River Vitasta of Kashmir finds mention in Rigveda , Kathasaritsagara, Natyashastra, Varahpurana and Mahabharata . In Mahabharata we read this :-
“If anybody bathes in the waves of the river Vitasta, with vow and fasts, for seven days he would become as pure as a hermit.”
(Mahabharata Anusasana Parva, Chapter 25, Stanza 7)
The Vitasta Mahatmayas inform that Goddess Uma, Laxmi, Aditi, Sachi, Diti and Ganga along with their spouses had come to Satisar to witness the draining out of the water and killing of the demon Jalodbhava . Rishi Kashyapa had also requested them to bless the land. The Rishi approached Goddess Uma or Parvati first who in turn sought the concurrence of Lord Shiva. In Vitasta Mahatmayas, we read this:-
” Parvati requested her consort Lord Shiva; “O, father of the World, I shall assume the form of a river but make a stroke with your spear near the abode of Nila, where O Lord while breaking the mountain was placed the pointed end of the plough. By that stroke, I shall flow to meet the great river, Sindhu.”
The Nilamata Purana describes the sacredness of the Vitasta River as under :-
” O chief of the kings, those men obtain fame on the earth, who go to the goddess Vitasta, endowed with various bridges, decorated with blue and red lotuses, filled with the sounds of the herds of the cows, resounding with the bellowing-sounds, full of fish and tortoises, possessed of good bathing places, giver of the desired objects, possessed of the water which tastes like nectar, charming to the eyes of men and boon-giver like a mother.”
In ancient and mediaeval Kashmir, Vitasta River was accordingly treated as sacred as Ganga. In the Kotitirtha Mahatmayas of Kashmir, we read this:-
“Here in Kashmir exists Sati ( Goddess Parvati ) herself personified as river Vitasta, who destroys all sins and by merely thinking about whom, one gets the same reward as is received by bathing in holy places of worship. The water of river Saraswati takes three days to purify a man, that of Yamuna takes seven while the water of Ganga purifies a person instantly, but the water of Vitasta has the power to purify even by a mere thought of it.”
Also known as Vetha Truvah, the day was celebrated by making offerings of cakes made of rice flour while reading Slokas from Vitasta Mahatmayas. In the evening, the women would go down to the banks of the Vitasta and illuminate them with Diyas ( earthen-ware lamps ). Thus for the Kashmiri Pandits, the Valley remains the land of Shiva while river Vitasta is not only a symbol of Goddess Sati (Parvati ) but also the cradle of their ancient civilization.The festival of Vetha Truvah also finds detailed mention in Tuzik -i -Jahangiri as under:-
About the confluence of rivers in Kashmir , The Nilamata Purana mentions this :-
” Holy are all the confluences and the pools of the Nagas. One surely obtains the merit of the gift of hundred Suvarnas by bathing in them. Holy are these sacred places and specially so is the Vitasta. O king, the goddess Vitasta is stated to be purifying everywhere. O king, the sacred places, the lakes, the rivers, the tanks, the various types of wells, all these come to the boon- giver Vitasta, on the bright thirteenth of Bhadrapada.The Sindhu, the Trikoti, the Visoka, the holy and auspicious river Harsapatha, the holy Sukha, the Candravati, the Sugandha, the sin-destroying Punyodaka, the Kularani, the sin-removing Krsna, the holy Madhumati and the holy river Parosni go to the boon-giver and celestial Vitasta.”
About the sacred confluence of Sindhu and Vitasta at Shadipora , Nilamata Purana writes this :-
“The wise say that by bathing in the confluence of Sindhu and Vitasta especially on the full moon day of the month of Prausthapada , one obtains the merit of the performance of Ashavmedha .”
Nilamata Purana mentions the sacredness of every lake , every river and every stream of Kashmir. About the sacredness of Erin stream that pours into Wular Lake, Nilamata Purana writes this:-
” One gets the merit of (performing) Asvamedha, especially on full-moon day, (by bathing) at the place where Hiranya ( Erin ) meets the holy lake Mahapadma ( Wular ) . ”
The Vitasta River (Vyeth in Kashmiri Hydaspes in Greek) originates from Verinag spring situated at the foothills of the Banihal pass .It flows through the Kashmir valley . In its journey upto Anantnag town, 3 major tributaries viz. Sandran , Bringi and Arapath streams join it. As the river moves downwards to join the Wular Lake , it meets five important streams .
Next comes the Veshav stream , which joins Vitasta near Bijbihara . This confluence occurs just 2 Km away from Bijbihara town and this place is known as Sangam in Kashmir.
The third stream to join Vitasta is Rambiara that emerges from Pir Panjal range and moves through Shopian district before it merges into the Veshav stream near Naiyana about 2 km upstream from Sangam near Bijbihara .
The fourth stream to join the Vitasta River is the Doodhganga stream .
