The Festivals of the Kashmiri Pandits
T. N. Dhar, ‘Kundan’
Kashmir is known as the abode of Rishis because it has provided a calm and serene shelter tosages and savants for their penance. In the hoary past, it was inhabited by the Nagas as is vouchedby Nila in his Nilmat Purana and Kalhana in his Rajatarangini. Nila, himself a naga, was the son ofthe illustrious Rishi, Kashyapa. The penance and the efforts of Kashyapa transformed the vast spanof water called the ‘Sati Sar’ into a fertile valley fit for inhabitation and worship by the austereRishis. It was he who helped these Rishis to get rid of the demon ‘Jalodbhava’. These Rishis, findingthe place secure for their ‘Tapas’, made it their home and gave it the name ‘Kashyapa-mar’ afterthe Rishi who founded it. This name, in due course became Kashmir.These pious and compassionate Rishis did not neglect the nagas and rakshasas who were theoriginal tribesmen living in this land. They made arrangements to satisfy their needs acidrequirements from time to time. This gave rise to certain peculiar customs and festivals, notprevalent in any other part of the country. These forest-dwelling tribes would usually demand fooditems during the winter months. It is because of this that most of these festivals are held in themonth of ‘Pausha’ of the lunar calendar. Some of these are described below:
Monjhaer in Kashmiri means the lunar month of Marga Shirsha. Taeher meansyellow cooked rice mixed with mustard. It is customary for Kashmiris to cook such rice on allauscpicious days, and on Tuesdays and Saturdays, offer it to their chosen deity and then distributeit among neighbours, friends and relatives. But on the first day following the end of Margashirsha,that is the beginning of the Pausha month, such rice is specially cooked, offered to the Griha devataand Grama devata and then distributed. More often it is vowed that should a desire be fulfilled, likegetting a son, obtaining employment or finding a suitable match, the household would prepare thisrice regularly on this day every year. Coinciding with this is a very significant observance on thisday called the Matrika Pujan. Since time immemorial there has been a belief that the sound is theDivine Shabda Brahma and that the language has originated from the sound produced by theDamroo of Lord Shiva. These sounds, fourteen in number, are called Maheshwara Sutrani. Theseare divided into eight groups, one of vowels and seven of consonants. Each group has a deity who ispropitiated on this day. Vowels begin with ‘Aa’ and the consonants with ‘Ka’, ‘Ch’, ‘Ta’, ‘Ta’, ‘Pa’, ‘Ya’and ‘Sha’, respectively. So the prayer is offered to the relevant deities in this order. Amayay,Kamayay, Charvageyay, Tankadharyanyay, Tarayay, Parvatyay, Yakhshanyay and Shri SharikaBhagavatyay. All that we know, this day might have been fixed to initiate a student to a school oflearning and he was required to offer prayers before such initiation.
This word literally means fish and cooked rice. On any Tuesday or Saturday of thedark fortnight in the lunar month of Pausha, except when there is panchak, fish is specially preparedand near ones are invited to the dinner. First of all a plateful of rice and fish is arranged and it isplaced at a clean place in a room on the top floor, called Kaeni. This is meant for the deity of thehouse referred to as Ghar Devata. The plate is properly covered with an up-turned basket andnearby is placed a glass of water. Some house-holds even serve a raw fish. There are eye witnessaccounts that the next morning the food is found consumed and even the fish bones are found lyingby the side of the empty plate. After placing the plate at the fixed place for the deity, a feast of riceand fish is held along with near and dear ones.
