state and central governments, political parties were reluctant to preserve the heritage sites and even allowed quarrying around the cave. A PIL filed by Vir Saraf and Tanveer Hussain Khan was helpful in receiving directions from the High court on May 8, 2014, to stop quarrying around the cave. The directions by Division Bench of Chief Justice M M Kumar and Justice Muzaffar Hussain Attar prevented quarrying in 400-500 meters around the cave.
Officials from states Archives, Archaeology and Museums department had submitted the widely held Hindu stance about the Shaivite philosopher Abinavgupta to the court. But, due to political pressure, revenue authorities led by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir submitted some records suggesting that a Rianwari saint had migrated to the area and was praying in the cave on Koh-e-Beeru, the Beerwah mountain. The idea was to claim the cave as a Muslim heritage site and to contest the Hindu claim citing AchArya Abhinavagupta.
In 2016, when the millenium celebrations are announced and a yAtra is organized, the idea was to include the Bhairava cave in the yAtra and celebrations. Sangh Parivar organizations, especially the RSS and BJP were involved in planning the celebrations. Many Kashmiri legislators, including legislative council members Ajatshatru Singh and Surinder Ambardar contributed to the idea and planning of the celebrations. Sri. Sri. Ravishankar of Art of Living, who was instructed by Lakshman Joo and is presently teaching Shiva sUtras in his ashram, was a prominent face of the celebrations.
The Kashmiri majority organizations and political parties were not happy with the AchArya Abhinavagupta reference and remembrance as a founder father of Kashmiri culture. They were fearful of possibility of using the medieval Kashmir scholar’s name to create a new pilgrimage in the valley. They perceived as a tool to leverage Hindu political ambition in the valley. Political leaders, Islamic clerics and militants voiced their opposition. Molvi Abdul Lateef Bukhari opposed the yAtra and refused to accept the linkage between AchArya Abhinvagupta with the Bhairava cave. He cited a judgement passed by the courts on January 14, 2015 for his support. He also invoked an evidence of a Saint Mian Shah Sahab praying in the cave. The local population termed attempt to revive the the cave with AchArya as an attempt to illegally possess the cave.
All sorts of arguments are being projected systematically to preempt any Hindu claim on the cavve. The courts observation that the space in the cylindrically constructed cave is not sufficient to accommoddate 1200 people is cited by those who are opposing the celebrations. Stakeholders in Kashmir are seeing the celebration as “cultural aggression”. Local Muslims are taught to reject the linkage of cave with AchArya Abhinavagupta. Social pressure from religious angle is succesfully mounted on the PDP government and the state government took a stance against the yAtra to the cave. BJP succumbed and restrained its members from raking up this issue in the assembly and in the public. When three BJP lawmakers in state legislative council including Ajatshatru Singh and Surinder Ambardar were on their legs to tell Kashmir that they should not disown their history, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh literally forced them to sit down. Pressure from both BJP and PDP was mounted on Acharya Abhinav Gupt Sheshadri Samroh Samiti, the NGO that wanted to hold the yatra headed by Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a frequent guest to some of the Hurriyat leaders and state BJP leaders, presided over a function of Abhinav Gupt Sandesh Yatra at Zeshta Devi Mandir. He had a meeting with Mirwaiz Umer Farooq during the week of the function and the yAtra did not reach the Bhairava cave. Elaborate precautions were taken by the state government agencies not to allow entry of even individuals to the location of the cave. There were other reports stating that local populations have hoisted green flags in the cave and converting the cave to a mosque.
Further, the concluding programme of the millenium celebrations were held in remote Bangalore city under the guidance of Sri.Sri. Ravishankar. RSS working chief Sri. Bhayyaji Joshi attended the meeting. Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar was present. Deputy Minister of Kashmir State government too attended. The concluding event was impressive and attracted wide media coverage. But, millenium celebrations alienated the Bhairava cave from AchArya Abhinavagupta.