by Arjan Dev Majboor
Kashmir has been a place of attraction from centuries. Dr. Raghu Nath Singh who translated Jonaraja’s Rajtarangini into Hindi says that there were three hundred famous Tirthas in Kashmir, visited by the locals and pilgrims from India and other Foreign lands.
Kalhana, the famous historian, mentions eight very important Tirthas while starting his world famous Treatise. These are `Papsudan‘ in which Shiva is seen in disguise. This Tirtha is called Kapteshvara (Saloka 32). The other Tirthas are : Sandheya known as Trisandheya. It was visited by the King Jahangir and Famous French traveller – Bernier in 1665. This tirtha is situated a few kilometres from Kukarnag. The third one is Svambhoo (Saloka 34), situated south west of village Nichome, in Machipur Pargana. It was visited by Stein in 1892. It is mentioned in Aini-Akbari and “The Valley of Kashmir” by Lawrence.
The fourth one is of the Goddess of Learning Saraswati at Gangodbedha in Pulwama district. The fifth is `Nandi Khetra‘ (permanent abode of Shiva (Saloka 36) of Raj Tarangini by Kalhana). It has also been mentioned in Nilmata – `High Alpine Valley at the foot of the east Glaciers of the Harmukat Peaks, which contain the sacred Kalodaka Lake, popularly known as Mundkol.
The sixth Tirtha of world fame is Sharada (Saloka 37), now in occupied Pakistan. When visiting this Shrine one reaches the rivers named Madhumati and Saraswati.
Seventh and eighth are of Kesava and Siva at `Chakdar’ and Vijeshar (Present Bijbehara) (Saloka 38).
In this article, I am going to deal with two of the above mentioned Tirthas and Narastan or Narayanastan in Holda (Present Tral Area). Kalhana mentions this Tirtha in the second volume of his history at page 461. What tempted me to see Kapteshvara, Gangodbheda and Narastan is the Nilmata which says :
“O protector of the man all the sacred places which are on the earth are there, thronged with the hermitages of the sages, (it is) pleasant in heat and cold and is auspicious.”
While eleven years away in exile from my home land, I have not forgotten these and all other places of historic and cultural importance. Going down my memory lane to a vivid picture of the above mentioned three places, I shall give refrences also from the books mentioned above.
This very beautiful spring (now in shambles) is situated in Tehsil Anantnag. It is about three kilometres from the famous village, Nowgam (Shangas). I have visited this place in 1955. Nilmata in saloka 1171-73 says :
Brahadasva (replied) “O! King on the sacred bank of Drasdavati in Kurekhetra, there stood in great penance, crores of sages to have a sight of Rudra – the lord of the Gods. Due to this devotion the venerable highest lord told them in dream O! quick going ones, go soon to Kashmir, where there is a spacious and immaculate abode of the Naga. There I shall be visible in disguise.”
There is a story about “Gowrparashar Rishi” in Nilmata, who remained on fast for Sankara, who gave him darshana in the form of a log.
The Kapteshvara is `Kothar’ in Kashmir now. It was one of the parganas of Kashmir in Mugal period. Pargana is division of area. Rajtarangini lists forty two parganas of Kashmir in volume two. Out of these forty two parganas; 24 are in Maraz i.e. southern part of Kashmir and eighteen are in Kamraz i.e. Northern division of Kashmir.
In 1955, when I saw Kapteshvara, now called Koother, it was a village and while entering the village one could see a clean brook coming out of a spring, which was half dry.
About the place Nilmata says :
Thus he advises the Sages to go soon to Kashmir.
There is a detailed description given by Stein in his English Translation of Kalhana’s Rajtarangini when he visited this Tirtha. In 1891 he saw this sacred Papsudana spring at Kutheer. According to his article in Vienna Oriental Journal p. 347, Bhoja had constructed some enclosures around this spring. He further says that – “The lather now rises in a circular tank of at least sixty yards in diameter which is enclosed by a solid stone wall and by steps leading down to the water. The depth of the spring seemed considerable.”
“The local tradition of the Purohits of the Tirtha as communicated to me by an old Sadhu (Mahadev Koul) residing at the spring maintains that the tank and its stone enclosure were constructed by the Raja from the Dekkan called Muchkunda”.
The King had grown horns and wanted to cure them. He saw a dog whose leg was bleeding, crossing the stream arising out of the spring. The dog was cured. The King followed his example and was cured of the trouble. There-upon he constructed the tank. To same king is ascribed to have constructed the temple, situated to the east of the tank and of several still smaller cells, the ruins of which are more or less well preserved, and found close by.
