All the children and men of a village take a day off to go fishing together once a year, it may sound like a tale of bygone days, but this village in Kashmir has been witnessing it for centuries. Kashmir is home to many freshwater bodies and springs. One such waterfall, which is the largest in the south, Panzath Nag village of Qazigund. Trout fish are cold-water fish and are being farmed in the hilly areas of the country. Kashmiri trout has none of the sponginess found in trout from polluted streams and industrial breeding pools in the west.
Panzath Nag festival history
The Panzath Nag festival has a rich history spanning 900 years and is mentioned in the Kalhana Rajatarangini, a 12th century chronicle documenting the kings of Kashmir. This ancient tradition of cleaning bodies of water has been passed down through the generations, symbolizing the community's deep reverence for nature.
The festival serves as a reminder of ancient customs and the vital role of preserving the environment. With its roots deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of the region, the Panzath Nag festival is a testament to the enduring connection between the villagers and their natural environment.
The elders also expressed their ignorance when asked about the history of the festival. “It is part of our tradition since ancient times. It is going on from the era of Maharajas (1846-1947 AD). But our ancestors were equally unaware of this. They don't even know when the festival started,” says 60-year-old Mohammad Ibrahim.
According to the local people, Panjath was famous for its Rainbow Trout and other fish species. But due to "rising pollution levels and official apathy" locals fear they may lose their water source, Panjath, Greater Kashmir reported.
Commitment to festival
Ghulam Nabi, a 90-year-old resident, expressed his lifelong commitment to the festival, saying, "In my 90 years of life, I have never missed this festival. Although my deteriorating health prevents me from actively participating in cleaning up the water, I make sure to visit and uphold the spirit of our community.
Deva, who inaugurated this year's festival, highlighted the deep connection generations have formed with the event, symbolizing their attachment.
The festival, which takes place in the second week of May, coincides with a major fish harvest, adding to the festive atmosphere. In the midst of the celebrations, the inhabitants maintain a deep understanding of the delicate balance that is required between their festivities and the preservation of their environment.
The water body cleanup festival in Panzath serves as a testament to the collective efforts needed to protect the environment and promote sustainability. Through the preservation of ancestral traditions and a sense of responsibility towards nature, these communities exemplify the power of unity in defense of environmental conservation.
Amina Bano, a local participant, shared her perspective, saying, "This festival unites our community and reminds us of our shared responsibility to safeguard our water sources and preserve the environment for future generations. It is a time when we connect with nature and reinforce our commitment to sustainable practices".
Bilal Ahmad, another villager, stressed the importance of the festival, stating, "Cleaning the spring is not just about removing rubbish, it is about revitalizing our heritage and showing our respect for nature. Our ancestors passed down this tradition to us, and it is our duty to carry it forward and transmit it to our children".
Trout Fishing Festival in Kashmir
The local people know this waterfall is Panzath Nag. From this, the name of this village has also got its name. The name is derived from 'Panch Hath', which in Kashmiri means five hundred. This waterfall is said to have once been the source of many smaller springs, mongabay reported.
Panzath Nag is said to be the source of many small springs. Since there is no formal calculation of the actual number, it is believed that most of them have now dried up due to pollution and land encroachment. The spring season is special for the people of Panzath, who take a day off every year to participate in the centuries-old cleaning and fishing festivities.
Experts say that most of these deaths have happened due to pollution and encroachment. The reason for this is also the increasing population here. With the increasing population people built houses and commercial establishments. A stream rises from the waterfall. Apart from irrigating paddy fields, it also supplies drinking water to several villages in low-lying areas through pipeline.
The annual festival, in addition to giving the locals a reason to celebrate, also helps reduce springtime to maintain the flow of water for the rest of the year. The waterfall feeds several brooks providing water to the surrounding 35 villages. It also doubles as a trout fish hatchery managed by the Department of Fisheries.
Every year in the third week of May, before plowing the paddy fields, the village elders choose a day for fishing as well as cleaning the Panzath Nag Falls. Traditionally, the day should coincide with Rohan Posh (souls to blossom), a traditional annual fruit flower festival specific to the region.
During the festival, they visit graveyards in the afternoon and shower flowers with rice on the graves of their relatives. It is a practice that is observed to pacify the departed souls. The elders offer prayers for the dead and homemade rotis are distributed among the children.
Earlier, in the day, locals are allowed to go fishing in the waterfall. During the rest of the day people do not go to the extent of the waterfall. A net is not used for fishing, but a special basket is used. The fish is removed by filtering the water with the help of a basket.
“Our aim is not just to catch fish. This is a tradition going on from the time of our ancestors,” says Shabbir Ahmed, a local resident. “There is a bigger purpose behind this, cleaning the waterfall. It provides good water for drinking and irrigation throughout the year.
Kashmiri trout, introduced by British in 1900
An official from Kashmir Fisheries Department told GroundReport.in that Kashmiri trout, introduced to the region by the British in 1900, is one of the healthiest and tastiest in the world because it lives in oxygen-rich, ice-filled streams.
As evidence, the official announced that the survival rate of trout eggs in Kashmir is about 10 per cent higher than the Western average of about 46 per cent. The information is available on the website of the Department of Fisheries of Jammu and Kashmir, the association of trout fishes with Kashmir is more than 100 years.
Officials said several roadblocks blocked the way before the trout exports could resume. Kashmir had no international airport, while hatcheries were plagued by power shortages and inadequate investment. Corruption and overall lethargy and inefficiency were other problems faced by Kashmir’s trout industry. At the behest of British residents, the first consignment of 10,000 trout eggs was sent by the Duke of Bedford to the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1899 but was destroyed on the way.
Mitchell opened a trout fishery in 1901 where its eggs were produced. After the increasing popularity of trout fish in Kashmir, the Department of Fisheries was also established in 1903.
In the year 1978, the structure of this department changed and since then the department has many other responsibilities like trout fisheries, egg extraction, laboratory operation, sales center, etc. The Aquarium and Awareness Center is also run by the department at Leh, Jammu, and Kashmir.
In June 2018, Anantnag district was named as Trout District of India. Several trout fish firms were established with the help of the government.
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