Devika,a small holy rivulet flowing through Udhampur, has got such a religious and cultural importance for the people of Udhampur that the land of Udhampur is known as Devaknagri.This sacred river has its origin at near Sudhmahadev and at Venisung it merges with Suryaputri Tawi and this confluence is a place of pilgrimage,where a fair is organised on the eve of Baisakhi every year. It again appears near Gangera in Udhampur,whose ancient name is believed to be Gauraan. Devika manifests itself in the form of small rivulet at Sudhmahadev, Udhampur,Jindrah, Purmandal and Uttarvehni after which it merges with Basantar.As it appears and disappears at many places, Devika is also known as Gupt Ganga.Devika is reverred as the elder sister of holy Ganga.According to Neelmat Puran,the people of Madardesh (Duggar)had lost their track and taken to evil ways.They had forgotten their religious and other duties and adopted sinful ways in their day to day life.Those who followed the religious ways were in deep thought as to how to pull them out of the morass.Seeing their plight, Kashyap Rishi, who is believed to have created Kashmir, was in deep thought as to what to do.So he worshipped Lord Shiva for a long period of time and performed deep and severe meditation for years together at Sudhmahadev,as a result of which Lord Shiva was pleased with him.Lord Shiva appeared before him and asked him to narrate the purpose of his meditation and what he wished for.Kashyap Rishi narrated the condition of the inhabitants of Madardesh and prayed Lord Shiva to rid the people of Madardesh (old name for the land of Dogras) of their ills so that they don’t have to go to Hell.So Lord Shiva asked His consort,Goddess Parvati to go to the earth and flow as river Devika to rid the people of their ills and guide them to a righteous path.This was how Devika is believed to have come into existence on the earth and came to be reverred as the elder sister of Maa Ganga.But Maa Parvati told Lord Shiva that She would miss Him all the time on the earth.Upon this, Lord Shiva promised that He would always be by the side of His Consort, Uma.Then Lord Shiva manifested Him in the form of holy Lingams on the bank of Devika.That is why there are a number of temples of Lord Shiva all along the course of holy Devika.It is a place of pilgrimage considered equal in importance to Haridwar and Kashi and a bath in this holy rivulet is thought to please Goddess Parvati so much that it rids a person of all his/her sins.This holy river also finds mention in Padma Puran and other scriptures.
According to Pandit Sudesh Shastri, the legend goes that there was a demon on the bank of this river. He used to devour and eat animals and humans whichever came his way.There was a spring on the bank of the river and the demon would come there to drink water and quench his thirst after eating the flesh of animals and human beings.One day as he came there as usual, he found Baba Pani Nath doing meditation on the place where there used to be the Bowli.Baba asked the demon to bring wooden sticks to stoke the fire.The demon brought bones of dead animals and human beings and presented them to Baba.Baba at once sprinkled some water on the bones and converted them into wooden sticks.The demon was surprised and asked the Baba how the Bowli had mysteriously disappeared and how he had converted the bones into wooden sticks.Baba asked him to sit down and told him not to kill human beings.He told the demon that he would always get one dead body to eat every day.So he should desist from killing animals and human beings.In due course of time, the Baba fixed the demon with his powers to a spot but not before the demon had made the Baba give him the promise that the Baba too would stay there.So Baba Pani Nath took a smadhi near the spot where he had fixed the Demon.
Devika has got a great religious importance, too.Besides cremating the dead, the Hindus from Udhampur and neighbouring villages,immerse the ashes of the dead in the holy water of this river and there is no trace of bones or other parts of the body left in its holy water.Besides performing the last rites of the deceased, many people perform rites related to the 10th Day, Kriya, Half yearly and yearly anniversaries of their relatives who left for heaven,on its banks.Not only this, people consider it auspicious to take a bath in Devika and pay obeisance to the Deities on eve of Navratras, Bash dua, solar/lunar eclipses, Amavasya, Puranmashi and other such occasions.People also immerse ‘Saakh’in its holy water after the culmination of Navratras.On its bank, there is an ancient temple called Mahakaleshwar Mandir which has a rare idol of Lord Shiva having three faces.A marble slab on the temples shows that the outer part of this temple was plastered way back in 2000 Vikrami about 74 years ago by a ‘Shanker Sevak’named Faquir Singh.There is also a Shiv-Parvati temple built in 1962 and a grand statue of Nandigan installed on April 13, 1962 on eve of Baisakhi.There is also an ancient temple of Narsinghji Maharaj on the other side of the river.The other temples dedicated to Lord Satya Narayan , Lord Rama, Shiv Parvati,Hanuman,Radha Krishan etc. were added later on.There is also a historic temple called Raghunath Mandir at some distance from the other complex of temples.An idol/statue of Lord Shiva, perhaps highest in the northern India has also been installed on the other side of these temples. There is a bowli called Rani ki bowli, where Queens from the royal palace(now a part of Govt HSS(B) Udhampur) would come to take bath in the days gone by.The ruins of the bowli and the pillars of those times of the boundary wall of western side are still standing as remnants of the historic structure.The structure of Rani’s bowli is still intact.There are a number of bowlis on the bank of Devika, the water of which is used for bathing and drinking.
A historic Annual 3–day Baisakhi Mela is held on the bank of Devika on the eve of Baisakh every year.This mela is believed to be held every year for about two hundred years.The Mela attracts people and traders from far and wide from within and outside the state.There used to be a time when in the abscence of means of conveyance,people would travel miles together in groups singing folksongs, playing melodious tunes on their flutes and carrying khamires(cakes prepared from fermented flour) and cooked potato and savour these dishes with their relatives, especially the married daughters in the fair.They would also enjoy malai barf on banyan leaves, golgappe, jalebi, keurs etc.in the fair.It was a feast to the eyes to watch groups of colourfully dressed people holding their children by their fingers walking to the mela site.This was an occasion of reunion of various relatives and was eagerly awaited.Despite fast modern life life, new sources of entertainment such as mobile phones, TVs, LEDs etc,a large no.of people still participate in the Mela and there is great hustle and bustle on the days of fair.
Devika has, thus become synonymous with the religious rituals and traditions since times immemorial and people throng its banks on the eve of religious festivals and other ocassions.But, this sacred river is being polluted at an alarming rate.The garbage and sewage of the adjoning areas directly or indirectly finds its way into this river making its water unfit for bathing. Therefore, efforts must be made to keep it pure and clean. Provision/upgradation of toilet facilities and bathing ghats at different places such as Venisang, Udhampur, Purmandal, Uttarvehni etc. to enable the devotees to have a hassle free bath and darshans of the Deities. Keeping in view the religious imporoance of Devika,efforts have been made in the past to clean Devika but the desired results could not be achieved. According to Pt. Sudesh Shastri,deep drains were dug up to drain the sewage of Udhampur town as a result of which the water level in the natural bowlis on the bank of holy Devika has gone low.Now the Govt of India has sanctioned Rs170.54 crores under Nationall River Conservation Plan(NRCP)to conserve this holy river and it is expected that the work for cleaning and purification of this river of faith and its tributary, Doodh Ganga will be alloted to the company/organisation which has requisite experience in cleanliness and purification of rivers such as Ganga as religious sentiments of millions of people are attached with this sacred river.Though the local administration organises ‘cleanliness drives’ to clean Devika on eve of religious and social occasions, people too ought to come forward and play their role in keeping the river clean.They must avoid throwing garbage, plastic, other pollutants into this river so that this holy river is counted among the cleanest and purest rivers in India.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English in Govt.HSS (B) Udhampur).