Wednesday, February 8, 2017



  ( A  sketch of Mahadev Bishta blowing red ants through a pipe done by  artist Mohan Raina )


The story of Mahadev Joo, a Kashmiri Robin Hood is forgotten now. No grandmother to reveal how he procured the Pyjama of Maharaja Partap Singh by forcing red ants through a reed pipe while the ruler slept in his bed-chamber. So much was Maharaja upset with the irritating ants that he threw away his Pyjama to free himself from the insects. We were told by elders that someone had put up a challenge to Mahadev Joo for this daring deed and he did it skillfully.

There were two more notorious burglars  ( Zsein Tsoor in Kashmiri ) operating in Srinagar  along with Mahadev Bishta . A Muslim  from downtown Srinagar  known as Usmaan Chaasha and a Sikh from Kathi Darwaza known as Layak Singh had become notorious during Maharaja Partap Singh's rule.  Usmaan Chaasha was chased by Police and he jumped into the river near  Safa Kadal while Layak Singh moved to Punjab and never returned to Kashmir after Maharaja Partap Singh ordered for arrest of both the Burglars  who had also attained the status of Robin hood's in Kashmiri society.

 And then another story of Mahadev Joo also known as Mahadev Bishta (cat’s mew ) entering the Mehndiraat function of Dhar family of Safa Kadal along with his group for a robbery. This group came in the guise of singers and Mahadev Joo divided the group for this theft. Some members of this group sat with Mahadev Joo for the high pitched Chhakri singing while others engaged themselves with thieving the house. And Mahadev Joo brought everyone to the singing venue when he sang this:-

“Bishtak baanda
Raanda ho……..
Hashi nishi aa’tch vaen 
Raanda ho ..
Noshi nishi tchaa’kha 
Raanda ho
Tchhaadar tujh’thaa 
Raanda ho …
Voth vaen nerav
Raanda ho.”

(Mewing like a cat, 
O performer!
You are the terrible,
Go to the mother in law?
You are the terrible,
Have you gone to the daughter in law?
You are the terrible,
Have you carried the blankets?
you are the terrible,
Get up, we should leave now
You are the terrible .)

While Mahadev Bishta engaged every member of Dhar family and the guests with his singing, some members of his group moved through the house for their assigned task. They were guided by Mahadev Joo through the lyrics of the song that he was singing. It was already decided in the group before this burglary that word “Haesh or mother in law” meant the provisions storeroom while “ Noesh or the daughter-in-law” meant the expensive jewellery.

We were made to believe that Mahadev Joo was a man of short stature and a thin body frame. A man who could climb trees and rooftops to barge into the houses from chimneys known as ‘Vogg’ in Kashmiri. A real-life Mogli who walked with heavy dry grass sandals or Pullho'r.Many elders told me that during his old age, he was a reformed man who lived a simple village life. He was a dancer, Chhakri singer and mimic artist or Baand.

I am told that Mahadev Bishta belonged to village Gushi of district Kupwara, Kashmir. He could imitate the voices of many animals particularly that of cats, hence earned the nickname of Bishta. He had a Chhakri singing party of his own and under its guise, he would rob the affluent families to help the poor families to marry off their daughters. Pakistan sponsored tribal raiders killed him in his native village Gushi, Kupwara sometime in October 1947. However I was also told by some elders that he died of Tuberculosis .

Many elders have told me that Mahadev Joo entered the house of his target by simply mewing like a cat. The house owner would think it to be a stray cat and would accordingly try to ward it off by crying," Bishta Bishta ".

He is reported to have mastered the technique of entering houses from rooftop chimneys known as ‘Vogg’ in Kashmir. During his old age, he moved back to his village in  Kupwara  where the  marauding tribal raiders killed him.

My mother's cousin sister who was affectionately known as Arin Jigar /Behan Pyari ( wife of Radha Krishen Dhar of Vichar Naag, Kashmir ) was a singer cum poet. In marriage functions of her relatives, she would enthral every participant with her singing and by creating fantastic accompanying beats on Gaagar (brass Matka) or Tumbaknaari( A Duffli used in Kashmir). She was a great performer.
Arin Jigar had a great sense of humour and a sharp wit. Apart from other compositions that she sang, "Bishtak Baanda " Chhakri was something special from her repertoire. We learnt the story of Kashmiri Robin Hood from her.

The story of Mahadev Bishta remained a part of our folklore. And gradually we forgot our Kashmiri Robin Hood or Mahadev Bishta.

( Avtar Mota )

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