By Dr. R.K. Tamiri
Lolab, one of the most beautiful valleys of Kashmir, is located to the north-east of Srinagar. This valley, 15 miles long and 3 miles wide, is traversed by stream Lahwal, which flows down from the surrounding hills. Lolab has many pasture lands and a rich forest cover. Presently, it forms a part of Kupwara district. Locals call it Lolab. In Lok Prakasha, it is mentioned as Lulavaka, Pandit Sahib Ram in his Tirathasamgrapha, calls it Laulaha.
Lolah has three valleys: Kalaroos valley, Potnai valley and the Brunai valley. Enchanting Nagmarg meadows separate Lolab from Bandipore. Sogam is the headquarters of Lolab region. In ancient times Sogam was ruled by a Kotraja and had over hundred villages under its jurisdiction. As per a legend, popular in Lolab, Sogam was so densely populated that a sheep, which climbed the roof of one house, situated at one end of the village, could reach the other end (Zaipora) without having to come down in between. During the rule of chaks, Sogam extended from Kralmiyach to Wovura. The Chak king stayed at Tangchak, near Aramurang. Kalhana refers to a King, who founded town of Lolora (Lolav) and “constructed eighty four lakhs of stone-buildings”. There are also references to Damaras of Kamraj, who dug up force in Lolav to avert certain defeat.
Lolab: A huge lake:
At the time when Kashmir was Satisar, Lolab too formed a part of the huge lake. There are legends which link Lolab with Kashyap Rishi. In the Rangvor forest, one Km. from the village Lalpur, is located samadhi of the legendary Kashyap rishi. Presently it is indistinguishable. No one can visit this place after having taken meat. In 1967, a villager had slaughtered a bull. 2-3 days later there was a terrible hail storm, as never seen before. Hail was as big as a piece of stone and looked like glass. The standing maize crops were destroyed in the entire south Lolab region. To this day people remember this calamitous event. Villagers bring yellow rice (Tahar) to samadhi and pray for prosperity.
The legendary account credits mythical Raza Loh for draining the waters and inviting people to settle down. The water got drained through Goose side. King Loh is believed to be a Gujrati. To get rid of a curse, the king had been busy doing ‘tapasya’ for twelve years in a meadow in Lolab. Razdans of Razdan Kocha, Banamohalla, Srinagar are believed to be the descendants of King Loh.
Every year the shepherds would bring their flocks of cattle to the meadows in Lolab. At the end of the season either a shepherd or a cattle would go missing. Many seasons later, one day the shepherds saw smoke rising from a place in the forest. A voice emanating from this place called them. Thinking that this could be the calling of some devil, the shepherds ignored the call. When the calls persisted, the shepherds went to the place from where the smoke was rising. They were face to face with Raja Loh. The shepherds narrated their tale of woe. Raja told them hence forth neither any of the shepherds nor their cattle would go missing. He also implored them to come to stay permanently in Lolab. He told them on the day of Shivratri they should reach Harvan Bal (Lord Shiva’s hill) and look for the smoke near the Kutiya. In case smoke was present, they should presume the Raja was alive. Shepherds belonged to Sopore and Zainagar.
Another legend refers to the discord between King Loh and Kashyap Rishi. Once Raja decided to perform a havan and called Kashyap Rishi as the brahmin. As Kashyap Rishi blew the conch-shell, Raja shouted ‘aavhan’. Kashyap Rishi shouted back ‘Visarjan’. Raja Loh protested strongly. The rishi told him, ‘It is my right to perform havan. How dare you do it’. Havan remained inconclusive.
The place where havan was performed there is a spring, named Lohnag or Lavnag, one km from Kashyap Rishi’s samadhi. This beautiful spring with crystal-clear water is shaped like a Pranali and is three-feet deep. Water comes out from the western end of the spring. The spring is 10 ft x 10ft in dimensions.
