By Peerzada Ashiq
‘We want them to perform puja with all reverence and without any sense of insecurity’
From Muslims cleaning up and organising puja at a temple to 1,000 specially-designed ‘Herath’ greeting cards, this Shivratri Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims bonded and reached out to each other, with social media providing a rare platform to relive past memories.
For perhaps the first time since hundreds of Pandit families migrated outside the Valley in the face of raging militancy in the 1990s, villagers, young and old, of Sumbal village in Bandipora, 30 km away from Srinagar, converged on the Nand Kishore temple, located under the shade of mighty chinar trees early in the morning. They were carrying brooms and water containers in hand.
“We have decided to clean up the premises of the temple for the Pandits. We want them to perform puja with all reverence and without any sense of insecurity,” said Rashid Dar, a local.
Several locals were seen carrying placards. “Let’s celebrate next Herath (a term used by Kashmiri Pandits for shivratri) together in the valley,” the placards read, an apparent reference to the return of Pandits to their native places.
The Sumbal area has witnessed growing militancy this year, with around six encounters already reported.
Scores of Valley-based Muslim netizens greeted Pandits on the occasion as social media provided a rare platform to recall old memories.
“I miss water-soaked walnuts that Pandits would offer to Muslims in neighbourhood. For ‘salam’, I would visit Pandits the next day after herath,” recalled Ashraf Kishoo on Facebook.
Those Pandits who stayed back followed the tradition of keeping water-soaked walnuts for Muslim neighbours. More than 3,000 families decided to stay back despite the militancy.
The Kashmiri Pandits’ herath is different from the rest of the country. Unlike Hindus elsewhere, Pandits here would cook both fish and meat dishes on the occasion.
“For the first time in my living memory, I heard that some Kashmiri Pandits elsewhere will not celebrate it a day before. I am not sure whether this is about the lunar calendar being uniquely erratic this year or about the reinvention of tradition to eventually erase the differences between Kashmiri Pandits and Indian Hindus,” said Nitasha Kaul, a Pandit novelist who authored Residue.
In another gesture, the government mailed through post offices specially-designed herath greeting cards.
“Around 1,000 greeting cards were delivered to Pandit families. The card highlights the poetry of Lal Ded, equally revered by Muslims and Pandits. It carries the picture of a stone temple of Mansbal that was restored with the help of locals. The idea is highlight the rich culture the State has nurtured for centuries,” Works Minister and government spokesman Nayeem Akhtar said.