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Living Rituals of Nilmat Purana

by Prithvinath Bhat

Puranas are a treasure house of knowledge of our past. They shed light on different customs and rituals that were observed by the Hindus at different places and different times of the year. Puranas are many in number and have been written in Sanskrit. There are eighteen Puranas and an equal number of up-Puranas.

Purana means old. It also means a story of the ancient times. Puranas deal with the creation and destruction of the universe, with the lives of Saints and Sages, with the dynasties of Kings, with the importance of Gods and Goddesses, places of pilgrimage, rivers and rivulets, with festivals, customs and rituals etc, prevalent among the Hindus in olden times. So Puranas have a great religious and social significance. They are the explanation of Shastras.

Nilmat Puran is one of the famous Puranas that deals with the Valley of Kashmir in respect of its creation, its original inhabitants-Nagas, Pisachas and Brahmins, their style of living, religion, customs, festivals and topography. It peeps into the ancient history of Kashmir. It was written by some Kashmiri Brahman between 6th and 7th century A.D. In all there are 1453 verses in it. Some verses and parts thereof are missing with the passage of time. Kalhana, the great historian of Kashmir, has taken help from this document in tracing four Kings- Gonanda I, Damodar, Queen Yashovati and her son Gonanda II from it.

Nilmat Puran is named after the King Nila of the Nagar dynasty that ruled Kashmir in the beginning.

Puranas are written in the descriptive form wherein two persons converse in question and answer style and the story is narrated. In Nilmat Puran, King Janmejaya of the Kuru dynasty asks questions to Vaishampayan the son of Vyas of the Mahabharat times. The first question put to Vaishampayan was why the King of Kashmir did not participate in the Mahabharat war. Vaishampayan replies that Gonanda II was a child those days, so could not take part in the war. Janmejaya further asks how did the lake Satisar dry and how people settled there. The author has brought in two more persons in the Puran who also narrate the story in question- answer form, they are sage Brihdashva and King Gonanda of Kashmir. Thereafter starts the story of Kashmir. Jalodbhav demon lived in the waters of Satisar. He terrorised the people and killed them. King Nila of Kashmir approached his father Sage Kashyapa and requested him to get rid of the demon. Both approached God Vishnu who ordered Ananta to break the Himalaya with his plough. Ananta broke the mountain at Khadanyar. The waters of the lake gushed forth and its bed became visible. Vishnu caught hold of Jalodbhava and killed him with his chakra. He ordered Nagas and Pishachas to live in harmony. Brahmins and other castes of the plains lived as Gypsies in Kashmir. They stayed in the Valley for six months of the Summer and returned to the plains with the setting in of the Winter. One day Brahmin Chandradeva could not leave Kashmir due to old age and weakness. He was teased by Pishachas. He approached King Nila for protection who readily provided it. Then Nila narrated him the way of life of Nagas, their religion, customs, festivals, the places of worship, rivers and rivulets, hills and mountains and all about Kashmir. He also granted the Brahmins and others to settle permanently in Kashmir.

The King Nila described sixtyfive rituals and festivals which were celebrated by the Nagas, with great devotion, faith, pomp and show. Some of the rituals and festivals find mention in other Puranas also. Some of these are celebrated in Kashmir even today. Kaw Poonim and Yaksha Mavas are celebrated in Kashmir only.

Nilmat Puran describes in detail which rituals and festivals are to be celebrated on a particular day of the year. Both men and women participated in them. They kept fasts, prayed to Gods Vishnu, Shiv, Brahma and Goddesses Parvati, Laxmi and Saraswati. They sang and danced and enjoyed life to their best satisfaction. They were freedom loving and happy-go-merry people. The King also participated in the festivals with his subjects. He looked after the welfare of the people and provided them guidance. In fact the festivals and rituals were started by Nila for the prosperity, health and happiness of his people.

As mentioned above, there is a list of Sixty-five rituals and festivals in Nilmat Puran. Here we would make mention of only those rituals (religious practices) which are observed by the Kashmiri Pandits even today.

