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Information Digest
Volume 2
January 2001

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Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

Table of Contents

Lalla-Ded Educational Trust
Project Zaan
Information Digest - Vol. 2


The Land & the People

Land ~ Rivers


Vitasta is known to the Kashmiris as Veth. When it leaves the Valley at Baramulla, it is called Kashur Darya. After it joins Kishenganga, it is called Jhelum, the name, derived from a Punjab town of the same name. Jhelum is now the most commonly known name.

Nilamata Purana regards Vitasta as an incarnation of Uma, who at the request of Kashyapa came bubbling forth as a river from a hole as big as Vitashi, made by Lord Shiva with his spear. Traditional source is the Nila Kund, also called Vitastatru. The auspicious Vitasta is verily the holy river, remover of all sins. According to a legend, Vitasta disappeared and re-appeared three times till it finally appeared at Vethavatur, about one mile to the West of Verinaag.


  • Vitasta (Jhelum) is the recipient of the drainage of the entire valley. Its major tributaries are as follows:
  • Between its source and Khanabal, Vitasta is joined by streams known as Sandrin, Brang and Arpal, bringing water from Kothar, Kokarnaag and Achhabal respectively.
  • On its right bank, the Vitasta is joined by Lidr near Khanabal, Sindh at Shadipur, Tsunthkol (from Dal Lake) at Mysuma, Srinagar and Pohru at Doabgah near Sopore.
  • On its left bank, the Vishau Rambiara combine joins it at Sangam (Khanabal) and the Doodganga just below Srinagar.
  • Sindh is its biggest tributary. It drains the entire mountain water from Dras to H.mp3ukh. It f.mp3s the Priyag of Kashmir at its confluence with the Vitasta at Shadipur.
The Vitasta has a zigzag course and wends its way through the Valley. Its length from Khanabal to Baramulla is 102 miles. Its breadth and depth may vary with seasons. According to Lawrence, its average width was 210 feet and depth 9 feet. Its fall from Khanabal to its basin i.e. Wular Lake is just 220 feet, with a little more up to Baramulla. Its n.mp3al speed was 1.5 miles per hour (before dredging). It is prone to floods in rainy season and gets alluvial soil with it.

First Lalitaditya, and then Avantiv.mp3an’s engineer Suyya attempted to increase the flow of the river, by removing rocks and de-silting its bed at Baramulla gorge. In modern times, it has been de-silted with the help of machines.

Being navigable from Khanabal to Baramulla, it provided the most important highway of the Valley for transportation of passengers and goods, till roads were constructed. Among its tributaries, Vishua, Pohru and Sindh are mostly navigable.  Three power houses, one at Sheeri (Baramulla), second at Mohara and the third at Uri use its water to generate electricity. Till 1947, Mohara power house was the only source of electricity in Kashmir.

Vitasta river is sacred to Hindus. It is worshipped on Veth Truvah, the bright thirteenth of Bhadrapetha (Bhadun), which is considered as its birthday. On this day, lot of singing and dancing was perf.mp3ed, Diyas filled with ghee were lit and set afloat on the river. Scents, garlands, eatables and flowers were offered to the river.

Land ~ Lakes

Dal Lake

There are numerous big and small lakes in the valley of Kashmir. Dal Lake is one of the two lakes situated in the Srinagar city, the other being Anchar Lake. Half a kilometer away from the Tourists Reception Centre, this lovely lake lies to the east of the city at the foot of Zabarwan mountain. The Shankaracharya hill is to its south and Hari Parbat to its west.

‘Dal’ is a Tibetan word which means ‘Still’. It is believed that in ancient times, there was no lake here and instead a large meadow known as Watalanmarg existed at the place. Later due to a massive earthquake, water gushed into the meadow and took the shape of a lake.

Dal Lake was originally 6 kms. long in the north-south direction and 3 kms. wide in the east-west direction. It was divided by causeways into four parts known as Gagribal, Bod Dal, Lokut Dal and Nagin. Lokut Dal and Bod Dal  each have an island in the centre called Rupa Lank and Sona Lank respectively.  The jewel in the ring, is the smallest but the most lovely part of the Dal Lake, called Nagin. Separated by a causeway and only a short distance from Hazratbal (Dargah), it has deep blue waters and is encircled by a ring of green trees. This part of the Dal is famous for water sports.

