The Forgotten Tirtha of Gangodbheda

Where Saraswati appeared as Rajhansi

By M.M. Munshi

According to Kalhana in the three worlds the jewel producing earth is so extolled in the region of Kubera where the Kasyapa’s land (Kasmira) is enclosed by the father of Gauri – the Himal parbat. Where out of respect for Kasyapa the sun does not burn fiercely during the summer as if the dwellers of the latter’s land ought not to be tormented. To protect the Nagas who are afraid of Garuda to seek shelter from the latter, janurdana stretched his arms high enough in the guise of mountain walls.

Its rivers are free from aquatic monsters and furnished with comfortable embankments for descending into water, provided with warm bath houses for winter. The Country abounds with lofty houses, saffron fields, crystal clear icy water, grapes and things which even in Heaven are difficult to find. Filled with rows of rice fields fully thriving and endowed with good fruits, inhabited by people who perform Yagnas and are engaged in self study and contemplation. Virtuous sages well versed in Vedas. It is bedecked with temples of Gods and all the holy places which exist on earth are here. Country where Kesva (Vishnu and Isana (Shiva) adorn as Chakrabrat and Vijaysea as well as in other forms. There is not a space larger than a grain of sesame without a tirthas.                                                     

Here the Goddess Saraswati is seen in the form of a Swan in a lake situated on summit of Bhedagiri which is sanctioned as the source of Ganga.

According to Niimat Purana by bathing in Gangodbheda (Bhedagiri) a man obtains merit of bathing in Ganga and is honoured in heaven.

Gangodbheda Mahatmaya States that Rishi Pulasthya while performing a long penance in the land of Sati made Ganga gush forth from Himavat for his worship. When the Rishi Pulasthya wanted to discharge the Ganga water after completing his worship, he was stopped by the divine voice of Saraswati from the sky that Ganga had issued from a mountain in Bheda forest and there wiii rise the holy Tirtha of Gangodbheda. On top of the hill where level ground extends for only ten Dhanus a great pond will be formed without a settu (dam) removed from the water of Torments. At its eastern foot a stream called Abhaya (Purifier from all sins) will issue and will maintain a uniform flow. Sarasvati’s voice further informed the sage that holy Ganga will manifest herself in this place for one third of every month and rest two thirds in heaven and hell. Sage Pulasthya prayed that the Ganga may rest for eons in Bheda. His wish was granted and Tirtha of GangodBheda came into being in order to obtain a glimpse of Goddess Saraswati the sage under took another hard and long penance and Saraswati appeared before him in the form of a Rajhansij (Swan).

The sage of Pulasthya worshipped the Saraswati on ashtami and naumi of Shakul Pakash/Chaitra, as Bheda (Yada Sadbehobhinnasi tada Bhedasi Bhamini) and again worshipped her as Hamsavagisvani -Bheda on the Chaudshi and Poornima of the same Paksh. Ever since the Goddess has received worship on these four days till it faded from memory of the devout by the end of the nineteenth Century.

A number of Smaller tirthas intended to be visited with Gangodbheda pilgrimage include Ramusha, Ashvama, Vaitrani etc. Gangodbheda Mahatmaya also mentions that no snow ever falls over it for a distance of about 125 hastas. Neither the Nilmat Purana, nor Gangodbheda Mahatamya or Rajtarangini give any indication about the location of the Tirtha. Abu-UI-Fazal in the Mirabillia of Kashmir in Ain-I-Akbari states that near Sukhroh is a low hill, on the summit of which is a fountain, which flows throughout the year and is a pilgrimage for the devout. Snow does not fall on this Spur.”

Closeness of the Tirtha with Ramusha, modern Ramuh (Kakpura Kol), identical observations of the Gangodbheda Mahatmaya and Abu-ul-Fazal’s account about snow not falling on the spur together with Shrivara’s account of the defeat of Masud Khan of Rajouri at the hands of Mohamed Shah, a descendant of   Zain-ul-abdin in 1484-86 near Drabhagrama present Dranghom and Mahsud’s retreat to Rajouri via Bhedavanapat (Forests of Bheda) enabled M.A. Stein, historian, geographer and archaeologist and translator of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini to locate the Tirtha of Gangodbheda with pin point accuracy at Budbrar.

