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The Legends and Tales of Gund Gushi, Kupwara (Kashmir) - An Insight

By Upender Ambardar

The village Gund Gushi, tehsil Uttar Machipora of the erstwhile district Muzafarrabad and presently a part of the district Kupwara, faraway from the bustling life of city, is a distant corner of Kashmir. It is a village of indescribable tranquility and serene atmosphere with its hill sides rich in nature's bounty, which invite inquisitiveness and curiosity. The village was home to about thirty five Kashmiri Pandit families comprising nearly two hundred fifty members prior to their forced migration in 1990. The village which includes Rangwar Gushi has a myriad of legends, beliefs, tales and hearsay stories  which form a part of its oral history. A sense of intense religiosity pervades the village's atmosphere due to the presence of Goddess Sharda temple there. The land of Gushi Rangwar is sanctified and hallowed by 'Peer Pandit Padshah Hardu Jahan Mushkil Asan', Reshi Peer, the renowned and celebrated saint of Kashmir, who is said to have spent his childhood days here.

Rangwar Gushi is the 'lost' abode of Pt. Sarwanand Bhat, who claims to have an ancient lineage besides being a direct descendant of the indigenous clan of Gund Gushi. Away from the urban hypocrisy and with  rural simplicity; he in an animated conversation with the author in the recently regaled the splendid stories of the antiquity besides the unpleasant memories of the past. Pt. Sarwanand Ji traces his genealogical descent about five hundred years back from Pt. Teeza Bhat, a chieftain of a hamlet of Uttarmachipora. Teeza Bhat is believed to have his royal residence at the adjacent Nagri Malpora besides a fortress at the nearby Kuthar hillock at Rangwar Gushi. Pt. Sarwanand Bhat recounted his ancestry with the sequential genealogical clan starting from Pt. Teeza Bhat, Sahaz Bhat, Bhawani Bhat, Hemant Bhat, Reshi Bhat, Ishwar Bhat and saintly person Pt. Ved Lal Bhat, father of Pt. Sarwanand Bhat.

Stepping into the pages of oral history, Pt. Sarwanand Bhat articulated that Uttar Machipora Chieftain Teeza Bhat was a man of religious disposition but an obscuration in his religious pursuits is said to have resulted in a calamitous outcome for him and his whole clan.

Further, it is said that Teeza Bhat's cousin also settled down at Gund Gushi at that time. But personal ambitions, acrimony and clash of egos between the two cousins is believed to have resulted in an open feud. In the ensuing armed struggle and fight, all the family members of both the cousins are said to have perished barring a female of the clan, who was in a family-way at that time. Anguished at the ruinous outcome of the family feud, she is supposed to have pronounced a curse that eleven dynasties starting from her will not see any cousin, which astonishingly later on turned out to be true. In the mean-time, the lady in question gave birth to a male child. Since all her near and dear ones were killed in the family feud and she being a new entrant in the 'Bhat Clan', was not aware of her own gotra (guthur). To solve this riddle a learned and knowledgeable Pujari of Sopore in consultation with the fellow Brahmans of that time assigned four gotras representing the four directions i.e. the gotras of Dev-Dutt, Koshak, Bhardwaj and Gautam to the male child born to the lady. This is how Pt. Sarwnanad Bhat, a progeny of the said male child come to acquire the four gotras instead of the one found usually.

To ensure her own safety and protection, the lady in question encouraged her acquaintances from the adjoining areas to settle down permanently at Rangwar Gushi.

Pt. Sarwanand recalled with a sense of pride that forefathers (from the maternal side) of the renowned Kashmiri Saint Resh Peer belonged to his dynasty. As per his claim, Resh Peer had his maternal grand parents' house (matamal) situated at Gushi Rangwar. As such, Resh Peer is said to have spent his early childhood there. As part of this oral history, Pt. Bhawani Bhat, resident of Gushi Rangwar and an ancestor of Pt. Sarwanand Bhat had a pious and good natured sister named Zoonamal, who was married to Pt. Govind Koul of Batyar Ali Kadal Srinagar. Since there was a considerable age difference between the two, the bride Zoonmal's mother is said to have fainted at the sight of an elderly bridegroom on the day of marriage. Seized by grief and despair, she is believed to have prayed day in and day-out at the Sharda Matta temple at Rangwar Gushi for her daughter to be blessed with a male child. She being an ardent devotee of Her, had immense faith in the Goddess Sharda.

