by Prof. C. L. Sadhu
The happy valley of Kashmir is well known throughout the world for its Natural beauty. Here nature has been prodigal enough in crowning this ancient land with all its splendour and glory. Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Mughal gardens attract visitors from all over the world. Its lakes, green meadows, dancing and foaming streams, majestic forests full of fir and pine, snow-capped peaks are common attractions to the outsider as well as to the native.
Besides this, the valley being sacred and called Rishi wari till now, abounds in sacred places, Tirthas and Asthans. Long ago at the dawn of civilisation when the sons of Rishi Kashyapa from plains came to settle here they brought with them their traditions, religion, mythology etc. etc. These early settlers named the confluence of river Sindh and river Jhelum as Prayag, equal to holy Prayag at the confluence of the Ganga and the Jamna in India. They named the tallest mountain peaks here after their Gods and deities such as Brahma, Vishnoo and Mahadev. These settlers must have felt surprised to see the hide and seek of water in the Spring of Trisandya; melting of snow around the spring of Bedaba Devi and other marvellous places With the passage of time, these places became Tirthas or places of worship and has continued so upto the present time. The tradition being like this R. L. Stein who has translated Rajatarangini into English writes, "Kashmir is a country where there is not a place as large as a grain of seasam without a Tirtha. Time and conversion to Islam of greater portion of population has changed but little in this respect. " Pandit Kalhana while writing introduction to Rajatarangini names the miraculous springs of Trisandya Saraswati lake on the Bheda hillock, Self created fire at Soyambhu etc. etc. "
In this small article I have made a humble effort to sift and choose certain marvels and wonders shrouded by myth and mystery, hidden and lying in oblivion from the eyes of the outsider. I have made an effort as to what is myth, heresay and what is real. These wondors, now as Tirthas ( places of pilgrimage ) have been verified by me personally. These wonders consist in the shape of springs, temples, caves, boulders, and other things which lie scattered throughout the length and breadth of the valley.
I have not included such things which lack corroboration and verification. For example in the vale of Sonamarg people refer to a cow carved out of a rock and from whose uddersmilk-white water issues forth. The locals also claim a couple, of waters lying transformed into stone far up in the Jungle. I have also excluded such objects where people seem to have exaggerated things such as Nakwarlbal in the village of Seer Kanligund on way to Pahalgam. They claim that a stone-head lying on an allevation gives out water by right Nostril during the bright fortnight and by left Nostril during the dark lunar fort- night. Nakwar in Kashmir means Nostrils and therefore the name Nakwaribal. On verification I found it simply false, though the stone head, with Nostrils exists near the villages.
( Its water changes colour )
One maryel of Kashmir is the mysterious holy spring of Kheir Bhawani which is widely known to change its colour from time to time. It is towards the north of Srinagar at a distance of about 14 km. and can be reached within an hour by bus.
Before we enter the main islet to have Darshana of the holy spring of Bhawani we come across two important sites - one is Ziarat of Mir Baba Haider (a Muslim saint) and the other is the Samadhi of Shri Labhu Shah, a saint who lived some 150 years ago in Kashmir.
The main spring dedicated to Goddess Kheir Bhawani hasan irregular septagonal shape with its apex called Pad ( feet ) to the East. The northern and the southern sides are longer than the western side which is called Shir (Head). In the centre of the holy spring where once stood a mulberry tree, there is one marble temple which enshrines some idols found at the time of cleansing the spring. In January 1970 an electric pump was installed to conduct the cleansing operation of the spring. Besides removal of mud and mire which had accumulated since long at the bottom of the spring a number of gold ornaments and silver pieces offered to the Goddess were recovered. As a result of the silt clearance a huge volume of milky white water bubbled out. During recent times regular clearance is being made after each festival when huge quantities of floweres, lotuses, mentha sylvestries (Vena) offered by devotees collect at the surface of the holy spring.
