Sunday, April 8, 2012

Baba Bhed Devta a spiritual journey

The shrine of Baba Bhed Devta is one of the lesser known jewels of the cultural treasure trove of the Dogra culture which flourishes in the Shivaliks and its adjoining region. Ensconced in the lower Shivaliks and situated on the bank of the holy Suryaputri i.e. today's river Tawi , the shrine of Baba Bhed Devta is also known as Baba Bhed Nag and is a classical Dogra shrine, steeped in folklore and local oral traditions and blessed with natural beauty. It is the natural beauty and remoteness of the shrine which lends a holy and sacred aura to it. In the local folklore and mythology, Baba Bhed Nag was the most illustrious son of Vasuki Nag the king of Serpents who handed over the rule of Jammu kingdom to Raja Bhed Devta when he brought waters of Tawi from Kali Kundi glacier in Kaplash mountains of Bhaderwah to Jammu with the help of Kaliveer and blessings of Kalika Mata. That is why a large number of Rajput clans who ruled over small principalities in Jammu region consider Baba Bhed Devta as their kuldevta along with Kaliveer. 

The legend of Baba Bhed also has a great historical significance as it is believed that in the hoary past Nagas who ruled over north India were serpent worshippers. The legend also has its origin in the Shaivite Hinduism which was prevalent in much of the Jammu and Kashmir state in the ancient times.

The place where shrine is situated is known as Bhed village. The shrine is atop a big rock on the base of which is the gently flowing river Tawi. Due to U turn of the river, a large and deep water body has been created which is locally known as 'Dawar' in Dogri. Fish which abound the water body is called as Devta. Devotees offer balls of kneaded flour to the fish. Fishing is strictly prohibited in this stretch of the river which has led to the creation of a sanctuary. 

According to limnologists Baba Bhed is an important sanctuary for many a species of fish and other aquatic beings. In the recent times, the environmentalists have come to recognize the important role played by such sacred water bodies and groves in the preservation of the bio-diversity in India. The place also has afforded protection to cormorants, rock pigeons, and other fauna.

Baba Bhed is revered not only in Jammu region but also in Punjab .Every year thousands of devotees throng the shrine to pay their obeisance. According to the local tradition the Brahmins of Largan and Sodha villages act as priests of the shrine. Similarly the Rajputs of Bhed Mandi and Aitham perform the function of the temple sevadars (caretakers) of the shrine.

Though the pilgrimage goes on throughout the year, more arrivals are witnessed on Sundays, purnimas or on those auspicious days when mundan ceremony can be performed. A big mela is organized on the auspicious occasion of Aashad and sharad purnima. On such occasions Gardis, who also calls themselves as Baba Bhed de Balyats, sing Karkas in the praise of the deity and beat drums. Jattar is also performed by the head pujari. Reverence for Baba Bhed Nag brings to the fore the fact that people of this kandi belt generally have suffered from scarcity of water and the abode of the Devta has been symbolic of life giving water and subsequent agricultural productivity.

A platform has been constructed on the rock where devotees worship the deity and present offerings. On auspicious occasions devotees offer saungals also called Chaunda in the name of their Jayesth or eldest son. Those people who do not have 'Sthan' or place of worship for their kuldevta at home offer the sacred saungals at the shrine.

The devotees have great reverence for Baba Bhed who is famous for granting boons and fulfilling wishes of the devotees. The devotees on fulfillment of their wishes visit the shrine for thanksgiving. The agriculturists particularly make it a point to offer the agricultural produce like milk, grains etc to the deity. Sometimes a goat is also sacrificed on the occasion of child birth, mundan or any other ceremony.
The shrine of Baba Bhed Devta is situated in the village Bhed which is on the left bank of river Tawi. The shrine can be reached through different routes. From Jammu , the devotees travel to Nagrota where just one km ahead of Kol Kandoli shrine, a road on the right leads up to the village Katal Batal situated on the right bank of river Tawi. From here on after descending to the river bank one has to cross Tawi by a boat service. Once the river is crossed, a welcome Arch welcomes the devotees in Sodha village. A devotee has to trudge a distance of three and a half kilometers through fields, thick vegetation and after crossing a number of brooks to reach the shrine. A part of the trek also involves steep incline paved with stones (Takki) which has to be negotiated on foot with care. However, all the physical exertion is forgotten once the pilgrim reaches the shrine located in the picturesque small valley surrounded by the hills. The other route is from the village Aitham situated on Jammu-Surinsar-Mansar route. Though this route is less frequented but it is equally challenging and has a breath-taking view of the Shivalik uplands and greenery. The, three kilometer long path is arduous and poses a gentle challenge to the pilgrims. It starts from village Aitham and passing through Ladgan village finally reaches the shrine. Enroute the devotees are rewarded with the sight of a train coming out of one tunnel and then disappearing into the other. Little do the devotees realize that a railway tunnel is situated right under their feet!

However due to lack of proper connectivity and infrastructure, the pilgrimage to the shrine remains a challenging task. There is no road connectivity with the rest of the world. Even at Katal Batal the base camp of the pilgrimage there is lack of public utilities like toilets, shelter sheds and resting places. The pilgrims have to depend on boats to cross Tawi which though a unique experience cannot be relied upon during rainy season. Once the Tawi is crossed again the pilgrims have to travel through a fair weather Kutcha road.

It is essential that potential of such a picturesque and religious tourist destination be tapped. Already a foot bridge is under construction over Tawi and it is hoped that public utilities shall also be provided at the shrine which is facing the problem of filth and insanitation. To improve connectivity, it is imperative that the alternative jungle track from Aitham village be also converted into a well maintained bridle path. The potential of religious tourism is immense in Jammu and opportunities galore. The shrine can be brought under the Mansar-Surinsar Development Authority so as to have an all-round development of this holy place revered by the Dogras.

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