1. Sukhsuptika or Deepawali

Sukhsuptika literally means sleep with happiness. On Kartika Amavasya all except the sick and the children keep fast. In the evening Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth is worshipped. Lamps are placed in temples, on crossings of roads, cremation grounds, banks of rivers, streams and lakes, hills, houses, at the foot of trees, cow-sheds, courtyards and shops. Shops are decorated tastefully. Feast is arranged in the evening in which friends relatives, Brahmins and servants participate. On the next day people with new clothes on, gamble and listen to vocal and instrumental music.

This festival is celebrated now as Deepawali and not as Sukhsuptika. Now electric bulbs illuminate houses, temples, shops courtyards and trees etc. besides the lamps. Laxmi is worshipped in the evening. Sweets are distributed, crackers are burst and fire-works illumine the skies.

2. Margshirsha Poornima

According to Nilmat Puran people kept fast on that day and broke it at night after worshipping the moon with white garlands, eatable offerings. Brahmins also were worshipped. The Brahmin lady, sisters and the wife of a friend each was to be honoured with a pair of red clothes.

Nowadays it is celebrated in a different way. Tahar-rice boiled with turmeric, mixed with oil and salt, is prepared. Pooja is performed, a little Tahar is kept in an earthen pot and placed on the roof or the uppermost storey of the house for the house-diety.

We call it MANJHOR TAHAR.

3. Tila Dwadashi

This ritual was observed on the twelfth dark day of Magha. Shradha of the dead was performed with oil and seasame.

Now this ritual is performed on the eighth dark day of Phalgun. How this change occurred is not known. On this day Tarpan (Water oblation) is given with seasame to the dead and a lamp is also lit.

4. Magha Poornima

Shradha with seasame was performed on this day and food was offered to the crows.

Not only food i.e. boiled rice is placed on Kawpatals (A plate woven of grass around two twigs placed one on the other at right angles) and is offered to the crows. Children celebrate this festival with gaiety as they play with Kawpatals after the boiled rice is eaten away by the crows.

5. Shivratri

This festival is the most famous and important of all the festivals of Kashmir. It is celebrated on the dark thirteen of Phalguna. Shivlinga is worshipped with flowers, incense and milk. All members of the family except the sick and the children keep fast. Devotional songs are sung. On the 15th dark day, Shiva is worshipped again and sweet dishes are offered to worshippers and Brahmin.

This festival is celebrated with great devotion, faith and pomp and show now. On 12th dark day of Phalguna, Wagur (an earthen pot or steel pot now) is brought to the house. Food is placed into it and is placed on a small circular asana made of grass. It is supposed to be the Brahmin who has to perform the marriage ceremony of Shiva with Parvati. Some say that Wagur is Shiva's messenger to Himalaya for his daughter Parvati's marriage with Shiva. On the 13th dark day, Watak consisting of big earthen pitcher, two small earthen pitchers, two smaller earthen pitchers, one elephant trunk shaped figure, seven bowls are decorated with flowers garlands and sindoor. They represent Shiva Parvati, Ram Brahmin, Seven Rishis, Ganesa and some other rishis. Walnuts are washed and placed into the pitchers and seven bowls. Then these are filled with water, some milk is poured into each one of them. Mishri (Sugar) is also poured into them. Pooja is started at Pradosh Kala (Dusk). All the members of the family take part in it. It continues with devotion and full faith till late in the night. Then fast is broken and boiled rice with a variety of cooked vegetables is taken. The worship continues, upto Amavasya and in the evening the Shivratri comes to a close. The walnuts in the pitchers are taken out and washed, Pooja is performed and the flowers and other pooja samgri used for worship is immersed into the river, walnuts are used as prashad and distributed among neighbours and all the relatives.

