Arjan Dev Majboor

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The Forgotten Tirtha of Bheda Devi

by Arjan Dev Majboor

As Dr. Raghu Nath Singh of Benaras, who has translated Jonraja's RajTarangini into English, maintains, there were originally about three hundred Hindu tirthas in Kashmir, which were considered important and had each a special significance of its own for the devotees. Kalhana makes a specific mention of tirthas like Kapteshwara, Jwala Mukhi, Chakreshwara, Martanda, Sarda and some others. M. Arel Stein, who visited the religious shrines mentioned in Kalhana's Raj Tarangini, says that the tirtha of 'Gangod Bheda' was not visited by the Brahamanas of the valley of Kashmir because by that time it had gone into oblivion, having fallen into a state of neglect over a period of time. He observes:

High up in the valley of the Birnai Stream which debounches at Darbagam from the south west, is the site of an ancient tirtha, which though not completely forgotten, must have ranked once among the most popular in Kashmir. In Kalhana's introduction there is named along with 'Trisandheya' Suyambhoo. Sarda and other famous sites, the Hill of Bheda (Bheda Giti) sanctified by the 'Gangod-bheda' spring. There the Goddess Saraswati was believed to have shown herself as a swan in a lake situated on the summit of the hill. (See Rajtarangini by Kalhana, p. 472)

In November 1890, M. A. Stein came to Zaillapura from Anantnag, whence he moved (along with his camp) to Chitragam. A Brahmin of Hawal, Pulwama, met Stein enroute. The latter asked him if he knew anything about the tirtha of Bheda Devi. The Brahmin showed his willingness to guide Stein and his party to the spot. As they reached Hawal, Stein set up his camp there and was then led by the Brahmin to the nearby small temple called Beeda-bal. He consulted his maps and also studied carefully the statement of Kalhana about the forgotten tirtha; he was not satisfied that he had got to the exact place he was in search of. However, he paid some money to the Brahmin and rested for the night at the camp in Hawal. On the following day, a gujjar named Khaira, who visited the camp, informed Stein (on being questioned by him) that the place he wanted to explore was about twenty kilometers away from Hawal, within a forest. Led by Khaira, Stein reached the spot, which the gujjars called Bujbrore. He was fully satisfied, in fact convinced that the site he had been guided to was the abode of Saraswati (though now in a disguised form).

As I read about the tirtha in Kalhana's Rajtarangini my curiosity was aroused and I made up my mind to visit the place myself. It was about three years before the outbreak of insurgency in the valley that accompanied by two friends, Shri M. L. Goja (an artiste of repute) and Shri P.N. Bhat (a lecturer/writer) I undertook a yatra to the tirtha.

We started from Shopian (district Pulwama), reached Pulwama and then boarded a bus that took us to the famous village of Kelara, a big village surrounded by lofty hills and forests. From this place we had to trek through the forest along a road that was very rough. We could not hire horses as they were reported to be grazing in the fields nearby. Luckily we got into a truck proceeding to Bujbrore, where the site of Bheda Devi tirtha was to be discovered by us.

The driver was very friendly (luckily known to Shri Goja) and so we were offered comfortable seats. After the truck had gone a few kilometers, it started raining heavily with the result that the wheels of the vehicle we sat in were driven with difficulty rattling through the mud. However, it stopped raining and soon it was sunny. That facilitated our journey to the tirtha.

It is worth mentioning here that the road to Bheda Devi runs through the Pargana (Administrative Division) named Shakoora in the old records. The stream called Vaitarini-nad (now called Birnai) flows through Shakoora. According to our Sastras Vaitarni is the stream that the pitras (souls of the dead) have to cross as a hurdle before they can move any further in the world unseen. It is relevant to point out here that many names given by our ancestors to the tirthas in Kashmir are identical with those of the corresponding tirthas in the rest of the country. Why this is so is to be attributed to the isolated character of the valley of Kashmir: because of geographical barriers it would remain cut off from the plains in the past, especially during winter when the mountains remain snow-capped. The present means of transport were not available to the Kashmiris then. The Kashmiri Hindus showed imaginative resourcefulness and practical wisdom in founding and naming their own tirthas, which they visited conveniently ; this gave them the same satisfaction that they would have got by undertaking long journeys to the tirthas with identical names that exist in the rest of the country : like Pushkar, the Ganges etc. It is said that there were dharamsalas on the banks of the Vitasta (Jhelum) right from Sangam to Vijeshwara (the present Bijbehara). These dharamsalas were used by the pilgrims who came on foot to the Martand Khetra. Their journey began actually from Sangama - which is the confluence of the Vitasta and the beautiful river called Ranbiara.