This is also known as Yaksha amavasya. In other words, the last day of the darkfortnight of ‘Paush’ dedicated to the ‘Yaksha’, which again appears to refer to some forest-dwellingtribe that lived there before the rishis. On this day a special dish of moong mixed with rice isprepared in the evening. It is served to the Yaksha on an improvised plate made of dry grass. Theplate is placed on the top of the compound wall. The kitchen mortal is placed on a grass ring,worshipped as a symbol of the cosmos and decorated with sindoor, sandal, raw rice and flowers.Some households serve fish on this day also. During our childhood we were told that the Yakshawould be wearing a red cap while partaking of this Khichdi and whosoever is able to snatch awaythis cap will get riches. So all the children would be eager to get hold of this cap, which eludedeveryone.These are the festivals which apparently were held to satisfy the demands of the aborigines andtribesmen. There is yet another occasion during the bright fortnight of Marga or the dark fortnightof Pausha, which is described below:
This literally means the winter. This is an exclusive occasion for the new born baby andthe newly-wed bride. On this day a little lime powder is placed in a piece of ‘Zarbaft’ cloth andstitched into a small triangular shape. This is then fixed on the cap of the new born or on the side ofthe sari which covers the head of the bride. The rationale behind this custom is to ward off any evileye and any ill omen. On this day yellow meat is specially cooked and this along with pan cakes isdistributed among the relatives, friends and the neighbours. Scattering the lime powder duringwinter in order to get rid of the bacteria, insects and bad odour must have been the forerunner ofthis custom.
Gora-Trai: Gora-Trai or Gauri Tritya is celebrated on the third day of the bright fortnight of Magha.Gauri is the name of the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning. On this day the family priestbrings a portrait of the goddess, below which are printed some shlokas in praise of the goddess.Whenever a child is born or there has been an addition of a bride, the occasion is special and thefamily priest of the bride’s parents also brings a specially decorated portrait and in return gets ahandsome honorarium. This must have been the day of teaching the child the first alphabets afteroffering pooja to the goddess of learning. This is borne out by the fact that the following day iscalled Shruka tsoram or the Shloka Chaturthi. Obviously, on this day the child was taught the basicSanskrit shlokas like ‘Twameva Mata cha Pita twameva – O Lord, you are my mother as also myfather.’ This chaturthi is also known as ‘Tripura Chaturthi’ as the goddess is worshipped on this dayin her Tripura Sundari form. The goddess is regarded as the energy aspect of the Supreme Divine.It is this aspect of energy that activates the Divine undertake the five functions of creation,sustenance, destruction, providing cover and granting grace.
Kaw Punim: The full moon of the lunar month Magha is also known as Purnima of the crow. Twosticks are tied in the shape of a cross and on the open ends of the cross grass is woven to make along handled flat spoon. Again after some pooja, yellow rice is served on this spoon to be offered tothe crow. The children sing a melodious song while making the offering to the crow. The songloosely translated reads thus:O clever crow;O, the lover of khichri, crow;Come to our new house along with your spouse;Be seated on the threshold of our roof –And partake of the salty pudding.This festival is indicative of the love that the Kashmiris have had for the birds and the care theytook of them. It may be worth mentioning that every Kashmiri household will scatter some cookedrice on a wooden shelf kept outside the house everyday before serving food to any member of thehouse. This shelf kept near the top right hand corner of the window is called Kaw paet – a shelf forthe crow. Likewise every person keeps apart a little rice from his or her plate to be fed to the dogs.This is called Hoonya myet – the roll of rice for the dog. This shows the compassionate nature of theKashmiris for the animal world. No doubt the Gita defines a Pandit as one who treats equally a wellread Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a downcast chandala who devours dog-flesh.
Teela Aetham: This is a festival held on the 8th day of the bright fortnight of Phalguna month ofthe lunar calendar. In effect it is the culmination of the Shivaratri festivities as also bidding adieu tothe shivering winter. To begin with, pooja is offered at home and a number of lamps are lit. Theselamps are taken to the river bank and floated on grass bases in the river after the prescribed pooja.Afterwards, old firepots, Kangris, are filled with grass. A long rope is tied to its handle and fire is litin it. Then the kangri is moved round and round in circles rhythmically till the whole kangri bumsdown. Then it is hurled faraway into the waters of the flowing river. While doing so the children cryout, ‘Jateen teen, Jateen teen’; meaning that it is a flame, it is burning.
