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Rites and Rituals of Kashmiri Brahmins

Author - S.S. Toshkhani
ISBN - 978-81-8274-475-2
Year - 2010
Price - Rs. 1500.00
Binding - Hardback

On Jan. 29, Prakash, a cultural organization floated by Panun Kashmir organized a programme in Jammu to introduce the book. On this occasion the author read out a write-up about the book as presented below.

A Perspectival Look at the 'Rites and Rituals of Kashmiri Brahmins'

S .S. Toshkhani

Passionately drawn towards exploring aspects of Kashmir’s cultural and intellectual traditions though I was from the beginning, I was not particularly inclined towards venturing into an area like rituals and rites. Rituals, I must confess, were anathema to me as I considered them to be nothing more than superfluous outer ceremony which had nothing or little to do with religious life in the deeper sense.  So when UNESCO scholar, Prof. B. N. Saraswati chose the subject of rituals and ritual arts of Kashmiri Hindus for me to work on as a research project for the Janapada Sampada department of IGNCA during a brief meeting I had with him in early 2002,   I did not know what to say. He was heading that department at that time and was a social anthropologist of eminence.   Rituals, he explained noticing my discomfiture, were one of the bonds that existed between the Hindu community of Kashmir and the cultural life of Hindus of the country at large, and should not be understood in a narrow sense. They give you a sense of identity. I saw his point, but how to proceed on a subject you have been holding in contempt all your life.  



Kashmir was sort of out of bonds for any scholarly work of the nature I had been assigned to take up. And mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from there in wake of terrorist violence had complicated things. They had been uprooted and were in a state of dispersal. How could I witness a Hindu ritual performance in its traditional form outside their eco-cultural habitat?  I knew that scholars from different parts of the world had been showing a growing interest in the study of Hindu, and particularly Vedic, ritual. But nobody had taken up Kashmiri Hindu religious activity as a separate field of scholastic inquiry. This was perhaps because they could not see any perceptible difference between the ritual system they had adopted and that which Hindus in general followed. The pan-Indian elements were all there, but there were also some remarkable variations and modifications because of deshāchāra which could not be ignored. Characteristically Kashmiri ritual system had elements which had to be identified and analysed while dwelling on the commonalities. Hardly anything systematic had been done in this direction by the religious historian and social anthropologist, Indian or Western.  

As I decided to start my study in right earnest, I understood if had to work on regional peculiarities of the ritual traditions and practices of the Kashmiri Brahmins, I had to comprehend the “formative consciousness” and epistemological matrixes from which they had sprung. I had to forge my own methodological and conceptual tools, I thought, and that meant adopting an approach involving study of related textual material as well as field work. This called for having discussions with available ritual experts and resource persons and there were hardly any around either in Delhi or in Jammu for any worthwhile discussions about regional peculiarities regional peculiarities of the ritual traditions and practices of the Kashmiri Brahmins. The last of the greatest amongst them Pandit Raghunath Kulkiloo had passed away some years ago, but Pandit Kashinath Handoo was there. The related texts too had to be obtained.  I sought the help of Prof. Bansi Lal Fotedar and it was he who came to my rescue. Interviews with Pandit Handoo and some other scholars who were still in the field were arranged. That proved of some help, at least I was able to clear doubts on some points about which I was yet vague in my mind. Not a real breakthrough though as many who were thought to be knowledgeable about things did not exactly prove to be so.  Just at that time I read Fritz Staal, a German expert on Vedic fire ritual and found him saying that ”Asian rituals are rituals without a religion”, creating doubts about meaning of ritual itself. “Rites become religious” he has written, “when they are provided with religious interpretation”.  At the same time he has emphasised that ritual traditions have social significance in that they identify groups and distinguish them from each other. It now became necessary to arrive at a basic line of approach to the question of what actually constituted Hindu religious ritual and what could be defined as variation and deviation at the regional level. Did rituals really have any meaning  and how did they help in defining identity?

