When stones and snakes rained
KASHMIR IN THE PAST
KHALID BASHIR AHMAD TAKES A LEAF FROM KASHMIR HISTORY
Kashmir is known in history as a place of natural and unusual calamities. Earthquakes, famines, floods and fires were common tragedies periodically visiting the Valley. But ever heard of stones and snakes falling from the heaven? Strange though it may sound, the official records describe two such incidents occurring in south Kashmir about 100 years ago.
In 1912, when Pratap Singh (1885-1925), the third generation Dogra ruler, held the throne, a strange incident was reported from the south Kashmir village of Shupian. People were shocked and shaken to the core on, what was described as, stones falling from the heaven. The incident struck fear among the natives who interpreted it as a frightening sign of the coming events. The Maharaja was nervous for his own reasons as the occurrence was whispered to be a bad omen for him.
As the news of the falling stones reached the palace, an anxious Pratap Singh asked for interpretation of the incident. Pandit Jagdeshji, in all probability the palace priest, was approached and asked if the falling of stones bore any bad luck for the Maharaja and, if it did, to ward it off by offering special prayers. Funds were ordered to be placed at his disposal for meeting the expenditure on performing the puja (prayers). The priest marshaled his knowledge and spirituality to decipher the incident for his master and came up with an interpretation that Pratap Singh would have least wanted to hear.
Unlike in the case of the Roman Emperor Maximillian who convened his council to find out the meaning of the fall of the celestial matter in 1492 and was told that it was a good omen for him in his wars against French and Turks, the Pandit told the Maharaja’s Chief Minister that the incident forebode drought for the country and trouble for the ruler. However, he had the remedy too up in his sleeves and suggested certain religious ceremonies to be performed so that the bad effects of the incident were neautralised. He presented a handwritten three-page list of the ceremonies to be performed including a yag (sacrifice) for the appeasement of Gods of Moon, Sun, Wind and Indra, gold, food and a white horse to be given away as sankalp (alms) and 43 items required for performing the puja (prayers). The items that he proposed with an estimated cost of Rs. 500 included were as varied as silk cloth, clay of seven colours, thread of five colours, flour, coconut, golden idols of Sun, Moon, Indira and Varuna (Hindu gods), cut pieces of cloth, five types of leaves, flowers, incense, sandalwood, betel nut, oil, ghee, rice, fruits, cardamom, wood, grass mat and an umbrella.
The Chief Minister recommended to the Maharaja the sanction for provision of Rs. 500 from the ‘Foreign Miscellaneous’ account head which was granted with the instructions that “Pandit Jagdeshji may be deputed to have the ceremonies performed in a proper manner under the proposed (Dharamarth) supervision”. The order was signed by Pratap Singh on April 15th 1912. About two months subsequent to this order, the Superintendent Dharamarth on June 10th 1912, informed the Secretary to the Chief Minister that “the proposed ceremonies for the appeasement of deities are being performed through Pandit Jagdeshji and a report will be submitted to you when the said ceremonies are accomplished”. The Pandit submitted his report, along with vouchers of expenditure on Har 5th 1969 Bikrimi corresponding to June 17th 1912, about the conclusion of the ceremonies at Shergarhi, Srinagar which, he wrote, were successfully held “in accordance with the Shasrtas (Hindu scriptures) and “with the high fortune” of the Maharaja.
The falling stones that shook Kashmir and its ruler in 1912 were actually meteorites. Meteorites are rocks from space that continually fall to the earth’s surface and have given an insight into the material that resulted in the formation of the solar system. As records indicate, four pieces of meteorite were recovered from the site in Shupian, two of which are among the prized collection of the SPS Museum, Srinagar. The objects were received in the Museum from the Superintendent of Police, Kashmir Province, on May 25th 1912, sixteen days ahead of the instructions from the Chief Minister’s office that the objects be sent to local museum for display. The other two pieces of the meteorite were given, one each, to the then British Resident in Kashmir, Mr. Frasin and the Prince of Wales College, now Gandhi Memorial Science College, Jammu. However, a model of the meteorite, not the actual piece, is in the museum of the Geology Department of the institution. No record about the actual object is forthcoming.
