Does regular discoveries of artefacts and coins in Dalwan village point to a larger secret? Saima Bhat visits the place to unravel the mysteries of Buddhism’s greatest treasures
Some fifty years back Kashmir witnessed rainfall for almost a month. Rains for more than ten days usually trigger landslides in the hilly terrains. But that day it was different. In Dalwan village, of Chrar-i-Sharief constituency, darkness had covered the sky. And with the rocks, the villagers witness the ‘rainfall of earthen-ware utensils’. Villagers called it God’s wrath and in their hearts they buried the incident as if they were ‘culprits’. Nor they discussed the incident with each other.
Abdul Gani Rather, a local resident who is in his mid eighties now, is the only surviving witness of that incident. Just a thought of that day still gives him goosebumps. “It was a secret. May be we had done something wrong and Allah was punishing us,” said Gani. “Everybody thought at their individual levels, whosoever witnessed the incident they were the culprits. So everybody preferred to remain silent.”
But on the other side of same mountain, in Pulwama district, late Muhammad Amin Mehjoor, locally known as Ibn-e-Mehjoor (son of poet Mehjoor), collected same ‘secret’ and gave a press conference, where he claimed to have traced the missing link to Kashmir’s history.
Late Amin, an employee of archeology department then, had managed to get hold of some earthen wares along with a few broken idols. In the press conference Amin declared he is in possession of some artefacts that are 2000 years old and belong to the Buddhist era. He also claimed to have discovered a terracotta statue of Gautam Buddha.
Amin revealed that he had successfully located Kundalwan village – a historic place where fourth Buddhist conference was held during the reign of Kushan King, Kanishka (75 AD-150 AD). The said conference was attended by around 700 monks who visited the place from across the world. However Amin didn’t tell anybody about the location of this place.
The conference which is of considerable significance in the history of Buddhist era, continued for six months and after a comprehensive debate and discussion Buddhist lore and revealed texts were formulated. This text, compendium was inscribed on copper plates and named as Tri Patrika.
After the Kundalwan Conference, Buddhism saw its fall and Shivaism became common. Historians believe Shivaists destroyed all Buddhist sacred places, so to keep the Tri Patrika safe, Buddhist monks buried it somewhere in the forests and nobody had its information where it was buried.
Back in the Dalwan village, Gani claims his village is known with same name from more than 200 years now, what he has heard from his father. Dalwan village is situated at a height surrounded by mountains from all the four sides.
The entrance to this village starts from district Chadoora and the same road connects it to Chrar-i-sharief shrine from a link road.
The Dalwan village has two parts separated by a stream, one on the mountainous side and another, which is on the low lying area, is connected to southern Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Another mountain surrounds the village as if protecting it from all sides.
Gani says their village was never connected to district quarters directly, which is otherwise just 15 kilometers away.
As the village has rough terrains they have to trek down to the city in case of emergencies. “I still remember how we used to take patients to Chrar hospital on a handmade bed. It used to take us more than an hour to reach the hospital. I have seen many patients dying on way.”
Ghulam Rasool Hajam, 70, was quick to add that some parts of village are still not motorable like Proengam village.
Almost every villager has an anecdote to tell where he has found some artefact, earthen pots and bigger defined stones along the river beds. Presently same area is under cultivation for apple and pear trees, which is main economy of this village.
“I have heard from my grandfather that there was a civilisation living along this river and then one day they were out of sight abruptly. In my childhood it sounded like a fairy tale, but it is true how that area got its name Proengam,” recalls Hajam.
He says same artefacts can be seen even today, along the mountain range surrounding the village.
Under one such mountain, on way to Dalwan, near Hayatpora village, Indian soldiers have hanged portraits of men they ‘hate’ for shooting practice. It is hard to figure out whose faces are these from the distance.
But one has to cross the mountain to reach Dalwan village.
Hajam and Rather recall how one day they even found a big earthen pot, may be used to store rice, when they dug the land some three feet below.
They say every now and then the farmers in that area find such artefacts. Such discoveries are common in the village, but nobody from government has come to study so far.
Interestingly, this report couldn’t find a single male who has studied beyond Class 8. However, there was a woman named Naseema Yaseen, who said she had done graduation in 1995.
Addressed as Ma’im Sahab by the villagers, Naseema recalls how her house got damaged in an ‘accidental’ fire.
While constructing a new house for Naseema’s family labourers dug a twenty feet pit for sewage tank. Suddenly labourers got hold of two intact earthen pots with their lids on. Without telling anybody, the labourers left the spot, thinking they will come back in the dark to collect the treasure.
“However when they removed the lids both pots were empty,” Naseema was told later by one of them. “On the second day they returned to work and handed over those pots to me. They were of same size that we use today for making pickles.”
Naseema took both pots home thinking they might have some historical value. “That night, all of a sudden, our house caught fire. I felt the pots were cursed. Or maybe there was some secret hidden in them,” said Naseema who lives in Lawaypora, an area of Dalwan on the lower side of mountain, separated from the main village by another stream.
Last time when villagers started digging land for borewell, as the village doesn’t have proper water supply, they found well defined bigger and smaller flat stone slabs in order and pattern.
As per the revenue records, since 1916 this village was named Dalwan, because the low lying areas were under water for a long time giving it a shape of a lake.
This village comprises three areas: Hardu, Dalwan and Futlipora. Out of the total 505 households, 217 falls under the below poverty line category.
Shameem Ahmad, the revenue officer of this village, draws an imaginary circular pattern on his table to give an idea of its geography. “You will be surprised to know some of our areas fall under Chrar-e-Sharief and some are under Pulwama district,” said Shameem.