Zetha aetham and Shravana punim:
The eighth day of the bright fortnight of Jyeshtha and thefull moon day of Shravana are both very auspicious days for the Kashmiri Pandits, the former isdedicated to the Goddess Maharajna and the latter to Lord Shiva. On the Jyeshtha Ashtamidevotees assemble at the shrine of Tula Mula. After taking a dip in the waters of the Sindhu, theyenter the precincts of the shrine. The marble temple is situated in an L-shaped spring, the waters ofwhich change colour, believed to be the change of the dress by the Mother Goddess. The whole areais full of huge Chinar trees and the stream skirts the area allowing the house boats to anchor there.After individual pooja and a collective Aarati, there are night long Bhajans and Kirtan. The refrain ofthe Aarati is Gaurim-ambam amburuha-akshim-ahameedey – I bow to my beautiful mother whoseeyes resemble a lotus.’ There are Dharmashalas for overnight stay and Yajnashalas for sacrificialfire. Although this shrine is visited by the devotees every month on the eighth day of the brightfortnight, Jyeshtha Ashtami is a special festival for Maharajna, the Consort of Shiva.On Shravana purnima, while the entire country celebrates ‘Raksha Bandhan’ in Kashmir we have theworld famous pilgrimage to Swami Amarnath cave for the glimpse of the Ice-Lingam, which waxesand wanes along with the growth and decline of the moon. On this day the Kashmiri Pandits collectthe holy clay from the Shankaracharya hill, mix mercury with it and make the required number of’Partheshwaras’ for a private pooja. They keep fast on this day and immerse the Partheshwara inthe river waters in the evening. Pasting is an essential aspect of the spirituality of a Pandit.Amavasya, Purnima, Ekadashi, Ashtami are the monthly fasts and, besides, there are occasionalones like Chandan Shashti, Bhimsen Ekadashi, Kali Ashtami, Shiva Chaturdashi, Kumara Shashtiand the like. The anniversary day of the parents as also of the sages like Alakheshwari and RishiPeer are also observed as fast days
Auspicious days of Ashada:
There are four important days in the month of Ashada, called Haar inKashmiri. The seventh day of the bright fortnight is called Hara Satam. On this day, the courtyard,the front door and the gallery called the Vuz are decorated with Hara Mandul – a round design madeof multicolour powders. This is to greet the goddess who is expected to grace our houses by herpresence. It may be recalled that similar designs are made on the occasion of the weddings and theyajnopavit to greet the bride and the groom and the children who have gone through the Upanayansamskara. The nomenclature is different. These are called the Vyuga. The decoration made on theseoccasions on the front gates is also picturesque and is known as Krule.The Kashmiri community is predominantly Shaivite and, therefore, worship Shiva and Shakti. Theyare grouped into three groups according to their affiliation to three different forms of the Goddess,Maharajna, Sharika and jwala. The three shrines for them are situated at Tula Mula, Hari Parbat inSrinagar and the hill at the village Khrew respectively. It is noteworthy that all the three festivalsfor these forms of the Divine Mother are held in the month of Ashada. On ashtami is the festival ofTula Mula. On navami is the festival at Chakreshwara, Hari Parbat and on Chaturdashi it is at Khrewto worship Goddess jwala.
Vitasa or the River jhelum holds an important position in our religious and culturallife. Most of our famous temples are situated on its banks, noteworthy being Ganesh temple,Mahakali shrine, Somayar – the temple of the Moon, Raghunath Mandir, Batayar, BokhatakeshwarBhairav Temple etc. It is not surprising, therefore, that we celebrate the Pracdurbhava divas or theappearance days of this life line of Kashmir on the thirteenth day of the bright fortnight ofBhadrapada, for all the ghats of this holy river are sacred for us to perform Sandhya, to have a dipand to offer pooja. The river is worshipped by offering water, milk oblations vermillion, raw rice andflowers. People also go for pilgrimage to its source at ‘Vyatha Votur’ and Verinag. There used to beseven bridges (a couple of bridges have since been added) across river in Srinagar, from AmiraKadal to Safa Kadal. The banks of this river have been fortified with the huge stone slabs, carvedand otherwise, obtained from the destroyed temples during the Muslim rule, particularly during thereign of Sultan Sikander, nicknamed as ‘Butshikan’, the iconoclast, in early fourteenth century.