The Bheda Devi tirtha is situated in an open vale surrounded by large mountains having devdar and fur trees on their tops, From a place nearby the road leads to Rajouri and Poonch. We found a tank-like spring in the middle of the vale. The snow around this spring melts very soon as Kalhana has rightly mentioned. We found the spring lined with chiselled stones and noticed an image at the centre. We also found some plinths, made of stone or brick, in the vicinity. It was obvious to us that in the past some buildings must have been there with these plinths as their supporting base ; these structures must have collapsed and gradually disappeared, leaving behind the evidence of their previous existence in the shape of the plinths. We could infer that the buildings must have been used to host the pilgrims; also some of them must have been used for conducting classes of the students who came to receive education, here in the remote past.

The place is picturesque and as such worth seeing. It is a cool and calm piece of land : an ideal place for reading and writing, and for practising meditation. It is also mentioned in Nilmat Purana. Sloka No. 1359 of the Purana is reproduced below (followed by its English translation)

<verses>

The man who takes a bath at a place close to Bheda Devi (where Ganga is in disguise) attains the 'phala' (virtue) of bathing in the Ganges and goes to Swarga Loka.

I went round and searched particularly for what I expected to be a statue, or an image carved in a stone, of the Goddess Saraswati. Just away from the spring I found a big stone. Since it was covered with mud, we washed off the mud and were delighted to see a beautiful image of Saraswati, riding a swan, carved in it. We also noticed a carving of Shiva Lingam above that of Saraswati. My friend, the artist, sat down and drew a pen-sketch of the whole carving. On close examination, the stone was seen to consist of two pieces. I gathered from a local gujjar that the pieces were originally a single piece; it had probably been struck by lightning that had broken it into two. From him I learnt further that the local gujjars held the shrine in great esteem. He also revealed that once someone pissed on the spot; during the ensuing night he lost his ox, that was stoutly built. Thereafter the locals showed greater reverence to the place whenever they passed by driving their cattle to the fields nearby. One of the gujjars offered us hospitality, desiring us to stop there for the night. We thanked him for the invitation and declined it politely.

Stein states in his account of the Tirtha (in a note in the Raja-Tarangini, that having once fallen into oblivion its significance was lost to the Kashmiri Pandits. He adds:

Fortunately the old 'Mahatmeya' of the sacred lake has survived in a single copy. With the help of some indications furnished by it and an opportune notice of Abulfazal, I was able to make a search for this Tirtha, which ultimately led to its discovery at the present Bud-bar in the valley. The 'Mahat Meya' describes the lake as sacred to Goddess Saraswati, as situated on the sumniit of a hill and Gangodbheda as a spring flowing from it.

As, far as the lake is concerned, we could not see it. May be it has disappeared or it might be far away from the spring in high mountains. Very little water actually flows down from the spring and it is used by patients to cure rheumatic diseases. When we visited the site, we came across a gujjar having come from Tangmarag area to use the water of this spring for bathing in order to be cured of chronic diseases.

The village Kelar, whence we took the road leading to Bheda Devi tirtha, is the Kalyanpura grama which was founded by Kalyani Devi, a queen of Tayapeeda. Drabhagom is mentioned by the historian Sheevara as Drabhgrama. It is a big village that is still famous.

The Goddess Saraswati or Sarda Devi has been one of the chief divinities held in esteem and worshipped in Kashmir since the land was inhabited by learned scholars, who dedicated their lives to the creative arts and to spiritual pursuits. The tirthas associated with the Goddess Saraswati are generally found on foothills, often surrounded by delightful forests.

As a student of the history of Kashmir, I was fascinated by what I had read about the Tirtha and my visit to the actual site, and the scenic background, made me ponder over how this place of worship, learning and meditation must have looked during the good old days when it was frequented by pilgrims and scholars. After I pondered over and fantasized about the place for some valuable moments, I looked at the setting sun and noticed to my delight how its last rays lingered on the lush green Kale trees and the vale around. I was pleased to learn that a party of young men of Shopian had been visiting the Tirtha in the month of Chaitra for the past two years.

Refreshed by the visit, our curiosity having been amply rewarded by what we saw, we came back to Kelar on foot, avoiding to board the loaded truck that was otherwise available as a means of transport. Thence we went to Tengpura, a village near Pulwama, where we stayed in the house of Shri M. L. Bhat. As a student of Kashmir history, full of ideas about the tirtha we had visited, I thought of Plust Rishi, who is, believed to have founded Pulwama. I should also like to mention that in Tengpura there is a statue of the eight-armed goddess, Durga. It is carved out of black marble and is a fine piece of sculpture. It took me and my companions several hours to note the fine details and decorations of the image. It was actually found at Romooh in Pulwama Tehsil (mentioned as Romush in the Rajtarangini) and is installed on the bank of Romshi river.

[Shri Arjan Dev 'Majboor' is one of our leading poets in Kashmiri besides being an accomplished writer in Hindi. He stays at Udhampur.]

Source: Patrika

           

 

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