The water of the Spring changes its colour from time to time. It takes on various hues like red, pink, orange, green, blue and has often light green, red rosy and millky white shades. Abul Fazal in 16th century and Swami Vivekananda in the year 1894 have testified this fact. Any shade of black colour is supposed to be inauspicious for the inhabitants of the valley. This colour was prominent in the year 1947 when the Pakistani raiders attacked the peaceful valley. Many times rising of bubbles has been observed which form the mystic Chakra on the surface of the water. In my infancy I had a strange experience here. An outstretched hand from the holy spring offered me a beautiful pen in a dream. In the morning when I woke up I found the same pen under my pillow which I retained for many years with me as a sacred relic of the Divine Mother. Such a sacred and mysterious spring is found nowhere else in India. The people living round the holy spring have great veneration for the holy shrine. A Hindu or a Muslim will not enter the premises of the holy spring if he happens to have taken meat on the day. In 1947 when the Pakistani marauders attacked the valley the local Muslims led them astray to save the shrine from their unholy hands.
Various legends and stories are current among the people regarding the holy spring. One such legend is that when Ravana was killed at the hands of Bagwan Rama the Goddess Bhawani ordered Hanuman to carry her to Satisar-Kashmir along with 360 Nagas. Hanuman selected the site and installed the Goddess in the Northern part of the valley. She came to be known as Kheir Bhawani or Ragyna Bhagwati as her favourite offerings consist of rice cooked in milk and sugar, and all other vegetarian forms of diet.
How did the existence of the holy spring come to light among the people ? It is related that one pious Brahmin named Krishna Pandit of Habba Kadal in Srinagar had a vision wherein he was informed by a Deva to offer Puja to Kheir Bhawani in the swamps of Tullamulla. How shall I locate the Goddess and her holy abode was the query on behalf of the saintly Brahmin. Thereuponhe was asked to hire a boat at Shadipora wherefrom a snake would guide him to the destination. Krishna Pandit did the same and was extremely happy when the snake guided him through the swampy and marshy land, until he reached the hollow trunk of a mulberry tree. The snake made a dip and disappeared from sight. The saint took the clue and after performing Puju poured milk which he had brought for this purpose. It is thus that the holy spring was discovered and was known to Kashmiries. It is believed that the discovery of the holy spring has been made on Ashadha Saptami, the 7th day of the bright fortnight of the month of June-July. Kashmiri Hindus come here on every Ashtami - 8th day of the bright fortnight of each lunar month and majority of Kashmiri Hindus consider Kheir Bhawani as their guardian Goddess.
Such is the brief history of the holy spring, the abode of Goddess Kheir Bhawani which has been eulogized by a poet in the following words :
"I make obeisance to that one Goddess, who having taken the position of the supreme God is the Queen in reality, whose form is made of light and is adorned by the lustre of 12 suns who cannot be observed through senses, who is seated on a throne and is wrapped with serpents ."
To the south of Gulmarg there is a village known as Beerwa which is the tehsil headquarters of the surrounding area. The village is flanked by a mountain range on its southern side. At the eastern super of this mountain is located the celebrated cave connected with life of Acharya Abinav Gupta, the greatest Shiva philoiopher of Kashmir. The Acharya was called Bairwa meaning the fairless one. The village comes to be known after this title of Bairwa and has now become Beerwa.
The celebrated cave is located at the height of nearly 300 meter on the super of the ridge overlooking the crescent shaped narrow valley of evergreen Jungles with a Sukh Nag Nalla flowing through it.
One Haji Mohd. Sultan Dar ( 75 years ) who guided me up to the cave said " Hindus used to assemble here upto year 1947 on the 12th day of the bright fortnight of the month corresponding to the month of June. In 1947 the valley was attacked by Pakistani raiders and so the tirtha was given up for security reasons. Since then a Government employee or some research scholar is seen occasionally visiting the cave."
The entrance of the cave is like a rectangular room where some 8 or 10 persons can accommodate themselves. Going further, the cave begins to narrow and opens to another smaller room where a stone Shiva lingum is visible. One can go further sideways but nobody proceeds further because of darkness and narrowness of the passage. On right and left vermilion covered rocks-adds can be seen.
Nearly one thousand years ago Acharya Abhinav Gupta who flourished at the beginning of the 11th century A. D. and is the exponent of Kashmir Shivaism known as Trika, entered this cave. The locals and the Hindus in the valley hold the legend that the Acharya entered the cave with 1200 disciples following him. None of them returned. Even at present while offering prayers, the Kashmiri Hindus recite the same prayers which the Acharya and his followers recited while entering the cave. It is believed that they entered Shivaloka in their earthly bodies through the cave. It is since then that the cave is held in great veneration by the Hindus of the valley and till recently it was the place of annual pilrimage.