Author and expert on Kashmir Studies, Muhammad Yusuf Taing, drawing on the local people’s memory transferred from previous generations, identifies the place of meteorite fall as Nadigam plateau, about 3 to 4 kilometers from the Shupian village and holds that people had described it as sang baaran (rainfall of stones) which had also created craters on the plateau. The Muslims of the area are believed to have offered special prayers to seek Allah’s mercy in the wake of the frightening incident. The fall, understood to have been accompanied by a thunderstorm, appears to have happened in the month of March 1912 as the first official communication from the Palace, Jammu addressed to the Chief Minister and available in records is dated April 6th 1912 in which the Maharaja refers to the reports that he had heard about the “very inauspicious” occurrence in Kashmir in the form of “the fall of stones from above (heaven)” and issued instructions that “ceremonies as may be dictated by the Shastras should be performed”.
The Shupian meteorite is one among the 1085 falls of various sizes and weight around the world documented up to December 2009 and listed in widely used databases, most of which have specimens in modern collections. The meteorite is classified as Group H and Petrologic type 6 and is also represented in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London. The Museum entry records the weight of the meteorite as 5 kilograms. Based on their material, the meteorites are divided into three categories of Iron meteorites, Stony-iron meteorites and Stony meteorites. The overwhelming 94.5% of the documented 1085 meteorites including the Shupian meteorite belong to the last category. The Shupian meteorite occurred during 1901-20, the period when the world witnessed the third highest number of 118 documented meteorites and the highest ever recorded in any single continent during any given period of 20 years since 1800 AD. The world-wide highest two numbers of meteorite fall of 161 and 123 relate to the periods 1921-40 and 1961-80. Though meteorites have not been generally known to cause destruction to life, the crash of a 747 flight from New York to Rome in 1996 was talked about as being the possible result of a meteorite strike. The two pilots of another plane flying in the vicinity had reported that they suddenly saw in the distance a strong and intense flash of white light which followed a descending and vertical trajectory and broke in six seconds. Eye witness accounts also spoke of a streak in the sky just before the crash.
People across the globe are known to have different beliefs about meteorites or shooting stars. While most of them consider these as bad omens, some like ancient Greeks held meteorites as objects of reverence. Many Greek and Roman temples enshrined rocks that had reportedly fallen from heaven. Instances of meteorite worship have been noted from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas even as meteorites have been found at the Hopewell Mounds in the United States in situations suggesting that they were worshipped. A shooting star crossing the night sky is a breathtaking scene with a degree of romance attached to it. Many people, especially in the West, wish on seeing such a spectacle. In some traditions it represents a sign of someone’s death.
Notwithstanding the superstition associated with meteorites, Kashmir did not see any perceptible change in the fate of its unfortunate people or fluctuation of luck of their ruler in 1912 or the years in its immediate trail. The year, though, saw a flood taking place in the Valley which was far less in intensity and destruction than some of the worst preceding it. An unrelated tragic incident, however, took place continents away resulting in the death of 1503 passengers when the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean in the wee hours of April 15th 1912, incidentally the day when the Maharaja sanctioned expenditure for performing ceremonies to ward-off the evil effects of the meteorite. No one could have blamed the shipwreck on the Shupian meteorite as the news of the tragedy must have reached the Valley, or of the meteorite travelled outside of it, in years given the status of communications then.
That nothing bad or untoward happened to Pratap Singh following the Shupian meteorite must have elevated Pandit Jagdeshji in his estimation, for he was soon summoned again to interpret for the ruler another worrisome incident happening in yet another south Kashmir village. Two years after the Shupian meteorite, people in Kulgam Tehsil were stricken by dread when in 1914, as official record puts it, snakes rained with snow in the village. The Pandit interpreted the “fall of snakes from the heaven” as an indication of war breaking out “on the spot where snakes, fishes etc. fall from above”. He submitted an estimate amounting to Rs. 338 and 1 Anna for performing shanti puja (peace prayers) to “pacify the evil effects of the fall of snakes with snow”. The Dharamarth Department was asked to provide funds for the ceremonies which declined to do so citing religious scruples that its money could not be used for this purpose. The Maharaja then asked his Chief Minister to arrange the funds for the puja.
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Lastupdate on : Sun, 28 Mar 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 28 Mar 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 29 Mar 2010 00:00:00 IST
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