There is one Kashmiri proverb :
“Makan Razas Mashivi kan
Tim Kati balanas kutheer Von”
Translation : “The Makan Raja has the ears of a bufallo, where will these be cured? – At Kutheer forest”. This is how a language preserves the history.
At the time of my visit, the spring was half filled with mud and from the other half, the water was gushing out in a stream. The water was of blue colour and sweat to drink. There were some stone walls round the vegetable gardens of the people. No Kashmiri Pandit was living in the village at the time of my visit. I sat at the spring and saw a small plank on the water. There was no image on this plank. The area must have been very sacred and beautiful in the olden times, as there were fir and other trees, though reduced to small numbers when I visited the place. My imagination travelled to the centuries back, where I could see visions of a golden era – people coming from far off places to visit this Tirtha of great importance. I returned with a heavy heart. The Pandit organisations should take steps to preserve this Shrine of Shiva.
This ancient Teertha according to Stein was lost to Pandits, when he went to discover it in September, 1895. Stein first camped at varnag (Zainapora) while coming from Anantnag. From Zainapora he went to Chitragam, where a Brahmin Suraj Koul met him and told him that he could show him the tirtha he wanted to explore afresh. It must be taken into consideration that worship of particular deities has been shifted from its original site to more convenient locations in their neighbourhood. Suraj Koul showed Stein the temple of `Bedai-bal’ at Hal-Mogalpur. This was not really the actual site of the Tirtha. Later, one Khaira Gujar gave him the clue of the site. The seventy five year old Gujar had spent forty summers at the spot.
In Nilmata (S. 1359) the mention of this tirtha is given as below :
“By taking bath in Gangodbheda near Bheda Devi, a man obtains the merit of bathing in the Ganga and is honoured in Heaven”.
It was in 1987 that I after collecting written material about this place decided to visit the place situated in a forest. I with my friends, Shri M. L. Goja artist and Shri P. N. Bhat a writer, started from Shopian. We reached Pulwama at 1 P.M. and then borded a bus leading to Kellar. We reached here at 2.30 P.M. We tried for horses but could not. Later a driver friend of Mr. Goja took us in a truck to the place. We were passing through Shakroo Pargana. The Birni stream, as people call it, came in the way. This is the corrupted name of “Vaitarini Nadi”. A small stream with clean water. Purohits of Kashmir used to charge a fee of a cow for carrying the dead across the stream Vaitarini, to the other world. As soon as the forest started, it began to rain and the truck slipped off and on till we reached the Bheda Devi, now called as Buj-Brore by the locals. Brore is the corrupted form of Bhatarika, meaning a devi.
There is a plain land with heights. The big timber trees are seen on the hill-tops. We first saw the spring. A tank is attached to it. A Murti was in the tank having its back side out of water. So we could not guess the sculpture.
In his visit, Stein had not been able to find any sign of Saraswati here as mentioned in Nilmata. I searched here and there and saw a big stone in the vicinity. It was broken into two. I washed the whole stone with water and grass and lo! it appeared as the Saraswati riding on hansa. I was glad to discover the carving. Shri Goja made a painting of the carving, which he later could not get along with him at the time of exodus.
There were brick plinths around, which showed that there was a big hermitage or Gurukula to teach the students or saints who lived in these structures.
The spring has some underground warm water which does not allow the snow to remain on the sides and is melted at once.
Some Gujars from Tangmarg had come to bathe in the water which comes out at some distance from the tank. They said that the water cures troubles of joints etc.
I asked one local Gujar the reason of the broken stone. He said that it was due to some thunderbolt. He also said that some locals had once polluted the place. He found his bull dead when he entered the cowshed. From that day people fear the place and they place occasionally yellow rice (Tehar) at the bank of the tank reverently. It was getting late, but the place was so charming that we remained here upto 6 P.M. As there was no Rest House to stay, a Gujar invited us to stay with him. We thanked him and decided to return.
According to Gangodbheda Mahatmya, mentioned in RajTarangini Volume II by Stein Page 273, Rishi Pulusteya, when performing long penance in the `Land of Sati’ and had made the divine Ganga gush forth near him from mount Himavat for the purpose of his sacrifice. When the sage wished to discharge the river after completing his worship, he was stopped by a divine voice from the sky, that of Saraswati. It proclaimed to him that where the stream had issued from the mountain in the forest called bheda, there would arise the holy Tirtha of Gangodbeda.
After indicating the great spiritual benefits to be reaped from the pilgrimage to this sacred spot, Mahatmaya abruptly turns to mention about the following neighbouring Shrines or images.
