Sodaratiratha : Myth, Legend
By Dr. Ramesh Kumar
For Kashmiri Hindus all the images erected
by the sages and all the great lakes in Kashmir are holy. Regular pilgrimages
to these places have formed an integral part of their socio-religious history.
Naran Nag, located at the foot of steep
Butsher mountain leading to Gangabal pilgrimage, has from times immemorial
remained a site of pilgrimmage, enjoying a very high degree of popular esteem.
It is ten miles away from Kangan, the last major town on Srinagar-Sonamarg
highway. In ancient times, it was called Sodaratiratha.
The sanctity of Naran Nag is derived from
the existence of a large spring, Sodara Nag. Around it have been built two,
actually three groups of temples in east and west directions. In terms of
antiquity, these temples have been erected around the same time as Sankaracharya
temple and Bumuzuv temple, near Mattan on Pahalgam road. Only the temple remains
of Payech seem more ancient.
The importance of the pilgrimage to
Sadaratiratha continues to the present times, but more as an extension of
Gangabal pilgrimage. Pilgrims after consigning the ashes of their dead relatives
to the Gangabal (Uttaramanasa) lake, make it a point to offer worship here, by
staying overnight. The myth, legend and the history of Sodaratiratha indicates
that it had an importance of its own, rivalled by few pilgrimages.
The Sodaranag has been lost in the
tradition of Purohitas as well as in the religious lore of Kashmiri Pandits.
Pandit Sahibram, that careful scholar on Kashmir's socio-religious history, in
his monumental work Tirtha Samgraha, refers to the antiquity of Naran Nag. In
his notes on Harmuktaganga pilgrimage, he writes.
Tatah (the Harmuktganga Lake) Pratyavrtya
Vangatakhyapradese (Vangath) Prathamam Bhutesvara Pujam Vidhya Sodarnage Yastim
(viz. the long stick used on the mountain pilgrimage) Ksiptra Visrjya Pratyayat.
Nilmatpurana mentions Sodaranaga in
connection with the shrine of Bhutesvara (Buthsher) and Kankavahini river.
Ablutions in the Sodara spring are recommended to the pilgrim visiting the
tirathas of Bhutesvara, Jyesthesa and Nandin.
The particular region around the spring of
Sodaranag was also known as Bhuteshvara or Shiva Bhutesha-the lord of beings.
This entire area is clad by dense pine and fir forests. Roaring stream of
Kanakvahini (present Kanaknai/Kankinaz or Karanknadi of Harmuktganga Mahatmya),
flows to the south of Sodaratiratha. It is formed from the tributaries, which
flow out from the sacred Nundkol (Kalodoka) and Gangabal lakes. Temple ruins are
seen on the right bank of Kanak Vahini.
Wangat (Vangat), the nearest village with
human habitation is five kms. away and gives the name to the temple ruins as "Wangat
Temples". Wangat is ancient Vashisthasrama, named after sage Vashistha. He, as
per tradition, stayed here while consecrating Linga called Jyesthesa at Naran
Sodara Nag spring lies to the north of the
temple complex and is a oblong-rectangular structure. Its northern side is a
rocky area and the original spring has been camouflaged with a drain chamber.
The other three walls are built in dressed and polished masonry in a stepped
fashion. In the rocky surface a few lingas are also carved in the rock face. RC
Agarwal believes that these lingas date to fifth-sixth century AD. About the
spring, he remarks that in the early historical period it was properly
channelled and a tank was scooped out for storing the spring water. The tank is
lined with ancient slabs.
The sanctity of the tank-spring has also
aroused much interest among the archaeologists. RC Agarwal comments, "the
sanctity of the tank or Pushkarni was so overwhelming that in the later period
it was used for performing rituals and became a tirtha, which in subsequent
historical writing came to be known as Sodaratiratha." In the opinion of Pandit
RC Kak, the pioneer archeologist of Kashmir, "its cool, delicious water, perhaps
contributed to some extent to its sanctity".
The spiritual merits of taking bath in
Sodaranag have been enumerated at length in Nilmat, our principal source for
studying significance of Sodaranag. It says that one may obtain prominence among
the ganas by seeing Hara Bhutesvara, Jyesthesvara and Nandi after taking bath in
the holy Sodara. The merits of taking bath in the Sodaranag and Uttarmanasa (Gangbal)
lake are same i.e. one thousand cows. In fact, Uttaramanasa is believed to be
the abode of Sodaranaga and the linga Jyethesa at Naran Nag is washed with water
from Uttaramanasa lake. One can also attain the merit of performing Rajasuya and
Asvamedha by taking a dip in the Sodaranag.
