Many pilgrimages lose their importance over a period of time if not visited by the pilgrims due to one reason or the other. Such things have happened in Kashmir too. Presently pilgrimages to the holy cave of Amarnath, the shrines of Kheerbhawani and Martand have the greatest sanctity for Kashmiri Hindus. But visits to Harmukh Ganga, Kounsernag, Lukbhawan, Dumtabal, Trisandhya, and Kootihar Nag were highly reverred in ancient Kashmir. Located about 5kms away from Achhabal in District Anantnag, Kootihar is one of the prominent archeological sites of ancient Kashmir. The sacred spring of Kootihar is devoted to Kaptesvara, which is an apellation of Lord Shiva. According to a legend Lord Shiva has shown himself here under the disguise (Kapata) of pieces of wood floating on the water.
The sacred spring now rises in a circular tank, about sixty yards in diameter. It is enclosed by a massive stone wall. Due to the sanctity and popularity of Kootihar spring, the entire pargana is called as Kutehaar.
Legend of King Mutuskund
The construction of the Kapatesvara tank and its stone enclosure are credited to the legendary King Mutuskund. This king was cursed by nature with a pair of buffalo ears. Someone advised him to take a bath in the sacred waters of Kootihar spring in order to get rid of his disfigurement. When he reached near the Kapatesvara spring, he noticed that a wounded dog was healed by entering the water of the sacred spring. The King then had a bath in the spring with true devotion to Lord Shiva. There was a miracle. His buffalo ears turned into human ears after the bath. In support of this sacred incident, there is a popular Kashmiri adage,
“Mutsakund razas manshihind kann
Tim Kati tsalnas? Kootihar vann.”
King Mutsukund has buffalo’s ears;
where will they be removed ? In the forests of Kootihar.
In gratitude, King Mutsakund expended his treasures upon the upkeep of the spring. He also constructed some wooden temples at the site. Later in 8th century Samrat Lalitaditiya Muktapida, the great emperor of Kashmir region, rebuilt the temples and fortified the area with stone work.
Legend of King Bhoja
There is another legend associated with Kootihar Spring. King Anantadeva (Ananta) was the king of Kashmir from 1028 to 1063 A.D. During the same period King Bhoja of Dhara was ruling Malwa state in central India. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. After knowing about the sanctity of Kapatesvara spring, King Bhoja vowed to wash his face regularly with the sacred waters of Kootihar spring. He sent heaps of gold to King Ananta of Kashmir for construction of round tank (kund) at Kootihar spring. He deputed his man Padmaraja in Kashmir for dispatching the sacred waters in big glass jars from Kootihar to Malwa regularly. This continued till Raja Bhoj was alive. The stone basin built by King Bhoja is still existing partially with flights of steps leading down to the water level.
Legend of a Treasure
A local legend reports that a treasure lies buried somewhere in or near the spring, and that there was a stone slab embedded in the wall of the spring on which were inscribed directions for its discovery. This was meant as compensation for the person who would undertake the repairs and upkeep of the spring. Sir Aurel Stein confirms that the inscription in various characters had existed until Sikh times. It is said that this inscription was thrown into the tank by a local Jagirdar during the times of King Ranjit Singh.
During Dogra rule, archaeologists carried out excavation work in this area in 1932-33. It revealed a cellular quadrangle and a number of shrines belonging to the tenth to eleventh centuries. It also showed that there was an older stratum of buildings, upon which these structures were superimposed. Near the site of the spring now there are three small temples which are made of stone walls. The larger temple measures 8′ 4″ internally and faces south-west. The entrance is 3′ 8″ by 6′. There are recesses on the exterior of the other three sides of all the three temples. The smaller temple measures 6′ 4″ internally. It faces west. Its lower part is buried underground. There was also a much bigger stone structure which is now in shambles. There is a long stretch of wall 246′ long and about 12′ wide, on the north side of the area, which originally formed part of the enclosure wall round the temples and the tank.
The importance of Kaptesvara tirtha has been recorded in Nilmatpurana, Srikanthcharita of Mankha, Kitab-ul-Hind of Alberuni, Rajatarangini of Kalhan Pandit, Harcaritacintamani of Jayadratha, Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazal and by Ram Chand Kak (an outstanding archaeologist). According to Kalhana, those who touch the husband of Uma in wodden form secure for reward of the pleasures of life and liberation. The great Kashmirian poet Mankha says that in the water of the spring are present the wooden images of Lord Shiva. Jayadratha, the author of Haracaritacintamani, devotes the entire fourteenth canto to the story of Kapatesvara. This has now become the official Mahatmya of the tirtha. R.C. Kak in his ‘Ancient Monuments of Kashmir’, has given detailed description about the architectural aspect of Kapatesvara spring and the surrounding temples. Nilmat Purana describes the sanctity associated with taking a bath in Kapatesvara spring. It says that one attains the world of Rudra by taking bath in Kapatesvara.
In the past, pilgrims used to visit Kapatesvara tirtha every year in the month of Baisakh. Now the pilgrimage has lost much of its importance after the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. Before 1990 Kashmiri Pandits used to organise an annual festival here called as Achhen Trai (Akhshay Tritiya). Pilgrims used to have a sacred bath in the holy spring on that day.
It is good to note that recently the kund (spring) has been refurbished by the Tourism Department of J&K. Stone/concrete work has been done and the spring has been properly demarcated with metallic bars. Fencing has also been done around the entire area of the shrine. But as on date most of the temples at the site are in shambles with only plinths and stones visible. Only Three temples and some fortified structures are visible but in damaged condition. It is painful to see that no idol is found anywhere in the area. It is learnt that a few idols of Kootihar Temples are preserved in SPS Museum Srinagar. There are bushes and wild grass all around the spring. It is very difficult to walk through the area. The road leading to Kootihar heritage site is narrow and in bad condition at many places. It needs to be repaired. There is immediate need to protect and revive this place of tremendous religious and historical importance.
(The author is an engineer)