The Birth of Lake Sheshnag
K. N. KaulFor
Visakha, a Brahman youth of about twenty one, it was a close encounter with
death. Caught unawares between the charging cavalry columns of king Nara of
Kashmir, who descended upon the place 1ike wolves upon a fold, he, in utter
confusion, panicked and flew for his life. The gathering thunder of a thousand
galloping horses, the glint of a thousand naked swords shimmering menacingly in
the sun and the full-throated battle-cry of a thousand soldiers - all combined,
made him swoon. He somehow managed to scurry and bolt across the road like a
rabbit for its hole and hid himself in a corner of a half-broken outer wall of
an old house. Here he tried to smother the sickening gurgling in his stomach
with his one head and with the other he touched the top of his head to see if it
was still there. The fright seemed to squeeze him dry of all blood. His eyes closed
as if in slow motion and a blankness overpowered him. He felt there was nothing
left in him and then he passed out.
King Nara, who ruled over Kashmir about more than a
thousand years ago, was a young, tall figure, erect as a lance. He was known in
the kingdom as an Aphrodite on the prowl. Year in and year out be seemed to be
in a state of perpetual infatuation for this or that girl. Only recently he had
fallen for the daughter of a courtier whose vivacious gait and swimming large
eyes, which looked larger due to the outline of kohl around them, had hooked him
fast. It was a face that got fixed in his mind but his advances were spurned as
the maid had already sold out her heart to same recondite Buddhist priest. In
one of her unguided moments the girl had confessed to the king her attachment to
the priest, which was enough to turn his milk sour. For him now the only way to
possess her was to remove the priest from his path for which he issued secret
instructions to his trusted guards. But before they could carry out their
nefarious scheme, the priest, sensing danger, had hoisted his sail at midnight
and vanished without trace along with his lady love. Learning that his quarry
had given him a slip a glowering devil seemed to rage within the king's heart,
raising dark and savage gall. In a mad fit of frenzy he ordered his royal guards
to wipe out all the Buddhist Viharas in the kingdom along with the inmates, a
job, which they accomplished perfectly well. It was in this maelstrom that
Visakha was caught but luckily saved by a mere chance.
It was a little before noon when Visakha came to
himself again. The soldiers had gone away leaving a trail of destruction behind.
Smoke was bellowing up at many places as the entire village had been torched. No
man or beast was moving around. It was as if a great mantle of death had
descended and hung over the place. Visakha felt his limbs still trembling with
fear. He had left his home in the morning to see his maternal grand parents who
lived in an adjacent village. But now he dared not take the highway for fear of
the soldiers. He turned left and took the bridle path stretching over the
hillock like a ribbon in order to make a detour to avoid any encounter with
It was now approaching noon and Visakha treaded along
inhaling the fragrance of honeysuckle and lilac bushes. The lush green all
around seemed to invite him to the delights of the open air to which he
surrendered himself. Pure liquid trills of a Bulbul coming from some nearby tree
bought a smile of delight to his lips. It was an infectious melody which brought
involuntary echoes from his throat almost similar in tone and sweetness. Again,
a throaty call of a thrush came from some distance, pure and clear, which was
promptly echoed by its mate. A crisp wind sent the fallen leaves scurrying and
now while coming down the incline he broke into a trot after them. It was
wonderful to be alive and young on that sunny day after a close brush with
A small pool of water nestling under the shade of a
couple of mulberry trees offered a tempting invitation to the jaded nerves of
Visakha. He felt hungry and thirsty. He had his 'Sattu' (a mix of flour and
jaggery) with him, which he now intended to eat. He had just cupped his hands to
draw out a drink from the pool when he pricked his ears on hearing somebody
talking. The desolate place was hardly a place fit for people to sit and talk.
He thought that the Nagas must be 1iving somewhere in the vicinity as their
habitats were usually lakes, ponds and springs. He had not met or seen anyone so
far but he had heard of their mysterious powers like flying in the air, causing
hail, rain or snow or even a blizzard at will. He got apprehensive of a possible
encounter with them for which he was not prepared, at least not that day.
Fear overcame hunger and Visakha forgot to eat his 'Sattu'.
