Geo-Archeological and Historical perspective of Lake Satisar

By Suhail Ahmad Bhat


Kashmir is a land of fabled beauty and eternal romance with beauteous scenery, wondrous fertility and salubrious climate. Writers describe it as one of the finest countries upon which the sun shines and the Sub Alpine region of Asia‘s Italy for its scenery. Kashmir is verily the terrestrial Paradise of the Indies, a fairy land where each curve presents a grand picture, and every horizon a new scene, each leaf a distinct lesson and each flower a new look. The poets have described Kashmir as a garden land of picturesque scenery, lovely landscapes, unrivalled vistas, majestic forests, green pastures, shimmering waters of vast, silent and transparent lakes and rivers, perennial snows, mighty chains of snow clad mountains, rumbling cataracts and roaring waterfalls. Kashmir was once a lake called “Satisar” which is considered mythical and has been passed through oral history from generation to generation till it was recorded in Nilmatpurana. In this article this myth will be seen through the eyes of geologists, archeologists, paleontologists and historians to support the argument regarding the existence of the lake Satisar.


The word Kashmir is an ancient Sanskrit word which literally means “Land of Kashyap Rishi” Kashyap is believed to have been the grandson of Brahma. Kashyap Rishi was one of the Saptarishis, who played a key role in formalizing the ancient historical Vedic Religion. According to the “Nilmatpurana”, the whole valley was once filled with water and was called Satisar meaning “lake of the goddess Sati”. In the lake lived the demon Jalodhava (meaning born of water), who tortured and devoured the people. Kashyap, who was on a pilgrimage, heard about the sufferings of people by the demon and came to their rescue. After performing penance for a long time, the saint was blessed. Lord Vishnu struck the mountain on the northern side at Varahmula (Baramulla) and the water gushed out through the breach and the demon was captured and killed. As a result of this heroic action the people named the valley as “Kashyap- Mar” meaning “abode of Kashyap”.The name Kashmir in Sanskrit means land desiccated from water “Ka”(the water) and “Shimeera”(to dessicate). In modern times people of Kashmir have shortened the Sanskrit name into “Kasheer” which is the Kashmiri name of the valley. The Greeks called it Kasperia, while the Chinese named it Shie-In or Kia-Shi-Lo. The Tibetans called its Kanapal and Dards named it Kashart.


The valley of Kashmir located in the lap of the western Himalayas is flanked by the Himalayas to the north-east and Pir Panjal range in the south-west. Geologists believe that about ten crore years have passed since the Kashmir Valley which was once a lake called Satisar, the lake of goddess Sati, came into its present form. For hundreds of millions of years the Valley remained under Tethys Sea and the high sedimentary-rock hills seen in the valley now were once under water. Some geologists believe that the lake originated due to the rise of the Pir Panjal range. A European traveler, Charles Von Hugel in 1840, was perhaps the first to report about some of the past geological changes in Kashmir. Thereafter three leading explorers, Helmut de Terra, T. T Paterson and P. Teilhard de Chardin did pioneering work on the Pleistocene (Pleistocene - geological time during which a succession of glacial and interglacial climatic cycles and depositions occurred) geomorphology of Kashmir. They too testified the presence of a vast Pleistocene lake in Kashmir.


Geologists have come to believe that the Kashmir Valley was earlier affected by earthquakes. Once there was such a devastating earthquake that it broke open the mountain wall at Baramulla (varmula) and the water of the Satisar Lake flowed out- thus came into existence the oval but irregular Valley of Kashmir, leaving behind lacustrine mud on the margins of the mountains known as karewas. Karewas locally known as the wudars are the flat surfaced plateaus or tablelands found mostly to the borders of the river Jhelum where these table lands attain a height of about 380 meters above the level of the Valley. The word Karewa in Kashmir dialect means “elevated table land.” This term was first used by Godwin Austin (1859) and later by Lydekker (1878) for an unconsolidated to semi-consolidated sand clay conglomerate sequence. These superficial deposits contain lacustrine and fluviate deposits, terminal moraines, glacial clays, gravel and sand. These karewas protrude towards the east and look like tongue shaped spurs with deep ravines. These karewas present a unique challenge for paleo-climatic and archaeological studies. It has a sediment profile of several hundred meters with beautiful exposures caused by tectonic activities and erosion. These karewas are the Bible for scholars from diverse fields investigating its formation and other related areas. Many scholars have discussed the geology and stratigraphy of these karewas. During the entire period of Pleistocene epoch that the karewas were formed. The lower karewas developed in the lower Pleistocene whereas the upper karewas were formed in the remaining part of Pleistocene. Lower Karewa represents various sedimentary situations like shore-margin deposits, while the Upper Karewa deposits represent shallow water, Lake Delta beds. Bhatt (1989) divided the karewas into three formations; Hirpur formation, Nagum formation and the Dilpur formation which are further subdivided into several members. Geologists have labelled the Lower Karewa as the Hirpur formation and the Upper Karewa as the Nagum formation and Dilpur formation. Some important members are Dubjan, Rambiara, Shupiyan and Pampur. These karewas are fertile lands, the world famous saffron cultivation is being done on the Pampurkarewa.


In every culture there are mythical stories and oral history which pass on from generation to generation. Satisar too was considered nothing more than a myth or story and was mentioned in Nilmatpurana the oldest book written on Kashmir. The geological, archaeological and paleontological evidences which supports the argument that Kashmir was once a vast lake. The entire evidence of morphological formations present in the geological sediments has revealed a composite history of past 4 million years.