Sodara (Kashmiri) is derived from Sanskrit
Samudra, meaning ocean. What expanse and depth of this spring impressed the
ancient Kashmiris so much that they mistook it for Samudra' Kashmir being far
away from the sea, the expanse and the depth of blue-coloured Gangabal lake
reminded Kashmiris of sea. And possibly for those who could not withstand the
hazardous mountain journey, mini-Gangabal was created as Sodaranag at Naran Nag.
Siva Bhutesha Worship:
Nandiksetra or Nandisaksetra refers to the
whole sacred territory from the lakes on the Harmukta down to Bhutesvara.
Sodaratiratha lies at the outermost limit of Nandiksetra. Nandisa is the
designation of the Shiva worshipped in the Nund-Kol lake (Kalodaka lake). The
inner portion of the lake showing blue colour is supposed to mark the residence
of Kala or Siva. The outer portion having light green colour is the place where
Nandin lives. There is a legendary description of how Siva came to take up his
residence in this area in the form of Bhutesa, in Nilmatpurana. The mountain
spur, which stretches south-east from Harmukh peaks marks the residence of
Bhutesa. It bears to the present day the name of Buthsher i.e. Bhutesvara.
Both Kalhana and Sir Aurel Stein have
commented eloquently about the religious significance of this region. Kalhana
says, "there even to this day drops of Sandal ointment offered by the gods are
to be seen at Nandiksetra, the permanent residence of Siva". Stein writes, "the
worship of Siva Bhutesa, 'the lord of the beings' localised near the sacred
sites of Mount Harmukh has played an important part in ancient religion of
Kashmir". In the Nilmat, Siva says to Nandi, "you shall live in my company in a
place at a distance of one Yojana from here towards the east. O best of the
ganas, I in the form of Hara Bhutesvara, shall dwell in your company. O Nandi,
the gifted sage Vasistha on the earth shall erect your image and also mine at
At Naran Nag, there are temples erected in
honour of Siva Bhutesa and Siva Ugresa. Bhairava together with a 'circle of
mothers' (Matrachakra) is worshipped close to Bhutesa temple. As Bhairva is
connected with bloody sacrifices, his shrines are kept some distance away from
those of other deities. Matrachakra refers to the Saivite goddesses, the Sapta
Matrka or seven mothers, representing Life and Death, radiant loveliness and
However, Sodaratiratha's fame rests on its
being the original sanctuary of Siva Jyesthesa or Jyestharudra. As per legend,
Siva liberated Parvati (Jyestha) from Daityas here and on marrying her took the
name of Jyethesa. In the Jyesthesa temple at Naran Nag, Siva is worshipped as
linga. Nilmat says that the consecration and first worship of the Jyestharudra
linga is distinctly attributed to Rishivasistha. When Bishop Cowie visited Naran
Nag in late nineteenth century, he found the base of a colossal linga at the
South-West corner of the enclosure of Jyestharudra temple complex. Stein
comments that this remnant of linga which Cowie found, "belonged perhaps to the
very emblem of Jyesthesa." Linga was worshipped here under the name Svayambhuh
i.e. natural stone and not sculptured symbol of god.
The similar lingas are worshipped at
Sarikaparvat and Suresvari. There are basically three sites in Kashmir, where
Siva Jyesthesa was worshipped under this name or its equivalents, Jyesthesvara
and Jyestharudra. These are Mt. Harmukta in the sacred territory of Nandiksetra;
near Tripuresvara (Modern Triphar) i.e. between Mahadev and Suresvar; and in the
close neighbourhood of Srinagar.
