With every breath I take, my memory sparkles and comes alive. It is infinite. It flashes in front of me like an application of a smartphone.
The story of Akura is part of our folklore. Once upon a time, an idler discovered a way to earn his livelihood. In a busy market in Srinagar, he pretended to be blind like the poet Surdas, and started begging. One day, a frequent visitor to the market sensed the beggar’s deception. In order to find out the truth, he went near the beggar to offer him alms. When the beggar extended his hand, the visitor placed a hot copper coin upon his palm. The beggar was shocked and he dropped the hot copper coin. Then he quipped:
Chukhye bhatt te Okryuk,
Chukhye musalmaan te Hokhryuk,
Chukhye sikh te Traluk.
If you are a Kashmiri Pandit, you must be from Akura.
If you are a Kashmiri Muslim, you must be from Hakhura.
If you are a Kashmiri Sikh, you must be from Tral.
This tale serves as a reminder to the society to be cautious of fraudsters. Yet it also shows us the importance of giving them an opportunity to mend their ways.
Akura was called Akurath (which means Mushak) in ancient times. According to an old Hindu legend, when Shiva was going to the Amarnath cave to recount Amar Katha to Parvati, he asked his son Ganesha to leave his vehicle, Mushak, at this village. Gagar (Mushak in Kashmiri) is a common surname among Kashmiri Pandits.
I remember the Ganesha idol in Akura. The mice would emerge out of nowhere and partake of the offerings placed before the idol, particularly when Pandits chanted “Vinayakaya Ekdantaya…Herambhaya Akurathaya…” during festivals. During my childhood, I vividly remember my elders taking me to the Ganesha temple in our village and they would invoke several gods and goddesses. My elders introduced me to the rituals which were codified by Rishi Logaksha.
The Martand temple was a glowing symbol of our area from time immemorial. The remarkable temple finds mention in historical texts ranging from ancient to medieval times like the Mahabharata and the Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri. Our ancestors preserved and protected the holy sites of the Pandits, such as the Martand temple. Our horoscopes are also important sources of our folk culture as they not only indicate the coordinates of an individual’s birthplace but also pinpoint the exact geographical location. There is a vivid description of the place of my birth in my horoscope prepared by our family’s priest. It is in the Sharada script – “Kashmir mandle, Anantnag pargane, Martand paadmule, Akura graame niwasmaan.”
Our ancestors inscribed their rich folk history on the walls of their houses.
This is a kind of recording of history which is handed over from one generation to another. Certainly, this history has fallen silent because of terror but it is definitely not dead. In the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the barks of the trees reveal signatures and imprints of several centuries.
Lidder, the river that runs across Akura, is cited in Vedic as well as modern Kashmiri literature. Martand Brahman, a branch of Krishna Yajurveda, speaks of Lidder as follows:
Yavacchaka vahti ch,
Nadi ledri toiy poorna,
Tavat swarge vasti,
Satatam shradhkrut suryakshete.
(As long as Chaka and Lidder are filled with water and keep flowing, till then an individual, whose death rite is performed at Martand, will find place in heaven.)
In Rajatarangini, Kalhana describes Lidder in the eighty-sixth shloka of the first Taranga. He says that the king Lava donated a village named Levar (present day Liver village in Anantnag district) situated on the banks of river Lidder to Brahmins.
My river’s history is older than Rajatarangini.
The archaeologists have found signs of early man in the Lidder valley. That’s why early man in Kashmir has been termed “Lidder man”.
Kashmiri poet Arjan Dev “Majboor” in his epic Padya Samyik embodies the lineage of the Lidder:
Pyov lyeder bathis pyeth thanye aadam
(An early man emerges on the banks of Lidder)
Majboor further describes Lidder as sister of the river Vitasta (Jhelum) which meets her at Harnag (Khanbal):
Harnag nakhe samkheyas vyeth, Dwon byenen pooshin maye te sath
(Lidder meets Vitasta near Harnag. May love and faith remain between two sisters)
Another Kashmiri poet Dina Nath “Nadim” also mentions the river Lidder as a female character in his opera Vitasta.
Protected by the Martand temple, the mountain ranges of Bhargshikha on the east, and the trout stream on the south, Akura’s boundaries are marked by the Lidder. Lidder, which is 73 kilometres in length, has two sources – one is the Kolahoi glacier in Sonamarg and another one is the Sheshnag lake which is a high altitude lake located en route to the Amarnath cave. The river flows through Akura and then traverses Nanil, Aang-matipora and finally meets Vitasta at Khanbal. Slanting downwards at the Akura bridge, the river is divided into two streams, dissecting the entire area into two parts.
Excerpted with permission from ‘The River of My Lost Village’ by Jai Kishan Sharma, from A Long Dream Of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits, edited by Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma, Bloomsbury.