Bestowed with sublime beauty and benevolence, the Mansar Lake is a gem of nature that has found its way to the human heart and spirit. Inextricably woven into the religio-spiritual countenance of Dogras since time immemorial, Mansar is rightly hailed as the Mansarovar of Duggar.
Nestled in the Shivalik Mountains of Samba district, Mansar is a unique geological feature. Here nature, culture and heritage are bound together and have acquired a set of meanings over time. A popular pilgrimage site Mansar together with its nearby twin the Surinsar Lake is Duggar’s much-revered tirtha kheshtra. Here natives congregate to meditate, worship, feed the sacred fish/tortoises, undertake pradakhshina/s of the lake and take a ritual bath in its holy water.
Over 1½ kms long and almost a km wide, Mansar is one of the deepest freshwater lakes that came up during the last phase of Holocene some 10,000-12,000 years back. Located amidst salubrious environs, it is replenished by perennial underground springs coming out from Lake’s basin.
Lakes all over the world due to the life-giving nature of water were one of the initial sites to attract early human settlements. Most likely Mansar had also acted as a sanctuary for the first stirrings of human culture in the Jammu region.
Associated Myths: Human beings from the very genesis have been mythologizing nature and the natural. Mansar also came to be revered by natives for its mythological connection especially to the sacred Mansarovar Lake in Tibet.
The other popular myth regarding origin of the twin lakes links their formation to the Mahabharata period. During that time the area of Mansar was ruled by Babruvahana, Arjuna’s Son from Chitrangda who was raised by stepmother Naga Princess Ulupi. After the epic Mahabharata war, Pandavas performed the Ashvamedha Yagya to reiterate their sovereign power. The released sacrificial horse carrying the royal insignia of the Pandavas, supposed to move forth unhindered was captured by Babruvahana near the village Khoon. Arjuna tasked to take care of the horse challenged Babruvahana.
Babruvahana being unaware that Arjuna was his father killed him in the ensuing battle. To bring back to life his father Arjuna, Babru Vahan was told to fetch the life-giving naga mani from the Sheshnag’s head. He shot an arrow to bore a tunnel (surang) and formed Surangsar (now Surinsar). After defeating the Sheshnaga in a fierce battle, BarbruVahan took the naga mani and came out from Manisar (now Mansar). The prefix ‘sar’ in the names of Mansar and Surinsar is the Sanskrit word for a lake.
According to some scholars, since a hollow is called ‘garta’ in Sanskrit, it is mostly that the two large hollows of Mansar and Surinsar gave rise to the geographical term dvi-garta which in course of time came to be called Duggar.
Religious Heritage: Large water bodies have been associated with many snake cults in ancient cultures. Nagas have a high status in Hindu mythology. As per its founding myth, Mansar is worshipped as the abode of Sheshnaga who is believed to be living inside its waters. Located on the lake’s eastern bank, the shrine of Sheshanaga is revered by many communities who considered the serpent god as their family deity. The once humble non-iconic shrine has been transformed and is at present adorned with a large size statue of the six-headed snake god.
Being a sacred site for Hindus, Mansar witnesses a flow of devotees who come here on various religious occasions. To take a holy dip in the lake especially during festive occasions is supposed to absolve one of the malefic effects of past karmas.
Other religious buildings here include ancient temples of Mahadeva, Goddess Durga and Narsimha, which are situated within environs of the Lake. It is considered auspicious for the newlywed couples to do parikrama of the lake and have blessings of the Snake God Sheshnaag. Many families also come to Mansar to conduct the mundan ceremonies of their children. Some local Muslim families also revere Mansar Devta as part of racial memory.
Historical Heritage: Even though Mansar was located in the vicinity of the 10th-11th-century Principality of Babbapur-Babbor (present-day Manwal/Thalora) and surrounded by other medieval political centres like Mankot (Ramkot), Vallapura (Billawar), Samba and Bandralta (Ramnagar), no significant archaeological evidences have been reported so far from here. Even Taimur the Lame on his march to Jammu in the last decades of the 14th century CE seems to have bypassed Mansar.
Owing to its socio-cultural religious importance, Mansar did enjoy the patronage of ruling elites. Latest in the line was Balwant Singh, the brother of Raja Ranjit Dev who is credited with the forging of Jammu kingdom by amalgamating several hill states in the mid 18th century.
Mansar, which was granted as a jagir to Balwant Singh, came to be adorned with royal quarters and temples and sarais. Amongst the extant mid-18th century architectural edifices, the ruins of the monumental haveli popularly called as Mansar haveli, stands out for its huge deodhi. The still visible traces of wall paintings in some portions of the edifice confirm that like all contemporary royal and elite buildings in Duggar, this edifice was also painted with beautiful murals that decorated its inner as well as outer walls. Examples of Jammu school of miniature paintings, haveli’s murals need immediate scientific documentation.
Neglected for the last seven decades by the Archaeological Survey of India along with Department of Archives, Archaeology and Museums and the Dharamarth Trust, the once exquisitely painted Mansar haveli has been reduced to ruins. UT Government’s recently announced plan for the conservation of Mansar Haveli has come as a timely initative to preserve the last remnants of Mansar’s tangible heritage.
Natural Heritage: Besides its religious, cultural and historical significance, Mansar Lake is a pristine example of natural heritage. To protect the rare species of flora and fauna, the government has already declared the areas between the two lakes as Surinsar-Mansar wildlife sanctuary.
In testimony to its importance as a wetland, Mansar stands declared as a Ramsar site. It means that it has been designated as a wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The convention is an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO. This provides for national action and international cooperation regarding the conservation of wetlands and supervises sustainable use of their resources. Ramsar identifies wetlands of international importance, especially those providing waterfowl habitat.
Today being showcased primarily as a pristine tourist destination, Mansar with its multiple heritages requires a sustainable planning model wherein the lake and its cultural and natural ecosystems are least disturbed by the guests.