By the time, Zoonmal was in a family-way, the Goddess Sharda is said to have directed her mother in a dream to bring back her daughter from Batyar Ali Kadal Srinagar to Rangwar Gushi. As the water transport was in vogue those days, it is said that she travelled by a 'Shikara' upto Sopore on her way back to her mother's home (malun) at Rangwar Gushi.

It was during the course of this journey that she gave birth to a male child, who with the passage of time attained fame as a great saint Reshi Peer. She is said to have stayed back at Sopore for about three weeks or so after the birth of her son before proceeding to Gushi; her stay and subsequent travel having been managed and taken care of by her family priest (Kulbrahman) of Sopore. The child Rishi Peer spent his childhood at his maternal grand parents' house (matamal) at Rangwar Gushi and also acquired his initial education there. Given to childish pranks, Reshi Peer is said to have been very naughty in his childhood. To hold him back from such conduct, his maternal uncles would admonish him off and on. Utterly displeased at this treatment and out of animosity towards them, the child Resh Peer one day in league with his fellow friends is said to have ransacked his grand parents house (matamal).

He threw away all house-hold items including all types of eatables and foodstuffs out of the house. On the counselling of his friends, the child Resh Peer agreed to spare only the overcooked portion of rice (Phori) inside the house, as otherwise it would have been ominous for the family. To honour this goodwill gesture, the descendents of Resh-Peer's maternal grand parents (Matamal) started the practice of offering the overcooked portion of rice (Phori) as 'Prasad' (naveed) among his devotees at Gund Gushi. Subsequently, it was substituted by 'Kulcha' and 'Isbund' as 'isbund' is supposed to remove the evil spirits and inauspicious omens. The village Gund Gushi is also credited to have three huge chinar trees, which are reverently known as 'Resh Peer in Booni'. They are believed to have been planted by Resh Peer himself. Resh Peer is said to have planted one of these from the apex. A temple of Sharda Mata is also situated at Rangwar Gushi, having a holy spring within its premises, which is called as Sharda spring.

The Goddess Sharda is believed to have visited this temple from the famous Sharda Peeth Shrine located at the village Dhrov, presently in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. It is also said that the Goddess Sharda has set 'Her' holy feet on one of the hillocks of the village Rangwar Gushi before Her permanent depart the Sharda Peeth Shrine. The Goddess Sharda’s resolve to stay permanently there is said to have been revealed in a dream to a devotee of Rangwar Gushi. In the said dream, the Goddess is said to have ordered that one Kashmiri Pandit family of Rangwar Gushi especially of Teez Bhats' clan should come to Sharda Peeth Shrine to serve Her there. To obey the order and command of the Goddess Sharda, one of the ancestors of Pt. Sarwanand Bhat moved there permanently to serve the Goddess at the Sharda Peeth Shrine. Later Pt. Nand Lal Bhat nicknamed as 'Shardi' was appointed a 'pujari' at the famous shrine of Sharda Peeth till his death in 1946.

Pt. Sarwanand Bhat himself has performed twice the arduous pilgrimage to Sharda Peeth Shrine. It would take two days of arduous journey from Rangwar Gushi to reach the Shrine on foot. Right upto the year 1947, the yearly pilgrimage to Sharda Peeth would commence from Rangwar Gushi and the 'Yatra' would include about 500-600 sadhus and devotees. Gund Gushi has also a shrine dedicated to the presiding 'Bhairav' locally known as Mangal Raza, who is also the Bhairav of Karihama and Gotengo, the close by villages. In close proximity to it is the cremation ground, which has a huge Chinar tree, known as 'Raza Boin' and its presiding deity revered as 'Raza Padshah'. Reminiscing about the old days. Sarwanand recollected that the sacrificing offering of 'Raza Kath' used to be performed at the Bhairav temple and also at Badarkali on Bhadoon Shakul Paksh Navami, the day following Ganga Ashtami every year to propiate the Goddess Kali.

