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Pun Deun

by Sh. Amar Nath Bhan

Niagara Falls, Canada

The following is a popular history and a folk tale about the celebration of the famous festival of Yanayak chorum by the Kashmiri Pandit community which is also called Pun Deun.

This is a traditional celebration which almost all Kashmiri families celebrate in the month of Bhadron (August/September) by preparing very delicious Roths of wheat pan-cakes) which are fried in Ghee (Butter). Some people consider it as a celebration of Bhagwan Mahavir Hanuman day. People in south India celebrate this day as Ganesh Puja celebration.

I am writing this article to remind our people how our community used to maintain the social link with each other by distributing the Neveed (prasad) of this function in the form of Roth to all their neighbours, relatives and even strangers. This allowed them to keep in close touch with each other. This day is celebrated with devotion, to show respect to almighty god. The celebration also gives enjoyment in the form of a get together for the family, and especially among children. For this celebration the big family kitchen and all the brass utensils are cleaned thoroughly.

Although religious significance of this day may have numerous interpretations, it has the same importance as any of our other festivals such as Shiva Ratri (Herath), Janamashtami etc., and it was always on top of the list, especially for women folk. People were very keen to get this Neveed. As I remember, all our neighbours, relatives and friends were very keen to get this Neveed, and if by mistake or otherwise the Neveed was not delivered on time, the person would definitely lodge a serious complaint and one had to apologize. Even the relatives in far villages expected this Pun Neveed. In some cases the Neveed was delivered up to one month after the celebration. The Roth fried in ghee would stay fresh for a long time. I remember when my children were grown up and had been away from home for higher education, they always expected the Pun Roth when they returned home for vacation.

I remember in our home at Srinagar (Kashmir) my mother, and later her my wife used to perform and celebrate this festival with great devotion and faith. Some people also called Pun Deun as Beeb ghar maji hund doh. They would clean the clay floor and walls of the room(usually the Kani or top floor of the house) when the celebration was to be performed. Some people would use their kitchen. All brass utensils were cleaned with sand to shine them, then they were washed with clay to sanitize them. A special iron or brass Krai (Wok) was first cleaned and used to fry the Roth. This utensil was especially meant for this day and was not used for other purposes.

The following ingredients were collected several days in advance of this occasion: For Roth white flour, brown sugar, ghee (butter), salt, vegetable oil, yogurt (zamut dodh), Khashkhash seed, cardamom (Big alaiche seed). For puja flower, rice, barley, green grass (Dramun), some fruits, fresh walnut, silver foil (roph warukh) ,Nariwan( coloured string) and Sindoor. In the city interior it was usually difficult to find Dramun which could be only found in the pastures outside the city or from the garden of a prosperous relative. In combined families the senior lady of the house, who usually performed this celebration, used to get some cotton thread hand spun by an unmarried girl and all kind of vegetables in season. About five paw(1 kg) of wheat flour was kept in a separate Thalli (brass plate) with 5 chatang (nearly 300 gram) of brown sugar. This was meant as offering to the god for whom this festival was to be celebrated. Separately, additional 250 grams of wheat flour per person in the family was weighed and used for cooking Roth.The proportion of brown sugar to flour was one chatang (65 grams) of sugar for 250 grams of flour.

My family prepared the Roth in the following manner. The required quantity of brown sugar, according to the quantity of wheat flour, was boiled in a bhogun(brass pot) with a small quantity of water and then it was strained through a thin cotton cloth. Big alaichi seed (Big Cardamom) was mixed with the wheat flour.Then the brown sugar water was mixed with flour. To make it into dough, some ghee was also mixed with the flour to make it soft and sweet. The dough was divided into small portions and each portion was rolled flat using a chakla and belan( rolling pin). Then this bread was put on the flat of a Thali's(bronze plate) back side and made smooth .Some design were made on the flat end of bread using fingers or with the bottom of a Khos(bronze cup). Sufficient quantity of ghee was then placed in the krai (Wok)on a stove to fry the roth. Then yogurt was mixed with Khashkhash (sesame) seeds and pasted smoothly on the flat end of the Roth. Then the bread was then put in the hot ghee to fry.

Precaution was taken to see that the ghee is not too hot which may burn the bread, and a lifter known as (Kafgree) was used to turn the bread over. This kept the Roth soft and delicious.

My mother and my wife also used to make Namkeen, a salted bread which had the same ingredients as the roth, except brown sugar was replaced with a little salt. Namkeen bread was fried in the same ghee which had been used for Roth. After all fried Roths were prepared including the separately kept 5 pauw of wheat flower for the offering in the name of God.The latter were put separately in a new or fresh Foth or Tooker(willow basket )or in a big Thal( bronze plate) and were covered with a new or washed cotton cloth.