I noted in this context that Richard H. Davis, another eminent Western scholar, but of medieval Shaiva ritual, is highly critical of such scholars who tend to “characteristically present Indian rituals as instances of highly elaborate routinized behaviour, ignoring the philosophical foundations on which they are based”.  A focus now emerged for my study and I found it found it possible to move ahead. In the new light in which I began see my subject now I came to understand rituals as established patterns of religious activity embedded in the cultural consciousness of a people, even as they seek to link mundane or natural reality with the divine or trans-natural. They combine in their structure mental, physical and verbal actions which achieve a symbolical character giving the whole a meaning and significance through “invocation of the sacred and the transcendent” beyond what any natural process can give it.  As Prof. Daya Krishna has pointed out, rituals transform the biological cycle into a cultural cycle. That is why, he explains, “... In all cultures birth and death are not just biological phenomena but profound cultural events associated with a lot of ritual and ceremonies which transform the biological into the cultural”.  The ritual processes that set into motion this transformation of the natural or causal are closely related to the attitude of a civilization to time and space and their sacralisation and symbolization.

Viewing things in the Indian context it can be said about rites or rituals that they are intertwined throughout with human life and human activity, beginning with the birth of an individual or even earlier with conception, and continuing through crucial stages of his or her life up to his or her death. Collectively, they are called samskāras.   Apart from these passage of time or life- cycle rituals, there are ceremonies related to different forms of worship in which the blessings of gods / goddesses are invoked for fulfillment of worldly desires or for spiritual enlightenment.  These worship rituals, commonly known as pūjā may externally vary in some respects from place to place or in different social milieus, but they have the same basic internal structure.

Whether seen as encoded processes of change or expressions of reverence for the sacred, the fundamental ritual activities prevalent among Kashmiri Hindus, as among other Hindu communities of the country, can be broadly classified under the following heads:  (1) Samskāras or life-cycle (passage of time) rituals and other domestic ceremonies, (2) Pūjā or worship services, (3) Tantric practices and (4) Ritual arts. Eminent ritual expert Jayant Burde  has divided religious rituals into these four categories: worship rituals, rites of passage, festive rituals and sacraments. According to Nusahi Tachikawa and Shaon Hino, religious activity can be divided into two kinds: (1) That which takes as its goal the spiritual well-being of the individual, and (2) that which has the purpose of enabling the group or the society to operate smoothly (festivals, initiation rites etc.).  Following these two noted Japanese scholars of Indian rituals, it was the study of samskāras or life-cycle rituals of Kashmiri Hindus that I took up first, as these for the common people form the core of religious activity, and then the pūjā rituals. In both cases, as I noted, rituals serve as means of communicating with divine beings or trans-natural powers that are believed to guide and influence the course of human actions.  While benevolent and favourable influences are sought to be attracted and appeased, as Dr. Rajbali Pandey has pointed out, ritual devices are used to ward off or banish harmful and hostile influences (evil and uncanny spirits, goblins, demons etc.), often by invoking the help of deities and gods. In fact, ritual practices all over the world follow a similar pattern – purification, banishment, propitiation and consecration.

After these general characteristics that rituals display, I went on to describe the constituent elements of the rites and rituals of Kashmiri Hindus in accordance with the analysis provided by the pioneering expert of Hindu samskāras, Dr. Rajbali Pandey.  Agni or fire is the first and most sacred of these components, an dis being worshipped as the presiding deity of sacrifices and domestic rites and ceremonies since the Vedic times -- agnim īde purohitam.  Fire purifies, consecrates and acts as a protector and witness to human intent. Offerings are made into fire and through it to the gods in almost every ritual performance. Kashmiris burn bdellium and sesame seeds in a kāngrī during weddings and other ceremonies for auspiciousness and to banish evil spirits.  Water, a symbol of life itself, is the next important constituent for its purifying effects and powers to remove contamination. Bathing, especially in sacred rivers, sipping water (āchamana), and lustration or sprinkling of water are believed to be means of removing physical as well as spiritual impurities.

Prayers, appeals and blessings are another class of constituents that can be placed next on the list.  Prayer, says the eminent philosopher Prof. Daya Krishna, “seeks the intervention of the transcendent in the normal processes that are supposed to be governed by causality”. Prayers for success, health, long life, happiness, obtaining children, material prosperity, spiritual salvation etc. are a common feature of Kashmiri Hindu rituals, as also seeking of blessings of gods, elders, preceptors and teachers, spiritual personalities etc.

