The residents of Panzath, a remote village in the Anantnag district in southern Kashmir, come together in the second week of May each year to clear the area’s famous springs and preserve the surrounding environment.
The name Panzath is derived from paanch hath – Kashmiri for 500. The village, which lies in the town of Qazigund, also known as the Gateway of Kashmir, is home to 500 springs that are diminishing because of pollution and encroachment.
During the Rohan Posh festival in Panzath, an announcement made in the mosque calls on residents to come together and clean the surviving springs. “I am 82 years old and never in my life have I missed this festival. Although now I can’t go into the water and clean because of my deteriorating health, I visit and try to keep the spirit of villagers alive,” said Ghulam Nabi Deva, who kicked off the festival.
Young men from the village wait for his call before heading into the water. Residents also harvest fish on a large scale during the festival.
At the end of summer, when the water recedes, coontails, cattails, water weeds, watermeal and algal bloom grow wildly and engulf the springs. But the fishing-cum-weeding activities of the local community restore the springs the following year.
“It is vital for us to clean the springs here as they are the only source of watering our agricultural land and drinking,” said Deva. “Our ancestors have inherited it to observe this festival of cleaning the water every year. These acts tell us how much we are dependent on nature and how important it is for us to protect our environment. If we don’t do it, we will cease to exist one day.”
The spread of weeds in Kashmir is an issue, causing large bodies of water to deteriorate. One in particular is the world-famous Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, which is polluted and losing its biodiversity.
Cleaning Panzath’s springs and conserving the area around them has become a ritual, a tradition that the villagers have been following for ages. Different generations come together for the good of the environment. “Back in the old days, men and women used to clean the springs together. But due to growing conservatism, women have stopped coming and they watch only from the above peak,” said resident Abdul Rashid.