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Vitasta

By  M.M. Munshi

According to Nilmata Purana it was Sati, daughter of Himalparvata consort of Shiva who was called uma in Vaisvara Anatra is the same goddess as Vitasta and the same is Kasmira. The Goddess Vitasta is verily the holy river, remover of all sins. People who offer their bodies to, or die with its water in their bellies reach heaven without any hindrance. Those persons who take bath in Vitasta do not see even in dreams tortures of hell. Vitasta gives protection with her hands to the evil doing sinners falling into the Hell. Fire of the hell for the sinners is pacified with the cool outpourings of water drops sent from the waves of Vitasta carried by the wind. A person by merely listening to the glory of Vitasta goes free from sins. The only thing that Ganga has more than that of Vitasta are the heaps of bones of human beings, all others things are equal.

The river draining the entire Kashmir Valley called by the Kashmiri as “Vyath” is the direct derivative of the original Sanskrit name Vitasta. The Intermediary Prakrit form Vidasta was altered by Greeks to Hydaspes. Vitasta is also mentioned in the river names of Rigveda. In Vayupurana Vitasta has been referred as Biloda and the Wular lake as Bilodia situated south of Dharma Lohita (Nanga Parbat) - the King of mountains. The modern name of the river Jhelum has been adopted from the city of Jhelum besides which it flows in Pakistan. The name was brought to Kashmir by European travelers and found its way into official usage, otherwise the river is still known to the natives as Vyath.

The River Vitasta can be considered to have formed at the confluence of (i) Harsptha (Arapat) from the north east, (ii) Bringha (Bring) and (iii) Sandran [older name not known] from the south east meet each other near Anantnag. But the old holy scriptures have traced the origin of Vitasta to a more specific source. As already stated in Nilmatapurana, Harcar-itacintamani and subsequently quoted in historical books Vitasta is a manifestation of Goddess Parvati.

After Satisar [Parvati’s lake] Kasmira was drained of its waters and demon Jalodbhava destroyed by Vishnu, Brahma and Mahesvara. At the request of Sage Kasyapa (Kashap Rishi), Mahesvara persuaded Parvati to show herself in Kasmira in the form of river to purify the humans from the unholy contact of Pisachas. The Goddess assumed the form of an underground river and asked Shiva to make an opening by which it could come to the surface. This was done by Shiva by striking the ground with his Trisul on 13th of Bhadra Shakula Paksha from which the river gushed forth receiving the name Vitasta after the measure of the ditch of one Vitastati. Since then the birthday of Vitasta is celebrated on 13th of Bhadra Shukla Pakash every year. The spring from the where the goddess flowed in river form became known by several names Nilanaga [abode of Nila], Nilakunda, Sulaghata (Trishul Thrust) or simply Vitasta. The name of Var or Verinag seems to have been adapted- at a later date probably after the administrative unit of Var Pargana.

It is said that Vitasta disappeared from fear of defilement from the contact of sinful-men but reappeared second time by the prayer of Kasyapa at Panchasta (Panzath) in Devsar. Vitasta disappeared again and reappeared at Narasima. The Goddess was finally induced to stay permanently when Kasyapa had secured her the company of Lakshmi in the form of Visoka (Vesheu) and Ganga in the form of Sindu (Sind river) {not to be confused with Indus}. Sachi consort of Indra as Haraspatha (Arpath), Aditi the mother of Gods as Trikothi, (Probably Sandran?) and Ditti mother of Daityas as Chandravati (Probably Bring?) According to another legend Vitasta made her second appearance at Vitastatra (Vethvutur) close to Verinag. Clear mention of Nilanaga as the birthplace of Vitasta by Kalhana about its source leaves no doubt about the tradition prevailing in his time. The Bringa (Bring) rivulet is fed by springs of Trisandya, Ardanarisvsra, Kaptesvara (Kother). Akasvala (Achibal) feed the Harspatha (Arapath) rivulet. Lidari (Lidar) which derives its waters from the glaciers of Koenjnar and Gashbrar (Kolahi), lakes of Shushramnaga (Sheshnag), and Tarsar, springs of Nil ganga, Mamleshwar, Machbawan (Matan) and other streams joins the Vitasta a few kilometers downstream of Anantnag.