The Dal is famous not only for its beauty, but also for its vibrance, because it sustains within its periphery, a life that is unique anywhere in the world. The Hanjis (House boat and Shikara community) have lived for centuries on the Dal and so complete is their infrastructure on the lake that they never have to step on land. All day to day facilties are available in tiny wooden shops on the lake near picturesque vegetable gardens and acres of lotus gardens. Because the Dal Lake is so central to the landscape of Srinagar, many places of tourist interest have over the ages, been built along its periphery. They include Famous gardens like Nishat, Shalimar, Cheshma Shahi, Naseem Bagh, Pari Mahal, Jawahar Lal Nehru Botanical Garden etc.  Dal Lake is also famous for the floating gardens, which are an important source of green vegetables. The lake foliage is uprooted and allowed to float. On this, the soil is implanted, making it a land capable of vegetable cultivation. These gardens can move from one place to another and a peculiar thing about them is that they can even be stolen.

Land ~ Mountain Ranges

Pir Panchal

Pir Panchal range of mountain was known as ‘Pir Pant Saal’ in ancient times. This mountain range separates Kashmir from rest of the country. It extends from Kishtwar to Muzzafarabad, along the bank of river Chenab. It is 180 miles long and 30 miles wide. The mountains in this range go as high as eleven thousand feet above the mean sea level. The passes in the range, become un-passable in winter and sometimes even in summer. The range encompasses within itself some beautiful forests. Some very important springs like Verinag, Achhabal etc. flow from its foothills.

People ~ Costume

Literary and archeological evidence shows that in ancient and medieval times, the costume of the Kashmiri male consisted essentially of a lower g.mp3ent, an upper g.mp3ent and a turban. If Kashmiri sculpture is any guide, men as well as women wore long tunic and trousers, probably due to Kushan influence. According to Hieun Tsang, they dressed themselves in leather doublets and clothes of white linen. In winter however, they covered their bodies with w.mp3 cloak which the Nilamata Purana calls Pravarana. The rich wore woollen shawls while the poor were contented with cheaper woolens.

Use of turban (Ushneek or Shirshata) was widely prevalent. Strangely women dress consisted of mainly saree and tailored jacket / blouse. She is also shown wearing a long flowing tunic. It was fashion of both men and women to braid  their hair in different styles, wearing sometimes tassels of various colours.

The later dress of Kashmiri has been a long tunic called Pheran. The name can be related to Nilamata Purana’s Pravarana  or Persian Perahan. Its style differed from men to women. Men’s Pheran had narrow sleeves and women’s wider ones. Women’s Pheran was adored with borders and sleeves had borders of golden thread - Narivar. Women also tied a long decorated cloth girdle round their waist, called Loongi. It was after a social movement spear headed by Pt. Kashap Bhandu in early thirties that the change to wearing sarees was initiated.

The turban worn by men also has undergone change in style, with the influence of tribes and rulers that Kashmiris came into contact with. The last of the styles in vogue, has been influenced by the Dogra style. The turban is still worn traditionally on the marriage or yegneopavit day. The traditional dress, which had endured till late, of course now being abandoned by Pandit women folk, has been :-

A long flowing dress. It is always worn with an under layer called Potsh, being of white light cotton. As indicated above, women sleeves are wider, are over turned and fringed with brocades and embroidered strips. Similar strips are used as border at the neck and fringes. The one common among Muslims, have a big embroidered portion around the cutting at the neck. This version has become popular in other parts of the country also.

Taranga - the head gear
This is the head gear reminiscent of racial fusion of Aryans and Nagas. It is like the decorated head gear of celestial serpent (Nag) with serpentine body tapering into double tail almost reaching the heels of the wearer. It has the following components:
  Kalposh - the cap. It is cone shaped of decorative brocade, attached with wide band of pashmina in crimson, v.mp3oline or scarlet. The conical shape would cover the crown and the band would be shortened three fold round the forehead. Zoojy. A delicate network cloth tapped by embroidered motifs, worn over the crown and tapering flowing down the nape of the neck. Taranga. This comprises of three narrow and continuous wraps over and round the head, the final round - moharlaath - starched and glazed. Puts. Two lengths of white fine muslin hemmed together longitudinally in fish spine pattern. Lengthwise, whole piece is rolled and wrapped inwards both sides so as to f.mp3 the long bodies of pair of snakes, with tapering tails and a hood on the other side.