In our house we also prepared mixed vegetables called Bhoojai with as many as ten or more varieties of vegetables . Some prepared Aloo (potatoes) or dry Bhoojai, and some prepared Wangan bhoojai (egg plant ) depending on the tradition in the family. Then vegetables were cleaned out mixed. They were then boiled and fried in oil and masala (spices) were added to make the Bhoojai. It took a fairly long time to prepare the Bhoojai.

In the mean time my mother ( and later my wife) used to get fresh water in a bronze Ghadwa (container) from the tap and would decorate it with a flower garland and Nairwan, Sendher teok and Rophwarukh (silver foil). Then she would put five Roth with Kanika Roth (Roth with saw tooth like edges all around) on the Gadwa. Then she would put some fruits and shelled walnuts on it as Naveed. Then she would call all members the family to the room. The Ghadwa with Roth were placed in front of her while she would be facing the east (sun rises from the east). After placing the Teok on the forehead and tying the Nairwan on the wrist of every one present, she would give to every one some rice with barley and Habel in their hands. The cotton thread which she had been keeping on her ear was then placed in her hand with some rice, barley and Habel. Then with full attention and devotion she would repeat the same story every year. She would start by saying that anyone who performed this ceremony with devotion faith and love would get everything in life, will be released from misery and trouble. She related the story with a lot of concentration in the sweet melodic Kashmire Language as follows:It was the month of Bhadron, Venayak Chorum te Athwar( fourth lunar day and sunday), a long time ago, in Kashmir there was a Hindu king ruling comfortably and his people lived in peace and harmony. His wife, the Queen, used to celebrate this festival of Vanayak chorum in the month of Bhadron with great devotion, faith, pomp and show. The royal family was very happy. One day while the queen was performing this ceremony, the king walked in (may be he was drunk) and said "what is thisall going on, I don't want this puja to be celebrated in my home", and without waiting for any reply from his wife he entered the puja room with his shoes on and scattered away all things. He was very furious. The Queen was very much depressed and angry with her husband, but could not and did not tell him any thing. Since the King did this, bad things began to appear and happen in their lives and in the Kingdom. After some time the kingdom was invaded by the enemy, the king was taken a prisoner and all his belonging were taken over and destroyed by the enemy. The queen with her daughter ran away for the safety of their lives and honour, towards the rural area without any personal possession. They had nothing, and were almost begging for their survival, and were in a miserable condition. Both the queen and her daughter were making hand to mouth living.

As the daughter grew older she became sensible. One day the daughter went to the town to beg for some food. Accidentally she came to a house where the Vynayak Chorum festival was being celebrated. The lady of the house asked the girl to come in, she told the girl that she was celebrating Vynayak Chorum puja. She told the girl to stay untill she finished the puja, she would then give her a good quantity of Neveed.The lady said you have to do one thing for me. I am giving you the cotton, would you spin it with your hand for me. The girl was pleased to be invited and being asked to spin the cotton and readily agreed. While watching the festival the girl noticed the celebration with devotion, cleanliness and all the food.She told the lady of the house that she would do whatever was asked of her. She made cotton thread for the lady who was pleased, and celebrated the festival with devotion and faith. The girl carefully watched everything. When the puja was finished, the lady gave good number of Roths with Kanyakeh Roth to the girl. The girl was pleased, and she ran home to her mother, who was waiting and anxious. When she saw her (the daughter) she was cross with her, and asked her where she had been and why she was so late. She told her that now she had grown up and she should not be so late in the future. The girl narrated to her mother the whole story, what she had seen and why she was late only to get the Neveed. The girl pleaded that she had done nothing wrong, and that the lady of the house was a good and nice lady.

