The spring of Kheerbhawani located in present day Tulmul about 25 kilometers from Srinagar is quite large and is supposed to be very sacred to Maharajni, a form of Durga and has always been held in veneration by the Brahmans of Kashmir. The spring is said to exhibit from time to time miraculous changes in the colour of its water, which are ascribed to different manifestations of the goddess. Turning of the colour into shades of black is supposed to signal approaching bad times. In 1886, Walter Lawrence, the-then British settlement commissioner for land, during his visit to the spring, reported the water of the spring to have a violet tinge. Kashmiris claim to have observed a darkish or murky tinge to the water just before the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the 1989 insurgency in the valley. Some people say that before the exodus of the Pandits from Kashmir the colour had turned completely black in 1990!
The legend has it that there were 360 springs surrounding the main spring but all of these seem to have disappeared as the land has become marshy all around. In the last half century the pilgrimage had become the most important for Kashmiri Brahmans who used to come here from all over the State and even from outside. Kheerbhawani is considered to be the Presiding Deity of most of the Kashmiri Brahmans. The Kashmiri devotees often say this mantra in their morning prayer, "I owe my full gratitude to the great goddess Sharada who lives in Kashmir I request you to fill in my mind with utmost power of concentration and studies" The annual festival held here on Zetha Ashtami (usually in May) has been declared a public holiday for the Kashmir province by the State Government. In recent times the pilgrimage has once again assumed great importance and a large number of migrant Kashmiri Pandits come here from all over the world.
It has been reported that the water in the spring has turned RED. The recent concert given by the Bavarian Orchestra and conducted by the world famous maestro Zubin Mehta in the romantic Mughal garden of Shalimar during the course of which blood of some innocent locals freely flowed does not seem to be a good omen for Kashmir. The maestro had come with a message of PEACE but unfortunately he went back by not only causing a disturbance to the temporal PEACE but most probably even to the SPIRITUAL PEACE in the valley. This change of colour in the water to RED has taken place in last few days and has happened after a very long time. There are no two opinions that the concert in the Shalimar Garden not only became a raging controversy but gave a fillip to the dormant popular political movement which had been simmering under a deceptively calm surface.
Vice-Chairman of the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority says that the change in colour of water especially in marshy lands is due to growth of some algae and has happened in the Dal Lake area a number of times. The phenomenon known as Red Algae Bloom can be easily taken care of. It could also be due to increase in sulphur content in the water. He is investigating the phenomenon in the Kheer Bhawani spring. However, the traditional Kashmiri belief especially of the Kashmiri Pandits about the colour of water in this holy spring seems to be stronger than the scientific explanation. Even the 52 year old Pujari says that it is for the first time he has seen RED colour of water. According to him, the water did sometimes go murky or dark but never so far RED! He says the colour became RED on the next day of Janam Ashtami. According to him the water had been tested and it was revealed that no outside stuff had been put in but the water had naturally turned RED. Kashmir known as the bowl of saints and Sufis has a strong spiritual basis. The news about the change in the colour of Kheer Bhawani spring water may cause apprehensions all over especially among the Kashmiri Pandits. They may have to undertake some yagna and engage in prayers to forestall any bad happening in Kashmir. We may also have to keep our fingers crossed and pray for the wellbeing of all. In the meantime, it may be advisable to restrain likes of Zubin Mehta from disturbing the temporal as well as spiritual peace in the valley in future!