Offering sacrificial food and presents to propitiate and please gods and supernatural beings is another major constituent of rituals including those performed by Kashmiri Hindus.  Special occasions and festivals have been set apart in sacred texts to invite, placate and feast them in the hope of obtaining their favours.  As we know, apart from oblations of barley, rice, sesame seeds, dried fruits, molasses, sugar candy, clarified butter or ghee, milk etc. at yajñas and havans, the most common food offering to gods made by Kashmiri Hindus is tāhrī or rice flavoured with turmeric powder and ghee or oil.  Sacrificial food like khicharī and fish and rice is offered to appease Kubera, the Lord of Yakshas and the Grihadevatā (Kashmiri gardivtā) or the Deity of the House, while meat offerings are made to deities like Bhairava, Kālī, Jwālā, and Tripurā.  Lambs are also slaughtered to please certain deities with animal sacrifice, though such practices have now become rare.           

Like their co-religionists elsewhere in the country, Kashmiri Hindus attach great significance to orientation or direction the performer should take while performing a ritual act.  Direction of movement in domestic and other rituals is clearly specified in the religious texts they follow. Citing Gobhila’s Grihyasūtra, Veena Dass observes:   “...The right side has precedence over the left in rituals to mark the passage of time, as in the morning and evening oblations to be made to the fire on the advent of the new moon and full moon”. She further writes: “Similarly, in all rites of transition except death the use of the right side is prescribed.”  The opposition between right and left, she explains, “is clearly associated with ‘rites to gods’ and ‘rites to ancestors’, the former being associated with propitiation of divine beings who are friendly and benevolent, the latter being associated with those supernatural beings who have to be appeased, who inspire terror and have the potential of causing great harm if they are not regularly propitiated.” This applies fully to the domestic rites of Kashmiri Hindus as well, though they follow the directions given in different texts. Following Indian mythology, they too consider south to be the direction of Yama, the god of Death, and hence inauspicious. In all rites performed by them the subject faces the east, which is associated with light and warmth, and therefore “happiness and glory”.    

Observance of taboos on is yet another feature that marks the ritual behaviour of Hindus of Kashmir. These are associated with circumstances like pregnancy, childbirth, adolescence, marriage and death and are related to purity and impurity (shauch-ashauch, auspicious-inauspicious (shubha-ashubha) or else to warding off evil influences and the evil eye and other possible dangers.  Then there are taboos associated with certain months or days which are believed to be inauspicious and when certain things should not be done.  There are also minor taboos connected with food which are followed mainly from protecting a person from evil influence or impurity which may be physical, moral or spiritual. Fasting, abstaining from taking non-vegetarian food on particular days or occasions and notions of purity and impurity in cooking, prohibition or prescription of particular type of food – these are also included in the kind of taboos that the so-called orthodox among Kashmiri Pandits observe.  

Divinatory methods, based on the belief that gods indicate what is to come in the future through the medium of natural phenomena and other agencies, too have an important place in the pattern of ritualistic behaviour of the Kashmiri Pandits.  Besides liturgical utterances and acts, gods are sought to be pleased in their rituals through song and dance which are believed to evoke generosity and benevolence from them in the form of material prosperity, success and protection from misfortunes as well as for bringing in auspiciousness.

After these general observations, arose the question of accessing the particular ritual texts which provide the parameters for the Kashmiri Hindus to follow in their ritualistic behaviour. Foremost among these is the Grihyasūtra of Laugakshi. I had heard about Laugakshi but his name was only a faint echo in my ears. He had written his Grihyasūtra for adherents of the Kāthaka school of Krishna Yajurveda to which Kashmiri Brahmins belong.  But to obtain an insight into its ordainments also to know to what extent they were practically followed by the Pandits required that the text be studied seriously. Though listed among the important grihyasūtras, the Laugakshi Grihyasūtra is not a much commented upon text.  I learnt, the rules and regulations laid down by Laugakshi Muni alone are regarded by the Kashmir Pandits as the true norm and source of their āchāra, no other grihyasūtra being used in Kashmir for guidance in performance of rituals and rites. Can anyone beat it --the Pandits follow Laugakshi’s ordainments but know nothing about him or about the Kāthaka school to which they belong. To excavate the facts I buried myself in Laugakshi’s text, photocopies of which were very kindly provided to me by well known scholar and author Dr. Rames Taimiri. For this I shall ever remain thankful to him.   I managed to make some headway,  but  there was a whole host of grihyasūtras followed in India -- those written by Āshvalāyana, Gobhila, Āpastamba, Pāraskara, Hiranyakeshī, Mānava for instance. I had to acquaint myself about them too and their peculiarities for a proper understanding of Laugakshi’s text and context. It was a stupendous task but all the same important to undertake as no Western or Indian scholar had cred to render it into English nor an Indian language with the exception  of  W. Caland who has written some notes and comments on it in English.

