River Tawi is held sacred by the people of Jammu and a part of this sacredness is that no fishing is done in the river. This is in accordance with the promise that people of Jammu made to Baba Bhair. As per the legend, during the rule of Raja Jasdev ( from Dev dynasty), Jammu was plagued with snakes, scorpions and other poisonous insects. This resulted in many untimely deaths. Infact the royal food was also infected and the fish on table turned into poisonous snakes. To save his people and state, Raja performed a penance. At the end of penance, Raja dreamt of a white snake holding fish in either hand approaching him When he came before the Raja , he changed into a human being and assumed a dreadful form, holding fish in both his hands, snakes circled around his neck and on his arms scorpions and centipedes stuck thickly. When Raja asked him as to who he was? Bhair devta said that his name is Raja Bhair, that he is the master of all under world creatures and guardian of Jammu territories and that his abode is in the waters of the Tauh(Tawi) River, That the fish of this river are in his subjection and protection, that the people of Jammu are ruthlessly catching fish and dinning merrily. It is because of this and to punish Jammu all that he has released all these harmful creatures. He asked them to repent and make amends and keep away from catching fish so that Jammufolk can be are forgiven. Thus after forewarning Raja that he is the protector of the fish in Tawi and that there should be no fishing in it, he disappeared.
Next morning Raja got up and asked all his subjects to gather on the banks of Tawi, offer prayers to Bhair Devta and take vow not to fish in the waters of Tawi. At that very moment a person wearing a sacred thread and tilak on his forehead appeared and told the gathering that he is Phulo(Pahlo)alias Lahri brahman, the Priest of Bhair devta temple. Then he extolled about the greatness of Baba Bhair. The priest said that Bhair devta is one of the sons of Basak Nag, whose lineage is traced to Sankh , Pundrik, and Shesh Nag on whom the Narayan reclines. Basak Nag has assigned different regions of his territory to his eighty four sons. Of them Malhan Nag is the chief ruler of snakes and scorpions in Kashmir, therefore their sting is without affect. Kai devta has been assigned Akhnur, Shankh Pal and Sampur with Ladha Dhar range which they guard and so on. The youngest of them, Bhair lived with his father. His father prepared a stream for his residence which he named as Tauh, from Basak Kund spring, his own abode and gave him in Jagir so that he takes care of his surroundings. This place is seven kos above Jammu in the river Tauh at a place called dabbar, deep waters. He can assume any form, appearing sometimes as human being riding a swift horse galloping about among the hills and valleys and mostly as snake, he resides in the waters of Tauh.
The legend further talks about the marriage of Bhair Devta. As the story goes, he fell in love with Behri Nagini, (daughter of Magar Machh of salt Ocean)after hearing about her physical and spiritual qualities. After his marriage with Behri Nagini, he received from her parents, fishes from deep seas as a dowry. He therefore loves the fish and protects them. Whoever seeks to guard them and brings them fermented flour, wins his favour.
Bhair devta has twenty two sons from Behri Nagini named Malik Dev, Surgal Dev, Ajal Dev, Jaspal dev etc.
After hearing about the spiritual greatness of Baba Bhair , Raja JasDev along with his subjects went to the banks the dabbar and made offerings of kneaded flour. They also took vows in the name of the deity to protect the fish in Tawi. The Devta was pleased and appeared on the banks in the form of a snake riding a fish and blessed the gathering. He called back all the snakes and the reptiles who had been troubling the Jammufolk. Raja donated some land in the vicinity of the Bhair Devta shrine to the priest for his livelihood which came to be known as Bhairgaon. Since then, Jammu folk especially the Jamwal Rajputs have kept the promise.
The deconstruction of the legend shows that probably at some point of time during the times of Raja Jasdev, Tawi appears to have been polluted, being the only source of fresh water for Jammu city. This may have caused hardship to the people who looked for the reasons. The realization that fish purifies water may have probably led to this prohibition coming into existence. They were equally aware of the fact that the only the fear of deity could act as a deterrence so they linked it with Baba Bhair, an important deity of the region. It is pertinent to mention here that all major sources of water in Jammu region are associated with local deities and fishing therein is prohibited for example, Mansar lake, Surinsar lake. Infact, the study of the local deities show that there is similar prohibition on natural resources in the vicinity of their shrines.
Those were the days when our ancestors were well aware the importance of environment and crafted methods to protect the same. Unfortunately their posterity has forgotten the promise.
It is high time that we, the Jammufolk recall our promise and save Tawi, whose very existence is at threat.
….History Beyond Classroom
Photo Credits: Danish Wazir & Vikas Sodhi.