On the hilly outskirts of Pathankot adjoining Kataru Chak village, on the Gurdaspur-Kangra border, is 30 acres of dense forest from where no one even takes a twig home. Reason: It’s a sacred grove — ‘Charpat Bani’ — which is believed to be the seat of a local deity called Charpat Yogi. The grove is also home to giant bats, cobras and many other micro-organisms. Peacocks are happy visitors to this self-sustaining forest which is also a haven of biodiversity as was found in a preliminary survey by the Punjab Biodiversity Board.
As the old tale goes, this place was the abode of Charpat Yogi who was one of the 84 disciples of Guru Goraknath, founder of the Nath monastic movement in the country. Yogi was also the spiritual mentor to Raja Sahil Dev Varman of Chamba who was childless and is believed to have sired a child because of his mentor’s blessings.
On the edge of the grove is a temple dedicated to Yogi. Local resident Balkar Singh, who chairs the committee looking after the temple and the forest, says: “There was an ancient Shiv temple here but as it was crumbling in 1992, we built the temple and adjoining community hall afresh. The mango trees around structures were planted around 50 years ago. The spring water channelled into a tank in the centre has therapeutic properties and can cure skin diseases. People of all faiths come to this shrine”.
Passing the spring water tank, this correspondent saw a Sikh couple anointing the hands and feet of their 40-day-old son Anantpreet. “We’re here to seek blessings for our child as this sacred place has positive ambience,” said the couple. Pointing towards big mud mounds around mango trees, Balkar says: “Even snakes find shelter here but we have never heard of a person being bitten by a snake or any such untoward incident.”
Villagers believe that the grove is a storehouse of medicinal plants that are used for various ailments. It is also believed that the fields close to the grove benefit from the natural water springs in the forest and have better soil quality.
Interestingly, the name ‘Chatpat’ comes from ‘jhatpat’ (quickly) and the lore of the place says that this forest came up overnight. The old tale is that the trees would walk down the mountains at night when people would be asleep but one day a woman saw them before dawn and they all stopped there. The word ‘Bani’ comes from ‘Vani’ (forest) and this is what it is called. The trees of the grove include the banyan, ‘peepal’, ‘neem’ and other native varieties.
Another popular story is that Charpat Yogi was meditating in the fields when farmers came to plough the land. When Yogi did not move, they went ahead with their work. Yogi was covered with dust and as he fell down, his elbow dug into the ground and a spring erupted. Farmers saw it as a miracle and stopped ploughing and bowed to the sacred land.
Chatpat Bani is a typical example of hundreds of sacred groves scattered all over the sub-continent with a presiding local deity and this practice comes from Hinduism but is found in Islam, Buddhism and Jainism too.
“People worship the forest and we don’t have to stop people from taking the wood. No one does it for the fear that harm will come to them for in the distant past some did try to clear a part of the forest but they had to suffer consequences. Only wood was taken from here to cremate the dead but now that practice has been stopped and the forest grows undisturbed,” says Balkar. So myth, legend, supersitition live on and so does the sacred grove.