Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky: Kheer Bhawani
‘Naabad rang Poenye’! ‘Naabad rang Poenye’! (The color of water is Mishri- crystallized sugar) Kashmiri Pandits exclaimed in subdued glee. Kashmiris are hardly boisterous unlike Punjabis who would break into a Bhangra or Buraaaah, Jhappis and Pappis to express their delight. Yet their sense of bonhomie is apparent.
It is a different matter that on this very day, swords came out and lathis were freely used, blood spilled, amongst Sikhs in the premises of Amritsar’s revered Golden Temple- the seat of Sikhism, in the presence of Holy Book- Guru Granth Sahib, while observing a mourning for those who died in Op Bluestar, 30 years ago.
Coming back to Kashmir, the color of water of the sacred spring of Kheer Bhawani on this day, is symbolic, the milky tint, signifying good tidings for the year ahead. Mata Kheer Bhawani bestows her blessings, was the cheer, seen in the smiles of thousands of Kashmiris. Kashmiri Pandits from all parts of the world converge to this sacred spot, 27 Kms from Srinagar, every year to celebrate Jyeshtha Ashtami, the eighth day of the Jyeshtha month of Hindu lunar calendar.
It wasn’t as if the Pandits alone felt blessed by the water’s light tinge, Kashmiris in general, especially the older generation, too seemed to have prayed for pastel colors for the spring waters. Kashmiris can hardly forget the reddish and blackish hue of the holy waters in early 90’s that left them tattered and shattered, destroying almost everything they possessed, even the cravings for grasses and greenery, fruits and hills, scents and fragrances, home and hearth as well as trust and faith. They talked amongst their own, but weary eyes looked fervently in search for someone familiar from their happy past.
Elderly Kashmiri Muslims too come here with the same searching eyes, looking for their neighbors, friends or childhood buddies who had migrated in the early 1990s. Since migration, many cried a million tears over the tearing separation from friends, from beloved homes, the elixir waters, scented winds, fragrant flowers, juicy fruits and chirping birds while those left behind cried the same for lost warmth, friendship, kinship, sharing, camaraderie, heart to heart and especially Kashmiri Pandit Master Jees and Behan Jees, in schools.
Ganderbal District’s Tulamulla Mela reverberates with temple bells, beckoning Muslim neighborhoods to take a peek. Fascinated children, gather around the cooling shades of dozens of Chinar trees and muster up the courage to talk to Pandits, to ask them about their rituals, customs, their whereabouts and even why they don’t come back. Mostly they are too timid and would run away even with mere aim of cameras, but someone from them does come forward and the rest giggle.
Red ‘chunaris’ take on the wind and fly with their ends tied to the bark of a tree, reminding the reigning deity ‘Ragnya Bhagwati’ of a promise made by a devotee or a gift pledge to another. The scents of agarbatti or incense, dhoop, colorful Puja thalis with flowers, milk, ‘kandh’(bar of sugar), Kheer- rice pudding offered as Prasad, the thali also consisting of mauli- sacred thread, tilak- anointing saffron sandal paste, fresh water and other pooja saamagri or worship kit, that flows easily from devotee to devotee at stalls and shops owned and run exclusively by Kashmiri Muslims outside the shrine. Thousands of ‘Ratandeep’ (ghee-filled diyas), glitter bringing with them hope and cheer for devotees wherever they dwell.
Interestingly, Jai Gopal, a Pandit, conducting rituals at Kheer Bhawani says, “The Puja thalis are paid for only after the thali is returned to the shop keeper”. “This is tradition and has continued for eons and there has never been a chance when a devotee made off with a thali or evaded payment thus”, the shrine Pandit adds. This is indeed true, when I last visited the Kheer Bhawani shrine during an off season detour, I was surprised about this matter of faith and trust of post payments, that is perhaps seen no where in the world.
Fragrance of Hawan ‘saamagri’ or fire-offerings consisting of dried flowers, leaves, stems and roots collected from surrounding forests and other assorted material has a mandatory inclusion of lotus seeds (Pambuch) known to ward off evil spirits. At 32 degree centigrade, the holy environs here remain cool with the canopy of Chinars, some of whose branches touch the cooling waters nearby.
Ravinder Kaul, a freelance journalist, clicked a photograph of a Kashmiri Pandit and Kashmiri Muslim engrossed in conversation for hours at the Mela, unconcerned about the colorful revelry and melodious ‘Bhajans’ that soothed the air. This photograph posted on the FB, received over 1000 likes and comments and more than 245 shares, thereby emerging as a fountain of hope, of ties, of heart strings, impossible to break between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, despite troubled times of the past.
Governor of the state NN Vohra took a stroll and Yasin Mallik a politician advocating freedom from India, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz as well as PDP’s senior leaders were seen in bear hugs with fellow Kashmiris, urging them to return to the beauteous Valley. No one seemed to be convinced even as stalls by most political parties the PDP, Congress, National Conference dot the venue. Also true to the festive spirit were stalls by Kashmir police for assistance, RBI and J&K Bank for financial awareness programmes, Civil Defense, Traffic Police, Health Services, Tourism, Medical and others. The spirit of brotherhood however lives on with Broadway Hotel, Civil, Secretariat employees and Swami Vivekananda Mission, Nagdandi providing free food for all devotees.
Some reminiscenced about good times when families lived in houseboats for a week to participate in the grand fair. They all join in “puran ahuti” or the final offerings and “saamoohik aarti” or collective prayers, knowing fully well that chances of their return were hardly bright. The fair gives this alienated community, a chance to touch roots. For a day, the spirit soars high and faith keeps its beauteous moorings all through the year,
The writer can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON JUNE 11, 2014