The Forgotten Tirtha of Bheda Devi
by Arjan Dev Majboor
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
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
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
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
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.]