Our Heritage |
Raj Nath Bhat (BHU)
of Kashmiri Pandit Culture – 1
Pandits have been a profoundly religious
people; religion has played a pivotal role in shaping their customs,
rituals, rites, festivals and fasts, ceremonies, food habits and the
worship of their deities. Kashmir is widely known as the birth-place of
‘Kashmir Shaivism’ – a philosophy expounding the unity of Shiva and
Shakti. Hence, Shaiva, Bhakti and Tantra constitute the substratum of the
ritualistic worship of Kashmiri Pandits on which the tall edifice of the
worship of Vishnu (Krishna
and Ram), Lakshmi and Saraswati, and a host of other deities has been
Kashmir has also been a great centre of
learning for several centuries. It has been
a major centre of Buddhist learning for nearly a millennium during
which period a
sizeable number of revered
Kashmiri Buddhist scholars travelled as far as Sri Lanka in the
South and Tibet and China in the North. The contribution of these scholars
commands a place of pride in the extant Buddhist philosophy.
Unfortunately, this tradition was brought to an almost abrupt end by the
Pathan and Mongol invaders in the 14th century
Though the advent of
Islam produced a clash
of civilizations, it also brought
into being a
‘composite culture’ in which saintly figures (Rshi, Pir, Mot,
Shah) came to be revered and respected equally by the polytheistic Hindu
as well as the monotheistic Muslim .
This journey through over three millennia has shaped the cultural moorings of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP hereafter) and provided
him with a vast corpus of impressions and expressions, which have given
him a distinct cultural identity.
Today the KP is on the crossroads,
bewildered and baffled, homeless and nameless. His progeny is in a
flux, unsure of its morrow and unaware
of the traditions that its forefathers held dear to their hearts. This
paper records some of the major socio-cultural
beliefs, traditions, customs and festivals of the KP with the hope that
the younger KP generation will know, learn, and comprehend the
essence of KP culture which evolved
long periods of peace and turmoil.
Festivals and Fasts:
Festivals break the monotony of everyday work and
provide the members of a community with an opportunity to feel
cheerful, happy and relaxed. Hindu festivals have a deep spiritual import
and religious significance and have also a social and hygienic element in
them. On festival days people take an early morning bath and pray and
meditate which gives them peace of mind and a new vigour.
In their lunar calendar, KPs observe a number of
festivals and fasts, most of which fall in the dark
fortnight (Krishna paksh). The eighth
(ashtami), eleventh (ekadashi) and fifteenth
(Amavas/ Purnima) days of both dark as well as bright fortnights, and the
4th day of the dark fortnights
(Sankat Chaturthi) are considered so auspicious that people would observe
fast on these days.
KP new-year (Navreh) begins on the first day of the bright
fortnight of the month of Chaitra. On the
eve of Navreh, a thali full of rice is decorated with
fresh flowers, currency notes, pen and inkpot, curds,
figurine/picture of a deity and (dry)fruits. Early in the morning, the one
who wakes up first (usually the lady of the house), sees this thali
as the first object in the New Year and then takes it to all other members
of the family, wakes them up to enable them to see the decorated thali
before seeing anything else.
This signifies a wish and hope that the new year would bring wisdom and
blessing to every member of the family
all through the year.
On the 3rd day of Navreh,
the community members go out to nearby parks, temples, or outing spots to
enable people to meet each other after
nearly four months of snowy-winter. It is a social
gathering where men, women and children put on their best attire to
get ready for the new year chores. The eighth and the ninth days of the
same fortnight are observed as Durga Ashtami and Ram Navami respectively.
The fortnight marks the beginning of Spring, an
important junction of climatic and solar influences. Durga Ashtami
is celebrated to propitiate Shakti to seek her blessing and mercy. The
eighth day of the dark fortnights of the Zyeshth and Ashar months
are also celebrated with great devotion, when people throng the Rajnya
temple at Tulumula (Gandarbal), and Akingam, Lokutpur (Anantnag) to pray
and worship Maa Shakti.
