About 22.5 kilometres from Srinagar is one of the most important shrines of the community known as the Kashmiri Pandits, a shrine that even now persists in inspiring tales of magical springwaters and accounts of devotion. This is the Kheer Bhawani shrine, which is dedicated to Bhawani, also known as Maharagya Devi, Rhagnya Bhagwati, and supposed to be a form of the goddess Durga.
The shrine as it appears now was constructed in 1912 by one of the most well-known of the warrior maharajas of the Kashmir, Maharajah Pratap Singh. The lovely marble building atop the seven-sided pool-which is actually a spring-came long after the foundations for this shrine’s legend were laid, however. The heart of Kheer Bhawani is said to be a statue of the goddess, one that came from a different land and was brought to the spring by the deity known as Lord Hanuman.
There are different versions of the story. One version has it that the statue originated in Sri Lanka, where the antagonist of the Hindu epic The Ramayana, the ten-headed Ravana, supposedly had the statue of the goddess Bhawani created only to displease her later on with the lack of virtue in his life and thus cause her to demand of Lord Hanuman to be transferred to the site of the shrine today. In other versions, it is Rama, the protagonist of the Ramayana, who is said to be the agent of the goddess’s seat being relocated to the present spot, although Lord Hanuman is also involved in the relocation. Whatever the case, the goddess apparently settled on the site of the holy spring, which is surrounded by a marshy area that supposedly held at least 300 more tiny springs before (now impossible to discern due to the place having turned into wet marshland), and the building was constructed later on as devotees continued to come to the place.
The spring is called Mata Ragini Pond or Mata Ragini Kund in the local language. It is said that at one point, the sacred spring was actually lost because of the flooding in the area, although it was recovered after a Pandit, Yogi Krishna Pandit, was visited by the goddess and told to follow the spot she would mark, which she did by swimming through the waters as a snake. When the floodwaters subsided, the place that had been marked was in fact the location of the spring.
The spring is especially important to people visiting Kheer Bhawani because it is said to be magical: the waters very visibly change colour, even to this day, and have run practically the full gamut of the rainbow. Black waters are said to be a herald of bad times for the region: one of the most recent times the water turned black, say devotees, was just before the Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus. It is worthwhile to come to the shrine just to see this marvellous pool and see what colour it may display during your visit. Take note that June usually sees a festival bringing hordes of Hindus to the shrine for Zyeshth Ashtami; if you want to make an offering to the goddess, buy some “kheer” from the locals selling it outside the shrine. Kheer, which is also from where part of the shrine’s name comes, is a local pudding.