On the way to Mahadeva the pilgrims leaving Harwan behind, come across a huge boulder which they shower with flowers as token of reverence. This huge boulder is known as Shankerun Pal meaning the boulder of Lord Shiva.
In Shivsutra Vimershima, it is recorded that sage Vasugupta - the founder of Shiva philosophy of Kashmir - lived in Harvan in a hermitage. One night he saw lord Shiva in a dream who seemed moved with compassion at Vasuguptas helplessness in arguing before Buddhistic scholars. To enlighten him the Lord disclosed to the sage, the existence of a rock on which some sacred Shiv Sutras were inscribed. Vasugupta was further directed to proceed on spot early before sun rise, when by his mere touch, the rock would overturn by itself and expose four Shiv Sutras to him which he should learn and teach to worthy pupils. The huge boulder with almost smooth surface is still pointed out as one on which the sage Vasugupta found the inscription.
At present there is no trace of any inscription on it, and it is believed that the boulder over turned after the inscriptions were copied by Vasugupta. According to Kshemendra the very sutras became the foundation of Advaita Shaivism of Kashmir known as Trika.
(Where snow does not fall within a radius of 350 ft. )
Towards the south of village Kellar, high up in the small valley of Birnai Nallah which connects Drubgam by a direct route with the Pir Panchal pass of the old Moghul Road, there is a stone lined spring bubbling with milky water. It is situated on a hillock with low-lying area on all sides and so is free from mountain torrents. It is 7800 ft. above thesea level in the Romeshi Forest Range. Snow does not fall within 125 Hastas a radius of 350 ft. from the spring. The holy spring is square shaped and in measurement is 50 ft square. The water is milky white and is shallow near the banks. The source of the water is in the centre and is very deep, so much so that once a buffalo got swallowed there leaving no trace behind. Because of this incident shepherds do not let their cattle stray near the holy spring which accounts for the clean and tidy premises of the fount. The spring is full of water through out the year. It has a beautiful forest full of fir and pine for its background. While going up to reach the holy spring from Keller one comes across a small hamlet known as Shukroo. From the hamlet upto the sacred spring a number of mounds can be seen under which bricks lie buried which show that long ago thereexisted some human habitation near the holy spring. Some three chains away from the sacred spring there is a small waterfall which emits a sulphuric smell. The local gojars told me that patients suffering from rheumatism and skin diseases get relieved by having a bath in this water. Lime is also found buried here and there. There are no idols nor any ruins of any temple here except a boulder on which Shiva Lingas are carved. The sacred spring must have been a very popular Tirtha in the Kashmir Valley. Kalhana in his Rajatarangini writes: "There the Goddess Saraswati was believed to have shown herself as a swan in a lake situated on the summit of the hill ". Though in the present era it is forgotten by people, the old Mahatmya of the sacred lake has survived and Shri.M. A. Stein who visited the Valley in 1890-95 and has translated Rajatarangini into English has identified the site known at present as Budbrari. At the end of 16th century when Hindus still made pilgrimage to the Tirtha, Abu Fazal has recorded; "Near Shukroo is a low hill on the summit of which is a fountain, which flows throughout the year, is a place of pilgrimage for the devout. The snow does not fall on this spur."
It is related that in ancient times Rishi Pulastya performed long penance here and made the holy Ganga push forth near Ashram. He further craved for a boon that it may rest forever by his side which was granted. It is thus that Ganga Behda Tirtha got created. The Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of speech ) appeared to him in the shape of a swan which the Rishi worshipped on the 8th and 9th of the bright fortnight of Chitra of each year. Ever since the Goddess Saraswati has been receiving worship at the Ganga Behda Tirtha. Nilmat Purana recounts the Tirtha as Ganga Behda and is included in the list of Tirthas mentioned in the epic of Mahabharat. This establishes the antiquity of the Tirtha.
I visited this holy Fount in Oct. 1976. From Srinagar via Pulwama regular bus service is available up to village Keller wherefrom one is to cover a distance of 9 km. either on horseback or on foot. The enchanting scenery, the green meadows with Nallah Birnai flowing at the foot of the hillock, the spring bubbling with milky white water is a thing to be ever remembered. The site if connected to a pucca road from Keller Masapora will prove the greatest attraction for tourists and will provide means of livelihood for poor Gujjars who inhabit the neighbourhood of the sacred spot popularly known as Bujbrari.