The 14th day of the
bright fortnight of the Ashara
month is specially dedicated to Jwalaji, the Goddess of fire. People in
large numbers go to Khrew, 20
kms. from Srinagar and offer yellow rice and lamb’s lung to the Goddess.
Purnima of the Shravana month is the day of Lord
Shiva. On this day pilgrims reach the holy Amarnath cave to have
a ‘darshan’ of the holy ice-lingam. People also go to Thajivor
(near Bijbehara) to pray at the ancient Shiva temple there.
The sixth day of the dark fortnight of Bhadrapada
is sacred to women. On this day, known as Chandan Shashthi, women observe a dawn to dusk fast
and bathe sixty times during the day.
The eighth day of the dark fortnight of Bhadrapada is celebrated as
the birthday of Krishna, the 8th
incarnation of Lord Vishnu. On this day people sing in daintly decorated
temples prayer songs in admiration of Lord Krishna. They do not eat solid
food till midnight.
The Amavasya of the same fortnight is called
Darbi Mawas. On this day the family Guru (purohit) brings
‘Darab’, a special kind of grass,
which is tied to the main entrance of the house.
The Ashtami of the bright half of Bhadrapada is known as Ganga
Ashtami. On this day people go
on a pilgrimage to Gangabal.
The 14th day of the same
fortnight is called ‘Anta
Chaturdashi’. On this
day the family purohit brings‘anta’ a special
thread which married women wear along with 'atûhór', a
threaded bunch of silk tied to one’s ear. The ‘anta’ is cleaned and
worshipped like a 'Janev', the sacred thread worn by men. The 4th
day of this fortnight
is dedicated to Vinayak, the son of Shiva. Families
prepare special sweet rotis known as 'pan' on this day or
during the remaining days of
this fortnight. When the'pan' is ready, it is worshipped and the
tale of its origin is recited by the eldest member of the family. The rotis
are distributed among the neighbours and relations as 'pan naveed'.
The dark half of Asoj
is the fortnight of ancestors, pitra paksh (kàmbûri
pachh). During this fortnight
people pay homage to their dead parents, grandparents, great grandparents
by performing Shraadha and giving away rice, money, fruits, clothes and
other things to the needy.
Mahanavami and Dussehra, marking Lord Rama’s victory over the
demon Ravana, fall on the 9th
and 10th days of the bright
half of Asoj. Episodes from Ramayana are enacted during this period.
Diwali, the festival of lights, falls on the14th
day of the dark half of the Kartika month. All the corners, windows,
balconeys and eddies of the house are illuminated with lights. It is also
believed that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya on this day and Lord Krishna
killed the demon Narakasura; hence,
this day symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
The third day of the bright half of Magara month is celebrated as
the day of the ‘Guru’ (Guru
tritya). Before the advent of Islam in Kashmir, scholars were awarded
degrees to honour their academic achievements on this day (a
precursor to present-day convocations). On this day, the family purohit
brings a picture of Goddess Saraswati for a new-born baby or a new
daughter-in-law in the family. On the Purnima of the same fortnight
yellow rice (tåhår) is prepared early in the
morning and served as prasad to children and adults in the
During the dark half of the
month of Posh, the deity of the house is propitiated for seeking his
blessings. The deity (dayút) is served rice and cooked and raw
fish on any chosen day between the 1st
and the fourteenth of the fortnight. On the day of the feast, called 'gàdû
batû' , fish and rice is placed
in the uppermost storey of the house late in the evening for the dayút
who is expected to shower
blessings on the family.
The Amawasya of the same fortnight is the
auspicious day of 'khétsí màvas', when rice mixed
with moong beans and other cereals is cooked in the evening to
please the 'yaksha' (yóchh) so that he casts no evil on the members of
the family. The 'cereal-rice' (yéchhû tsót) is placed at so a
spot outside the house, believed to be the yaksha’s place.