Fancy cloth
Kashmir is known for its woollen embroidered shawls, which not only go to different parts of the country but even outside India. At one time, they were giving tough competition to the French shawls even. Pashmina is a fancy material for shawls. It is hand-woven from a special soft woollen material found on the mountain goats of Ladakh. The finest material for this category is called Shahtosh. It has been seen as the softest material which takes very little space when kept folded and packed..

Kashmir has also been the home for fine silk. Silk weaving has been introduced during the last century. But Kashmir silk has given quite a competition to other Indian and Chinese very best of silk.

People ~ Some special features of Kashmiri Life

Kangri is a portable stove which Kashmiris use in winter to keep themselves w.mp3. It is an individualised heating system, which one can use while moving around, sitting home and even in bed. It consists of two parts. Inner part is the earthen-ware pot, called the Kondul. The external encasement is of the wicker work. It is filled with charcoal dust, ignited at the top with a little fire. The burning takes place slowly, going gradually from top to bottom. To increase the heat emission, a little stirring is done with a silver, iron or wooden spook called Tsalan attached to the Kangri. The Kangris are just rough and ready, or made ornamental. Village Tsrar was famous for good Kangris.

Kashmiri folk song has a special place for Kangri:-

House boat
Kashmir has many lakes, rivers and rivulets. Many of them are negotiable by boats. In earlier days, water ways served as the main means of transportation of men and merchandise from one place to other. The load carrier boat was called Bahats . The one used for living or carrying parties around, was called Doonga and small boats as Shikara. But of interest are the ornate boats, build for luxurious living for visitors and nobels. These are called House boats. They have well furnished drawing room, bed room with attached toilets, with cold and w.mp3 water. An attached doonga serves as the kitchen and service boat. The inhabitants get personal attention from the owners and their servants. The credit for introducing them in Kashmir goes to an enterprising Kashmiri Pandit, Pt. Narain Das, father of Swami Laxman ji.

Some of the trees/plants specially found in Kashmir are:

1. Chinar.  Chinar may be called ‘king’ of the plant kingdom of Kashmir for its majestic size and grandeur. It gives nice and cool shade during the summer. It has a big leaf which serves as a symbol on the arts and crafts of Kashmir. It is found scattered throughout the Valley with notable clusters here and there. Some trees are as old as three to four hundred years. Some believe that Moghals brought it to Kashmir. Its green leaves turn amber and finally red in autumn before they fall. At that time, a chinar looks from a distance like a huge fire. Some believe that its name comes from this phenomenon - for nar in Arabic means fire.

2. Poplar.  Poplar is locally known as ‘Phras’. It has a unique shape, going straight up with branches also pointing upwards and standing like a sentinel. It has soft wood and can be used for making match sticks. Those visiting Kashmir, are enchanted by it when they see rows of poplar standing on both sides of the national highway.

3. Walnut.  It is a huge shady tree with comparatively small stem. It bears the famous walnut fruit. Each mature tree can bear up to twenty thousand walnuts, hence of great economical value to the village folk. Its bark serves as dental cleansing agent, making lips red to good effect. Its wood is hard and can be used for intricate carving. It does not get spoilt for centuries. It is used for furniture and other ornamental items. Its cutting is prohibited by law because of its great value. Kashmir supplies walnuts to the whole country and also exports them to other countries.

4. Willow.  It is locally called Vir. It grows throughout the Valley but more commonly on the banks of the river and lakes. Its branches hang downwards, kissing the river water. This is the reason, it is called ‘weeping willows’. Its twigs are used to clean teeth. Its leaves are used for feeding domestic animals like goats. Willow is commonly used as a fuel in Kashmir. Its wood is best suited for making cricket bats.

5. Pine.  All types of pine trees of high altitudes, are found in the forests of Kashmir. Deodar is considered the best. Its wood is water resistant, hence used in making boats and costly wooden furnishings. Kail is the variety mostly used in building construction. The other type of pine known as Budloo, presents a ch.mp3ing look. It grows straight up with a gradual thinning of the girth towards its top. Its branches are small and unlike Deodar and Kail. It has soft needle type leaves as against Deodar which has hard needle type leaves. Kail has long bushy leaves. Budloo wood is soft and is mostly used as domestic fuel.