 When exactly did Laugakshi live and when did the vast grihyasūtra literature came to be composed?   Scholars as usual do not agree, but if Veena Das is to be believed, the grihyasūtra litertature was composed sometime between c. 500 – 200 BCE, and that is  the date we can ascribe to our Laugakshi also.  The Vedic elements with which his Grihyasūtras are replete seem to confirm this.  The text of the Grihyasūtra was brought out in two volumes under the Kashmir Sanskrit Texts Series by Jammu and Kashmir Research and Publications Department in 1928 and 1934 respectively. It was critically edited by Pandit Madhusudan Kaul Shastri who wrote a very valauble Introduction to the first volume giving preliminary information about the work, the author and the commentator Devpala. Pandit madhusudan Kaul had promised to write a detailed introduction to the second volume  as well but did not do so. According to him Aditya Darshana wrote a vivarna on it while the  Paddhati was  written by Brahmanbala and bhāshyam by Devapala.  Devapala’s commentary, Pandit Madhusudan Kaul tells us, has been incorporated in the text but in a way that it is difficult to distinguish between the two. The Italian scholar Dr. Caland had also critically edited Laugakshi’s Grihyasūtras with extracts from the three commentaries and addition of appendixes and indexes. I found the commentary useful at places but I also took the help of Shatpatha Brāhmana and several other primary and secondary sources to have a better understanding of things.   

But while the rites and rituals of Kashmiri Brahmins are primarily anchored in the Laugakshi Grihyasūtra, there are also various phases through which they have passed in terms of their historical development as reflected in other sources of inquiry like the Nilamata Purana and Bhringisha Samhita.  And if Laugakshi’s Grihyasutra form the Vedic substratum of the ritual system of the Kashmiri Hindus, the latter texts represent a stage when this substratum was overlaid by elements of Puranic and Tantric modes of worship. By the time of the Nilamata Purana, a 6th century text which gives Kashmir’s own creation myth, the Vedic fire sacrifice (yajña) was replaced by practices like vrata (observance of religious vows), dāna (charity), japa (repetition of the deity’s name), utsava (festivals), tīrthayātrā (pilgrimage), pūjā (individual or collective worship of iconic deities), upavāsa (fasts) etc.   A significant feature of religion in the Nilamata era was the emergence of a whole new pantheon of gods and goddesses, mostly of local origin, who could be invoked through their anthropomorphic images.  Thus, besides the worship of the five major Puranic deities, viz. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga, Ganesha in their various manifestations and Surya the Sun god, the Nāga deities, the deities of the Pañcharātra and the Bhāgvata cults, Kubera, even  Buddha, Vitasta and many other river goddesses and  deities of local origin found their place in the religious belief system.  

 The ever joyful and sportive people of the era who tried to live in perfect harmony with the beautiful natural environs of the Valley, celebrating festivals galore.  In spite of a religious veneer, many of their festivals ike Krishyārambha, Yāvagrāyana, Navānna-vidhāna, Shyāmādevī Pūjana, Irāmañjarī Pūjā, Navasamavatsara Mahotsava, Navahimāpātotsava and the vratas of Uttarāyana and Dakshināyana were actually related to agriculture and the cycle of seasons. Some of these festivals such as the Navasamvatsara Mahotsava (Navareh) and Navahimapātaostsava (Navashīn) continue to be celebrated to this day.  Festivals like Irāmañjarī Pūjana and Shrāvanī Utsava show the kind of catholic and liberal values the society of the times cherished and the freedom that women enjoyed. On the Irāmañjarī Pūjana, men and women were urged to visit gardens and parks and adorn each other with garlands of the Irāmañjarī flowers, while on the Shrāvanī festival young maidens are asked to enjoy water sports.  Sukhasaptikā, which was perhaps the same as Diwali, was a festival dedicated to Kāmadeva, the god of Love.

Nilamata also describes in detail a number of places of ancient pilgrimage, mentioning their legends and significance.  These include Amareshwara or Amarnath, Kapalamochana and other tirthas which continue to be places of pilgrimage even now.  Nilamta is not ritual text as such, but a lot of information about rituals performed in that age can be gleaned from it. There is also a clear thrust towards folk religious practices in this personal purāna of Kashmiri Hindus.