Which Neither Grows Nor Decays With Time.
Early settlers in Kashmir named their new places of settlement after the names which they cherished most in India. Such a place is Prayag at Shadipur, situated at a distance of 18 km. in the north west of Srinagar city. It is situated at the confluence of the river Sindhu and the river Vitasta, similarly as Prayag in India stands at the confluence of the river Yamuna and the river Ganga. The place has enjoyed exceptional sanctity as a Tirtha since times immemorial. Here, as a Prayag in India, Hindus immerse the sacred ashes of their deceased relatives. Opposite to Shadipur village once there stood a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
At the confluence of the river Sindhu and the river Vitasta there is a small island built of solid masonary on which an old chinar stands, which shelters a few idols and statues. The chinar neither grows in size nor decays with time. It has taken the place of the famous Ficus Indica. There is a popular legend among people here that the island rises when the rivers get swollen with flood waters so as rising tides cannot touch the Chinar. The Chinar has found its place in the vocabulary of Kashmiri dialect and is referred to when the size of a boy or a girl is found stunted !
The stone which rises up when persons numbering 11 touch it with their index fingers.
At a distance of 32 km. towards the south of Srinagar city on the NationalHighway there is a town-Bijbehra on the left bank of the River Jhelum. At the southern tip of the town there is a massive stone temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. In the compound of the same temple there is a conch shaped stone tapering at one end which is popularly known as Kah-Kah-Pal. The stone does not weigh more than 60 kilos or more and one adult person can move it from side to side.
The marvel of the stone gets apparent when 11 persons encircle it, and apply their 11 index fingers to the base of the stone. While repeating Kah-Kah (eleven-eleven) the stone gets lifted above the ground. The stone is popularly know as Kah-Kah-Pal which in Kashmiri means the digit eleven. The stone is in the custody of the pujari of the temple. Many stories and legends about the stone are attributable to it. For example it is related that once it was thrown into the river and next day it reappeared on the bank of the river. I have dismissed such legends as mere heresay.
At a distance of 10 km, towards the east of Srinagar city there is a village known at present as Zewan. The spring known Takshak Nag is situated in this village. It is said that saffron has originated from the spring and that its cultivation has spread in its neighbourhood. It is related that the Lord of the Spring offered Hakim Waga Bhat, the saffron bulbs as a token of reward for curing his eye ailment.
Bilhan the great Sanskrit poet who flourished in 11th century and was born at Khunmoh ( a village at a distance of 5 km. towards the east of Zewan ). He described the spring as "A pool filled with pure water sacred to Takshak the Lord of snakes ", Abdul Fazal records the facts that this spring is held to be the place wherefrom saffron originated and flourished in the neighbourhood.
In the time of Akbar, the cultivators worshipped at the spring at the beginning of each spring season. To get successful crops it was customary to pour cow's milk in it. As a local divinity Takshak Naga retained sanctity and importance for long with cultivators. Pilgrims when on their way to Harishwar cave offer Puja at the spring on the twelfth of the dark fortnight of Jeth corresponding to the month of June.
Where relating the story of Chander lekha-the beautiful Naga damsel-the great poet Historian, Kalhana mentions the name of the spring in the Rajatarangini as a place of pilgrimage. The inclusion Or the spring as a Tirtha in the list of Tirthas recorded in Mahabharata signifies its antiquity.
At present the spring stands intact with embankments of chiselled stones full of pure and sweet water. The spring measures 50' x 50' and has depth of 3'. The water source is in the North east corner of the spring.
In the South of Srinagar at a short distance there is a small town as Pampore, at present famous for saffron cultivation. In the centre of this town there is a pond measuring 50' x 250' with varying depths of 2' to 5'. It is known as Lal Trag. The pond is held in great reverence by Hindus as well as Muslims of the locality, since the tank happens to be connected with an important event in the life of Laleshwari popularly known as Lal Ded in the valley.