6. Saffron.  Kashmir has the honour of producing the much prized saffron for ages. It finds mention in our old scriptures also. It is used for worship by Hindus, Greeks and Romans etc. It has a special scent and also imparts colour to the material to which it is added. It is grown in Pampore, ancient Padmapur, the birth place of Lalla-Ded. Rajatarangini records a legend which says that the flower was given as a gift by Takhshaka Naga to the physician Waghrahaita, who lived in Pampore. The plant flowers in late November. People enjoy its sight and fragrance in the moonlit night.

People ~ Food

A Kashmiri has his own food habits and preferences, though influenced by neighbours and invaders, yet more conditioned by the geographical factors.

Kashmiri is essentially a rice eater. Rice is the main cereal crop in the Valley. Wheat is harvested only in some dry plateaus. Sugarcane does not grow in the Valley, hence a Kashmiri has not developed any preference for things sweet. This habit continues even when they are away from the Valley. The tea that most people take is salty. Salt, in the days bygone had to be imported from long distances outside the Valley (when today’s transportation facilities were not available), hence treated as precious thing. Spilling salt was considered very bad. Daughters were given salt in gifts when they went to their respective husbands’ homes. The custom continues till date. Milk and milk products were not in abundance. A hill variety of cow  was reared but they did not yield much milk. No greens were available for good part of the year (winter), hence they had to be fed on dry fodder.

Cooking medium is essentially mustard oil. Mustard is locally produced as second crop to rice. It is sown in early winter, remains under the snow for winter and flowers in early spring  (a pleasant sight ).

Wheat products are mostly consumed for breakfast as a type of loaf (Tsot or Lavasa) or evening snack as Kulcha, Telwor, Katlam etc., baked in a local tandoor. It appears that Tandoor is an introduction from central Asia, and so are the names of its various products such as Girdeh (same in Persian) Lavasah and Rogni Tsot.

Kashmiris are essentially non-vegetarian, both Hindus and Muslims. Although some historians believe that they might have been vegetarians in the beginning. Hindus enjoy mutton and fish. Chicken and egg used to be a taboo for them (Hindus) but not other class of fowls. Cow slaughter is banned in Jammu & Kashmir, punishable with up to eleven years’ imprisonment.

Kashmiris like green vegetables. That is why Hak (brussels sprout), Monji (knol khol), Palak (spinach), Vopalhak, Swatsal (mallow), Obhuj, Hand, Meethi (fenugreek) and a number of smaller leafy types, are popular. Hak is a kind of long leafy vegetable and is most liked. It f.mp3s part of every meal in all seasons. It is not found in other parts of the country although Chinese like it and call it Gailon. Hak is one thing which a Kashmiri misses badly when outside Kashmir. It’s leaves are cooked alone or along with its stems. Cabbage, cauliflower and potato are grown in Kashmir and they look to be late arrivals in Kashmir as in the rest of the country. Radish & Turnip are enjoyed as are their leafy parts. Onion and garlic used to be a taboo for Pandits. The gourds - yellow, long or the bitter have been admired. Mushrooms, which used to appear naturally, were very much enjoyed.  Artificial cultivation of mushroom is of recent origin. Guchhi (a type of fungus) is very much prized and considered to be a delicacy.

Lentils are taken rather infrequently. The ones locally available Mong (kidney bean), Rajmash (red beans), Dam-mah and Matar (green peas) are used more during winter months, when fresh vegetables would be scarce. Kashmiris enjoy Nadroo (lotus stem). It is mostly available during winter. Brinjal is another preferred vegetable. It can combine with any other vegetable for cooking.

Tea. Kashmiris must have been one of the earliest addicts to this brew in the subcontinent. Tea, as we know today was introduced by the British tea companies in India. But Kashmiris used to get their stuff long before that from China through Tibet. Later, it used to be imported from Shungla via Bombay. That is why, in Kashmir it is still called Bombay Chai. But this tea is the green untreated variety of tea. Its brew is called Kahwa. No milk is added to it. It is sweetened with sugar. Often, Dalchini (cinnamon), Elaichi (cardamom), Badam (almonds) and sometimes a little Kesar (saffron) are added to it to give taste and flavour.

