En route to the famous Pir Ki Gali in the Valley of Kashmir,lies the Nagrai Park. Anybody who has lived in Kashmir would be reminded of another era, when grandmothers would narrate the famous love ballad of Princess Heemal with the handsome king of serpents, Nagrai. The park is holds nothing special except for the spring which bears witness to the sacrosanct bond between the two.
“Once upon a time in Kashmir, there lived a poor Brahmin named Soda Ram. His ill fate has granted him a wife who was discontent and always nagging about things he couldn’t provide for her. Her foul language hada terrible impact on Soda Ram, who constantly found himself sad and depressed. He wanted to get rid of her, but could not find a way out.
One day, his wife asked him to travel to a distant land together alms from the King. He was happy at the mere thought of getting a respite and set off for the long journey. He travelled a few miles and then feeling terribly tired, he sought rest under the shadow of a nearby tree. While he was having his food, he observed a serpent emerge from a nearby spring. Suddenly, a wicked idea crossed his mind. He picked up the serpent, wrapped it in his bag and went back home, in the hope that the snake would sting his wife and relieve him of his miseries forever.
“I have a pleasant surprise for you”, Soda Ram announced to his wife as he entered upon her. He handed over the bag, after having convinced her that it contained a special gift for her and left the room. To his utmost surprise, the serpent transformed himself into a beautiful male baby as she opened the bag. The little boy, called Nagrai, became a harbinger of fortune and prosperity for the poor family.
In the course of time, the baby grew into a handsome young lad, Nagrai and was loved by his foster parents for the prosperity he had brought them. One fine day, Nagrai insisted that he wanted to bathe in a spring. His father, fixed in a dilemma, took him to the only one available in the entire Valley which surprisingly belonged to Princess Heemal. This beautiful spring was surrounded by lofty walls. The boy turned into a serpent, crept in through a crevice into the wall, satisfied his craving for a bath in the limpid spring and returned quietly unobserved.
The next day, Princess Heemal observed that somebody had used her spring to take a bath. This continued for a few days until the illustrious princess caught a glimpse of the intruder. His beauty took away her heart and she decided to marry him. Nagrai happily agreed to the proposal.
At their ceremonious wedding, the whole city went agog with music, feasting and revelry in honor of the beautiful couple. A new palace was built for them on the river bank where they lived happily. However, this happiness did not last long. Nagrai’s serpent wives from the underworld began to look for him and found themselves jealous of Heemal. They planned and plotted to separate the two and at one occasion, managed to cast a doubt in innocent Heemal’s heart about the cast of her husband. They asked Heemal to put her husband through a trial – of dipping into a spring of milk. They told her that his body would sink if he was a true Brahmin and float if otherwise.
When Heemal put forth this condition to Nagrai, he immediately understood the plot and tried to persuade his beloved not to set him to this trial. However, Heemal would not budge. Eventually, he gave in. He dipped his feet in a spring full of milk and was pulled down by his serpent-wives. When his knees immersed he called out, "Heemal, are you satisfied?" She was not. When his thighs were also immersed he repeated the question but she said nothing. He appealed again and again but to no avail. When he was finally submerged till his forehead, she realized the gravity of the situation and tried to pull him out by the tuft of hair on his head. But it was too late. Nagrai disappeared under the milk and Himal was left only with that tuft of hair in her hand.
Heemal was left forlorn. She was full of remorse and grief. She gave up all her riches and went looking for Nagrai everywhere. One fine day, an old man informed her of a serpent emerging from the spring and taking a human form. Heemal was hopeful. She set off towards the waters and waited till evening descended. Thereafter, she saw Nagrai emerge. She couldn’t contain her emotion anymore. She coiled around his feet and begged him to take her along. Nagrai was moved.
He turned her into a pebble and took her to the underworld where he was exposed by his wives. They tortured and bothered Heemal and eventually killed her after putting the false allegation of murdering their children on her.
Now it was Nagrai’s turn to grieve. He couldn’t bring himself to cremate her dead body. He took her to her own world, embalmed her and put her under the shade of a tree. He would come to visit her every week and grieve at her memory.
One day, as Nagrai emerged from the spring, he couldn’t find Heemal. Upon enquiring, he came to know that a Holy Man had brought her to life again. He set forth to visit her but was killed by the Holy Man’s son as he thought the snake would harm the young lady. Heemal, who was sleeping peacefully wake with a start and cremated herself on at his funeral pyre.
Such was the love ballad of Heemal and Nagrai that the spring and the park are still named after them. ”