After an elaborate ceremonial pooja, a male ram would be slaughtered and all its body parts cooked using only water and salt with no oil and spices. The cooked preparation would be distributed among the devotees as 'Prasad'. It was mandatory to eat it at the pooja site itself for it was prohibited to take it inside the home. In addition to the usual festivals and rituals, Kashmiri Pandits of Gund Gushi (Kupwara) would  celebrate a lesser known festival of 'Chari Ok Doh' every year on 'Ashad Krishan Paksh'. The ritual involved a symbolic pooja of pestle (Kajawat) placed on a circular grass base (Aari) and the cooking of 'dal' rice.

Continuing with the hear say stories about the enchanted village of Gund-Gushi, Pt. Sarwanand Bhat articulated with a sense of pride that one of his ancestors Pt. Teza Bhat, a powerful chieftain of Uttarmachipora was a man of valour. About five hundred years back a ruler of a nearby hamlet marched upto the adjacent village of Bramri with his armed men with an intention to invade Uttarmachipora. He along with his armed men halted at the village Bramri, which is about six kilometres from Rangwar Gushi. He challenged Uttarmachipora chieftain, Teza Bhat for an armed combat. Accepting the challenge. Pt. Teza Bhat is believed to have tied a written reply with a huge stone and hurled it towards the village Bramri by means of a catapult (gulela). The stone is said to have covered an unbelievable distance of about three kms. before hitting the canopy of the chinar trees, under which the invading armed men were taking rest at Bramri. The huge Chinar tree branches are believed to have come crushing down on the resting armed men, killing and wounding many of them.

This valorous act of Pt. Teza Bhat is supposed to have frightened his enemy out of its wits. Fearful of the disastrous consequences of the armed fight, the invaders are believed to have fled away from the scene without offering any resistance. A well-known Kashmiri saying "Tezi Bhati Kan" is claimed to owe its origin to this background.

The gruesome events and frightful memories associated with Pakistan sponsored tribal invasion (Kabali raid) in the year 1947 still haunts Pt. Sarwanand's mind. He recalled vividly the agonizing and horror filled events of death and destruction resorted to by the tribal raiders on the helpless Kashmiri Pandit community. He was about twenty two years of age at that time. He recalled that his father Pt. Ved Lal had asked him to make an unwilling choice of conversion to Islam. Accordingly, he was given the new name of Sarwar Sheikh and his wife Kamlawati was renamed as Mukhta. Notwithstanding it. Pt. Sarwanand recalled the feelings of brotherhood, good-will and concern displayed by Muslim neighbourhood of Gushi, who strongly disapproved and resented their forceful conversion to Islam. In order to save them from further sufferings and mental torture, the samartan Muslim neighbours of Gund-Sushi hid the neo-converted Kashmiri Pandits, including Pt. Sarwanand and his family in their homes, unmindful of the risk and threat to their personal lives. Subsequently, they advised them to move out of the village Gushi till the situation normalised. While recollecting those painful and frightful days, Pt. Sarwanand showered all the praises on his neighbours Haji Lassa Bhat, Lassa Akhoon and Aziz Bhat (nicknamed as Toumlavol), who had escorted them out from Gushi to Kulangam enroute to Sopore.

By that time, the Indian Army had started pouring into Kashmir. From Kulangam, they were taken to Sopore by the Indian Army in their vehicles. At Sopore, Pt. Sarwanand and other Kashmiri Pandits of Gushi took shelter at the 'sarai' of Haji Samad Pandit and 'Dharampur Sarai' of Pt. Gopi Nath Matu.

There they were joined by Kashmiri Pandits belonging to the villages of Sogam, Lalpora, Pazipora, Chandigam, Tekpore, Sholoora, Goetung, Karihama, Moghalpora, HakacharNagrimalpora, Drugmulla and Kandikhas villages of the district Kupwara, who too had been forced to move out of their homes and villages due to tribal invasion. The total number of Kashmiri Pandits, who had taken shelter at Sopore was about six thousand. A few among them had moved-out to Srinagar, which included the joint family of Pt. Sarwanand comprising about thirty members. Later, after three months when the tribal raiders were thrown-out by the army and the situation normalised, the Kashmiri Pandits of district Kupwara returned back to their villages and homes from their temporary stay at Sopore.

Immediately, after reaching their homes at Gushi, Pt. Sarwanand and others dug-out the buried corpses of those Kashmiri Pandits, earlier killed by the raiders.

