Heemal and Nagrai

Kashmir’s engagement with mythical narratives and expression of culture comprising of folklores, fables and myths go way back. Storytelling is a part and parcel of our culture. We’ve all grown up listening to tales of animals, monsters, fairies and goblins and have enjoyed them immensely. The following piece is reminiscent of a mythological creature known as Naga. It is a growing attempt to gather round our cultural folklores which have sadly elapsed with time.

Let’s begin the story:

There was a Brahmin man, Soda Ram, who was annoyed with his wife for she would always rant about the discontentment in her life. Her constant nagging made him want to get rid of her. Serendipitously, he found a serpent and presented it to his wife, hoping it’d put an end to her life. To his utmost surprise, the serpent turned into a boy, who eventually grew up to be a handsome man called Nagrai.With time, the family went from rags to riches, idolizing Nagraias responsible for their prosperity.

One day, Nagrai asked his father to take him to a spring which belonged to a royal damsel, Heemal. It was surrounded by great walls; Nagrai morphed into a serpent and crept in through the wall to reach the spring. He continued doing this for a few days till Heemal caught a glimpse of him, his beauty leaving her awestruck. They got married and began an enchanting journey of life; except the bliss didn’t last long. Nagrai’s wicked wives decided to instigate Heemal against him. They asked Heemal to interrogate Nagrai about his caste and test him by immersing Nagrai in the milk vat. Poor Nagrai had nooption but to dip himself into the milk in order to please Heemal. On getting completely submerged in the milk, his other wives pulled him down to the underworld. Heemal realized what happened, but it was too late. She was left with just a strand of his hair as an emblem of keepsake.

She lamented for a long time, until one day when she heard that a serpent had shown up near a sublime spring. She headed towards it, in a flash, and couldn’t believe her eyes upon seeing her precious Nagrai. Burstinginto tears, she begged Nagrai to take her to the underworldwith him. He turned her into a pebble and hid her in his turban, given that the underworld was full of dangers. On finding out about this, the infuriated serpent wives falsely accusedHeemal of killing their children and thus, fatally bit her. A very heartbroken Nagrai buried her body under a tree near the spring where they first met; so he could visit her often. Many years passed like this until a priest rekindled life into Heemal, and took her with him. Nagrai set off looking for his beloved and reached the priest’s house, where his son killed Nagrai considering him a threat to Heemal. She couldn’t take the void his death left behind, so she burned herself down at his burial ground.

Such legends have enchanted many towards the literary heritage of Kashmir. Many places have derived their names in the honor of these fictitious creatures. Moreover, this magically woven myth in itself left an eternal imprint in the hearts of people, and to this day continues to be an ethos of love and absolute sanctity.

Qunain Mushtaq

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