The Tirtha of Gangodbheda also known as Bhedadevi and Bhedagiri comprising a stone lined tank with stone steps for getting into water and remains of the surrounding wall, is situated on a flattened portion of a North – Easterly radiating spur of Pir Panjal Range about 60 feet above the bed of Birnai Streams a tributary of Romchu or Kakpura kol, flowing in a north easterly direction at present called Budbrar by Kashmiris and Bijabrari by Gujjars. It is about 20 kms south-west of the hamlet of Drabgom and one kilometre north of Pudan hill 9387 feet in Sukru Area of Kashmir. The Shrine is approachable from Drabgom via hill villages of Mospur and Kilar.

The tank is about 7 sq. meters in area with its four corners corresponding to the cardinal points with a bubbling spring in its northern corner. According to Stein” there is an opening on the north­eastern side marked by two carved stone pillars. Originally marking the door step and still showing the holes for the pivots on the slopes of the hillock just below the door, and at a point corresponding to the level of water in the tank is a spring which evidently is a natural outflow of the tank and serves to drain its surplus water. Stein further adds that near the ruined doorway on a huge boulder two lingas of about 20cms in height, and 30cms high figure of an undraped lady carrying water pitchers have been carved in relief. A figure of a male also carved in relief on detached boulder was seen by him.

On the south-east side of the tank about 30 metres above the tank in the middle of widely separated summer huts of Gujjars heaps of bricks and rough stones from a linear mound which also according to Stein may have been the living quarters for purohitas attending the Shrine or a dharamsala for pilgrims.

That the pilgrimage to Behdadevi must have been in vogue during the sixteenth and seventeenth century is evident from the observations of Abu-UI-Fazal. Pilgrimage to the Shrine seems to have declined during eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Tirtha was forgotten even by the devout, by the end of nineteenth century, is evident from the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits of nearby villages of Zainapura, Shupian, Drabgram, Ramuh, and Hal-Moghulpura by 1895 were completely unaware of the Tirtha of Gangodbheda.

An aged Gujjar camping at Budbrar for summer grazing of his buffaloes had told Stein in 1895 that he had seen Kashmiri Pandits visiting the Shrine during 1850’s – 60’s for worship and Shrada but later such visits had become very rare and since 1890-91 none had visited the Shrine.

It is very difficult to imagine as to how a Tirtha so popular and frequently visited by pilgrims was abandoned and ultimately faded from memory by the end of the 19th Century. Possibly persecution of Hindus and destruction of their places of worship during the Afghan rule 1753-1819 and hardships of the journey to an altitude of about 8500 feet in early Spring i,e Chaitra Shakul. Pakash must have resulted in decline of pilgrimage to the ancient shrine at Budbrar in favour of an easily accessible makeshift place of worship at Hal-Moghulpur.

Even after the rediscovery of the ancient Shrine at Budbrar in 1895 by Stein no effort seems to have been made by the then Dogra rulers of Kashmir, Dharmarth Trust or the Kashmiri Pandits of the nearby villages to revive the pilgrimage.

I had an opportunity to see the site of this ancient Tirtha in 1970 while trekking along Rajouri- Drabgram route via Dobjan. I found that nothing much had changed since rediscovery of the shrine by Stein in 1895 except that (1) considerable number of bricks seemed to have been used by Gujjars in constructing their summer huts and (2) carving of the male figure in relief on the detached boulder was not to be found. Gujjars were still there but none of them had seen pilgrims visiting the shrine.

The identical observation recorded in Gangodbheda Mahatmaya and Ain-I-Akbari by Abu-Ul-Fazal (1) no snow falls on the hill and nor (2) the popular Kashmiri belief that spring water is warm during winter and cold in summer is scientifically feasible. The tragedy of science has been that beautiful hypothesis have been replaced by ugly facts. In this case the fact is that water of deep seated springs like that of Gangodbheda maintain a constant temperature throughout the year which is higher in summer and lower in winter than the atmospheric temperatures. During the winter, the relative warmer temperature of the water of the Gangodbheda spring does not allow the snow falling on the surface of the water and its immediate vicinity to accumulate.

Nothing is known to me about the present status of the shrine as I did not get another chance to visit the site after 1970 nor have I had the opportunity to meet any person who had visited the place after 1970.