The Bold Voice of J&K

Shivratri: A Festive Celebration for Kashmiri Pandits

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Dr. Shiben Krishen Raina

Our country’s rich cultural heritage comes alive through its varied festivals and rituals, spanning from Holi’s vibrant hues to Diwali’s illuminating joy, from Dussehra’s triumph to Pongal’s harvest celebration, and from the message of compassion of Christmas to the message of brotherhood of Eid and profound spirituality of Shivratri. Among these, Shivratri, or Mahashivratri, emerges with a deep significance for Hindus not just in India but also in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and beyond. This year, the festival falls on the 8th of March, marking the day with divine observance and joyous celebration.
Devotees across lands come together in devotion to Lord Shiva, revered as Mahadeva, celebrating Mahashivratri, or the ‘Great Night of Shiva’. This festival commemorates the legend of Lord Shiva consuming a deadly poison to save the universe, capturing his role as the Protector. The fervor and zeal with which this day is celebrated are unparalleled. Mahashivratri is also celebrated as the day of Lord Shiva’s union with Goddess Parvati. Women, celebrating the festivity, engage in Pujas, venerating Goddess Parvati or Gauri, praying for blissful married lives.
In the scenic valleys of Kashmir, Shivratri is named as ‘Herath’, a festival of profound emotional and spiritual significance for Kashmiri Pandits. Despite adversities, their celebration of ‘Herath’, derived from ‘Har-Ratri’ or the Night of Har (Shiva), remains steadfast. Traditionally, Kashmiri Pandits, while residing in Kashmir, maintained a dedicated worship space in their homes called ‘Thokur Kuth’. The preparation for Shivratri involved a thorough cleansing of their abodes and the setting up of various clay-urns, representing deities including Shiva and Parvati, adorned with flowers and containing walnuts symbolizing the sacred Vedas. This elaborate Puja stretches over several days, underlining the sanctity of the festival.
On the eve of Amavasya, the Kalasha/urn of Vatuk-Bhairav (Shiva) is ceremoniously taken to the banks of the Vitasta (Jhelum River) for the immersion of worship materials. A symbolic dialogue at the doorstep upon return invokes Lord Shiva’s blessings, continuing the celebrations with the distribution of walnuts from the urn as Prasad, especially to married sisters and daughters.
The day following ‘Herath’ witnesses the heartwarming ‘Salam’ tradition, where neighbors, including those from the Muslim community, extend their greetings to their Hindu (Pandit) counterparts, weaving a great tradition of unity and harmony in the region.
Shivratri, for Kashmiri Pandits, is not just a festival; it’s a deeply embedded part of their philosophical, spiritual, social, and cultural ethos. Despite facing numerous challenges, their spirit in celebrating this festival reflects their enduring reverence and faith. As this auspicious festival nears, let us join in prayers for the well-being of all, hoping that this festival brings joy, prosperity, and solace to every corner of our nation, including the Pandits who have continued to observe this festival with deep conviction and faith, wherever they may be. May Lord Shiva bestow his infinite blessings, ushering in happiness and peace for all.
(The writer is Former Fellow
IIAS, Shimla).

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