The fifth and major confluence occurs at Shadipora where Sindh stream joins the Vitasta River . The Sindh stream brings water of Panchtarini stream from the holy Amar Nath cave and then adds to it the water from the holy shrine of Kheer Bhawani brought by Tulamula Nallah. Tulamula Nallah joins the Sindh stream a little above the Shadipora Sangam .
Kashmiri Pandits attach great sanctity to the confluence at Shadipora which is about 21 kms from Srinagar city. Shadipora is approached through Srinagar -Baramulla road . At Narbal, one has to take the right turn and go about 10 km via the Bandipora road to reach this village . To reach the exact confluence point boats are readily available at Shadipora Ghat on the Vitasta River.
Kashmiri Pandits believe that Vitasta at Shadipora is full of holy water brought from all the mountains , lakes, glaciers , streams and springs of the Kashmir valley . This blending of holy waters of all the lakes. streams ,ponds and springs of Kashmir at Shadipora, imparts great sanctity to this ancient Teertha . Kashmiri Pandits call it Prayag. They used to consign the ashes/ mortal remains of their dearest and loved ones to the holy waters of Prayag at Shadipora.
Kashmiri Pandits consider the Sindh stream as sacred Ganga and Vitasta to be another name of river Yamuna. This belief is also supported by verses 305-306 -307 appearing in Nilamata Purana. i quote :-
” Bound by affection , Tapana’s daughter , the goddess Ganga , due to great respect and devotion for the sage , augmented with her own part the Vitatsa , the best of the rivers , the destroyer of all sins . The Sindhu should be regarded as Ganga and the Vitasta should be regarded as the Yamuna .The place where the confluence of these two , should be regarded as equal to Prayaga. ”
There is a Chinar tree that stands on a small island exactly at the confluence spot. This Chinar tree is surrounded by water on all sides. One has to come to this Chinar tree in a boat and go up some steps to have a commanding view of the confluence . The Shiva-Linga lying under the shade of this Chinar tree since ages is also worshipped .The Prayag Chinar tree is considered mystical and sacred by Kashmiri Pandits . Even if the river is in flood , this tree never sinks . It is said that with any rise in water level around it, the Chinar tree, mysteriously rises in height . Kashmiris call it ‘Prayagitch Booen’.
About this Chinar tree and the confluence , Dr Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani says this :-
” Kashmiri Pandits believe it to be a magical tree which “neither becomes taller, nor shorter, nor bigger” -‘Prayaagachy boony na thadaan, na loktaan, na badaan’ as the Kashmiri proverb says. The Pandits believe that the tree has remained of the same size for centuries. .The Chinar tree of Prayaag stands on a small island – ‘just big enough to pitch your tent on’ in the midst of the confluence. .As Aurel Stein has pointed out, the Nilamata Purana identifies the Sindhu River with the Ganga and the Vitasta with the Yamuna. That is why the confluence has been given the name Prayaag : ‘Ganga Sindus tu vijneya Vitasta Yamuna Tatha.’ ”
Across the river there is a Bhairava Temple in the area called Narayan Bagh.This ancient temple is believed to have been a Teertha and managed as an Agrahara during the rule of Hindu Kings. Agrahara was a grant of land and royal income from it, typically by a king or a noble family in India, for religious purposes, particularly to Brahmins to maintain temples in that land or a pilgrimage site and to sustain their families.
DASHHAR AT SHADIPORA
The Dashhar at Shadipora is something like the Maha Kumbh at Prayaag ,Allahabad . According to the Hindu mythology, Dashhar at Shadipora takes place when there is a celestial configuration of ten planets . This particular combination takes place after every 75 years .Last Dashhar observed at this place was in June 2016. Before that , it was held in 1941. In June 2016, about ten thousand pilgrims participated in the Dashhar . In 1941 , Maharaja Hari Singh, the then ruler of the state of Jammu And Kashmir personally attended the Dashhar festivities at Shadipora . Elaborate arrangements were also made by the Maharaja’s Government for the pilgrims. As per records ,about one lakh pilgrims visited Shadipora for Dashhar of 1941.
During the Dashhar, pilgrims take a dip in the water at the sacred confluence of Sindhu and Vitasta apart from performing Shradha of their nears and dears who are no more in this world. While moving in this area in a boat , one gets a feeling of having placed himself to the caring openness of the Vitasta River. The feeling is similar to the boat ride of Prayag near Allahabad . I visited this place in 2012 . I was pensive and thoughtful in the boat ride as my memory rolled back 30 years. I vividly remember drenching myself in heavy rains while consigning the ashes of my dear father to the holy waters at this confluence.
I conclude this post with the prophetic words of Aurel Stein. I quote :-
“Old Kashmir festivals mentioned in the Nilmata, you will understand how difficult it must be for an European scholar to learn about these rites, also how great the risk is now a days of such old festivals and other ceremonies being lost for good under the sad changes which are taking place in Kashmir”.