Udhampur: with distinction

Indian civilization is old, rich, colourful and exuberant. Renowned Indian saints and sages have sung encomiums in its praise; in fact in praise of the land and its creator. It abounds in the best, strongest and finest manifestations of nature. This land of spiritualists and wise people sometimes presents a rugged contrast and at other times sublime congruity. The fertile Gangetic plains stand in contrast to arid desert of Rajasthan. The picturesque coastal areas of Konkan stand in contrast to the dry and dehydrated Aravalli ranges and the vast snow clad Himalayan ranges to the north stand in diametrical opposition to the waterless plains of Madhya Pradesh.
This diversity notwithstanding, there is strong deep and abiding civilizational bond connecting the peoples spread over the length and breadth of this subcontinent.  We generally call that bond ‘Indian-ness.  Strong faith in ancient but comprehensive mythological lore that transcends boundaries and languages, traditions and rituals, binds Indians in one chord. A dip in the holy waters of the Ganga at Kashi or Haridwar, a pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amreshwara up the Himalayan ranges in Kashmir or a visit to Shirdi to pay obeisance at the shrine of Sai Baba, all these speak of deep and abiding faith of Indians in mythological fund. For millennia after millennia, people of this country have shared that fund, and feel satisfied to have been part of the great civilization.
From hoary past, our ancestors have tried to maintain pristine purity of nature.  For us tampering with manifestations of nature is a sin and forbidden for a true Indian. In true spirit of the term, Indians have called it Mother Nature.  It is not without context if we have assigned names and virtues to most of the objects of nature; mountains, rivers, springs, dales, gorges, heights, meadows, marshlands, passes, even trees and rivulets. We have given status to flora and fauna and a large variety of trees, plants, herbs, shrubs, bushes etc. have received appellations of one kind or the other including that of divinity. The peepal tree has stolen the pride of place and devout plant it in their compound or field or barren space attributing divinely qualities to its leaves and branches.
In particular, we have been extraordinarily respectful to water bodies just for the benefits we draw from them. Water is the lifeline of all living beings. People faced with water scarcity understand better the importance and significance of water to living beings and to flora and fauna.  Polluting the flowing or stagnant water is an impious activity. Felling young trees, too, is wonton behaviour on the part of those who indulge in these acts.
Brief resume of natural water springs, found at various places in district Udhampur, will support our comments. Named after a Dogra prince Udham Singh, the hilly terrain of Udhampur is picturesque in its own right. A facet of its natural beauty is the existence of numerous springs (called bowlies in local dialect) of fresh and sweet water. These springs are part of Udhampur’s geography, history and culture. Though these springs existed from hoary past, yet it were the Dogra rulers, who undertook their reconstruction, maintenance and purification. Largely, these bowlies were sanctified by dedicating them to one or the other deity and then embellishing them with stone paneling on which mythological figurines remain carved. In this way, the springs had divine attribute and the villagers used the water for not only drinking, bathing, washing or irrigating but also for performing rituals and ceremonies in their closeness using its water. For example, people of the nearby village gathered on festive days like Baisakhi to offer grains, milk and eatables to the deity of a particular spring and then sing, dance and make merriment around it.
People perform birth and death rites at these springs. Mundan or first haircut ceremony is of much significance among the local people and in most cases villagers came together to perform that ceremony by the side of the bowlie. Likewise tenth day of a departed soul is also performed around the bowlies at various places. Thus, we find that these springs have religious, cultural and social significance for the villagers.  They also are the rendezvous for the young, a meeting point for village elders and a place of transient recreation for time passers. More significantly, the springs are the most liked spots by the women folk of the adjacent villages as they come all the way from their homes to fill pitchers with fresh water to be carried home. More often than not, the village womenfolk find the bowlies a good place where they can spend some time in gossiping and talking.
Some nature lovers have found stone carvings around the bowlies as something of archaeological importance. Usually, a large peepal tree stands by the bowlies. People consider it something auspicious. There is sense if we suggest that a team of archeologists should propose a visit to the most ancient and popular springs in Udhampur region and conduct a survey if there are any statues of significance still extent around these bowlies. Let Archaeological Department retrieve and deposit them in the State Museum in Jammu. Maybe a research scholar in the field of archaeology or history would find interest in producing a well – researched monograph on the springs in Udhampur district, identify their location, source, date of construction or repair and the number of people that derive benefit from its water either for drinking or washing and bathing. Some of the springs like those close to the banks of holy river Devika are known to the pilgrims who take a dip in their waters on specific days of the year observing the long-standing tradition popular among the people.
However, going by high standards of human health, it would be right if expert teams appointed by the Government do the sampling, testing and treating of the water of more important and commonly visited springs. The water of most of these springs is clean and transparent but it must be chemically tested to ensure that it is drinkable. Should the springs be taken over by the Archeological Department or not is a serious matter and should be left to the discretion of the administration. However, of course if there are statues and stone carvings of whatever nature, these should be referred to the Archaeological Department. It should be possible for the Government to raise good and tidy structure around more important and popular bowlies in Udhampur district to lend these more social utility and advantage.