Vitasta becomes navigable at Anantnag and flows in a single channel except in the city of Srinagar. In its north-westerly course between Anantnag and Baramulla a direct distance of about 90 Kms the river bed falls slightly less than 75 meters in elevation. Islands if any are sandy and temporary except the one at the present Vitastasindhusamgama near Shadipur which has been artificially built. The most conspicuous meander of the river is located immediately south of Gopadri (Shankracharya hill) round the flood prone locality of Shivpura.

The course of Vitasta during the historic times has not changed except at the Vitastasindusamgama where it was altered by Suyya, able engineer of King Avantivarman, between Mahapadamsaras (Wular Lake) and Huskapara (Uskar) Vitasta flows in a south westerly direction and beyond Uskar in a generally westerly direction upto Muzafrabad Kohala area. At Wular and Muzafrabad Vitasta abruptly makes southerly bends due to the syntaxial bend of the western Himalayas in common with other rivers of the region.

Downstream of Anantnag on the banks of Vitasta is located Vijayaksetra (modern Vijbror) one of the holiest sites where temples of Shiva Vajesvara, Vishnuchakradara, Ashoksvara and numerous viharas and agarharas and a university of learning, [where students - scholars from countries beyond Kasmira used to come for the study of Shastras, astronomy, astrology and other subjects] once flourished.

United waters of Visoka (Vesheu) issuing from Kramasaras (Konsar Nag) also known as  Vishnupad near the tirtha of Naubandana where Vishnu, Brahma and Mahesevera took positions to destroy the demon Jalodbava and (ii) Ramantavi (Rembyar) originating from Bagh and Nandan Sars join the Vitasta along the left bank as Gambhira (deep) (Sardari Nala) at Gambirasamgama (sangam) below Vijbror, where King Chandrapida built a Vishnu temple of Gamirasvamin of which no trace is left at present. About few kilometers downstream of Gambirasamgama King Avantivarman founded his capital on the right bank of Vitasta at Avantipura during the 9th century and built two temples, Avantisvamin and Avantisvara dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva respectively. Both of these like other temples in the Valley were vandalized by Sikandar Buthshikan in the 14th century, the ruins even at present are testimony to their former glory. Carved stones from these temples have been used in the foundations of nearby muslim ziarats. Further downstream Vitasta is joined along the left , bank by Ramshu (Ramu or Kakpor Kol) [rising in the Pantsal mountains by the side of the forgotten Tritha of Gangodbheda or Bhedagari (Badbrar) one of the few Sarasvati’s temples of Kashmir] near the present village of Kakpor with ruins of old Hindu temples. The ruins are believed by some authorities of the time of King Khagendra the founder of Khagendrapura (Kakpor) by others as remains of utplasvamin a Vishnu Temple built by Utpla an uncle of King Cippatajayapida. In case the former identification is correct remains can be one of the oldest in Kashmir, if the latter is correct these can be of 9th century AD. Just opposite of Kakpor on the right bank of Vitasta stands the Saffron Karewah and town of Lalitpur (Letpur) is said to have been founded by the architect of Laltaditya. The Vishnu temple of Pandanasvamin was built by Padma another uncle of King Cippatajayapida at Padmapura (Pampore) is now in ruins. Another temple on the left bank of Vitasta opposite Panduchak a temple of Samaravasmin was built by Samara a minister of King Avantivarman of which no trace is seen now. Close to Panduchak is the Tritha of Tsakanga near Jeyyavana (Zewan) which is visited by devotees even today.

Further downstream at Pandrethan along the right ban of Vitasta aa temple of Merudasvamin built by Merudana a minister of King Partha. It is believed that Srinagari capital of Kasmira was founded by Ashoka at Pandrethan and present cantonment of Badamibagh. When Pravarasena II shifted the capital to Pravapura [the high ground between Harparvata (Hariprabat) and Kusurikabla the old capital near Pandrethan was subsequently called Purandisthana. The ruins of other hindu temples around Pandrethan were seen till the beginning of the 20th Century.

About two kilometers north of Puranadisthana, is the hill of Gopadri also known as Jyestherudrakhyaparvata (Shankracharya Hill) on which standas the temple of Jeyastherudra (Shankracharya Temple) believed to have been originally built by Jaluka of which now the only outer plinth remains. King Gopaditya rebuilt the temple at a latter date and viharas at Guphara (Gupkar). The temple was repaired again during the region of Zainulabdin the pious muslim king of Kashmir in 15th century and also by the Dogra rulers during early 20th century. It is believed that the said temple was connected by stone steps with Shurayar. The stone steps were removed and built into Pathar masjid near Mujahid Manzil on the left bank of Vitasta by Noor Jehan. River Vitasta is joined along its right bank by Mart or Mahasirat (Tsuntkol) [Issuing from the Jeyarudrasaras (Dal Lake)] at Marisamgama which was considered a holy Tirtha in ancient limes. The Island formed between Vitasta, Tsuntkol and by latter’s southerly flowing branch was known by the name of Maksiavamin and had a Vishnu Temple of the same name of which no trace is left today.