He began walking on tiptoes in the direction wherefrom the human voice was
coming, curiosity getting the better of him. With bated breath and pounding
heart he walked softly trying to make his footfalls as light as possible. At a
little distance he was startled to find two young maidens sitting under a huge
fir tree eating something resembling grass. He circled noiselessly round the
bushes in order to have a close look at their faces. The maidens in their prime
of youth were stunningly beautiful, their almond shaped eyes adding a strange
unearthly charm to their faces. He had not seen such slanting and sparkling eyes
in any woman's face before. Dressed in their finest and bedecked with gold
jewellery, their appearance seemed at odds in that uninhabited place. Visakha
felt like a singing in his earns and his heart seemed to melt with a warmth he
had not felt before. What impressed him was a kind of solemn dignity about them
matching with the solemnity with which they were eating the food meant for
herbivorous animals - 'kacchaguccha' pods to be precise. He stood spell-bound,
gazing at them the way one would at an apparition suddenly materialising out of
the blue. He felt he could gaze on for ever.
The maidens had sensed the presence of a stranger and
without looking towards him, they suddenly stopped eating.
"Civilised men do not violate the privacy of
others. Why should someone sneak in like a coward or a thief and ogle at
us" said the one with a necklace of sparkling rubies decorating her long
slender neck, in an offending tone loud enough to reach Visakha's ears.
Visakha felt as if he was caught with his pants down.
He could neither run away because they had seen him, nor come out of his hiding,
feeling terribly embarrassed. He cursed his luck. It was a day full of disasters
one after the other. He stood rooted at the spot like a person caught red-handed
stealing his own money.
"How low have the Aryan youth fallen!"
retorted the other maiden, the invective obviously meant for Visakha. "No
dignity, no morals, no character," she blew out the words like a spit.
Visakha sagged in with the effect that the unwarranted
aspersions had upon his mind. For a moment he floundered and looked like a
murder victim. Drops of sweat streaked down his spine for he had indeed violated
the norms of Aryan decency. Presently, overcoming the initial shock, he shook
himself out of the torpor as the stinging accusations 1eft him no other
alternative but to defend and clear himself. Inwardly angry at his own
foolishness, he stepped out of his hiding dropping all pretence of concealment.
He approached the young girls but stood at some respectable distance from them.
"I am no vulgar sneaker. One cannot expect people
sitting and talking in this desolate place and that is what made me curious to
look," he stammered a reply with honest reproach in his voice, "But
pray tell me, why are you eating 'kacchaguccha' pods. I have sweet 'Sattu' with
me and will be happy to share it with you, that is, if you like to," he
added, his words ringing with genuine sincerity.
The maidens kept on looking at him and then at each
other in order to gauge their reactions to the offer. They surveyed him from
head to foot with a blank expression, giving out nothing.
Emboldened a bit, Visakha came a few steps closer, as
if attracted by some invisible magnetic force.
"I am Visakha, the son of a Brahman priest living
in that village," he addressed the maidens with an honest face and friendly
smile. "I have just escaped with my life in the morning when the king's
soldiers swooped upon the village. In order to avoid them I came over this
hillock and here I find you eating this," he said.
Visakha's honest countenance and the genuine anguish in
his words had the desired effect. The young girls seemed to struggle for the
remnants of their diginity and finally gave in. With a gracious and slightly
condescending smile the one with the glittering necklace beckoned him to sit.
"Won't you introduce yourselves?" said he.
"I am Chandralekha and this is my elder sister
Iravati. We are the daughters of the Naga Chief", said Chandralekha,
throwing her head up.
"I am glad to hear it. But why do you eat this
food?" he said pointing to the 'kacchaguccha' pods.
"That we cannot tell you. But if you are keen to
know, you can ask our father who will be coming for the pilgrimage of Taksaka
the next week. You may ask him as many questions as you like. You can single him
out even in a crowd. With his long plaited hair he is too conspicuous to be
missed,'' said Chanderlekha with eyes smiling.
Then both the young girls vanished into the thin air.
The sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of the maidens was too
much mind boggling for young Visakha. It took him some time to collect his wits.
Of one thing he was certain. The face of Chandralekha had left a deep indelible
impress on his virgin mind but at the same time he was apprehensive of the
mirage that might vanish for good.
A shrill ping of the mosquitoes in Visakha's ears
brought him out of the depths of reverie and with the determination of a
champion athlete, his dark young eyes were smouldering with a purpose. He vowed
to himself to be as near to Chandralekha as possible. That was the ultimate he
could think of about the gates of paradise which he wanted to be opened to him.