After hearing the story from her daughter the mother took a deep breath and was depressed and began to weep. Her daughter inquired from her mother why she was so depressed and why she wept. After a while the mother told her daughter that I too used to celebrate this day for many years with devotion. She told her how and every thing used to be replaced with new things, and whole house used to be cleaned, washed and decorated in this month of Bhadron. I used to make a good quantity of Roths, and do puja of Mahaveer with devotion and faith. What happened one day, that your father, the King, came while I was preparing the Roths to celebrate this day, rebuked me for what I was doing, and threw away all things, and forbade me from celebrating this day in the future. I was very depressed, but could not tell him anything. After that incident bad days began and every thing began to vanish. The kingdom was conquered by the enemy and everything was looted and plundered. Your father was taken prisoner. They (the enemy) were in search of us, but during the night I took you and ran away from the palace for safety and honour. Since then we are here in this bad condition and since then I don't know anything about your father. The girl asked her mother why they should not also celebrate the day again with faith and devotion, almighty god may again be pleased with us and give some relief. Her mother replied "daughter !", one requires money to purchase or get everything for the festival, where from will we get that. The girl listened to her mother with attention and told her mother, "I hope I can arrange how to get some money". After taking their supper they went to bed. The girl was thinking about how to get wheat flour, etc. An idea came to her mind and early next morning she went into a horse stable, and collected all horse manure. She took the manure to the river, where she washed it carefully to get undigested wheat seeds. By doing this she got a good quantity of undigested wheat seeds and she left the wheat seeds in the sun to dry. When it dried, she ground it by hand on a stone mill, so she got some wheat flower. She collected some rice, f lowers and Habel, etc., and went home. She cleaned a small room and a few utensils, and washed herself and the clothing. This she did all with devotion and faith without the notice of her mother. She did all as she had seen the lady in the town do with devotion. She made five bread loaves from the wheat flour she had and then baked them very cautiously on a hot charcoal fire. When they were prepared, she did puja while offering some flowers, rice, and Habel which she had collected with great humility and faith. Then she put all breads in a clean basket and covered them with her washed saari, and went to sleep. Next morning when she woke up and went into the small room where she had performed the puja and had put the breads, what she saw to her surprise was that under her sari there was something. She lifted the saari, and what she saw was that all the breads had turned into gold, and were shining. She at once called her mother and told her what she had done, and now they had turned into gold by the grace of Shri Bagwati (Beebgharen maeg) god. They were excited. The mother was very pleased with the belief that performing and celebrating this day their bad days were over. Now they began to change their life style and could live happily. They had enough gold to spend. The Queen and her daughter began to live a better life.

After some time a Wazeer (Minister) of the king came to their house in their search, and said "the soldiers loyal to the king had re-conquered the kingdom from the enemy who was defeated. The king along with his loyal supporters had beene freed from the enemy's prison, and your husband the king had regained his kingdom. He has sent me in your search to bring you back, so I have come; please accompany me to the kingdom. The queen and her daughter were very pleased and accompanied him.

They met the king and told him all of their past. The king was ashamed, but pleased to have found them, and they began to live very happily, and were performing this Vyanayak Chorum celebration every year, with faith and devotion. After telling the story my wife would repeat in Kashmiri, Yith paeth timan kassin zand te zalath, tithai paeth kassten assi ti greh peda( the way the queen and her family recovered from their misfortune and misery, the same way may god bless us with good fortune and good luck). Then she would put in the Gadwa the rice, Barley, Hable, one silver rupee and cotton thread etc., and asked all members present to do the same. After this puja and Aarthi was celebrated with neveed mantar, dhoop deep, etc.

In the mean time the vegetable Bhoojai was also cooking on slow heat, and Neveed was distributed. We tasted the Neveed roth and then salted Roth with Bhoojai. After completing the ceremony a good number of very thin dry breads were also prepared and the Neveed was distributed to the neighbours and relatives. The distribution work would carry on for several days.

That is the story and on a spirtual not I would like to make a few general remarks. The Hindu religion is a great religion and it has existed since many thousands of years. To know Hindus one must study scriptures such as Vedas and Upanishads. There are many Hindus who do not understand the real meaning of their religion. Hinduism is not a domineering or expansionist religion. Million of people follow this religion, and realize god from this..

About human soul (Atma) the Upanished say "He is the unseen seer, the unheard listener, the thoughtfull thinker, th understood understander, other than he there is no thinker, other than he there is no understander. He is the Atman (soul), the inner ruler, the Immortal". It also says about God whom it calls Purush (Person),"He is formless , he is without and within, unborn, breathless, mindless, pure,higher than the high and imperishable". Shirmad Bhagavat Gita says the following about God" thou art the father of the world of the moving and the unmoving, thou art the father of the object of its worship and its vanishable teacher". Sankaracharya defends god as the totality of taught knowledge and beauty. The more popular prayer is one of Hindu scriptures is "From the unreal lead me to the real, from darkness lead me to immortality, after all thou is god". Idol worshipphig has a very meaningful purpose in that, in search of Purush it is the easiest way of concentration.

We have reached a moment of decision in our history, and one has to make choice that will determine the course of events for centuries hence. Change is the law of life, we have to come to terms with nature and with ourselves. We cannot live and work without the hope that our future holds better prospects both on the physical as well as on the spiritual level. Our ills are not beyond redemption. If we have to live and exist as Hindus we must regain our path. We must not, therefore, forget our tradition, our customs, our religious functions and our rituals. We must keep the flame alight, so that our children inherit our rich culture. We must repeat the same Katha (Story). "The core of Hindu religion is regeneration of mankind, a spiritual mutation of human nature", Radhakrishnan said.

The story about the festival of Yanayak chorum demonstrates how the Hindu religion helped to maintain the social fabric within our society. We have yet to learn that performing puja and worshipping are not a passport to questionable values and inhuman practices much less to heaven, but once you perform puja with devotion and concentration like done by the Queen and her family, you will be on the path of attaining Nirwana.

- Om Hari Krishna Hare Rama -

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