In Jammu KPs miss Muslims, in Kashmir displaced Pandits
On the occasion of Herath, Asha Ji, a Kashmiri Pandit woman from Wussan, Kunzer area of north Kashmir’s Tangmarg area received Kashmiri Muslim guests early morning coming to offer greetings to her family.
“The local Muslims community members came to us and offered greetings and all possible help,” she said. “I told them we don’t have water and power supply and they got it restored in no time.”
Asha said in the past, Herath used to be a grand festival as many Kashmiri Pandits used to live in the Valley but now only a handful resides in Kashmir and they too were spread across.
“We miss the Kashmiri Pandits who fled from here in the 1990s,” she said.
Kashmiri Pandits prepare special dishes of fish the day following Herath and share them with neighbours and friends.
Asha said the festivities on Herath continue for four days and on the 13th the community members hold night-long prayers.
She along with her family had taken a conscious decision not to migrate from Kashmir in the early nineties when her Kashmiri Pandit brethren were leaving in droves at the outbreak of militancy.
Asha went on to be elected as a Sarpanch, the village head, of her area comprising Muslim electorate.
“My heart didn’t allow me to leave the Muslim community and the Muslim community didn’t allow me and my family to leave the Valley,” she said.
Asha’s family was among over a thousand Kashmiri Pandit families that celebrated Herath in Kashmir.
In the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits celebrate Shivratri a day ahead of Indian Hindus.
Shivratri in Kashmiri is referred to as ‘Herath’, a word derived from the Sanskrit ‘Hararatri’ the ‘Night of Hara’ (another name of Hindu god Shiva).
Kashmiri Pandits believe Herath is marked by rain and snow and this year, following a long dry spell, it snowed heavily days ahead of the festival.
In Jammu, Shamji Koul’s phone kept ringing off the hook with Herath (Shivratri) greetings.
By noon, he broke down recalling the childhood and youth he spent with his Kashmiri Muslim friends in the Valley.
Koul, a resident of Talab Tiloo, said he cannot forget the festivities on the Herath and how his Kashmiri Muslim friends would add colour to the festival with their participation.
“My friends Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat and Muhammad Rajab Dar used to participate in the festival with us and make it vibrant,” he said. “They miss my presence on the festival and like every year, they were the first ones to call me and greet me.”
The festival regarded as the most important of the community is celebrated on Trayodashi or the 13th of the dark half of the month of Phalguna (February-March) and not on Chaturdashi or the 14th in India.
Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq appealed Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley.
“I extend warm greetings to our Kashmiri Pandit community on the occasion of Herath,” he said. “I hope they return to their homeland and again live among us as before.”
On the occasion, temples in the Valley like Shankaracharya temple, Khir Bhawani temple, Ganpatyar temple and Hanuman Mandir wore a festive look.
Mahant Parma Nandas, the head priest of Ganpatyar and Hanuman Mandir, said the Kashmiri Pandit way of celebrating Shivratri was “quite unique”.
Many Kashmiri Muslims also greeted the Kashmiri Pandits over the internet through e-cards and one of the greeting cards being circulated featured a Persian translation of the Mahabharata.