More valuable from the ritualistic point of view is the Bhringīsha Samhitā which incorporates various tīrtha mahātmyas or glorification of sacred sites and sheds valuable light on the sacred geography of Kashmir. Though the exact date of the Samhitā is difficult to detrermine, Dr. Yashpal Khajuria, who has edited its Shri Ranbir Singh Research Institute edition, is of the view that it must have been composed sometime between the 5th century and 12th century of the Vikrami Era, though it is also possible that some portions of it may have been incorporated much later. The name of the sage Bhringisha, to whom it is ascribed, is associated with ancient sages like Kashyapa and Shandilya.  The text marks for the first time the dominance of Shaivāgamic and Shākta cults in the religious life of the Kashmiris as reflected in the its glorification of  the sacred sites dedicated to various deities worshipped in Kashmir. Beginning with Tulmul, where the famous shrine dedicated to Mahārājñī, popularly pronounced as Mahārāgñyā, or Khīr Bhavānī is located, the Bhringīsha Samhitā (BS) goes on to describe the significance of the shrines of Sharikā, Jwālā, Jyeshthā, Shāradā and other manifestations of the Mother Goddess together with their legends, mantras, hymns, and modes of worship. What assumes great importance in this context is that some scholars are trying to deny any antiquity to two of the most popular local goddesses Rāgñyā and Sharika, in particular the former who they argue came into existence only recently.  How did the worship of a “Vaishnavite” goddess who is offered only vegetarian offerings like milk, sugar candy, khīr etc. come to gain such tremendous popularity among by Kashmiri Pandits after the advent of Dogra rule only, they ask.  Claiming that she is a creation of the Dogra rulers who were followers of Vishnu by faith, and therefore vegetarian, they argue that a vegetarian goddess is incompatible with the traditions of Tantric Kashmir and cannot otherwise be explained except an anachronism.  They also refer to the legend given in the Samhitā in the section titled Shrī Rājñī Prādurbhāva about the goddess having been brought from Lanka by Hanumana to prove their point. An example of such logic can be seen in the recently published book ‘A Goddess is Born: The Emergence of Khir Bhawani in Kashmir’ written by Madhu Bazaz Wangu.  What such scholars forget, and they include T. N. Madan, a sociologist of international repute, is that there are several historical references to Tulmul as a place of pilgrimage, besides the fact that it was the well-known mystic saint Krishna Joo Kar, a great devotee of the Mother Goddess, who rediscovered and demarcated the area of the sacred spring in which the image of the goddess is installed and lived in the 17th century in the time of Aurangzeb. The present temple was constructed  there no doubt by Maharaja Pratap Singh in the year1920, but before that a 10th century idol stood there under a mulberry tree which was in place there when Swami Vivekannada made a pilgrimage to the shrine in1898. (It may be noted that the word tul in Kashmiri means mulberry.)   These scholars also fail to note that Bhavani means the consort of Bhava, a name of Shiva and that she is represented with all the iconography of Durga.  Furthermore, devotion to Vishnu was an equally dominant feature of Kashmiri religious life along with Shaivism and Shaktism.  The Nilamata Purana shows a clear tilt towards Vaishnavism and scholars say that cults like the Pañcharātra had taken their birth there. Apart from that, amalgamation of two goddesses into one can be seen in Sharada, the goddess of speech and learning, also who is shown seated on a lion indicating  Saraswati and Durgā merging into one.

The glorification of the shrine of Shārikā Parrvata (modern Hari Parbat) is described in much greater detail in BS, covering six pātalas or sections.  Linking it with the creation myth of Kashmir, the sacred text narrates how the Great Goddess Durgā herself took the form of a shārikā or starling to deliver the land from the terror of the demon Baka and crushed him under a peak of Mount Sumeru which she was carrying as a pebble in her beak, BS also tells us about the various deities that occupy various places along the entire periphery of the sacred hill. It is through the Samhitā we come to know that the Goddess Sharikā is to be worshipped in the form of a natural Shrīchakra inscribed on the main rock that represents her and that this rock is to be smeared with vermilion and ghee. It also describes the offerings that are to be made to her on different days of the week and ways for circumambulation of the sacred hill.  The dhyāna shloka of the goddess given in BS shows Sharikā carrying among other things a ploughshare in one of her eighteen hands which Durgā.  Does this indicate that she was originally an agricultural goddess who was later identified with Durgā herself. 