Laleshwari flourished in the 14th century. She sang of divine love, tolerance, secularism and universal brotherhood when Persia lay prostrate under conquering feet of Timrlane and Black Death hovered over the British islands. The great mystic poetess chose the common man's language for expression of her subtle spiritual ideas. She was the harbinger of new patriotic awakening and laid the foundation of Kashmiri song and poetry. Her couplets are so popular even at present times that a Kashmiri gets spell-bound when he hears some village minstrel singing them for some audience.
Lal Ded was born at village Sempore in the year 1317 A. D. and was married at Pampore. Her married life was most unhappy. She had initiation from her spiritual Guru known as Sedu Mole as the practice in vogueat that time. Her mother-in-law at the time of serving mealswould keep a round stone in the dish and cover it with a little of boiled rice for Laleshwari. She was subjected to this mal-treatment of near starvation for not less than 12 years, untill her father-in-law came to know about it. Her husband under the provocation of his mother would always find fault with his saintly wife. One day when Lal Ded returned from the river with one earthen pitcher full of water on her shoulder, her husband hurled a stone on the pitcher which broke into pieces and fell on the ground. To the amazement and horror of mother and son, the water remained intact like a frozen piece on the shoulder of Lal Ded. Instantly all the empty pots got filled with water and the rest of the water was thrown away from the window on to the ground where it assumed the form of a pond and is existing there till today. The tank became known as Lal Trag. The fame of the miracle spread like wild fire in the valley and Lal Ded began to shine like a pole star over the spiritual firmament of the Kashmir Valley.
Among Hindus of Pampore, on a marriage ceremony the bridegroom offers Puja at the tank before he enters the house of the bride. Muslims pour cow's milk into it as a token of respect. Some locals bathe their children in order to cure them of scabbies and other skin diseases. The elders in the locality saw that the tank never get dried even when the valley happened to be in the grip of severe drought. This holy pond is in dire need of repairs and renovations because of its national importance in the valley. Such is the legend of Lal Trag at Pampore.
Towards North-East of Srinagar city there stands one conspicuous hoary headed mountain overlooking the Gangabal Lake. It is known as Harmukh meaning thereby that the peak appears same from all sides. It is situated at an elevation of 16890ft. The reverence which ancient Greeks had for Olympus,the Kashmiris have for Harmukh since they believe that on its top is the abode of Lord Shiva. Shamus-Faqir a well known Kashmiri poet in one of the songs says, "Thou knower of truth if you want to see Him face to face you can see Him at Harmukh."
Sir Walter Lawrence, the Settlement Commissioner of J & K State, has recorded about 100 years ago in his book "Valley of Kashmir" that Kashmiris in general believe that there is a mine of jewels and rubies in Harmukh. The inhabitants of the valley believe that wherever the Harmukh peak is visible in the Valley, the serpents of the place happen to be quite harmless, and on the other hand, the peak is not visible the serpents of the locality are poisonous and their bites are fatal. In Illaqa Pulwama where the peak is visible the snakes are quite harmless and at village Lar where it is invisible the serpents are poisonous.
At the foot of Harmukh there is one beautiful lake known as Gangabal Lake. In the month of September corresponding to the bright fortnight of Bahadun, Kashmiri Pandits immerse the urns ( ashes ) of their dead relatives in this lake after performing their Shraddha. No sooner are the ashes cast in the crystal clear water of the lake, than swarms of small red worms appear on the surface and render the water unfit for drinking purposes. The pilgrims know it, and therefore, cook their meals before casting ashes in the lake.
Long ago some pilgrims gave me to understand that they saw a small channel with mercury flowing down the mountain side into the lake. Having no container with them they collected a little quantity of the same in a dried piece of cowdung. On reaching their destination they found ~he mercury slipped down somewhere on their way back.
Once a hermit tried to reach the summit of the Harmukh to see Lord Shiva face to face. For twelve years long he tried to scale the summit, but failed until one day he saw a gojar descending the summit. When the gojar approached him, the hermit enquired as to what he saw there. The gojar whose goat had strayed and for whom he had been searching, said that he saw a couple milking a cow and drinking the same in a human skull. They had offered some milk to him, which he refused to drink and when they departed they rubbed a little of the milk on his forehead. As the gojar indicated the spot on his forehead where the milk was rubbed, the hermit was extremely joyful and rushed to lick his forehead. It is said that the hermit got Nirvana and diasppeared from the place, to the entire surprise of the gojar. The legend is known as Hurmukhuk Gosoni.
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