Water Warriors of Udhampur

Dr Vijay Atri
Udhampur town to the North-East of Jammu is a 73-kms from the winter capital of the Union Territory. Named after Udham Singh, the eldest son of Maharaja Gulab Singh-the erstwhile prince of Jammu and Kashmir-the town is blessed with huge mountains, green landscapes, lush green meadows, and rich groundwater sources, locally known as Bowlis or Baulis (springs). Most of these Bowlis are located along the temples as their “sacred water” is offered to Lord Shiva’s Linghams.
Author Chander Mohan Bhat writes in India Water Portal: “There is a cluster of eight Bowlis at Devika Temple. Each Bowli has its own significance. Three Bowlis have been earmarked for bathing purposes and others are used for temple use (sic).”
All the Bowlis located at Devika and other villages of Udhampur district, including Londana, Sial Sallan, Sangoor, Billan Bowli, Mian Baagh, have unique designs and architecture. While some are round, others have been built like squares. Some others are hexagonal, rectangular and there are bowlis with a triangle-like appearance.
The make-up of these Bowlis strongly represent the rich culture and heritage of Jammu’s Dogra dynasty. These Bowlis also depict the rituals & beliefs of the people of this region. During the Dogra festivals like Bacch Dua, observed by the mothers for the long life of their sons, they offer prayers along the Bowlis. After Navratras as well, the women folk gather at Bowlis in Udhampur and immerse the Saakh in the sacred water of the natural springs.
It is believed that there were 108 Bowlis in a 4-5 kms land stretch extending from Shakti Nagar to Mian Bagh area in Udhampur. But due to increasing human activities, particularly construction of houses, roads etc. around the natural sources of water, their number has reached almost 40.
Only in the Billan Bowli area, it is said that there was a cluster of around 20 Bowlis but their number has also reduced to almost half the original figure.
An initiative of the Government of India-“Catch The Rain”-was recently launched in Udhampur town by the new district administrator, Indu Kanwal Chib, with much vigour and fanfare. And this initiative was hailed and participated by one and all with greater enthusiasm. Through social media platforms, it also came to fore that a group of young men from Sial Sallan, have been leading from the front to unearth, restore and clean the Bowlis. Tagged as “Water Warriors” by the DDC Udhampur, Indu Kanwal Chib, the water activists have been planning to rejuvenate all the dead springs of the town. If such an initiative has been taken by youth on a voluntary basis, the need of the hour is to reach out to them with whatever help one could lend, be it manual work, aid in the form of finance or materials and policy framing.
(The author is a Marketing Inspector, Horticulture, P&M, Udhampur)