Opposite the Marisamgama Kippitiska or Kutkulia (Kutkol) leaves the Vitasta and after flowing in a northwesterly direction bifurcates into two, the easterly branch falls back into Vitasta above Safakadal and the westerly branch joins Duddhaganga (Dudganga or Chats Kol) which also falls into Vitasta near Chatabal. It is not clear if Katkulia is a natural channel or a manmade one.

Below Marisamgama the present Malyar ghat stood the temple of Vardamanesa of which nothing is left today, a linga serving as a lamp post in a nearby mosque believed to be from the original Vardmanesa temple was removed and installed in the present Malyar temple in 1888.

Immediately below the Habakadal on the right bank of Vitasta is the Somyar temple, site of the ancient Somatirtha. Similarly situated on the left bank of the river is Purushyar the site of ancient temple of Sadashiva. Between Haba and Fateh kadals at the locality of Narparistan near Malikangan stood the temple of Narisheri which was converted into a ziarat during the muslim rule. Further downstream between Fatehkadal and Ziankadal the temple of Kalishiri which was destroyed by Sikandar Buthushikan and rebuilt into a  Ziarat  between Zaina and Ali Kadals is the tomb of Queen of Sikandar Buthshikan and burial place of other muslim rulers of Kashmir known as Mazar’ salatin which due to its foundations from riverside and the use of carved stones in the surrounding wall betrays it to be the site of an ancient Hindu Temple. Again on the right bank almost touching the Alikadal bridge is that ziarat of Wyusi Sahaib which also due to its foundations embankments on the riverside and entrance appears to be site of an ancient temple. Nothing is known at present about the antiquity of these two temple / shrine sites.

Near Chatabal locality confluence of Dudhaganga (Dudgangaor Chatkol) [issuing from Pantsal mountains) with Vitasta was the site of tirtha known as Dudhagangasangma is now completely forgotten. The other shrines/ temples along the banks of Vitasta within the city of Srinagar city like Hanumanmandir, Gadadhar, Kharyar, Malyar, Raghunath Temple, Batyar etc., are of recent construction during the Sikh and Dogra Rule. However it is possible that some of these temples like Ganpatyar were rebuilt at ancient temple sites. Between Srinagar  and Shadipur the Vitasta is not joined by any major tributary except the Sukhnag along the left bank. The Sindhu (Sind River) [rising from the Great Himalaya Range south east of Amreshvara (Amarnathji Cave) joined by glacier fed streams of Panjtarangini (Panjtarni) Amurveth (Amravat) Nehnar etc., Outflows of the lakes of Utrasaras or Utraganga (Gangabal) Koladuka (Nandkul), springs of Sodara (Narannag) uniting into Kanakavahini (Krenknadi) stream flowing in Nandeksetra by the sides of Holy Harmukata (Haramukh) Butheshvara, Jyethrudra, Ciramokana , at Kankanpura (Kangan) used to meet Vitasta at Vitastasindhusagama till the 9th century immediately west of the gap of BadrikhEL Nala between the Vudars (Karewas) of Parihaspura (Paraspur) and Trigami (Trigom) close to former temples of Viushnusvamin and Vinayaswamin about 5 kms southwesT of the present confluence at Sundribhavana (Naranbagh) near Shadipur.

Parihaspura (paraspur) was founded by Laltaditya Mukhpida as his capital which according to Kalhana exelled the heaven. Laltaditya whom Kalhana has called “Indra of the earth built numerous other temples Parihaskesva with the image of Vishnu in silver and pearls, Mukhtakesva with golden image of Vishnu, Mahavara with Vishnus image in golden armour and silver image of Goverdandhara, Brhadbuddha numereous Viharas and Agarharas and palaces.Even hisqueen Kamalavati built Kamalahatta with silver image of Kamalakesva. One of Laltaditya’s ministers Mitrasarman an installed the Shivlinga of Mitresvara. Needless to say that the site of the capital Parihaspura and numerous temples was apparently chosen for its proximity to Vitasta-Sindu-Samgama the former being regarded as manifestation of Jamuna and latter that of Ganga.