‘Ryetav manza ryethah, Baedearpyethah, Venayka Tsoram to Aathvar’- The month isBhadrapada, the day fourth day of the bright fortnight and hopefully a Sunday. This is the festivalknown all over the country as Ganesh Chaturthi and celebrated in Kashmir in a unique way. Earlymorning a metal pot is cleaned and placed at a suitable clean place, with some water filled in it. Theladies of the house prepare a sweet pancake called ‘Roth’. Poppy seeds are fixed over these on boththe sides. The family members sit near the pot and the lady of the house narrates a story of Beebgaraz Maej. This story has a moral that by performing pooja of Shri Ganesha on this day, preparingsweet pancake and offering the same to the deity, poverty and the miseries of the person areremoved and one lives a pious life full of comfort. The story is very similar to the one narrated onthe occasion of the Satya Narayana Pooja. After listening to the story, all the members fill the potwith flowers and a specific variety of green grass, which they hold in their hands throughout thenarration of the story. The sweet pancake prepared on this day becomes the prashada and isdistributed among relatives, friends and neighbours. Distribution of such things as Tahaer, Roth,Yogurt, cakes, walnuts is a common feature of the Kashmiri life and helps make it a close-knitcommunity bound by love, concern and care for each other.The Sanatan Dharma allows, in addition to the prescribed rituals in accordance with the tenets ofthe Vedas, observance of additional customs called Lokachar, Deshachar or Gramachar peculiar tothe place and environment one may be living in. This prescription has made marriage, yajnopavitand other ceremonies different for different groups of people in point of detail. Two such customswhich are distinct in our community are briefly explained below:
Every marriage ceremony and yajnopavit ceremony is preceded by a ritual calledDivagone. This is to propitiate Surya, Chandra and Brihaspati Devatas to bless the bride or groom tobe or the child who is going to adopt the Yoni or the yajnopavit. On this occasion, only the bride isasked to wear various gold omaments including the Dejhore which for Kashmiri women is thesymbol of marriage. In other parts of our country, the married ladies are identified by red vermillionin the parting of their hair, Mangalsutra, or the little toe rings. In Kashmir Dejhore is the symbol. Itis worn in both the ears and there is an attachment to it which is called the Atahore made of gold orgolden or silver thread made into a specific shape. Before the ritual proper, the bride, groom or thechild is given a bath with milk, yoghurt, honey and other such things mixed with water, to theaccompaniment of the chanting of Veda-mantras.
At the end of the ritual of marriage, saptapadi etc. the bride and the groom are madeto sit in a comfortable posture. A red cloth is placed on their heads, and then all the people aroundoffer them flowers in accompaniment of Veda mantras. This is called worshipping the couple withflowers. The rationale behind this custom is that the couple is considered to be Shiva and Parvatiand the two are duly worshipped. First there are mantras for the bride and the groom separatelyfollowed by those meant for the two jointly. In contrast to this, the newly-weds in the south arerequired to touch the feet of all the elderly couples present. We are, however, of the view thatmarriage is a spiritual union between a boy and a girl and they have to live this life of Artha(wealth) and Kama (desires) with due regard to Dharma (righteousness) and aspire for Moksha(Emancipation). The four together are called Purusharthas. That is why the newly-weds are treatedas Shiva and Parvati and worshipped as such at the time of the Posh Puza.