Among the numerous other sacred sites of Kashmir whose  spiritual significance BS celebrates are Amarnath and the sacred stops that fall en route, Harmukh and Gangabal, Kapalmochan, Martanda, Pushkara, Sangam etc.  The rituals and ceremonies associated with them represent a period in the religious history of Kashmir when the temple and places of pilgrimage had become centres of group religious activities for Hindus.  An interesting feature of the work is that quite a number of the pilgrimage places of Kashmir it describes are named after well-known Hindu pilgrimage centres of India like Ganga, Godavari, Prayag, Kurukshetra, Pushkar etc.  This is so not just because the tīrthas in mainland India were inaccessible in the winters to the common man because of excessive snowfall, but because of the deep reverence for these centres in the Kashmiri Hindu psyche. That is perhaps the reason that almost every sacred river is given the appellation of Ganga by them – Dūdh Gangā, Nila Gangā, Kishengangā, etc.  Another important aspect that I have highlighted is that in the local sacred texts like Nilamata Purana and BS we find chanting of Vedic mantras juxtaposed with Puranic hymns and Tantric mantras and ritual practices. This makes it obvious that while the Vedic elements continued to play an anchoring role, Puranic and Tantric liturgy had come to be regarded as the established norm in the ritualistic behaviour of Kashniri Hindus. In fact the juxtaposition of all the three elements continues to constitute the core of their religious life down to the present times. This shows Kashmiri hindu rituals having a three tiered structure – Vedic, Puranic and Tantri.c    

Apart from the glorification of places of pilgrimage, significance of important festivals and celebrations of Kashmiri Hindus, like Shivarātri, Navavarshotsava or Navreh and a number of other religious celebrations with their exclusively Kashmiri  features l also forms a substantial part of the BS. About these I will discuss a little later, but suffice it to say here that this raises the question of the essential nature of these festivals underlining as it does that festivals and yātrās are related to civilizational memory. The celebration of “foundational festivals” can be seen as enactment and re-enactment of cultural events supposed to have occurred in the remote past.  They are related to civilizational memory and, as Prof. Daya Krishna has pointed out, are internalized to “such a degree that a person finds his identity in participating in them” and even feels “that a very important part of himself would be missing if he does not do so”.  While the cycle of festivals points to their relationship with civilizational memory in time, the notion of pilgrimages to places deemed to be sacred is linked with “the spread of memory to space”.  This notion of a journey to these places that an individual would like to undertake sometime, as Prof. Daya Krishna points out, consists of the feeling that by doing so “he becomes a part of something larger than himself and through which he achieves a personal identity at a deeper level of his being”.   

I also consider it necessary to mention here that Tantric modes of worship and ritual practices  of esoteric cults came to occupy the centre-stage in the religion practiced in Kashmir from the 7th century onwards and with an extensive body of sacred texts, known as the Bhairava Tantras, exerted a pervading influence on the Kashmiri Hindu mind. These included the Rudra Yāmala Tantra, MaIini Vijaya Tantra, Svachchanda Tantra, Netrta Tantra, Mrigendra  Tantra, Vamakeshvara Tantra and Yogini Tantra among various others. The schools of Agamic Shaivism like Krama, Kula and Trika gained fast popularity and a dominant position when in the 10th – 11th century the great Abhinavagupta synthesized them under one exegetical scheme as monistic Shaivism in his monumental work, the Tantraloka, interiorizing their rites and rituals.  According to Navjivan Rastogi it is the most comprehensive and important single source of information about the various aspects of Shaiva ritual with mantra, mudrā, nyāsa, mandala, dīkshā, charyā, upāsanā and yāga as its constituents.  It also deals with the nitya karma or daily rites and naimittika karma or occasional rites as also with antyeshti or funerary rites and shrāddha or post- funerary rites which are performed by the little known sect of Shivakarmī. The latter are actually practitioners of rituals of non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir. These rituals are very lengthy, elaborate and complicated, consisting of a series of pūjās, nyāsas, mudrās, mandalas, yāgas, homas and mantric devices.  For the Shiavakarmīs, Shiva alone issupreme and is to be worshipped along with deities of Shiva Brahmānda or the Cosmos of Shiva. In their funerary rites the performer of the rites strikes at the head of the deceased with a jñāna khadga or Sword of knowledge made of thirty-six blades of grass corresponding to the thirty-six tattvas of Shaiva cosmology. I have given full details of Shivakarma antyeshti rites in the book.  However, many rituals mentioned in the Kashmiri Tantric texts are lost and there is no track of them.   