Suyya the able engineer of King Avantivarman by his skill shifted the position of Vitastasindisamama from Parihaspura to its present location in the vicinity of Sundribhavana by forcing the course of Vitasta north eastwards by construction of embankments to reclaim cultivable land from flood prone areas and nambals (marshes). A Vishnu Temple by the name of Yogavasmin was also built by Suyya at Sundribhavana at the instance of King Avantivarman. The ruins of the said temple seemed to have been used to built the solid masonary island [referred as Prayaga in the Vitasta mahatmaya] at the present Vitastasindusamgama at a later date. Beyond the samgama, Vitasta continues to flow northwestwards by the side of Vaskur village (Rupbhwani’s shrine}, receives the outflow of Manasaras(Manasbal) at Sumbal and after passing Jayapura (Indrkot) enters the Mahapadamsaras (Wular Lake). The ruins of ancient temples and buildings town of Jayapura founded by King Jayapida on an island like raised ground among the Nambals (marshes) north of Sumbal were seen upto middle of 20th century. King Jayapida also built the castle of Bayakota on the peninsula like ridge Davarvati with three images of Buddha, a vihara and shrine of Jayadevi, According to Kalhana the castle of inner town excelled heaven in beauty. Vitasta after entering the Maha Padamsaras from the east leaves it from its southwestern corner near Suyyapura    (Sopore).    The    site    of Mahapadamsaras was originally occupied by a wicked naga Sadangula who was exiled by the naga king Nila to Darvisara. The site left dry   was   occupied   by   a   city   called Chandrapura ruled by king Visvagavas, Mahapadmanaga is disguise of a Brahman approached Visvagavas to reside in the city with his family. After securing permission he showed himself in his true form with the result king and his subjects had to migrate westwards to the new town of Visvagasvapurata. A glance from high mound will show that a peninsula like ridge projects into Mahapadma lake due to continuous disposition of silt of Vitasta, in the long run well result in shallowing and shrinkage of the area of lake. Similar silting though on a relatively small scale is going on the north side of the lake due to Madumati stream (Bandipur nala). It can also be surmised from the facts that the waters of Vitasta are muddy at its enterance into the lake and clear at its outflow from the lake. It is also corroborated from the evidence available from historical sources that man made island of Jainalanka (Zainnlank) which according to Jonaraja was surrounded by waters and at present is surrounded by marshes and land, the silting in Wular is not checked the great and biggest lake in Kashmir will be reduced to a marsh [similar to like those of Anchar, Hokarsar or Pambsar] with Vitasta slowly meandering through it. In case the Wular has to be preserved for future generations an alternative channel for Vitasta by passing the lake say between Sumbal and Baramulla through which the waters, of Vitasta will have to be regulated by a barrage/vier during floods, heavy rains or whenever the waters of Vitasta turn muddy. The site from Madhumati (Bandipurnala) can be checked from entering Wular Lake by a cofferdam and silts from which can be removed from time to time for building purposes. Downstream of Suyyapura (Sopore) Vitasta receives in Kashmir its last tributary of considerable size the Prahaa (Pohru) draining the north western corner of the valley being of steeper gradient and faster current deposits silts in the Vitastabed resulting in rise of the level of the Wular Lake. However from time to time the silt at the confluence of Vitasta with Phara has been removed by dredging. Vitasta after passing the last major town of the valley Baramula enters its. mountainous course near Huskapura (Uskur) beyond which it is unsuitable for navigation. The name Varahramula (Varmul or Baramula) has been derived from the ancient Tirtha of Vishnu-Adi-Varaha where Vishnu was worshipped since time immemorial as a medival boar. On the western extremity of the town near Kothitirtha till very recently a number of ruins were seen but not much is known about their antiquity.

Between Uskur and Uri Vitasta flows in a south westerly direction and beyond in a somewhat in north westerly direction upto Muzafrabad-Kohala [where it is joined by Mahasindu or Krasna (Kishenganga) and Kunar or Kahgan rivers follows a southerly course upto Mangla near Jhelum forming the boundary between State of Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab Province of Pakistan. From Mangla onwards it flows in a south westerly trend before joining Chandrabhaga (Chenab) near Jhang-Sadar in Pakistan.  

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

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