Literally it means milk but what is implied is yoghurt. Whenever a lady is in the family way,she needs to inform her in-laws so that due care is taken of her health, diet and other comforts. Itwas difficult for her to convey this news to her in-laws with the same ease with which she could toher mother or sister in her parental home. Therefore, after her parents get the information, she wasasked to carry two gadvis (metal pots) full of yoghurt and place one each in front of her father-inlawand mother-in-law. This was meant to be a signal to them that now is the time to take extracare of their daughter-in-law. Alas! this custom has lost its original significance and has turned intoa bad social custom. A huge quantity of yoghurt is now-a-days expected to be received from theparents of the girl, which is distributed among the relatives as if to give publicity to the event. Agala feast is also organised by the family and the lady concemed comes from her parents’ homewith new dresses and other costly gifts.Sonder: On the eleventh day of the delivery or on any other suitable date, ladies of theneighbourhood, near relatives and ladies in the house collect in the morning. The mother and thebaby are properly bathed and suitably dressed. Thereafter small pieces of bhojpatra bark are burntand lighted barks moved round the heads of the two by turns. A specific folk song is chanted,perhaps to ward off the bad omens and to wish a further safe delivery in due time. This has itsorigin in the Punaswan sanskara, one of the sixteen prescribed in the rule book. These pieces of thebark are then dipped into the water kept in a pot nearby. This is called Burza Myet.Sonth, Navreh and Zanga trai: Sonth heralds the Spring season and the Navreh the New LunarYear. Both these days are important in our calendar. A unique custom on these two days is to fill aplate overnight with rice, yoghurt, milk, nuts, cake, flower, pen, gold coin, picture of a deity or thegoddess, and the new panchang (only on Navreh). This is kept covered for the night and early inthe morning every member of the family sees this plate and the nice items placed in it, first thingafter getting up from the bed. Thereafter people go to the river bank, take a dip and throw thesenuts in the water. Then they wear new clothes and offer pooja at home and in the temples. Outingsare also organised to the gardens to enjoy the beauty of the almond blossoms. Sweets, savouriesand the famous decoction, ‘Chai’, is served with gaity and happiness all round. On the third dayfrom the Navreh, ladies go to their parents’ house and dine there. From there they go to thetemples and gardens with their kiths and return in the evening with new dresses and the customaryNoon, Tsocha and Atagat i.e., salt, cakes and some cash. These three items are a must to be givento the married daughters, whenever they come to their parents’ house, at the time of their return totheir home.Apart from these customs, rituals and festivals which are peculiar to our community, there are otherfestivals which are celebrated more or less in the same way as in other parts of the country.Whatever difference there is, is because of geographical reasons and availability of the requireditems. For example, in our rituals walnuts, rice and local vegetables are used whereas in otherplaces coconut, banana, banana-leaf and other locally available items are put in use for theserituals. Likewise, due to the intense cold we have Sandhya only once in the morning instead of threetimes elsewhere. Wearing a dhoti or making offerings and pooja bare-bodied also is not enforced inKashmir for the same reason.Shivaratri: Any account of the customs and rituals of our community, without a mention of theShivaratri festival, would be incomplete. This is the crown of our festivals, and is spread over a fullfortnight of the PhaIguna month. It is a socio-religious function that is the very part of our life. Onthe first day of the dark fortnight, called Hurya Okdoh the wholesale cleaning of the house, paintingand decorating begins with gusto. The pooja room called Thokur Kuth and the front door called Darare specially cleaned, one for the pooja and the other to welcome Shiva and Parvati, whosecommunion is the real essence of Shivaratri. The first week up to the Hurya Satam, is busy time forwashing, cleaning and collecting the required items. The eighth day called Hurya Aetham is the dayof the presiding deity of the valley, Maa Sharika. On this day we have Havan at Hari Parbat andnight long Keertan. This is followed by Hurya Navam, Dyara Daham, and Gada Kah. On these days apart from usual pooja, prescribed items of vegetables and/or fish and meat are cooked accordingto the custom of every home. Ladies go to their parents’ house for bathing and washing and returnto their own homes with new clothes, a new Kangri (fire-pot) with a silver tsalan dangling behind it.Twelfth day is known as Vager Bah and it is customary to have Vager pooja on that day, which isthe first formal pooja of the Shivaratri. The thirteenth day called Herach Truvah is the day of themain pooja. The eldest member of the family keeps fast for the day. Vatuk is brought by the potterwhich comprises a ‘No’t’, Resh Dul, Dul, Saniwaer, Macha Waer, Dhupu Zur, Sani Potul, assortmentof Parva and Taekya. These are cleaned, filled with water and then arranged in the prescribed orderin the pooja room. Nariwan and garlands are tied round these items. The No’t representing theKalasha and some other pots are also filled