They now cremated them as per the Hindu religious rites. However, they failed to recover the buried body of Pt. Ishwar Bhat, the grandfather of Pt. Sarwnand. As a symbolic substitute for cremation rites, they burned the twigs and tree branches at his burial site. As per Pt. Sarwanand, Mahadev Pandit nicknamed as Mahadev Bishta, who had a Robinhood imagewas a resident of Gund Gushi. He had earned the nickname of 'Bishta' as he was adept in imitating the sounds of different animals particularly that of cats.

Mahadev Bishta in league with his fellow associates named Nabir Akhoon and Sona Parray would rob the affluent persons of the society and distribute the booty among the needy and the destitute. To accomplish their task, the trio had formed a singers' party. In its guise they would resort to the stealing acts usually during the marriage functions to the accompaniment of a Kashmiri Chakri song

'Sona Chi Ker Panen Kaem, Sombrith Aun, Diy Mae Kunae, Kenh Chi Heri, Kenh Chi Bonai, Sona Chi Ker Panen Kaem

(Sona, you accomplish your assigned task, the guests are either at the ground-floor or at the upper storey, resort to the stealing act and hand-over the booty to me).

Pt. Sarwanand further rebring about 1½ chatank of rock salt priced at Rs 10 at the time from the village Trehgam, as it was not available at Gushi. On reaching Trehgam, he heard the invading tribal leader delivering a hatred and passion inciting speech and ordering the immediatecapture of Mr. Lassa Bhat, the Nambardar of Gund Gushi. Mr. Lassa Bhat was a good friend of Pt. Ved Lal Bhat, father of Pt. Sarwanand and was on good terms with his Kashmiri Pandit neighbours.

Pt. Sarwanand immediately rushed back to his home at Gushi Rangwar and informed his father about it. By that time, the tribal raiders had sneaked into Gushi Rangwar. On the very first day, the raiders killed Pt. Ishwar Bhat, the grandfather of Pt. Sarwanand in the vicinity of his home, when he was feeding hay to his cattle. Sarwanand himself was a witness to this gory scene. After committing this inhuman and savage act, the raiders continued the killing spree. Next, they mercilessly showered a hail of bullets on the inmates of Malla family of Rangwar Gushi, killing nine members of the said family on the spot. The unfortunate souls included Pt. Mahdav Ram Malla, Ramchand, Koth malla,Lassa Malla, Jia Lal Malla Shridhar Malla, Prem Nath Malla, Govind Malla and Madhusudhan Malla. These helpless Pandits were subjected to most agonizing torture before being massacred. Subsequently Pt. Madhav Kak Pandit, nicknamed as Madhav Bishta and Pt. Veshin Pandit of Trehgam, who had come to Gushi to meet his relatives, also met the same fate. After committing this heinous crime, the leader of the raiders is said to have ordered the forceful conversion of the surviving Pandits of Gushi to Islam.

The conversion ritual involved the snapping of the sacred thread (worn by them and recitation of the Kalima. Caught in between the catastrophic situation and dogged by terror, harassment and intimidation, Pt. Sarwanand and his family were left with no alternative but to vealed that the village Gushi has a few mighty Chinar and walnut trees, believed to have been planted by Kashmiri Panditshundreds of years back.

They are still remembered as 'Resh Bhatun Kul', 'Sunder Bhatun Kul', and 'Anand Bhatun Kul' etc. He also revealed with an obvious pride that besides being an established orchadist and agriculturalist of repute, he was also the lone Kashmiri Pandit to own a hotel cum restaurant known as (also called Kapoor Bakery) at Kupwara upto the time of migration.

The nostalgia filled conversation with Pt. Sarwanand was a journey down the memory lane. It was a telling tale of cherished moments, painful memories, set-backs and heart-aches, which are now his prized possessions. He longs and prays to return to his home and the village.

As on now, a cruel ironyof fate and unfortunate circumstanceshave stripped life of its meaning for him. With a noticeable gasp and a wounded expression, Pt. Sarwanand concluded the conversation with the remark, "after having been disowned and abandoned, life has become a drag and an unbearable weight now".

Rightly, I am reminded of Noel's assertion: "Rattel his bones over the stones, he is only a pamper, whom nobody owns".

(The legends, myths, fables and heresay stories may or may not have authenticity, yet they are a part of our oral history. The above article is based on an elaborate conversation with Pt. Sarwanand Bhat, who expired recently after a sudden and brief illness - The Author).

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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