Shiv Kumar Padha
The younger generation often questions about the river Ravi, its importance and significance for the population living along its banks, because the few rivers which we have been left with are in no way worth calling rivers as majority of them have either been converted into the mines for illegal extraction of sand and bajri by the mafia or have been stinking due to the flow of the affluent from the factories and the city drainages.
Unlike other rivers, Ravi has been a perennial source of crystal clear, pollution free water which was considered as nectar for the populations living along its banks. The river Ravi originates from the Himalayas in the Multhan tehsil of Kangra district of Himachal Pardesh, India.
It flows north westerly course and is a perennial river. It is the smallest among the five rivers of Punjab. It flows through Barabhangal, Bara Bansu, and Chamba districts. Its two tributaries, the Budhil and Nain or Dhona join 64 Km downstream from its source.
The Budhil river rises from the Lahul range of hills and has its source in the Mani Mahesh Kailash peak and the Manimahesh lake.
It flows through the ancient capital of Barmohar in HP. The second tributary, Nai river, rises from the Kali Devi pass. Another tributary that joins Ravi river, just below Barmohar, the old capital of Chamba, is the Seul river from the north direction. One more major tributary that joins the Ravi River near Basohli (J&K) is the Seva.
This river was also exploited for its forest resources by the then Raja of Chamba. The valley is also formed by another major tributary that joins the Seul river, the Baira Nallaha.
According to ancient history traced to Vedas, the Ravi river was known as ‘Iravati’, Ravi was known as ‘Purushani’ or Iravati to Indians in Vedic times.
Part of the Battle of the ten kings was fought on a river, which according to Yaksa (Nirukta) refers to the Iravati River (Ravi).
The main Ravi river flows through the base of Dalhousie hill, after Chamba town. It flows into the south west, near Dalhousie and then it cuts a gorge in the Dhauladhar range, before entering thePunjab plain near Madhopur and Pathankot.
It then flows along the Indo-Pak border for 80 Km before entering Pakistan. The total length of the river is about 725 Km. As the river flows past Lahore in Pakistan for 26 Km after Amritsar, it is called the river of Lahore.
Many civilizations of the world started, developed and became extinct on the banks of the rivers. As the river lidar is to Kashmir Ravi is Basohli.
River Ravi has been a life line for the people because of its religious, recreational and transportive importance.
Owing to the religious and vedic importance, Vishwasthali (Basohli) was known as Lagu (Chhoti) Kashi where the people living near it immersed the mortal remains of their kin in the sacred waters of river Ravi.
The banks of Ravi used to echo with the daily chanting of the Ved Mantras and Rechas from Sam Ved loudly and rhythmically, by the Brahmins, during morning and evening hours. Like the Swarg Ashram in Rishikesh (Haridwar) ,the entire bank of river Ravi from Mahakali temple to the Bedtan had number of temples which remained alive with the crowd of devotees during the day time.
Basohli town is situated on a hard rock with an altitude of 500 mt above the river bed.
Prior to the ponding of RSD, every part of the town was linked with the different ghats of the river at Khratan, Mahakali and Bedtan, by a Dhaki (Astair like path made by pitching the stones).
There was a cluster of small and medium sized temples built along the entire length of the Dhakis linking the town with the river.
Towards Khratan Bank, there were total seven temples including the temple of Sheetla Mata, where people from all the communities paid their obeisance. Before ponding of the lake there was a temple of Lord Shiva housed in a giant sized cave carved out from a hard rock on theKhratan bank.
Apart from the Shiv Ling, there was a full sized portrait of Raja Bhoopat Pal chiseled on one of the rocky wall of the cave.
Similarly, there were ancient Temples of goddess MahaKali and Neel Kanth at Mahakali and Bedtan ghats. Every morning the natives used to visit the nearest banks of Ravi to have a dip in its holy water, and return with a pail of water to offer waters to the idols in the temples along the Dhakis.
In the middle of every Dhaki there was a one special stone, bearing the sketch of a Naag Devta, where the devotee offered water and the flowers on their return from the river.
The beach like Khratan Ghat, being wide and charming was considered as an ideal spot for the picnics during the weekends and the evenings of summers.
There was a big groove of the mango trees which provided shelter for the visiting groups.
The water of the river was too cold to drink in one go. Since, there were no refrigerators at that time, the picnic parties used to take their drinks, fruits like melons, mangoes, etc. in their bags and immerse them in the river water for making them cool.
The youth and even the elderly group enjoyed swimming and rafting on timbers while others enjoy sitting on big stones along river bank with their legs dipped in the ice cold water.
According to the legend, the idol of Mata Mahakali installed in the temple was prepared by Raja Bhog Pal, who in order to please the goddess, took an oath to carve the statue of idol on the rock.
The devotees of the Mahakali used to visit the temple during morning and evening hours. Whereas, the Dhaki leading to the Bedtan Ghat always remained alive day and night by the movement of the natives going for taking a dip in the fresh spring waters.
The movement of the people and the carriage of the goods of daily use were carried out with the help of Boats, Skin inflated floating device Drayeen and the trolley called Ghrooru.
The wooden slippers worth corers of rupees were transported from the remote forests up to Lakhanpur through the river every year which provided employment to hundreds of the natives.
It was the moral duty rather obligatory on the part of Punjab government to have completed the videography of the places, temples, monuments, caves and the rarely available water springs before the ponding of the RSD started. Altering or destroying the cultural heritage of any race, ethnic group is a heinous crime punishable under IPC. The UT government should persuade upon the Punjab government to do vide the divers so that these videos can serve as the documentary proof for their existence in future.
(The author is a social activist from Basohli).