Lavnag has remained historically important, Gulab Singh soon after conquering Kashmir visited it. He sanctioned a land grant of 113 canals for the upkeep of spring. His pet pujari, Pt. Gash Bhat, grand father of late Prasad Bhat was in his company when the Dogra King visited the place. Shav Ratangeer, an ascetic, who used to stay at Durganag temple, came to Lav Nag and stayed at this place for 18 long years.
There is no specific day for puja at this historic spring. On the western side of the spring is a Chinar with four branches, Chakrabooni. It is a very old Chinar. Recently the Chinar was burnt. The platform around the spring has been cemented and the spring connected to a water reservoir.
In the vicinity, is another spring called, Gauirshari Nag, dedicated to goddess Gauri. This spring is small, round in shape and believed to be the resting place of the goddess, who had come to attend the havan performed by Raja Loh.
A number of shrines in the form of springs dot the entire Lolab area. Famous among these are;
Thanin, a spring dedicated to Vishnu is located in the Kalaroos valley. It is 11x11ft and its depth is five feet. Harinag spring is found in Varnav, near Sewer.
There are two springs in Krusen, a place founded by Raja Karn. It is a place some distance from Maidanpora. The two springs are dedicated to Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. There is a shivling in Siva’s spring. The spring dedicated to goddess Parvati is bottomless. Ladies are forbidden to visit this spring. Lavalnag is another spring near Divar and is four miles from Lohnag spring (Lalpur).
In Chandigam, the village named after goddess Chandi, there are three holy springs. The original Chandinag spring is spread over an area of 1½ canals in the forest. It is filled up now and has turned into a swamp. Before 1947, when a little excavation was carried out here, earthern lamps, small items, pottery associated with rituals were found, confirming the antiquity of the place. Locals call this place as Kanzpov. Digging also confirmed that springs lie underneath. Presently little water comes from the sides of the swamp. Decades back Pt. Balbadar Bujoo was a tehsildar here. His wife had gone to fetch some water. Her arm got stuck up in the mud.
The other spring in Chandigam is Kumarji’s Nag. It lies in Gujar basti, the people who originally hail from Abottabad. The spring is situated on an elevated area near Dak bungalow. This is under the control of PHE department. It is 7ft x7ft in dimensions. The water is clean and cold and five feet deep. Water remains full throughout the year. The stones forming the upper masonary are intact. The boundaries of the spring are fenced. Ladies are not allowed to visit the spring. A big stone lining the spring cracked soon after the visit of a lady. And the water rushed out. The old stones (sam) lining the spring are 2½ ft long and well-polished. There is no fish in the spring. Viceroy of India visited this spring when Pt. Bujoo was tehsildar. Swami Lalji, a famous sadhu from outside often visited this spring to conduct puja. His disciples included Pt. Arzan boya, Swami NandlalJi, Pt. Shivjee Bagati and Pt. Ramchand ‘Goban’. Pandits of Lolab visited this historic spring on Amavasiya and Puranmashi days.
There are two more springs in Chandigam. One is called Pir Nag spring of Chandibaba. The spring derives its name from the locality of Pirs. Otherwise it is known as Niranjan Akhara. The spring is lined by big old stones (sam), four in number. Throughout the year, the spring remains full of water, which is crystal-clear. The spring is shaped like a Pranali. Chandi Baba came here in 1956 and changed its shape. The other spring is Nahgee, adjacent to Mirsar. It is a small spring. Before exodus Pandits used to offer Kheer here.
Half a km. to the east of Nahgee spring is Bren Sahr. There is a bren (alm) tree and little water near it. As per local belief, the place is full of snakes. Children would not play here, nor the villagers would venutre out late at night. Evil sprits would haunt a person, who would commit desecration.
Nilakanth Spring is 15ftx15ft. Old stones line its walls. Water is crystal clear and spring is 4½ feet deep. There are no fish in the spring. It is known as Nagbal. As per local belief Lord Shiva used to sit here. The spring is guarded by a hooded snake, yellow in colour. Elderly villagers of Sogam claim to have seen the snake. If the snake is not disturbed, it does not cause any harm. Pandits of Sogam used to take yellow rice, Tahar or Satyideev on every Purnmashi day. In case there were no rains, Pandits and Muslims of the village would offer niyaz together.
