Kashmir is home to a number of springs and fresh-water bodies. One such spring, the largest in South Kashmir, is Panzath Nag in Qazigund, Anantnag. The spring is also called Naagbal by the locals, and gives the Panzath village its name.
Derived from the word ‘Paanch Hath’, the Kashmiri numeral for five hundred, Panzath Nag is said to be the source to as many smaller springs. Since there is no formal count of the actual number, it is believed that most of them have now dried up due to pollution and land encroachments.
The spring is special for the people in Panzath, who take a day off to participate in a cleaning cum fishing festival, that has been going on for ages. Those who can’t, watch the activity from the spring banks to become a part of the festival.
This week, like every year, the villagers observed their annual mini-festival. The locals go for open fishing in the spring for one full day every year, and hundreds come here for catching the prey.
Angling rods are no option. People get a wicker basket, wear a bag to collect the fish and wade through the water which turns muddy by so many people moving around. With these wicker baskets, people filter the water to catch fish. Though the algae and weed hinder the activity, the festivity keeps them going. All that fills the atmosphere is howls of laughter, and encouragement.
Spectators join the gala from the spring banks, whistling, hooting and calling their friends in the spring. They wait for them for hours together to get their promised share.
The practice has been going on for ages now. Even the eldest among the locals have no idea about how and when it started.
“It has been many years since this has been going on. I am 60 plus and my elders from Maharajas’ time in Kashmir have also witnessed this. They too had no idea about when this tradition started,” says Mohammad Ibrahim Naik. “We observe it to coincide with Rohne Posh – the annual fruit blossom festival,” he says.
The annual fishing cum cleaning festival, besides giving the locals a reason to celebrate, helps in de-weeding of the spring to maintain the flow of water for the rest of the year.
“It is not just about fishing,” says Bilal Ahmad Deva. “It is a movement started by our ancestors. A movement to keep it clean and keep our lands irrigated. It could have been developed into a tourist destination as well but that has been of least concern to anyone,” he says.
The spring is a source to a number of brooks providing water to some 35 nearby villages through water supply schemes managed by the Public Health Engineering Department. It also doubles as a Trout fish hatchery managed by the Department of Fisheries.
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