The tea taken with salt and milk, is called Sheeri Chai (perhaps adaptation from Ladakh and Tibet). It is very popular among Muslims and to an extent among Hindus. Hindus however prefer Kahwa to Sheer Chai

Tea is prepared in a special vessel called Samawar. It is a pot in which tea is made by burning charcoal in the small chimney at its centre, having a seive at the bottom. The ash is collected in the space below the seive. There is a nozzled outlet for pouring the tea, hot into the cup. Russians also have a Samawar, but it slightly differs in looks. Hindus used to take tea in a bronze cup called Khos, while Muslims prefer Chinpyala, the cup made of china clay. The Samawar used by Muslims is made of copper while  that used by Hindus is  made of brass.

Hindus eat their food in a Thal, which earlier used to be of bronze. Muslims prefer copper bowl (with tin lining).  At feasts, Muslims are served four persons in one big copper plate called Traami.

Fruits. Kashmir produces some of the best fruits. Its various names Tsunth, Ambur, Trel are of Persian origin, while Daen (pomegranate) Dachh (grapes) Tang (pear) and others are of local origin. Tsanun and Alubukhara may contain in their names, their respective origin of Chima and Bukhara.

People ~ Cuisine

Cooking for a Kashmiri is both an art and a pastime. Hindu and Muslim cuisines differ interestingly in non-vegetarian domain. The special features of Kashmiri cooking are:  i) a slow and long cooking process which allows the stew to flow from the material cooked;  ii) use of differential proportions of each condiment for different dishes;  and   iii) pre-frying of all vegetables, Hak  being an exception.

Non-vegetarian Dishes
Kashmir is famous for its non-veg. food. The varieties prepared by Muslims and Hindus differ largely. Hindus make Roganjosh - big pieces of mutton after prolonged frying, cooked with condiments, curd and fair amount of red chillies; Kalia - a variety of handi meat - a yellow preparation of stewed mutton, considered as a good company for white rice; Yakhni - mutton with higher fat content, cooked with curd and without red chillies and t.mp3eric; Matsh - balls of minced mutton, cooked in condiments and red chillies; Kamargah - breast pieces of lamb, cooked in condiments and milk and fried deep in ghee to be served hot; Tsok Tsarwan - sour liver pieces; Mutton pulao - fried pieces of mutton, cooked with rice and condiments, put on slow fire duly sealed. Hindus also prepare sweet pulao with dry fruits. Interestingly, many of the names like Roganjosh, Yakhni, Kamargah are of  Persian origin. Hindus are considered specialists in cooking fish. Fish is also cooked in combination with a number of vegetables like knol-khol, lotus step, turnip, radish etc.

Muslims (cooking mainly done by professional cooks called Waza) prepare a large number of dishes from mutton alone. A full course of their food with rice, curd and sweet Phiruny is called a Wazawan. Dish of choice is Goshtaba - a ball of beaten mutton, cooked in milk and other ingredients; Rista  is a red variant of smaller size and different taste; Yekhni, Methimaaz, Aabgosh, Kabab, Daeni etc. are other varieties. Paneer (cottage cheese) cooked in tomato is a delicacy. A Wazawan is a course dinner. The guests are expected to finish eating one dish before another is served. It therefore takes a long time and enables the guest to ingest a large quantity of mutton and other foods.

Vegetarian Dishes
Vegetarian delicacies of Kashmir are also influenced by their non-veg. cuisine. We have Yakhni - whether made of lotus stem (nadroo) or long gourd (Al), made in almost the same manner with curd and condiments. We have Kalia made of Monje (knol khol). We have the Roganjosh  of Knol khol (Dam monje) or yellow gourd.  The top billing in vegetarian food is for Dum Aloo. Potato whole, boiled, pierced thoroughly, fried deep and long to metal hardness and then cooked in  a concoction of condiments and fair amount of red chillies (could be compared to Roganjosh). Hak is cooked in a mixture of clear water, fried oil, salt and green chillies. Each leaf should retain its fullness and green colour when served.

Kashmiris like combinations e.g. rajmash with turnip, lotus stem with potatoes, knol khol or daal, brinjal with almost every other vegetable and so on. Vegetable and mutton combinations are common.

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