Visakha was among the first pilgrims to reach the
shrine on the auspicious day. Roaming about aimlessly among the thickening crowd
he spotted the two maidens flanking a stout man with two long plaits of hair
decorating his front. He bowed his head respectfully and wished him. Iravati
recognised Visakha and introduced him to her father. The Naga chief gazed rather
loftily with his meditative look and tried to size him up. There was a faint
tightening of his nostrils but presently he shook his head like an old horse.
The honest innocent look of Visakha clicked a favourable response in his heart.
"My daughters have told me about your concern for
our predicament," said the Naga chief. There was a reflective pause and a
tinge of sorrow and reproach in his voice. "We are harmless people but at
present victims of unforgivable inequity", he continued, but stopped on
seeing Chandralekha's face. Her face was tense and eyes about to overflow with
The chief wiped Chandralekha's tears with his finger
and continued." A spell has been cast upon our standing crop by an ascetic
who indulges in black magic and so we cannot reap the yellowing corn. If only he
would eat a few grains from this crop, the spell would break and we could
satisfy the painful rumblings of our empty stomachs. What else is there for us
to eat except the lowly 'kacchaguccha' pods till then? Look, there he is sitting
on the river bank chanting spells on simple folk like us," he concluded
pointing towards the man.
Visakba looked at the wide reflective eyes of
Chandralekha and then resolved to do something to help the family out of the
impasse. The ascetic was indeed guilty almost to the point of heartless cruelty
toward those who had done nothing to earn his wrath.
"Please wait for me here and I shall be soon
back," he said to the chief.
The ascetic's inhuman torture of the Naga family and
his crazy way of showing off supernatural powers, destructive in intent was
disgusting. Visakha saw the ascetic sitting cross-legged on the river bank. He
plucked a sheaf of the yellow corn and entered into his hut where he saw a pot
of rice boiling. He put the grains of corn into the pot and hurried out as
stealthily as he had entered. Hiding behind a cluster of poplars, he sat down to
Visakha was determined to see the end of the ascetic's
wickedness. He saw him entering the hot and taking the contents of the pot on a
plate, after which he sat down to eat. The spell existed no more. The Naga chief
was overjoyed to hear the good news. He and his people started reaping the
The Naga chief invited Vigakha to his place and granted
him a boon. He very coyly asked for the hand of Chandralekha which was granted
and the wedding took place at Narpora, a beautiful village nearby.
One day while sitting on the terrace of her house,
Chandralekha found a horse eating corn that was laid out in the sun to dry. She
hurried down the terrace and slapped the horse on his croup, leaving a golden
imprint of her slim tapering fingers on it. King Nara heard of the strange
phenomena and as usual, the devil in him poked him. He asked his sycophants to
seduce the lady. He sent his agents, emissaries to her with fabulous temptations
but the virtuous 1ady rebuffed them, one and all. The king now threatened
Visskha with death if he did not surrender his wife to him. He along with his
wife rushed to the Naga chief and narrated their tale of woe. With a wave of his
hand, the Naga Chief turned the day into night by hiding the sun under thick
layers of clouds. A strong gale swept the Valley which turned into a hurricane
and started uprooting everything. Thunderbolts leaped with deafening crash
burning everything on the ground. King Nara's palace was ablaze and then a rain
of big boulders coming from above crashed the fleeing people to death. The
apocalyptic devastation consumed the entire place. The Naga King's sister living
on the Ramanaya mountain came to his rescue and showered more boulders on the
city. Five yojnas of best 1and now 1ay waste, strewn with huge bould which no
man could dislodge.
Seeing the extent of devastation, the Naga king felt
great remorse for having over-reacted to the king's foolishness. He abandoned
the locality and with the help of his supernatural powers he made water gush out
from the bosom of the earth forming a huge lake in the depression. Pilgrims on
way to Swami Amarnath cave can see this lake, named the Sheshnag, its bluish
waters reflecting the snowcapped mountains around it and sometimes the passing
clouds as clearly as in a mirror.
After the demise of the Naga chief, Visakha, having now
become a Naga, ascended the throne. He got another lake made in the vicinity of
the Sheshnag, popularly known as the 'Zamturnag' meaning 'the lake of the