The womenfolk frequenting the Yaarbals developed a special kind of bond and friendship among themselves and were called as “Yaarbal Kaakin (Yaarbal sisters)”. Yaarbal means the meeting place of friends as Yaar means a friend in Kashmiri and in Persian.
Besides water, Jhelum River carries with it important traditions of cultural and social significance. Right from Khanbal to Khadinyar, it proceeds forward in serpentine motion with slow speed. The slow speed enables the people living on its banks to enjoy various benefits from it in many ways. One benefit is the water transport, with house boat, shikara, donga, and the boat bus of recent origin, promoting the all too important tourist industry, trade and commerce which form the backbone of the Kashmir economy.
Jhelum River is dotted with several bridges, shrines, temples, mosques and dargahs on its banks, conferring on them a spiritual and cultural ethos. These sacred places are reached via steps from the riverside called “Ghat” or “Yaarbal”. Besides providing access to the shrines and mosques, situated at a walking distance from Yaarbal, they were significant in many other ways also. The Jhelum River attained so much sanctity that the Pujari of a temple would enter the temple only after having a dip in the sacred water of Jhelum from the Yaarbal, performing rituals there, and the Imam of a mosque and other Namazis would perform ablutions in it before offering prayers in mosques. Even the ashes of the dead after their cremation were immersed in the river through Ghats or Yaarbals.
The Yaarbals were also used for bathing and laundering purposes and were frequented by people, especially womenfolk, for a variety of reasons, so it became a hub for social discourse and exchange of ideas to soothen the mind and soul. After greetings and pleasantries with each other, they discussed domestic and social issues which included matrimonial alliances also. The womenfolk developed a special kind of bond and friendship among themselves and were called as “Yaarbal Kaakin (Yaarbal sisters)”. Yaarbal means the meeting place of friends as Yaar means a friend in Kashmiri and in Persian. This word has been used frequently in Kashmiri poetry and Kashmiri songs, drawing applause from music lovers. Another poetic derivation from Yaarbal is the “Balea Yaar” also used commonly in Kashmiri poetry.
Small domestic disputes were also settled at Yaarbal by some elderly Kaakin. But at times she would fuel persistent bickering between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law with her backbiting. Sometimes even brawls with raised voices would ensue between groups of women, quite common at Maisuma Ghat in Srinagar.
In rural areas, womenfolk drew water from the Yaarbal of springs and rivulets. The water of springs is cold in summer but warm in winter. Springs like Cheshma Shahi in Srinagar, Trehgam and Tikker in Kupwara, and at various others places, carry a sacred tag and people take their water with them to their homes. The water of many springs also has herbal value which helps in curing skin diseases.
The commercial value of Yaarbal cannot be overemphasised. It has served as the sale point of water-based foods like fish, nadroo, sangara and many other Dal Lake products on which depend the livelihood of a large chunk of population.
The much famed water transport in Kashmir is dependent on Yaarbals for loading and unloading their goods and passengers. The houseboats in Dal Gate, as also elsewhere, use Ghats or Yaarbals for ferrying tourists from the mainland and also for other activities. Water transport has been the backbone of our economy. It is a heritage transport system of tourist attraction and also helps to decongest our road transport system. It was also used for transport of food grains to various stores for distribution among public. These stores were located on the banks, known as Ghats, so the store keeper was called Ghatmunshi. Even building material like timber was transported to and from Yaarbals.
The much famed luxury Bus Boat is a recent addition to water transport. It has made some trial runs from the Yaarbal of Lasjan to the Yaarbal of Chatabal Weir. Tourists are much excited while using such water transport system.
Yaarbals are also used for water sports like swimming. The sports events are facilitated by Yaarbals and are a point of much hustle and bustle. One floating post office also functions from a Yaarbal in Nehru Park in Srinagar. Nehru Park in itself consists of many Yaarbals and Ghats, well decorated and duly numbered for the convenience of tourists and thereby augmenting the tourist trade. The famous “Bund” in Srinagar is itself a great Yaarbal which enchants and entertains many by its mesmerising beauty and the heritage walks on it.
The Yaarbal in Kashmir has always remained a political venue. Many political processions have been started and ended at Yaarbals of river Jhelum. History has recorded a great water procession taken by the first Prime Minister of India, late Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1948-49 from a Yaarbal in Srinagar. Since then Yaarbaals are witness to many political and religious processions taken out on river Jhelum.
Yaarbal plays a crucial part in the beautification of river Jhelum. Many view points and resting points, if made available, can add to the charm of the river. This way it can be a meeting place of writers, poets and intellectuals, besides boosting our tourism, trade and business and be a truly “Yaarbal” in letter and spirit.
—The writer is a retired telecom engineer and author of the book “Footprints in the Sand”. He is a regular columnist of Kashmir Reader. [email protected]