with walnuts. The actual pooja begins in the night whenall the family members assemble in the pooja room for the purpose. The Vatuk, representingvarious Devatas and Bhairavas, is worshipped under the directions of the Kula-Purohita (the familypriest). This is an elaborate pooja for a good three hours and is followed by a sumptuous feast. Allthe items cooked are first offered to the Vatak Nath. Next comes Shiva Chaturdashi. This is popularly called ‘Salaam’. Perhaps because on this day friends from the Muslim community wouldcome to felicitate Kashmiri Pandits. Also beggars, bards and street dancers would come to take theirdue on this festive occasion, and salute the head of the family with the words ‘Salaam’. On this daychildren receive Heraech Kharch the pocket allowance for their enjoyment. The usual pastime is agame of shells which creates a lot of enthusiasm. On the Amavasya day the culminating pooja ofthe festival is held and the entire paraphernalia of Vatuk is taken off from its place. In the evening avery interesting event is observed. It is called Dub Dub or knock knock. Actually one member of thefamily goes out and returns with a glass of water. The door is shut on him and when he knocks atthe door a conversation takes place. He is asked who he is. He replies that he is Ram bror and hascome with wealth, riches, good wishes for health and happiness, food and means of livelihood andall the good things. Then the door is opened. The walnuts are broken to take the kernel out andalong with cakes made of rice flour are first offered to the deity and then taken as prashada. From the next day begins an arduous task of distributing the walnuts among friends, relatives andneighbours. The closer the relationship the larger is the number of walnuts given to them. Thehighest number, in hundreds, goes to the in-laws of the newlywed daughters. The only thing thatremains is the disposal of the residual material i.e.; grass seats of the Vatuk, the flowers andNaervan tied round these pots and other such things. These are dropped into the river on the TilaAshtami, and this marks the grand finale to this great festival. It is believed that every Kashmiri girlis a Parvati and is wedded to Shiva. The Shivaratri symbolises the wedding of the two, and on thisoccasion the Bhairavas and other Ganas accompanying Lord Shiva are fed with choicest dishes up tothe fill and to their satisfaction. That is what is known as Vatuk poojan.This tradition of customs, rituals and festivals gives a distinct identity to the Kashmiri Panditcommunity and needs to be preserved and nurtured alongwith other important facets of ourcommunity life and our beloved mother tongue, Kashmiri, which has been enriched by the writingsof Lal Ded and Nunda Rishi, Habba Khatoon and Arnimal, Parmanand and Shamas Faquir, Masterji,Mehjoor, Azad, Nadim and scores of other poets, writers and thinkers.These festivals, rituals and customs have had relevance in the past, these are relevant today andthey shall remain relevant for all times to come. The relevance is manifold. Firstly, they give us adistinct identity as Kashmiri Pandits. We know about various festivals which are associated withdifferent communities. Durga Puja is for Bengalis what Ganesh Puja is for Maharashtrians. AyyapaPuja in the south, Holi in the Braja Dham and Jagannath festival in Orissa are very well known. We,in Kashmir, are proud of our socio-religious festival of Shivaratri and other local rituals. Every springis holy for us, every village has produced a Mahatma of repute and every mountain peak is sacredfor us. These festivals and rituals have spiritualised our community for centuries. They have madeus god-fearing, non-violent, pious and religious. With all the advancement in science and thetechnological development, we cannot discard the spiritual aspect of human existence.After all, our existence is not confined to our gross body alone. These age-old customs of ours helpin character building by creating a sense of care and compassion in us. They make us realise ourresponsibility towards environment, animal world and birds, besides our fellow human beings. Theseare important props to give us self-confidence, courage to face all eventualities and dynamism inour approach. It is of paramount importance, therefore, for us to preserve and perpetuate thesefestivals. Their meaning and significance has to be explained to our younger generation in theiridiom, cogently and convincingly so that they realise their importance. Carrying forward thesetraditions is an answer, to a great extent, to our present day problems of stress, strain and tensionat the individual level and at the social level of many ills including inter-caste and inter-religiousmarriages, etc. However, we should not forget that many of these customs are losing theirimportance because we do not know their underlying significance and the rationale of theirobservance. This calls for a concentrated effort in the field of research for which our scholars andthe knowledgeables should come forward before it is too late and before some meaningful anduseful customs get extinct because of non-observance and disuse. This rich tradition of ours is anindescribable ‘Radiance’, which is self-illumining, self-satisfying, independent, self-supporting, selfcreating,self-rooted and this radiance has to be perceived, realised and then drawn into the depthsof ourselves.
Kashmiri Pandits: Looking to the Future
Kashmir Education, Culture and Science Society (Regd.)
New Delhi – 48