Shrines at Sodaranag have enjoyed liberal
patronage from successive Kashmirian Kings. For their abiding faith, they often
retired to this place for offering penance. Since royal citizenry frequently
visited this place, the locality has also been called 'Rajdainabal'. Families of
Asoka, and Kalhana had great reverence for the shrines of Nandiksetra. During
Asoka's time, Kashmir was overrun by Mlecchas (Greeks). He offered austerities
to Siva Bhutesa and obtained from him a son, later named as Jaluka, in order to
According to Rajatarangini, Jaluka (137
BC) erected a stone temple at Nandiksetra for Siva Bhutesa and offered to the
god a sacrifice of precious stones with other treasures. The offering of flowers
made of precious metals and stones is mentioned in various Saiva Paddhatis still
in use in Kashmir. This temple has been identified with Siva Bhutesa temple at
Jaluka vanquished the Mlecchas, by
defeating them at Ujjhatadimba. Having done this, the King through his queen
Isanadevi founded Matracakras all over the Valley, particularly in the frontier
region. He began regular worship at Sodara and other places as vying with
Nandisa. It is said Jaluka would attend every day to worship of tirathas so
distant from each other as Vijayesvara and Sodaratiratha. The journey from
Vijayesvara to Jyethesa in Nandiksetra is nearly 100 kms. To rationalise this,
Kalhana writes, "A Naga out of kindness would not allow him to ride in stages
(four marches) with horses kept ready from village to village, but carried him
Distance to Sodara made him uneasy. He
created a shrine in Srinagar near Dal Lake, which rivalled Sodaratiratha. The
shrine is located at Jyether village, adjoining the Sankaracharya hill.
Fragments of a massive linga as big as ten feet in diameter have been found
While engaged in erecting Jyestharudra
shrine at Jyether, Jaluka felt that without the Sodara spring, it could not
rival Nandisa. There is a legendary account mentioned by Kalhana regarding the
emergence and sanctity of Jyesthanaga (at Jyether), rivalling Sodaranag.
Once in his preoccupation with state
affairs, he felt dismayed at not being able to take his bath in the waters of
the far-off Sodara spring. He observed in a waterless spot water suddenly
welling up which in colour, taste and other respects was indistinguishable from
that of Sodara. After having a dip in this sacred bring, the King felt satisfied
in his desire to vie Nandirudra (Nandisa). To test the identity of the new
spring, he threw into the Sodara spring an empty golden cup, closed at its mouth
with a lid. His doubts were removed, when the cup appeared two and a half days
later in this new spring at Jyether. Kalhana magnifies importance of this
miracle by saying, "It seems that the King was Nandisa himself, who had
descended in an Avtara to enjoy the pleasures of the earth. Not otherwise could
such a miraculous event take place before men's very eyes."
Sodaratirtha's sanctity invited the
attention of Kings and nobility of Kashmir. They raised temples and gifted
wealth to the shrine. Temples were endowed with extensive estates and the
priests incharge seem to have been a particularly influential body. The earliest
evidence about the royal contribution to the shrine goes back to 253 BC, when
King Narendraditya I alias Khimkhila was ruling Kashmir. He consecrated shrines
of Siva Bhutesvara and founded a permanent endowment for feeding of Brahmans.
His guru Ugra constructed shrines of Siva Ugresa and a 'circle of mothers'.
In Jayendra's time (61 BC), the three most
famous shrines of Siva worship were Bhutesa, Vardhamanesa (Ganpatyar) and
Vijayeya (Bijbehara). King Sandhimati (24 BC) alias Aryaraja (Vikramaditya
dynasty) also used to worship at Sodaratirtha. About his devotion, Kalhana
writes, "when he went about to beg his food, he was welcomed with much respect
as a follower of the observances ordained by Siva. The wives of the ascetics
vied eagerly in every hermitage to give him alms. But as his alms-bowl was
filled with choice fruits and blossoms by the trees he, who deserved respect,
had not to suffer the humiliation of mendicancy even when he lived the life of
The King had stood infront of the shrine
of Siva Bhutesa at Sodaratirtha. In true fashion of ascetics he had covered
himself with white ash, with his neatly arranged hair tied in a knot. He carried
a rosary, marked with Rudraksa.
Lalitaditya (713-755) on return from his
victorious expeditions presented huge sums (' eleven crores) of his war booty as
an expiatory offering to the shrine. He erected a lofty stone temple of Siva
Jyestharudra in close proximity to the shrine and also made a grant of land and
Avantivarman (855-883), a man of wisdom
and culture, made a pedestal with silver conduit for bathing of sacred image (snanadroni).
He had similar conduits installed at Tripuresvara and Vijaysevara.
