Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India


Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

  Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India

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October-December 2001 issue

Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

Table of Contents

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Vitasta - Source and Name 

... Prof. K. N. Dhar

From times immemorial, the rivers in India have been treated as sacred. After the Aryan occupation of the North, when the towns and cities began to be built on the banks of the rivers for understandable reasons, their utility could not be overlooked. It was also believed that the violent form of rivers in the shape of floods etc. could be averted by propitiation. Hence by way of gratitude or fear, the rivers were deified. The 'nadi Sukta' in 'Rigveda' testifies to this fact eloquently. In this Sukta, a direct reference to the 'Vitasta' has been made along with other prominent rivers of North India. In the 'Mahabharata' also, this river of Kashmir has received mention. These references about this river in the oldest texts of India sufficiently prove that Vitasta was very well known in India and was also held in great respect being a Tirtha of repute. The popular tradition ascribes its source to Verinag, but in the description of Naga Springs in the Nilamata Purana, this name is absent. However, while describing this river, the Nilamata Purana asserts that it has come out of Nila Naga or Neel Kund. Hence it is called Neela (daughter of Neel Nag) also. Kalhana also in his Rajatarangini confirms this assertion. Therefore it is very intriguing to locate the actual source of this river because at present we have a marshy back water lake known as Nila Nag just two or three miles to the left of Yusmarg, a tourist spot. Abul Fazal, in his Aine Akbari, has described this very lake as the source of Vitasta. Nilamata also describes two Nila Nagas.

 We will now examine critically all the evidence available to us as given above and locate the exact source of Vitasta, honouring the tradition and testimony of the texts available to us on this subject. The 'Vitasta Mahatamyas' and 'Haracharita Cintamani' also treat this river at length. These corroborate the description as given in the Nilamata and Rajatarangini. Hence it is not very difficult to dispose off the contradiction in the names between Verinaga and Nila Naga. 

 The present Shahabad village in Anantnaag district was known as 'Vera' in ancient times. Abul Fazal also records this very name for the Pargana. Hence it is no surprise that the spring Nila Naga situated in the Vera village in course of time, came to be known as spring of Vera of Veri-Naga, the earlier name having fallen in disuse. The names of villages are even today associated with the springs located there. Furthermore, while describing the spring of Vera, Abul Fazal testifies to its sanctity and records that many temples of stone were erected there. So it is abundantly clear that the present Verinag is actually the Nila Naga of older text. Even though Nilamata mentions two Nilanagas, but from the other Dughda Ganga, Kshirnadi or Svetakulika (present Doodh Ganga or Chatsa Kol, flows down. By no stretch of imagination, Vitasta can be taken as flowing from it. Geographical data confirm this view because the route of Vitasta is quite different and its contact with dudh Ganga take place just below Srinagar when it has almost traversed a distance of 50 miles already.

 About the name Vitasta given to this river, there is an elaborate description given in Nilamata Purana and other texts. The sage Kashyapa who drained the waters out of Satisar and reclaimed the land, handed over the same to his son Nila Naga and himself went away for penance. However, after some time, the Valley became waterless, so the need for water for maintaining life was felt all the more. In an allegorical manner, the birth of Vitasta has been referred to in the Nilamata. The contact with the Pisachas, the original inhabitants of Kashmir  (non Aryans) following very unwholesome practices, had made the immigrants (Aryans) unclean. Hence to purify them, sage Kashyapa requested Lord Shiva to prevail upon his consort Parvati to manifest herself in the form of a river. The goddess obliged and entreated her Lord to make an opening on the surface of the land, from which she would come out after assuming the form of a river. Thereupon, Lord Shiva struck the ground near the abode of Nila Naga with his trident, which measured one vitasti, a measure of length equal to twelve Angulas  being the distance between the extended thumb and little finger. Through this fissure, the goddess Parvati gushed forth in the form of Vitasta. Since it measured one vitasti it was called Vitasta. Kalhana specifically says that this spring was circular in shape which acted as a 'Royal Parasol' for the king Neela. The shape of this spring is octagonal now, perhaps due to the renovations made in it by the later kings, especially the Moghul. The date for this appearance of Vitasta is even now celebrated by Pandits of Kashmir every year with the worship of the River on 13th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada, known as 'Vetha Truvah' in Kashmir. It is also asserted in these older texts, especially in Nilamata that this river disappeared twice and only consented to flow permanently when given the company of other goddesses. Hence Sindhu appeared in the form of Ganga, Gudar as the Godavari and Vishoka (modern Veshava) in the form of Laxmi. Perhaps this legend of manifesting and then disappearing alludes to more than one source of this river. On second appearance, it began to flow from Naga of Panchahasta, today known as Panzeth, in Anantnaag district. The third and penultimate appearance took place at Narsingashram. 'Mahatamyas' also mention the present 'Vethavotur' (Vitastatra) as also one of its sources. This allusion to more than one source can easily be deciphered as its tributaries, emanating from these spots and joining Vitasta to make it a mighty river.

 After emerging from the emerald-hued spring of Neela at Verinag, this river traverses a serpentine course of some eighty miles from Khanabal to Khadanyar, built by queen Khadana of king Meghavahana. This placid flow of the river conceals in the bosom, the variegated cultural and religious values of Kashmiris. These miles definitely represent the milestones stretching over thousands of years depicting the inflow and outflow of virtue and vice, and joy and sorrow of the Kashmiris at large.

 The river known as 'Vyetha', today has inspired generation after generation of Kashmiris with its emphasis on the balanced outlook on life punctuated with religious forbearance. So it does not seem any exaggeration when Nilamata records: "Oh King, whatever Tirthas appear on this globe, are found there in Kashmir." And to elucidate this point further more, Nilamata asserts: "There in Kashmir, the springs, ponds and mountains bestow virtue in the midst of which, the great goddess Vitasta, born actually of the Himalayas, has sprung up, dividing the Valley in two parts like the parting line of a woman's hair."

 A Kashmiri has always withstood onslaughts of brute force and can only be won over by sweet persuasion and qualities of head and heart worth emulation. Perhaps Kalhana is right when he says, "The inhabitants of this country (Kashmir) can be conquered only by spiritual force and never by tyrannical force of weapons. Hence they have the fear of the other world only."

 Consequently, the denizen of this land of 'learning, saffron, icy water and grapes' has no temporal attachment for Vitasta as such, he looks upon it as a veritable ferry which will waft him across the mundane world and ensure for him a perennial fund of virtues in the other world. So, all Tirthas of repute have been built on its bank personifying the gateways to the other world. Hence the religious rites to the manes especially on the tenth day are performed on its bank. This river means to a Kashmiri a bridge between the 'seen' and the 'unseen' this world and the other world. To speak squarely, it typifies the cultural heritage of the sons of Kashyapa.

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