A Hindu love story that echoes in Muslim homes

Javaid ul Salam

Kashmiri historian, Mohammad Yusuf Taing, said that the legend of Hemal and Nagrai is a true story which reveals that the Aryans had invaded Kashmiri to clear the aboriginal Nagas from the land.

“The story of Hemal Nagrai depicts that  Nagas were aboriginal inhabitants of Kashmir  and were ethnically cleansed by Aryan invaders, who came to Kashmir from Central Asia and committed genocide of Nagas on a scale which can be matched by events like massacre of Red Indians by Spanish Europeans of America in 1492,”  Taing said, adding  that  he  has a strong belief in the existence of Nagas in Kashmir and that his belief is reinforced by the topographical evidence of Hemal Nag and Nagrai Nag in Balpora and Safan Naman, two neighbouring villages near Shopian town.
“If we do an analytical study of Nagas in Kashmir, we will find a number of evidences and proofs in support of their existence. The story of Hemal and Nagrai is fictionalized by distortions of romance. When we see it in an analytical perspective, we came to conclusion that Nagrai was killed by Aryans under a well planned conspiracy for marrying an Aryan woman. He was made to drink milk for that they knew Nagas were allergic to lactose present in milk and that he would die of allergy,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages had  installed a large sign board at  Nagrai Nag at Safan Naman in 1987 beneath which it has written a brief note on historical importance of the spring. “Dedicated to the memory of Nagrai or Naga Arjun, this spring is the most distinct topographical evidence of that famous but now unidentifiable human race which inhabited our valley at the dawn of the history. This spring reminds us of those noble people who shaped the Kashmiri culture in its infancy but were later described as nonhumans by the subsequent victorious races. Buddhist book Tripitika, Nil Mata Puran, Katha Sarit Sagar and Rajatarangini all speak widely about Nagas, their feasts and their charm. Nagas were worshipped not only in Kashmir but in entire Trans Himalayan region, Central Asia, and even in Egypt and Greece at the very dawn of history.’’
 “Their memory still lingers in our decorative motifs, on jewellery, wood carving, costumes, etc. Naga worship was prevalent in Kashmir even in Mughal times. Abul-Fazl records that in his times there were as many as 700 Naga shrines in Kashmir. Certain totems and festivals particular to Naga worship can still be traced in Kashmiri pandit rituals. Even Kashyapa Rishi, the legendary founder of Kashmir is described as patriarch of Nagas. “Nagrai or the King of Nagas is not a folk character alone but a
symbol of elegance, grace, beauty and sacrifice. In Kashmiri literature, young maidens long for darling like Nagrai. The legend of Hemal and Nagrai, though centuries old is still cherished by Kashmiri people irrespective of present day faiths and beliefs. In this spring sparked off the archetypal tale thousands of years old. This spring is a wonderful monument to diverse Kashmiri cultural heritage.”
“The  spring of Nagrai located in Balpora, a neighbouring village of Safan Naman served as private bathroom for Aryan princes, Hemal. The spring grew many varieties of fragrant flowers. It was surrounded by a high wall and entry into the spring was restricted by Hemal, who would lock its gate. Balpora’s Hemal Nag was the first point of contact between Hemal and king of Nagas, Nagrai,” Mohammad Isaaq Shah, a  story teller of Ganawpora Shopian said.
Isaaq said that in his village the story of Hemal-Nagrai was narrated by a person who had a melodious voice; villagers would encircle him and keenly listen to the tale for hours, especially during night. In his childhood, Isaaq was a regular listener of Hemal-Nagrai during and when he grew up, he jumped to centre stage to sing Hemal-Nagrai for his villagers for many years before this tradition of storytelling became ‘obsolete’ in Kashmir.
 “We were born and brought up in an environment where the characters of Hemal and Nagrai had been woven.  I witnessed dense forest cover around Hemal Nag in my childhood and Keller forest where Nagrai and Hemal died. Rambiara still flows here. All these tangibles would make us believe in reality of Hemal and Nagrai,” Isaaq said.
The story of Hemal Nagrai narrated by Isaaq unfolds in the vicinity of present day Balpora some 500 years before the advent of Jesus Christ. The village got its name from Aryan King, Bala –Veer, who had seven daughters. One of them was Hemal.
There was an issueless Brahman, Soda Ram, who lived in the vicinity of present day Balpora. He was living in abject poverty, sustaining himself on begging. His wife often complained for lack of basic necessities and used her vicious tongue against Soda Ram, who was very sick of her and desired to get rid of her. Once he left home for seeking alms, he put his bag aside and lay down to rest under the shade of a tree across Rambiara.
“There was a spring beneath the tree and Soda Ram saw a serpent coming out its pristine waters. The reptile entered his bag and   a criminal thought hit Soda Ram’s mind. He brought the snake home to get rid of his wife. Soda Ram thought nobody would suspect him for murder and the story of a snakebite death seemed fairly plausible to him,’’ Isaaq said. “ That he would carry the serpent home to sting his wretched wife and thus get rid of her.  Soda Ram thought nobody would suspect him for murdering his  wife that every one would think she was stung by a snake. Once home, Soda Ram, so the story goes, handed over the bag to his wife and asked her to open in a clean room. “He blocked all openings of the room, went out and locked the door. Then he said to himself, “aeth dare bochnae, mane aech wochnae” (let my eyes see the snake sting you).  When Soda Ram’s wife opened the bag a charming prince came out of it who told her to stay calm.
“He introduced himself as Nagrai and desired to live with them. She called her husband, who was perplexed to see the miracle. The couple adopted Nagrai who bought them immense wealth,” Isaaq said.
 Isaaq claims Nagrai met Hemal around the Hemal Nag and they fell in love. Nagrai sent a proposal to Hemal’s father who initially denied it but was latter made to change his mind by his adamant daughter. Nagrai had 1200 other wives, one of them once stung Hemal due which her body swelled. Nagrai took her to a dense forest in present day Keller where he treated her under a canopy of four Qiro trees. “One day Nagrai found her asleep, he didn’t want to disturb her; so he coiled himself near Hemal and kept waiting for her to wake up. He was in shape of a serpent. A clergy passed through the forest; He saw the snake and thought it might sting the woman. So he killed him.
 When Hemal woke up, she found Nagrai dead. She wept inconsolably, for she had lost everything. Then she cremated the body of Nagrai and immolated herself,” Isaaq said. There are contradictory versions of the story which has been written about extensively, especially in Kashmir.

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