Jayasimha also consecrated a linga of Siva
called Bhutesvara here. His Prime Minister Srngara, son of Sajjaka would spend
great sums to make available at shrine ample provisions for celebration of full
moon day of Asadha. This festival (Devas Vapana), mentioned in Nilmat, would be
celebrated over ten days. Writing about Srngara's arrangements, Kalhana says,
"in recent times even Kings could not have imitated. He had been directed there
by Canpaka (Kalhana's Minister-father) and others. Thereby he obtained
subsequently prosperity for five-six years".
Sumanas, brother of Rilhana, another
minister of Jayasimha built a matha or congregation hall here. RC Kak says, "It
is possible that the pillared hall is the same matha. Further excavations may
throw light upon this question."
Nobility and Kings often desired to retire
to Sodara tiratha. Queen Ratnadevi, after erecting matha at Ratnapora, retired
to Nandiksetra. King Kalasa (1063-1089) is quoted by Kalhana as having said,
"After completing the foundation of my town, I shall throw upon you the burden
of the crown and go as an ascetic to Varnasi or Nandiksetra".
Kalhana's family was equally devoted to
Sodaratirtha shrine. His father Canpaka paid frequent visits to the shrines of
Nandiksetra i.e. Buthser and made rich endowments there. Every year he would
spend seven days at this tiratha and utilise his entire sayings. Ultimately he
retired to Nandiksetra. Kalhana's uncle Kanaka also used to frequent this
shrine. In fact, the nearest town of Kangan (old name Kankanpora) is named after
The lavish gifts and treasures bestowed
upon the shrine led to its plunder from time to time. A powerful Damara from
Lahara (modern Lar), Dhanova in the time of Avantivarman plundered the villages
attached to the shrine. Once Avantivarman had come to worship at Siva Bhutesvara.
After having presented on his own behalf sacrificial apparatus, which was in
keeping with his royal dignity, he noticed that the temple priests had placed on
the base of the god's image as an offering a wild growing vegetable with a
bitter estate, Utpalasaka (Wopal hakh). When King asked the priests the reason
for such an offering, they threw themselves on the ground, and spoke with hands
folded. The Purohitas of the shrine wanted to demonstrate to King the poverty to
which they were reduced by placing before the image, instead of proper
offerings, leaves of Utpalasaka i.e. a present of no value. The King left the
worship, feigning colic, making it appear as if he had not heard what he had
heard. His minister Sura understood and went to Bhairava temple near Bhutesa. He
tactfully ordered off the assembled crowd. Having done this, when only few
attendants remained, Sura asked Dhanova to present himself. He appeared after
repeated calls from Sura. Minister's armed men were ordered to decapitate
Dhanova near the image of Bhairava temple, located higher up to Sodaranag. The
body of the Dhanova was thrown into the basin of Naran Nag, the pond close by.
Kalhana writes, "the wise Sura, who had thus removed the King's displeasure,
went outside after having the body, from which the blood was pouring forth,
thrown into the tank close by".
Bhadreshvara, Minister of King Sangramraja
(1003-28) also committed a similar hateful deed in plundering the treasury of
The shrine was burnt during the reign of
Uccala (1101-11) by a sudden conflagration. The King rebuilt it a fresh, finer
than before. During the rebellions under Jayasimha (1128-55), the temples were
sacked by the marauding hillmen (Khasas) at the instigation of rebel baron Haya
Vadana. Shrine of Bhutesvara seems to have escaped the sacrilegious
confiscations of King Harsa. There are no records available which speak about
vandalism or consecration of new temples at Naran Nag during the Sultanate rule
or later Muslim period.
As pilgrims failed to reach distant
Sodaratirtha, they created its replicas close to their homes. Near Hazratbal on
the deep inlet of Dal (Sudrkhun) lies the village Sudrabal. Stein believes that
both Sudrkhun and Sudarabal are linked to Sodara spring. There are also two
pools fed by perennial springs near the lake shore and close to the mosque of
Sudarabal. There is a definite tradition which says that these springs were
visited by numerous pilgrims. Infact, a portion of Sudrabal village is called
Battapor. This points to a former settlement of Pandits.
In North Kashmir, there is a village,
Sudrkoth (Srivara mentions it as Samudrakota) near northeast shore of volur.
Sudr'mar is the quarter in which lies Somatirtha of Rajatarangini, built by
queen Samudra of King Ramadeva in 13th century. It was also called Samudramatha.