Jia Pota: 200 years of its glorious journey

Col J P Singh, Th. K P Singh

‘Jia Pota, colloquially a river bathing point on the Western Bank of River Chenab lies in Akhnoor sub-division of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State. It got its name from the ‘Jia-Pota Tree’ under which a grand Coronation Ceremony of Raja Gulab Singh was performed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the emperor of Punjab, 200 hundred years ago on 17 June 1822. This historic event two centuries back would always remain etched in the collective psyche of the people of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and most importantly the Dogras for whom it was a first concrete step towards the formation of geographically the largest princely state of India. Ironically Jeo Pota didn’t get its due in any text of history. Coincidentally 17 June 2022 marks 200 years of public commemoration of the this historic event at Jia Pota, after which, the public will vouch for, that revival of history of J&K got currency and led to the development of Jia-Pota as a heritage tourist centre.
Coronation site of Maharaja Gulab Singh.
Mughal Emperor Jhangir called Akhnoor ‘Aankhon-ka-Noor’ after his sore eyes were cured with the cold water therapy of Chenab at Jia Pota. The mythical ‘Virat Nagri of Mahabharat era’ is none else but Akhnoor. Today it is one of the most significant place for its political, historical, spiritual, religious and archaeological sites in entire North India. It is here where Pandvas spent their Aghyatvas on the river bank. Pandav Gufa adjacent to Jia Pota with inscriptions stands its testimony. As inscribed in the Gufa signboard, they served as servants of Virat Raj. Lord Krishna visited them in this Cave where they planned their war strategy and the future course of action, the consequences of which i.e their victory in Mahabharata is well known.
Punjab Emperor’s inspiration to select Jia Pota to lay the foundation of Dogra Empire seems to have that divine connect. Hence Jia Pota’s mythological connect with Mahabharata and establishment of new Dogra nation state can’t be overlooked. But why Jia Pota was chosen for this solemn ceremony hasn’t been found specifically mentioned in any text. Effort is made to highlight this confluence of history and geography.
Year 2022 is ‘bicentenary year’ of foundation of erstwhile ‘Jammu-Kashmir-Ladakh-wa-Tibet-ha’, the vast empire which spanned over 84,743 sq miles. Unfortunately after staying ramrod for over 100 years, it started diminishing with the dawn of independence. Before it was to fade away from public memory, a ‘Raj Tilak Celebration Committee’ was formed in 2002. Since then a befitting public function is held at Jia Pota each year which is also patronized by Maharaja Gulab Singh Memorial Trust and Dogra Sadar Sabha.
Akhnoor Fort
Magnificent and formidable Fort overlooked Jia Pota representing the power of the state, which was to have bearing on the power of the new kingdom and political transformation in Jammu region. Excavations around the fort by the ASI found relics of the 5,000-year-old Harappan and pre-Harappan civilisations. This two-storey Fort and Palace is under the ASI’s jurisdiction since 1982 as a protected national monument. Although renovation of the historic Fort is said to be going on but nothing much is seen having changed except on river side face of the Fort-wall. Meager grant of funds is said to be reason for the neglect of such towering heritage.
Akhnoor Fort (in Ruins)
Ancient Harappan sites and Buddhist monasteries from where spiritualism, wisdom and political power flowed in all directions is closer to Jia Pota. That gave the event its vision, vastness, purity and prominence.
Buddhist Site
A small-scale excavation by ASI, at the River bank at Ambaran, near Jia Pota in 2009-2010 exposed Spoked Stupa (Dharmchakra) and bases of other Stupas and walls of a monastery and important antiquities including large number of decorative Terracotta figures including heads, moulds of leaves and ornaments. The excavation revealed another significant finding that the foundation of eight Spoke Stupa which gave a further proof of a Kushana period construction, the likes of which have been found at Buddhist archaeological sites like Sanghol in Punjab and Nagarjunakonda in Andhra. This monastic complex not only served as important transit camp for the monks who were constant companions of traders’ caravans ferrying goods from the Indian mainland to Kashmir and further to the Central Asia, but also as center for propagation of Buddhism amongst the local hill communities.
One of the Buddhist Sites near Jeo Pota
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet visited Buddhist monastic complex Ambaran in 2011. His majesty’s visit, gives a strong physical proof of a vibrant and distinguished culture of Akhnoor. His Holiness visited Akhnoor on 9 November 2011. He was very happy to see the ancient site of his own religion in J&K. He confirmed the excavations as one of the monasteries of Kushan period. Thereafter Ambaran shot into limelight, especially in Buddhist countries. Tibetan political head and spiritual leaders visit established that Akhnoor is a place of entry of Buddhism in Northern India. Its wholehearted adoption by the hill and highland people during early years of Buddhism is also verified by this excavation. From Jammu region it was carried to Kashmir Valley by Majhantika during the reign of ‘Ashoka-the-Great’.
Serenity of the River
The serenity of Chenab at Jia Pota for about a mile from Yuvraj Karan Singh Bridge to Gurgi Takki, otherwise turbulent and noisy up & down streams, is also connected to Mahabharata though less known in public. It is said that when Virat Nagri warriors returned after the end of Mahabharata, they lay for rest at Jia Pota. But the river noise disturbed their rest. In anger they thrashed the river water with lathis and fiercely calmed it down at this site enabling them rest undisturbed. Hence its serenity at Jia Pota was an ideal place in the summer months to perform the rituals of Coronation. Since this place was visited by Lord Krishna and divinely blessed site; hence may have stood out for Coronation.
Bicentenary Celebration
Maharaja Gulab Singh Memorial Trust under the Trusteeship of Dr. Karan Singh has decided to celebrate bicentenary of the historic event over three days period by various befitting functions culminating at Jeo Pota as public function on 17 June.
(i) Directorate of Tourism and ‘Amar Mahal Museum and Library’ should bring out a ‘Coffee Table Book’ with focus on Jia Pota signifying 200 years of historic event for tourism promotion.
(ii) Postal Department should release a Bicentenary Postal Stamp.
(iii) Akhnoor; from Virat Nagri to a renowned educational, spiritual, religious & historical centre to ‘Aankhon ka Noor’ to the confluence of geography & history and now a popular heritage tourism centre deserves a District Status. It has 3 Sub-divisions, 7 Tehsils, 8 BDO Blocks and 89 Panchayats. It deserves to be a District. A memorandum to make it District was presented by a deputation to former Lt. Governor GC Murmu on 18 January 2020 and another to Lt Governor Manoj Sinha on 14 July 2021 during his Akhnoor visit for the inauguration of ‘Horticulture Hub Daskal Mandi’. This administrative reform, if declared on 17 June 2022, will be a befitting tribute to the legendary founder of J&K. It needs civil society’s support at all levels of hierarchy.
Coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh at Jia Pota has divine sanctity. Exceptionally religious, spiritual and historical places in closer vicinity were the witness to the transformation of historicity of the sub-continent. This fact should be an overarching factor in UT’s current political discourse in apparent complex contradictions.
(The authors are founder members of Raj Tilak Celebration Committee).