6. Navsamvatsara (Navreh)

This festival is celebrated on the first bright night of Chaitra. According to the lunar calendar, it is the first day of the New Year. It is also the first day of the creation of universe. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped on this day. It is also the beginning of Navratras. According to the custom, a plate (thali) is filled with rice. The following articles are also placed on the rice (i) milkpot (ii) flowers (iii) walnuts (iv) pen (v) inkpot (vi) coin or a currency note of any denomination (vii) Panchang of the new lunar calender year (viii) boiled rice (ix) Sugar or mishri (x) salt (xi) ghee (xii) baked rice flour bread (xiii) wuy a root of some kind of grass that grows in water and (xiv) picture of Vishnu or Shiva-Parvati. This plate is filled on the eve of Navreh (Navsamvatsara). Early in the morning of Navreh, the grandmother or elder lady or mother gets up and brings this thali for darshan by every member of the family. It is considered a good omen for the new year. Tahar of the rice is cooked and served after Pooja. Goddess Sharika is worshipped at Hariparbat. Flowers and Tahar are offered there. Navratras are celebrated with great devotion and faith. Goddess Mother is worshipped in homes and temples. Wye and kernels of walnuts are taken by every member of the family before taking any other thing in the morning.

7. Chaitra Navmi

It is the ninth bright day of Chaitra. Goddess Bhadrakali is worshipped. Fast is also kept. Navratras come to an end on this day. It is celebrated in the whole of northern India as Rama Navami.

Bhadrakali is a famous temple about eight kilometers to the west of Handwara (Dist. Kupwara) on a hilltop in a thick forest of Devdars. There is a statue of Bhadrakali which is worshipped on Chaitra Navmi.

8. Vasta Pooja

It was celebrated on the eleventh bright night of Chaitra. Grehdevta (House-deity) was worshipped and offerings were made to Him for the protection, prosperity and health of the family. Now this festival is celebrated only on Tuesday or Saturday of the dark night days of Pausa. Gadabatta (cooked fish with boiled rice) is offered to the house-deity after performing Pooja.

9. Janmashtami

Lord Krishna's birthday is celebrated on the eighth dark night day of Bhadrapada with great devotion and faith. Fast is kept and broken at the rise of the moon. Temples are decorated and people in large numbers go there to perform pooja.

10. Shradha Pakhsha

Dark half fortnight or Ashwin is celebrated as Pitra Paksha in memory of the dead ones of the family and maternal side. Fast is kept, shradha Kriya is performed. Brahmins are offered food, fruit and clothes etc. It is also known as Kambirpach.

11. Mahanavmi

In olden days, Goddess Durga was worshipped in the evening. Arms and weapons were also worshipped. Shanti was worshipped too. Now the practice of worshipping arms and ammunition has stopped. Only Goddess Durga is worshipped at Hariparbat, Durganag and Akingam.

12. Ashokikashtami

This day is celebrated on the eighth bright half of Bhadrapada. Goddess Uma (Parvati) and Ashoka tree are worshipped. Nowadays only Goddess Uma is worshipped. A Yagna is performed each year on this day at Umanagri (Utrasoo), Distt. Anantnag, where there is a famous temple of Uma. Fast is observed and prayers are offered.

13. Vitasta Utsava

This is observed on the thirteenth bright half of Bhadrapada as the birthday of the Vitasta river (Jhelum). After bathing in the river, the pilgrims worship Vltasta at Shadipora (confluence of Vitasta and Sindhu). Now this festival is observed at Vethvothur near Verinag (Dist: Anantnag) Pilgrims take bath in the holy spring of Vethvothur and worship the idols of Vitasta and Parvati. Fast is also kept. (Vethvothur is considered as the origin of the Vitasta.) The sixtyfive rituals and festivals have now shrunk to thirteen only. Navhimpatosava was also observed in the past on the first snowfall of the year.

The observance of rituals is incomplete without fasts, worship and offerings to gods and goddesses. From Nilmat Puran, we have learnt what food and eatables the people of Kashmir used to take in those ancient times. Khichri (rice, moong, pepper, turmerics, salt, ghee or edible oil; with water is cooked to form Khichri) barley, milk, curd, ghee, honey, grapes, meat, fish, bread, moong and masoor etc. were used as food items.

The observance of these rituals and festivals speaks of the highly civilized and cultured Kashmiri society. We are proud of being their progeny and we have tried to preserve our culture even after facing onslaughts of marauders of Central and West Asia. We should not give up our festivals and rituals even under the present trauma. We must not forget our language Kashmiri - because that gives us our identity. We must propagate it, learn it, speak it and write it in Devnagri script.

 

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