There are also a number of kunds named after Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. Ram and Sita Kunds are linked together and the water collected serves as water supply to the village. A part of the area has been encroached upon.
Gangabug Spring is dedicated to goddess Ganga. In shape the spring resembles Omkar. The spring is believed to be the abode of mother Ganges. It is 5½ ft deep. Special occasion for Puja is Gangashtmi or Sardashtmi day. On this day Pandit Arzan Bayu would clean the spring. The cleaning process, as per convention, was to be carried out only by Pandits. After the spring was cleaned, Pandits of Sogam would bring Kheer and Satyideev and conduct puja, Prehpiyun. Gangabug spring is located in Peer mohalla.
Dardnag (Durganag) spring is 8ftx10ft and three feet deep. It has clear water. Pandits would take Kheer here on Durgashtmi and Jyethashtmi day.
Ganesh Nag springs are two in number. One of these is 10ftx10 ft and 4½ ft deep. The other one is 14ftx10ft and 5ft deep. Both the springs are lined by polished old stones. The branch of a big bren (alm) tree, hangs down to cover the spring like the trunk of an elephant. (hsihkara). The branch is 10-15 ft long and has a Ganesh idol in it. There is another spring outside, the water of which is used for washing purposes. Around the spring is a Ganesh temple, the roof of which was damaged in 1947. Pandits used to perform havan on Ganachodah day and offer ‘Bread’ (Choht). It has been reported that of late during the evenings a lamp, chong is seen burning here.
In Sogam there is a place called Sardikul. Here in the hollow of a walnut tree there is a very old idol of goddess Sarda. Its dimensions are 2ftx1½ft with height 1½ft. There is an old stone here, which carries the imprint of goddess Sarda. It is believed that the goddess halted here during her journey to Sardi, the place where massive temple stands today. Around the walnut tree stands erected a temple.
The Ishtadevi of Ramchand Goban’s family was originally ‘Zala goddess. One day Ram Chand’s mother, then a girl of fourteen years, happened to pass by. She saw goddess Sarda sitting in the hollow of a walnut tree. She bowed before the goddess. The latter asked her what she wished. Ramchand’s mother said she desired a child. The goddess told her in that case the child should worship Sarda as Ishtadevi. After nine months Ramchand was born. All other uncles of Ramchand have Zala as Ishtadevi, while Sarda is Ishtadevi of Ramchand’s family.
Mata Hari asthapan is located in a forest in Sewer village. A small rivulet which emanates from the forest forms a spring, 8ftx8ft. The spring is square in shape with a very old Shivling and few idols in it. Pandits of Sewer used to go every morning, have bath and would then apply tilak of white clay found there. At eastern end of Sewer village on a Karewa is a place called Haran, derived from Hari. There is no habitation there. After the harvest, Pandits would prepare yellow rice from new paddy and take it to Hari Ashthapan.
Naranag, in Sewer, has three kunds with idols in these. Water comes from under the idols. The idols were broken during the turbulence of 1947. Naranag is situated one km away from Sewer on way to Vernav in Chak village, in Tantrey mohalla. It is believed any desecration invites trouble. A person had slaughtered a cock. He turned blind and was afflicted with leprosy. None from his family survived. The deserted house of this family is a perpetual remainder of the strong Vaishnav character of this spring. Pandits would visit this spring on ashtmi and purnima days.
Amarnath cave, called by locals as Ambriyun is located on a hill, towards Vernav, two kms from Sewer. The cave is 15 ft. down and requires the use of a special staircase, or Kengur. One has to find way through stone debris. Because of debris, the other end cannot be reached. As per local tradition, this cave is older than Amarnath, located in Pahalgam Himalayas.