(i) Goverdhandhara Vishnu (at a distance of 125 hastas)
(ii) A miraculous image of Yema, called Aujasa.
The Mahatmaya closes with more or less fragmentary references to Tirthas at Ramasrama (112) Ramsu (113) and the hermitage of the Seven Rishis (114) and Vaitarini River (118) These Tirthas are evidently intended to be visited in conjunction with the Gangodbheda Pilgrimage.
Khaira Gujar told Stein that he had seen Pandits coming to Bujbrore (bheda devi) in Chaitra, but perhaps due to heavy snow in Chaitra they discontinued this pilgrimage and by and by it was forgotten. I came to know that some Hindu youth of Shopian had started to come to this place in Chaitra as the snow-falls were very less. The path leads from here to Pirpanchal and Rajouri.
The place is cool and one forgets all worries and peace comes to greet from all sides.
The mention of this place has first been made in Neelmat Purana :
“A man surely obtains the world of Vishnu by bathing in the water of the Vitasta at Narastana”.
Stein in his translation of Raj Tarangini says in Vol. II page 461:
“Of old remains in Vular lake, the interesting temple of Narastan at the Northern extremity of the district Holda (340 3′ Lat, 750-10′ longitude) deserves notice. Unfortunately I am unable to find any clue to its name or history. Excavations made by me at the site in 1891 brought to light interesting sculptures, but no evidence as to its name.” The large village of Sotur to the south-west of Narastan may possibly account for the entry-Satrava’ in the Lokprakasas list of Parganas.
I personally went to see this shrine, with the help of my close relatives, Mr. B. N. Pandita and Mrs. Phoola Koul, probably in 1985. We reached Satur from Tral. From here we had to go on foot as the bridges on the track had broken down. After about 4 kilometres walk we reached the place on the river under the feet of a Hill named Brari-Bal (Bhatarika Hill or the Hill of Godess). The temple at Narastan though in shaby condition was looking grace-fully to the skies. The architecture of this temple is quite different from that of all the temples of the Valley. The outer wall is about seventy feet long. The image of Narayana was not there in the temple. Who knows what had happened to it. The temple is in a circular style and is completely made of stone. The style is Gandhra plus Indian. The age of this temple is said to be about fourteen hundred years.
Mr. R. C. Kak has given a photograph of this temple in his book titled “Monuments of Kashmir”.
A stream of water gushes down near the front of the temple. The Chowkidar appointed by the Government was not present. The front portion of the stone-wall was broken. I think this temple being far away has not come under slaught.
The importance of Narastan is due to the sculpture art of the Hindu period. It is said that images of various deities were supplied from here to the whole of Northern India. One can find coloured stones in the stream flowing near by. The stones are hard and useful for making images.
A potter’s wife living near the temple was kind enough to give me a hand of Narayana (image) with a small dagger. This had been broken away from the image. The nails of the small hand were very hard and the whole piece was artistically very beautiful. The colour of the stone was maroon. The potter-lady related me a story about her own daughter, who after her marriage had no issue. Both mother and daughter took a Trami (Thali) of `Tahar’ to the temple and requested the deity for a son for the daughter. The daughter, next year gave birth to a son and she flourished with wealth. When six male children were born to the daughter of the potter, she came to her mother and said that now she wanted no more children. Both went to Narastan and begged the deity to give riddance from further deliveries of the daughter. It was granted to them in a dream.
The potter-lady had promised me to give more pieces of images, which she would gather from the bed of the stream. But due to changed circumstances in Kashmir, I couldn’t visit the places again.
The artistic hand-piece was also left in my Almirah, when I left my library and all belongings of my home, which was later burnt down to ashes by the terrorists I can’t say what the present position at Narastan is. But it has been a place of pilgrimage in the past, there is no doubt about it. One old man told me that there was some thing which would shine from evening till morning but it was taken by some visitors who camped here some time back for few days. I can’t say whether the legend is true or not.
The architecture, the sight, the natural bounty of the area, the hill and the stream with colourful stones charms the onlookers and the visitors. Very few people used to go to this place when I visited the site.
This temple needs protection by the Government as well as the Pandits living in Kashmir or in exile. As for as this monument is concerned, it sings the glory of Kashmir in temple art. It shows that the taste of the builders of temples and Shrines in Kashmir was very high. The stone available was very hard and this is why that temple like Narastan was not in a very dilapidated condition. We should be proud of such places. I am reminded of the remarks of a German tourist, who met me at Gomteshvara (Karnataka) and told me that – “We have no such stone art which is very interesting and charming”. Let me stop here and let the time come soon when we shall visit these places of utmost charm once again.