Panzath: Kashmir village where a 900-year-old spring cleaning festival has conserved traditional water bodies

Panzath: Kashmir village where a 900-year-old spring cleaning festival has conserved traditional water bodies

Panzath: Kashmir village where a 900-year-old spring cleaning festival has conserved traditional water bodies 30stades

Every year in the second week of May, men, women and children from half a dozen villages in Kulgam district of south Kashmir descend into the water spring in Panzath village (Qazigund tehsil) as part of a spring cleaning exercise. They remove weeds and silt from the Panzath Nag spring, restoring its natural capacity for the rest of the year.

The two-day event, popularly known as the fish festival, coincides with Rohan Posh when locals remember the departed souls and distribute sweet loaves.

Kosh

The Panzath Nag spring feeds several streams that provide water for drinking as well as irrigation to about 35 nearby villages. 

So instead of depending on the government to help clean and maintain the spring, the villagers clean it themselves to ensure adequate water supply throughout the year.

Also Read: How Nahargarh’s 300-year-old water harvesting system beat the desert’s water blues

Historical significance

The cleaning tradition dates back 900 years as it finds a mention in Kalhana’s Rajatarangini – the 12th-century chronicle of the kings of Kashmir.

Thanks to the legacy and the sagacity shown by the residents, the water bodies in Panzath, around 100 km south of Srinagar, are still pristine.

The area of Dal Lake has shrunk from 22 sq km to 10 sq km. Pic: Wasim Nabi 30stades
The area of Dal Lake has shrunk from 22 sq km to 10 sq km due to encroachment and pollution. Pic: Wasim Nabi

This is in sharp contrast to the world-famous Dal Lake in Srinagar, which might look breathtaking but in its depths, it hides a gloomy picture – foul smell, human waste, sewage and garbage.

According to a 2017 study by the Dredging Corporation of India, the Dal Lake has shrunk from its original area of 22 square km to about 10 square km. Its gushing waters have turned poisonous and full of weeds.

However, the residents of Panzath have conserved their water resources judiciously. “We have been doing this spring cleaning for ages. It finds a mention in Rajatarangini,” says Shabir Ahmad Shah, (45), a local of Panzath. 

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The annual cleaning festival has ensured that Panzath Nag and other streams and rivulets remain pristine. Pic: Sameer Showkin Lone 30stades
The annual cleaning festival has ensured that Panzath Nag and other streams and rivulets remain pristine. Pic: Sameer Showkin Lone

Panzath derives its name from the Kashmiri word Paanch, which means five and Hath, which means hundred. The village was once home to around 500 small and big springs, and the name got modified to Panzath over the years. 

Today, there is no official count on the number of springs and rivulets in Panzath but it is definitely home to some of the cleanest ones in Kashmir.

The cleaning festival

The water from Panzath is used for drinking and irrigation in several nearby villages. The water flows from the large lake through natural channels into a network of smaller canals and streams that feed the fields.

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The sowing of paddy is done in the last week of May and so in the second week, the villagers de-weed and de-silt the lake. 

Men and women, young and old, from Panzath and adjoining villages of Wanpora, Shampora, Levdoora, and Shankarpora throng the lake located on a small hillock in Panzath. 

“This exercise not only helps to de-silt the large spring but helps clear the small springs too so that water keeps flowing. If we don’t do this, the small springs will also get blocked. It keeps the land moist throughout the year as the groundwater gets recharged through water streams,” says Mohd Maqbool, a local from adjoining Wanpora village.

Shabir Ahmad Deva, a teacher and a resident of Panzath, says the purpose is to clean these springs, remove silt and dredge them up so that sufficient water is fed to the fields.

Also Read: Bengaluru engineer revives 11 dead lakes, targets to rejuvenate 45 water bodies by 2025

 People of all age groups from adjoining villages of Wanpora, Shampora, Levdoora, & Shankarpora come to take part in the cleaning festival. Pic: Sameer Showkin Lone 30stades
People of all age groups from adjoining villages of Wanpora, Shampora, Levdoora, & Shankarpora come to take part in the cleaning festival. Pic: Sameer Showkin Lone 

“This festival is just days ahead of the paddy plantation season,” he says.

