Legends of Ramban

Robin Koul

Located on the highest point of Shankh Pal ridge or Patnidar Ridge line along with Nathtop, at an elevation of 9530 feet, there is a temple dedicated to Naga Deity Shankpal Ji. “Shankh-pal” word comes from the Sanskrit meaning “caretaker of the conch shell”. He is considered as the protector of the people around the Landar area and he is the family deity of many clans including Bhutyal Rajputs living in the region.
Geographical Position and Routes to reach: It is located on the top of Ladha Dhar range in Lander region of mountains which borders three districts viz. Ramban, Udhampur and Reasi. We can have a panoramic view of Seoj Dhar, Pir Panjal Mountains and Trikuta Hill peaks from the Ladha Top. The temple is a four hours trek from Sanasar, and is surrounded by beautiful meadows in summers and with a blanket of more than six feet deep snow in winters.
If we follow the route from Maitra Ramban via Balout -Kriya towards Ladha Dhar we can find two open air Shiv Lingas situated on the picturesque trek route. Other accessible routes towards the temple are from Sundh Gali, Gandhari, Panchari Udhmpur.
Those routes are prominently used by the nomadic community of Gujjar and Bakarwal’s who have their temporary settlements (Udhari) in higher reaches in this area for summers and retreat in the plains of Jammu in winter season.
Importance: Temple dedicated to Naga Deity Shankpal Ji is said to be 400 years old, which is reconstructed now with stone blocks. Origin of this temple is definitely antediluvian as it is the family deity of the local population who has settled in Ramban area centuries ago. The old temple is said to have a unique feature that no mortar was used to join the stones of the temple. One can find a stone sculpture of a female deity lying on the ground along with other stone carvings of coiled serpent outside the temple which hints towards some ancient historical importance of the place. Shankhpal Ji is said to be a local ruler of Ladha Dhar Range.
Raja Shankhpal is the eldest among 22 brothers and 12 sisters. Their father Nag Vasuki is said to reside in Badhrwah district. Shankhpal and Vasuki nag bear a mention in Rig Veda. Nilmant Purana and Rajatarangini of Kalhana too have references of those Nagas. Naga deities are connected with a strong faith among folk deities of the Ramban region. They are considered very strong and powerful and directly control the area under their jurisdiction.
The major Naga deities include Vasuki Naga, Bhair devta, Kai devta, Baba Surgal, Mansar devta, Bhudsar devta, Tansar devta and Shankhpal Ji who are worshipped all over in the Ramban. Shanhkpal devta is sanctified in the Ladha Dhar hill region of Ramban district.
Reference in Hindu Texts: Shankha are associated with water, Nagas are often named after the Shankha. The references of Nagas in the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa Purana (written by Jinasena) and the Bhagavat Purana include names like Shankha, Mahashankha, Shankhapala and Shankachuda.
The name Shankhpal is referred in Navnag Stotram. The names of nine Naga Devatas are Ananta, Vasuki, Shesha, Padmanabh, Kambal, Shankhpal, Dhrutrashtra, Takshaka and Kalia. This powerful mantra of the nine nagas is mostly chanted by Naga followers on Nag Panchami, Naga Chaturthi and Shashti days. It is also said that he who recites these names morning and evening is immune to snake bites and prospers wherever he goes.
Navnag stotra:
Anantan Vasukim Shesham
Padmanabham Cha Kambalam
Shankhapalam Dhartarashtram
Taxakam Kaliyam Tatha
Etani Nava Navaami Naganancha Mahatmana
Sayam Patenityam Prathahkaale Visheshita
Tasya Vishabhayam Naasti Sarvatra Vijayaa Bhaveth.
Navnag Stotra Meaning: Ananta, Vasuki, Shesha, Padmanabh, Kambal, Shankhpal, Dhrutrashtra, Takshaka and Kalia are the nine major names of the snake deity. Whoever recites this in the evening, but especially in the morning, his fear will be destroyed, and he will be victorious.
Local Customs and beliefs: “Naa Doop Naa Patti; Shankhpal Devta Sabsay Khatri”. It is the belief of local people that Raja Shankhpal is the most powerful one; he doesn’t like the offerings of incense and flowers. They offer Ghur (Jaggery) and kheer to the Deity. It is believed that Raja Shankhpal Ji is fond of white colour sweets.
An annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Raja Shankhpal Ji near 10th Tithi of Ashaad Month of Vikrami Samvat after Amavasya (preferably Sunday or Thursday) is conducted in the month of July. In this Yatra, the devotees from all over the villages of Ramban like Chanderkot, Pernote, Bhatni, Batote, Chenani and Landhar (Udhampur district) take the procession of their Devtas up to the Shrine of Raja Shankhpal Ji with Chhadies (maces). The devotees sacrifice a goat or a sheep at the Shankhpal Naag Devta Pindi and offer Chattar or Tikka on the occasion. It is believed that these Devtas from the various villages meet at the Shrine and bless the devotees on this occasion. On the other days, every Thursday or Sunday people come to pay homage at the temple.
The place is said to have some mystical powers. According to locals there is a story about an Air force recce Party that was camping at the temple location for survey in the area for installation of station. For that they camped near the temple at night, but always found themselves at different locations when they woke up the next morning. The recce was stopped and the Air Force installation was constructed at another site. Locals say that Raja Shankhpal didn’t want the station near his abode.
Shankhpala in ancient stories: Nagas are equally revered by Jains, Buddhist and Hindus. We can also find the Story of Shankhpal or Samkhpala in the Buddhist Jataka tales. The Ajanta caves paintings predominantly narrating the Jataka tales tells us about the story of Shankhpala.
In the kingdom called Rajgara the king renounced his throne and handed over the reins to his prince Duyyodhana who was a Bodhisattva. His father became an ascetic and started living secretly in a forest, on the bank of Kannapanna river originating from Shankhpala lake near mount Gandaka. The lake was named after Naga king Shankhpala who was very kind and compassionate. Naag Shankhpal became the disciple of the ascetic king who used to give discourses about dharma, humanity and peace.
One day Duyyodhana, his son who was eager to find the whereabouts of his father came to know about his hermitage and visited his place. Sankhapala and other nagas were taking sermons. Duyyodhana the Bodhisattva was charmed by the magnificent style and ideals of Naag Shankhpala and desired to take rebirth in the Naga world for his next life.
At his father’s request, he returned to his kingdom and ruled his country with justice; he followed the rituals of the holy land faithfully, gave alms generously to the needy and spread the light of knowledge. Due to his virtuous life, in his next birth he was reborn in the Naga world as a king bearing the same name Shankhpala as desired by him.
One day he decided to renounce the world as he grew uninterested with the Naga kingdoms’ grandeur and temptations. Therefore he went into deep meditation atop an ant-hill near the Kannapanna river. There he sat spending the holy days meditating without distraction.
Once, while he was occupied in his meditation on his anthill, hunters from a nearby village saw him. In a group of sixteen, hunters pulled his tail and pierced him with stakes, shoved bamboo poles through his body to tie him with ropes and dragged him. Though the Bodhisattva was strong and powerful, he did nothing to resist the assault and maintained his peace with the virtue of austerity.
Fortunately a wealthy merchant named Alara riding by in his carriage saw the hunters and their prey and felt pity on him. He paid them each a handful of gold coins, an ox, and fancy clothes to release the Bodhisattva.
Nag Shankhpal was very impressed with the merchant’s compassion and invited his rescuer to Naagloka and enlightened him with wisdom of life and teachings about detachment for materialistic things in the world. The Alara stayed in the Nagaloka for a year, and then renounced the world and became an ascetic and left towards the Himalayas. The Bodhisattva Shankhpal too spent his life meditating and serving the human kind and attained divinity at last.
Raja Shankhpal Ji is an eminent deity in Ramban area. The temple is well situated in Ladha Dhar area which has a tremendous potential for religious tourism as well as adventure and winter sports tourism. Ladha Dhar has trek routes from Sanasar which are connected by road. But the true potential of this beautiful place can be tapped if road connectivity through Balout- Kriya or Sundh Gali can be provided. The circuit route from Ramban- Maitra – Ladha Dhar- Sanasar can create a niche on Tourism map of the country. Administration can effectively contemplate the possibility of construction of a road from Maitra-Ramban to Ladha Dhar.