Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits on Sunday paid their obeisance at the famous Ragnya Devi temple in Ganderbal district and celebrated the annual Kheer Bhawani mela.
Nestled in the shade of mammoth Chinar trees in the central Kashmir district, the temple witnessed massive crowds of devotees, most of them Kashmiri Pandits, who made the journey from across the country.
The devotees, walking barefoot, carried rose petals and offered tribute to the goddess as men took a dip in the stream close to the shrine.
As the devotees jostled with each other to move closer to the main temple complex, the chants of hymns echoed through the temple compound and paid obeisance to the deity while offering milk and kheer (rice pudding) at the sacred spring within the complex.
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The mela, a symbol of communal harmony, passed off peacefully as the administration had made elaborate arrangements, including security related, for the devotees.
Gudi Zutshi, a devotee from Jammu, said their ‘pooja’ is incomplete without visiting the temple shrine on the occasion of the annual mela held on the birthday of the deity. “She is our deity. It is an important day for us and without her, our pooja is incomplete, so we have to come here to celebrate her birthday. The deity has taken the form of water here. The colour of the stream keeps on changing when something happens,” she said. It is believed that the colour of the sacred spring water which flows below the temple indicates the situation in the Valley.
While most of the colours do not have any particular significance, the black or darkish colour of the water is believed to be an indication of inauspicious times for Kashmir. However, the water in the spring was clean and milky white this year.
Zutshi said last year when she was here, she had witnessed that the colour of the stream water was red, apparently referring to the several attacks on the minority community in the Valley. “Its colour turned black when there was Corona. The same happened when the Kargil war happened,’ she added. However, she said, this year, the colour of the water was very good. It means there will be prosperity in Kashmir, Jammu and Delhi. “We want prosperity everywhere. Today, the situation is good in Kashmir. The arrangements are good for the mela.” Zutshi said as the situation had proved in the Valley, they prayed for the return of the community members who had left Kashmir in the early 1990s.
“We want to return to Kashmir. We miss the place. Though we come almost every year, we want to return to our homeland permanently. We have prayed for the happiness and prosperity of everyone and the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir,” she said.
Another devotee, Dileep, said there was about 80-85 per cent improvement in the situation from the 1990s in Kashmir. “We also want to return to our homeland. We pray whenever we come here and today as well we prayed for our return,” he said. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti, who also paid obeisance at the temple, said that she prayed for the dignified return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
“I came here to welcome our Kashmiri Pandit brothers who have come from Jammu and other places. We are here to pray for the dignified return of these people to their homes so that once again Hindu-Muslim-Kashmiri Pandits live together in Kashmir with brotherhood,” she told reporters. Asked if the community was wary of targeted killings that took place last year, Dileep said that such incidents happen, we cannot say anything on that. “But the situation is good now”. “We want that brotherhood back. Our Muslim brothers also want that,” he added. Apart from the religious significance, the annual festival is important for the Kashmiri Pandit community as they get a chance to visit their homeland and meet with their friends. “The atmosphere here is very good. Our eyes are filled with emotions when we see our Muslim brothers. My friends have come here and we felt so good to meet. We get to meet once a year,” Rakesh Raina, who lives in Jagati, Jammu, said. He said the mela sends a message of national integration for the country. “We are getting to see the same brotherhood for which Kashmir was famous. We prayed for the return of those good old days and that we live like we used to be. We all are together of many religions, and castes. There is no difference,” he said. Bilal Bhat, a local, said the Muslim community welcomed the guests with open arms and wanted Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley. “Every year we celebrate this festival. It is an unbelievable, unexpected crowd here. We have kept open our houses for our guests. We want this love, brotherhood and peace we see here to remain forever,” he said. Additional Director General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar also paid obeisance at the shrine. He said, “Ganderbal Police has made very good security arrangements. Srinagar police had also deployed ROP (road opening parties). There is foolproof security and the locals have supported the police as well. I wish all of them well.” Meanwhile, in Jammu, thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits on Sunday offered prayers to goddess Ragnya Devi on the occasion of ‘Zaisht Ashtami’ at Kheer Bhawani Peeth in the Janipur area.
The ‘peeth’ was constructed as a replica of the original shrine in Tulmulla after the mass migration of the community from the Valley in the early 1990’s. “We missed a visit to Tulmulla this time and decided to offer our prayers here…We are witnessing the same atmosphere which used to prevail at the Kheer Bhawani shrine in Kashmir during the annual fair,” Ratika, a devotee who visited the Jammu temple, said. Raj Kumar, another devotee, said he had never visited Tulmulla shrine but is a regular visitor here. “There is a festive look with a massive gathering of pandits on the auspicious occasion of Zaisht Ashtami,” he said, expressing his desire to visit Tulmulla shrine and resettle in his Budgam home town one day. The management of the temple, Ardh Ratri Maha Regheneya Sewa Sanstha Trust, had set up several stalls for the convenience of the devotees, who thronged the tastefully decorated shrine to offer their prayers in their traditional way. A member of the trust said the sanstha, with the help of local authorities, had made adequate arrangements for the smooth conduct of the festival at the peeth.