Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India

Milchar

Lalla-Ded Educational and Welfare Trust

  Kashmiri Pandits' Association, Mumbai, India

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Milchar
October-November 2003 issue

Kashmir's Silk Embroidery with floral patterns

Table of Contents

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

 
  Our Heritage

... Raj Nath Bhat (BHU)

Aspects of Kashmiri Pandit Culture 1

Background   

Kashmiri 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 built.

     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  C.E.

      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 lambs 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 bringsanta a special  thread which married women wear along with 'athr', a threaded bunch of silk tied to ones 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 (kmbri 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 Ramas 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 (thr) is prepared early in the  morning and served as prasad to children and adults in the family.  

     During the dark half of  the month of Posh, the deity of the house is propitiated for seeking his blessings. The deity (dayt) 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 'gd bat' , fish and rice is  placed in the uppermost storey of the house late in the evening for the dayt who is expected to  shower blessings on the family.  

     The Amawasya of the same fortnight is the  auspicious day of 'khts mvas', when rice mixed   with moong beans and other cereals is cooked in the evening to please the 'yaksha' (ychh) so that he casts no evil on the members of the family. The 'cereal-rice' (ychh tst) is placed at so a spot outside the house, believed to be the yakshas 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 (kv pnm), that is crows purnima. On this  day, the cup of a laddle like  object, 'kv ptl' - crows 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 :


"Crow pandit-crow, cereal- rice crow

come from 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, Shivas marriage  party, is worshipped for four days, upto the 1st day of the bright half of the month. On this day, watukh is cleaned (parmzn / 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 snth (Spring). On the eve of snth, 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 (shrts). 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 post-obituary.

Marriage :

     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 kinship

     This ritual is known as kasam dry. This is followed by a formal engagement ceremony (tkh) in which some members of the grooms family and relatives visit the brides 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 grooms 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 continued

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