HEEMAL AND NAGRAI (A popular Kashmiri folk-tale)

(A popular Kashmiri folk-tale)







Satisar (Kashmir) has a wealth of legends and folklore. Kashmiri folklore has stories of valor and cowardice; love and hate; faith and disbelief; admiration and jealousy; loyalty and deceit. One uncommon story is of Heemal and Nagrai, which I am pleased to present to you from my understanding.

In the ancient vale of Satisar, when it was ruled by love and piety, in its underworld there lived the king of snakes whose name was Nagrai. He was a robust, fair and handsome lad with enchanting eyes. He had many snake queens who adored him for his valor. One day he came up from the underworld to explore the world above, about which he had heard many charming tales. As he was a reptile he needed to change his appearance, to mix with people living aboveground. So he morphed himself into a fair and handsome lad to explore this all new world for him.

While moving about in the pristine vale of forests, springs, streams and mountains his eyes fell on a Kashmiri damsel. She was azure eyed with apple cheeks, had long black tresses of hair and a royal gait. At first sight they LendingTreefell in deep love. Thereafter they married and started to live a life of marital bliss in the valley of peace and prosperity. They were full of happiness and carried on life in gay abandon. This could not be accepted by some jealous neighborhood ladies. They conspired to break the beautiful relationship and incited Heemal to ask her consort Nagrai about his natural birth caste. These were no ordinary ladies but actually some snake queens morphed into ladies. Nagrai saw through their game plan. But he loved Heemal in abundance to leave; did not want to lie and was afraid that he might break her heart by saying the truth. So he tried to dissuade Heemal in different ways from asking this question. But incited as Heemal was by the neighborhood ladies she would not relent and persisted to know his caste. Nagrai warned her that she would repent the consequences of her persistence. But she still insisted on knowing the mystery of his caste and hence all arrangements were made to test him.

All assembled to witness the trial for finding Nagrai’s caste. A large vat carved out of the trunk of an old oak was filled with cow’s fresh milk. It had been propagated by the neighborhood ladies that Nagrai’s caste would be revealed once he immersed himself in the vat of milk. Nagrai knew what would be his fate after the ordeal but could not let Heemal doubt his love for her. So he carried on with the rituals made up by the jealous ladies. Nagrai disrobed to show his celestial body which made all the ladies swoon. He entered into the vat of warm milk while warning Heemal that she would repent later if she persevered in her demand. But charged as Heemal was by the prompting of the ladies, she did not relent from her demand to know his caste.

Even as Nagrai started sinking in the vat full of milk, Heemal could not understand the scheming of the ladies. Inch by inch he sank deeper into the vat of milk till the milk kissed his chin. Still Heemal demanded to know his caste and Nagrai dipped further down into the vat leaving only his eyes out. He gave a final warning to Heemal that she would repent her adamancy. But when his warning had no effect on her he took the final dip. Just before he disappeared Heemal lunged to bring him back up. Sadly, she could not do that because it is believed that Nagrai was grabbed by some snake queens from the underworld who were waiting with bated breath for his reentry into the kingdom of reptiles.

Heemal could only snatch a tuft of his hair in her hand and started crying. She wailed for days on end and continued to wander the valley for a long time. It is said that the hair that fell from her hand grew into dense jungles of pine, kail, oak and deodar. And that is why in the valley these forests are named as Heewans. (Hee signifying Heemal and wan meaning forest) Kashmiris honor and remember Nagrai for loving Heemal by calling all the springs in the valley as Nag.

*P.N.Ganjoo was born in a modest Kashmiri family about 7 decades ago, lost his father early and was raised by his honest, hardworking mother. With her efforts he received his education in Srinagar and went on to serve in various Government Departments before retiring as a senior grade KAS officer.

Presently he is working on his varied interests besides being a consulting Director of a software services company.

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