Another local, Ghulam Mohammad says the event took on the hue of a festival as several villages were connected to it and motivated each other.

“Our ancestors would have been cleaning and dredging these water bodies to irrigate their land and prepare it for paddy plantation. This collective effort of the whole village might have turned into a festival,” he says.

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According to Mohammad, they are carrying forward the legacy of their elders. 

“This festival is a message to our young generation about conservation of traditional water bodies,” he says.

Fishing festival

Though the waters in the lake are not too deep, measuring about three to four feet, the heavy algal bloom and the dense weeds make cleaning a laborious task for the villagers who work from dawn to dusk to de-weed and dredge up the silt deposits from the bottom of the spring.

Carrying bags, and wicker baskets, they also catch fishes which thrive in the clean waters. 

Fishing is done only during the two-day cleaning festival and fish are not caught during the rest of the year.

Those cleaning the spring don’t use fishing nets for their catch. Instead, they wade through the water and filter it through the wicker baskets to get fish, mostly trout, which is in abundance in the area.

Also Read: Delhi water crisis: 5 historic forts from which India’s capital can learn water harvesting & conservation

Wicker baskets are used to catch fish while desilting the spring. Pic: Sameer Showkeen Lone 30stades
Wicker baskets are used to catch fish while desilting the spring. Pic: Sameer Showkin Lone

“The aim of the festival is not to catch fish but to clean the water bodies. If we stop the practice, water flow to lower channels will be blocked. Then the water bodies will face the same fate as in other areas,” adds Maqbool, who participated in the cleaning festival. 

Saving the springs 

Shugufta Akhtar, Sarpanch of Panzath, says they have proposed a few projects like building concrete walls around the spring to protect it from encroachment.

“A concrete wall has already been built on one side to stop soil erosion. The first half of the spring has been taken over by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHE). They have constructed a small dam-like structure from which drinking water is supplied through pipelines to nearby villages,” she says.

Akhtar has raised the matter with the district administration to construct a few canals to stop water seepage and ensure that water reaches the fields for irrigation.

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“This cleaning festival is a blessing for us. This is why so many freshwater streams continue to flow in this village while similar natural resources have depleted in other areas,” Akhtar says.

Following the Panzath Way

Meanwhile, in Srinagar, an NGO has taken up a similar effort to clean lakes in the city.

Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO), led by businessman Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo, is working towards the restoration of lakes in the city.

Appalled at the sad state of water bodies in Srinagar, Wagnoo in February last year started a drive to clean up the Khushalsar Lake. 

Khushalsar, which once stretched from Zoonimar up to the historic Aali Masjid, has now significantly reduced. It has been encroached upon with illegal constructions and landfilling. 

The cleaning ritual is performed just days ahead of the paddy sowing season in South Kashmir. Pic: Sameer Showkeen Lone 30stades
The cleaning ritual is performed just days ahead of the paddy sowing season in South Kashmir. Pic: Sameer Showkin Lone

It is connected to another smaller lake, known as Gilsar, via a narrow strait. The Gilsar Lake is in turn connected to the famous Nigeen Lake through a stream called Nallah Amir Khan. 

So all these small and large lakes in Srinagar are interconnected and the deterioration of one could be a threat to all the water bodies.

Wangnoo met with the Kashmir divisional commissioner last year in February with his proposal seeking support to clean the water bodies.

In a matter of 100 days, around 1,000 trucks of garbage were removed from Khushalsar through the efforts of volunteers and the members of NLCO. 

A year later, the lake is back to its pristine glory. The locals are all praise for the private-public partnership that led to the restoration of Khushalsar. 

The administration is now joined by local volunteers who have taken up the task of de-weeding and de-silting other water bodies like Gilsar in Srinagar.

(Sameer Showkin Lone is a development professional & a journalist. He is a former Aspirational District Fellow (Bijapur, Chhattisgarh) at the Government of India. He writes on internal security, Kashmir politics, development & governance, education and health issues)

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