The 7th day of the dark
half of the month of Marga is observed as the death anniversary of Mata
Roopabhawani and the 11th day
of the same fortnight is observed as Bhimsen ekadashi. It is believed, that from this day the earth begins to warm
up and snow starts melting. The purnima of this month is celebrated
as Kaw purnima (kàv pûním), that is crow’s purnima. On this
day, the cup of a laddle like
object, 'kàvû pôtúl' - crow’s idol (a square front cup
made of hay with a willow handle) is filled with a little rice and
vegetables and the children of the family are made to go to the upper
storey of the house and invite crows to the feast. The children invite the
crows thus :
pandit-crow, cereal- rice crow
Gangabal, bath meditation having done,
to our new
house, to eat cereal-rice"
Shivratri (herath) is the most auspicious KP festival.
Beginning on the first day of the dark half of Phalgun, its celebration
continues for twenty three days till the 8th
day of the bright half of the same month.
During this period the house is cleaned thoroughly for getting it ready
for the marriage of Shiva and Parvati on the 13th
day of the dark fortnight.
The 13th is the wedding
night when watukh, Shiva in bachelor as well as in bridegroom
forms, is worshipped along with the bride Parvati, Kapaliks,
Shaligram till late in the night. Watukh, that is, ‘Shiva’s
marriage party, is worshipped
for four days, upto the 1st day of the bright half of the month. On this
day, watukh is cleaned (parmùzún / parimarjan) of all
the flower petals etc.
at a tap in the compound of the house. Then it is taken back into the
house where the eldest lady of the house bolts the entrance-door from
inside. The members carrying the watukh knock at the door and the
following exchange of words takes place :
... and so on.
At the end of the watakh puja Shivratri prasad in the form
of kernels of walnut and roti made from rice flour is distributed
amongst neighbours and relatives. The distribution of the prasad is
completed before the 8th day of
the bright half.
The 11th day of the
bright fortnight marks the beginning of sònth (Spring). On the eve
of sònth, a thali full of rice is decorated as on the
new-year eve to be seen as the first thing on the morning of ekadashi.
Rituals and Rites :
The domestic rites and rituals among the Hindus are popularly known
as Karma and Sanskara. In the form of Karmas they are
cherished as programmes of duty to be observed by all householders and as
Sanskaras, these enable the devotee to make their observance rhythmical.
The rites and rituals serve the external and internal modes of
purity (shrùts). Together they constitute certain
ceremonies beginning with the Garbhadhaana or the rite of
impregnation and ending with the anteshti or the funeral rite
including Shraddha. These can be divided into pre-natal, natal,
post-natal, prenuptial, nuptial, post-nuptial, pre-obituary, obituary, and
Hindu marriage is not a social contract but a
religious institution, a sacrament in which besides the bride and
the groom, there is a spiritual or divine element on which the permanent
relationship between the husband and the wife depends. The husband and the
wife are responsible not only to each other, they also owe allegiance to
the divine element. This mystic aspect of Hindu marriage
necessitates a number of symbols. The marriage creates a new bond
between the bride and the groom. They have to rear up this union by
dedicating their entire
energy in the direction of their common interest and ideal.
Marriage is possible only between those families which have had no
kinship for seven generations on the paternal side and four generations on
the maternal side. Once the boy and the girl consent to join as man and
wife in a life-long bond, their parents meet in a temple in the company of
the middleman (if there is any) and some select family members from both
the sides to vow that they would join the two families in a new bond of
This ritual is known as kasam dríy. This is followed by a
formal engagement ceremony (tàkh) in which some members of the
groom’s family and relatives visit the bride’s place to partake of a
rich feast. The party brings a Saree and some ornaments, which the bride
is made to wear by her would be sister-in-law. During this ceremony, the two parties
exchange flowers and vow to join the two families through wedlock. A
younger brother or sister of
the bride accompanies the groom’s party
with a gift of clothes for the groom.
After this function the two families begin to make preparations for
the marriage ceremony which is held an some auspicious day after
consultating a purohit.
- To be