It is the same area where Yousuf Teing, writer and poet, claims the Buddhist Kundalwan is. “You see Kundal (earthen pot used in kangri and wan (forest) are both Kashmiri words. I am saying it with authority that Kundalwan is here in Kashmir and it exists in Southern Kashmir from Shopian to Dalwan area and this forest is in circular shape.”
Giving the leads from the route Nag Arjun, the person behind Kashmir’s own love story of ‘Heemal-Nag Arjun’, who was a member of that Buddhist conference, Teing draws the route used by Buddhists in Kashmir from Kokernag, Bijbehara, Tral, Shopian, and Dalwan. He also claims that Kashmir’s own love story is much older than Arabian love story of Shireen-Farhat.
Just 2 kilometres away from Dalwan, another village Fultipora is also rich in artefacts. Locals claim every now and then they do find something. The economy of this village is also dependant on horticulture.
Ahmad Lone, who claims to be 100 years old, is living in Futlipora since his birth. Out of his experience, he recalls how his place was historically important. His village has been a centre of various Dogra and Sikh rulers who used to collect their share of grains from villagers residing in this area of central Kashmir.
Ahmad Lone remembers at least four other forts were located in the Mohnu, Shamsh, Tilsaer and Hapru, which are of historical importance. Besides, there was a fort build by one Maharaja in Dalwan as well but now no signs of these forts are visible. “When rulers changed they demolished the inheritance of earlier rulers. That was a norm,” said Lone.
Recalling his old days Lone, who had two wives, says his village was rich in Sarai’s, resting places meant for visitors, at various places. He was probably the only survivor who was witness to a major fire in Chrar-e-Sharief.
“I am not talking of 1995 fire, it was much before that. I was a kid then but I am sorry I can’t recall the exact year. Locals had to get ember from Tilsaer,” said Lone.
In his lifetime, Lone has witnessed the recovery of a number of defined stone slabs, stone used by Kashmiri chefs, pickle pots, other storage pots and the circular stones used by porters.
Walking on criss-cross mounts inside this area, all houses in the vicinity follow a single pattern with just one floor and the roof. No house is demarcated with walls but with sticks of Russian poplars. Only old houses are three-storied with ancient architecture. Among these, a concrete single-story house belongs to Abdul Hameed Lone, 56, who is the numberdaar of Futlipora.
Interestingly Hameed is not aware of the historic significance of his village. However, Hameed is in possession of an ancient coin which is dated circa 999, of the Hindu era.
Hameed said his agricultural land in Manzim Marg is rich in archaeology artefacts. He found this coin while tilling the orchard. “We cannot afford to dig the land deeper because that will uproot our trees.”
His wife, a resident of Pakherpora, was quick to share her finding in childhood when her family came in possession of a treasure pot that contained silver coins. “Almost every family in Pakherpora has found these treasures,” she said.
She is also witness to the natural shifting of springs in her village.
M S Zahid, head of the directorate of archives, archaeology and museum, had no idea of any such discovery. “Entire Kashmir is archaeologically rich. Everybody claims to discover something but it is not possible to dig each and every space.”
When Zahid was deputy director in his department, two students Malik Tariq Rasool and Abdur Rauf came up with artefacts from Kokernag’s Zalangam village in 2010. Both students wrote a monogram of their findings in 12 pages and later handed over the pottery, tiles and bricks to the Archeology department.
“But during the same night our residences were raided by government forces,” said Abdur Rauf.
Rauf, who is an engineer, said he visited late historian Fida Mohammad Hasnain who told him that the artefacts belong to Buddhist Era (pre-5th Century A.D). “He was of opinion that the Buddhist monks who participated in the Fourth Buddhist Council may have visited this place and these things belonged to that era.”
Fida Hasnain had also claimed that the fourth Buddhist Conference was held in Kashmir. “To know where exactly the place is a matter of research. Earlier we did extractions in Harwan, Ushkar and Ahan, if not the copper plates but we found Buddhist relics at these places. We must research because Buddhists were in dominance in Kashmir till 5th century,” he had told this reporter. “But the irony is Kashmir University doesn’t have a specific section dedicated to Buddhism when it has its root in Kashmir.”
Fida Hasnain, who has served in the department of archaeology in Kashmir told, “Whatever we found here in Kashmir was taken away to either Chandigarh or to Kolkata. The Gilgit manuscripts were taken away and kept in the National Archeology of India. And now they are not giving them back when they belong to us, to our history.”
However, Zahid, after the discovery of these artefacts visited Zalangam in 2010. But the search was abandoned mid-way because of summer unrest and later for lack of manpower.
Zahid claims to be the most versatile director of his department for presiding over the discoveries like Lethpora civilization, treasure of Kushan period including an underground museum in Islamabad district. He says the site was closed for fear of theft by the smugglers.
“I am keenly looking for imprints of 4th Buddhist conference. First Ibn-Mehjoor and now Teing Sahib are playing with us. Both of them are not revealing where Kundalwan Vihar is, when both claimed they know the place,” said Zahid. “I am hopeful Teing Sahib will reveal the secret otherwise it will be buried with him like it happened with Ibn-Mehjoor.”
But Teing says the place is in the forests between Shopian and Dalwan village. “I am in the last phase of my life. I don’t want to die with this secret in my heart. And I am not like my friend Ibn-Mehjoor who died with this secret only because he had bargained for some minimal amount. But I just want them to respect the Buddhist monks of 4th conference who wished to keep those Tri Patrikas in Kashmir only,” said Teing.