With the tolling bells, singing of bhajans, and the fragrance of incense floating around – the Shivaratri marked its presence in Kashmir from the very early morning. Temples like Ganpatyar Mandir, Hanuman Mandir, Shankarachaya Mandir in Srinagar were abuzz with activity.
Shivaratri or Haerath in Kashmiri — is one of the most important festivals for Hindus and when it comes to Pandits of Kashmir, they say it is the crown of all their festivals. The Pandits say that they make all the arrangement and celebrate the festival like their brethren living outside the Valley.
At Ganpatyar temple in Habba Kadal locality of Srinagar the devotees were seen singing religious songs in Kashmiri language. Some were busy with the pooja and some with bathing the Shiv lingam with milk.
According to Brij Nath this function marks the purification of one’s self.
On this day Nath says the devotees observe day long fast and night long prayers. Pandits have made special arrangements for the visiting devotees. “We prepare prashad especially for this day and distribute that among devotees,” says Omkar Nath
For a normal Pandit household the first thing in the morning on the day of Haerath is bring all the items of pooja and spread them on a clean piece of cloth. The first delicacy which is prepared on the morning is the Kheer.
“Something sweet has to prepared on this occasion so we make kheer immediately after we wake up, says Kaushalya,” a resident of Habba Kadal. Then the fellow Kashmiri’s come to greet them and have the Kheer together. “It is a festival we have been celebrating together for years. When we make preparation the Muslim neighbours come to help us and greet us the very morning,” Kaushalya adds.
According to her there has never been any sort of difference between them and Muslims in this locality. “We have been living as one rather than as Muslims or Pandits. That discussion never arises between us.” Then they make other dishes for the day as this festival is biggest of all. “This festival holds utmost importance in our lives,” says Nath.
Mentioning how they have retained their cultural values the Pandits here say that whatever arrangement they make, they make in keeping the age old traditions in mind. “We celebrate Haerath exactly the way our ancestors used to do. Nothing has changed in all these years,” says Sunanda, another resident.
The only thing according to them which is turning the whole affair a little bland is that a large number of relatives have migrated outside. “Some of our family members are in Jammu and some are here. Had we been together things would have been different,” says Ramesh.
But Ramesh is thankful that he is in his motherland celebrating the festival without any hitch. The Haerath preparations among Pandits start with the shopping and end with the pooja and extend upto 15 days. “At first we shop to get pooja items, and then we clean our houses and do the decorations,” Sunanda says.
A part of their ritual also includes visiting to Hari Parbat and sending the daughter-in-laws to their maternal homes — who then comes back with return gifts. Once she returns then starts a new round of festivities. “On that day we cook fish as a part of our culture and distribute the water soaked walnuts among friends and neighbours and then comes the final pooja which is done on Amavasya,” Kaushalya adds.
Haerath festivity can also be seen in the markets. Outside temples presented a look of celebration. Vendors, lining the temple streets, selling the required items for pooja etc, were busy all day long.
“Haerath is equally important for us as any other festival like Eid. For me it is a day of celebration. Pandits living here shop before weeks for this day,” says a shopkeeper at Maharaja Bazar.
By Lubna Reshi