‘Raaz Kath’ Tradition:
There are a number of asthapans near Dardnag nullah adjacent to Saridkul. ‘Raazkath’ ritual is also performed here. ‘Raaz Sahib’ or Nandkeshwar of Sogam has come to Sogam with Bal Sogami, the ancestor of late Lakshman and Kailash Reshi. This family was appointed custodians of Ganesh nag by Maharaja Pratap Singh with Rs three as pay per month. They also looked after Puja here.
As per legend, Bal Sogami belonged to Sogam and was a patwari by profession. He had to visit the headquarters at Srinagar of and on. Patwaris of Kamraz would go together to Srinagar by boat from Sopore. Once Sogami missed the boat when he reached late in the evening. He proceeded on foot. It was dark when he reached Noorbag. He saw a fire lit there and sat down to warm himself up. There was also a sadhu, who was roasting meat and eating it. He also offered a piece to Sogami. The latter would take it but would not eat. He kept it in his pheran pocket. The sadhu asked him if he had taken the meat. Sogami said in affirmative. The sadhu asked him to give that back. He obeyed. Astonished, the sadhu asked him, ‘you have remained hungry’. He added, “I will sleep now. Put this white sheet (Kapar Chadar) over me.”.
Bal Sogami put the sheet over sadhu. The sheet failed to cover his whole body. Sometimes his legs would lengthen and at other times his head. Sogami then decided to cut the portion of the body not covered by sheet, with knife he was carrying with him. Sadhu asked, “what the hell you are doing”. Sogami replied, “sometimes you are elongating your head and sometimes your legs. I will cut the portion not covered by the sheet”.
This impressed the sadhu that Sogami was a strong-willed person and spiritually elevated too. He entered into discussions with Sogami. He handed Sogami a twig of a mulberry tree, Tulmoor. Sadhu further instructed him, “when you reach home, next morning at sunrise a crow on the branch of a tree will crow. At that, you plant the ‘Tulmoor’ from the opposite (tihri) side. I will come there”.
Next morning, when Sogami was preparing to leave for Sopore, Sadhu (Raaz Sahib) asked him to close his eyes and stand on his wooden sandal, khrav. Sadhu instructed him to open his eyes only when he ordered. After fifteen minutes the wooden sandal had disappeared and Sogami was standing at the Reshipeer temple ghat, Yarbal, Sopore. There is a nine-feet Shivling here in the temple. The other patwaris who went by boat reached only by noon.
Sogami planted the Tulmoor as instructed by sadhu at Nandkeshwar. Today this Tulmoor has grown into a big tree with branches on all sides. There are throny bushes, Zand all around. Sogami clan had to sacrifice one sheep every year in the month of Poh. The day chosen is Tuesday or Saturday. The skin of the sheep is hung on the mulberry tree. Feet (patchi) and head (Kalheer) are also mixed because it is Bhairav Buzan. No turmeric or masala is added. The meat is prepared at home in the afternoon and later brought to place, where Tulmoor was planted. Puja is done. As per tradition meat prepared is to be taken in clay plates, Takus. In Sogam even for one-day old children Bhog is kept. Only earthern utensils are used for cooking. It is cooked in wok, leij. In Sogam people are allowed to take home the prasad, navid. Ladies are not allowed to go to Nand Keshwar. Only unmarried girls below ten years of age can visit Raaz Sahib.
It is said Raaz Saab was so kind to Sogami’s family that they did not have to purchase rations for twelve years. Every morning the lady of the house would take out from earthern drum, mati the rations to be cooked for the day. One day the secret was divulged by the daughter-in-law of the family. The divine kindness evaporated. As per Sogam Pandits, the similar benevolence had been bestowed by Sardamata on Ram Chand ‘Gobans’ family. His mother used to take out rations from the store, Kuchi everymorning for ten long years. The rations never finished.
Recently, an armyman during patrolling might have committed some descration near Raaz Saab’. He turned mad. Ganai, an old wise man of the village suggested to the army that they should offer a sheep to ‘Raaz Saab’. The armyman was cured. It has been reported that few Muslim families have also offered sheep to Raaz Sahib during these turbulent days.