The Vaishnavite Tantric cult of Pañcharātra with its own elaborate system of rituals must have also left an impact on the ritual behaviour of of Kashmiri Hindus. The cult is believed to have flourished in Kashmir in early times and according to some had its birth there. These have been described in full detail in Pañcharātra texts like the Jayākhyā and Ahīrabudhnya Samhitās.  Today we have only a vague reminder of Kashmir having been a an important seat of the cult in the appellation Pradyumna Pītha given in BS to Hari Parbat. Pradyumna, it may be pointed out, is one of the four vyūhas or deities of the cult representing cosmic reality.

These then can be regarded as the main sources of inquiry about the ritual system of Kashmiri Hindus. Coming back to samskāras or life-cycle rituals, I have drawn attention to the fact that exigencies of circumstances brought about by the near total displacement of Kashmiri Pandits have greatly affected their ritualistic behaviour, contributing further to the cultural loss suffered by them due to the processes of modernization. Prolonged contact with Islam and Islamic way of life has done incalculable harm to their consciousness of their own traditions and religious practices, blunting their perceptive faculties.   Of the sixteen standard samskāras they are today practically performing only the bare essential ones like mekhal or sacred thread investiture, nethar or marriage ceremony and antyeshti or funerary rites, and even that to the minimal extent.

A few words about the role of samaskāras in the Hindu tradition become essential here.   It is essential to note that samskāras consist of processes “by which the natural is transformed into the cultural”.  The process of transformation starts with conception itself in the biological cycle of an individual which gets intimately related to that of another human being of the opposite sex, leading to a new human being coming into existence.  The life cycle of the newly born person in turn gets closely intermixed with the life cycles of the parents for the rather long period of growing up and attaining maturity. It also gets enmeshed with the cycles of his siblings and other members of the family, as also their peers and marks the beginning of socialization with cultural values like love and sensitivity for each other’s concerns and respect for the elders coming into play.  The “ritualistic consecration” of marriage of two individuals starts it all.  It is the symbolic character of the ceremonies performed at different stages of life right from the “biological moment” of conception to death that imbues these natural processes with the significance of a cultural dimension.  The ritualistic procedures of karmakānda for transformation of the biological reality into cultural consciousness, is what lends Hindu samskāras with a meaningfulness and purposive character that raises human beings to a level beyond the purely biological existence of non-human beings. The subtle impressions that samskāras leave on mind set into motion processes that lead to acculturation and socialization.

Although the Laugakshi Grihyasutra gives details of the sixteen standard samskāras, Kashmiri Pandits have been done away with most of the prenatal ceremonies, including dŏd dyun or curds ceremony which was performed till a few decades back. Among the post-natal ceremonies too jātakarma or shrānasŏndar, which consists of ritual bath given to the mother and child on or after the sixth day of birth, is hardly performed as a religious ritual. On the shrāna sŏndar day, it may be pointed out, ladies would assemble in the confinement room of the mother and pass lighted pieces of birch-bark around the head of the new born and all those who are present, shouting “shokh ta panasund”. Though some interpret these words as a distortion of “punahsantu”meaing “May you have more children”, “panasund”may actually be remnant of a forgotten mantra or hymn.  Though kāhnethar or the eleventh day purification rites corresponding to  a blend of  jātakarma  and nāmakarana and zarakāsay or mundana, the first tonsure of the male child, and perhaps annaprāshana or ceremonial feeding of a new born child with solid food, are still performed by some, the precise dates prescribed in the sacred texts are no longer adhered to. Modifications have been introduced in the performance of other domestic rituals too due to circumstances. However, mekhal or the sacred thread investiture ceremony continues to be regarded as the most important initiation ritual prior to marriage for a boy.  It is rather strange that the wearing the mekhalā or girdle to put the loin cloth in place, which is only a part of the ceremonies of upanayana or yajñopavīta has become the nomenclature of the whole samskāra. This is something that needs investigation. But one thing must be noted. Today it has become an outward sign of being a Hindu Brahmin, just as tshog or the tuft of hair was sometime back.

 The upanayana samskāra or sacred thread nvestiture ceremony as performed by  Kashmiri Pandits seems to have been reduced to farce with a compact of as many as twenty four ceremonies right from garbhādāna, kāhanethar, zarakāsay and vidyārambha to samāvartana  being rolled into one.  But many of the indigenous ceremonies like divagōn, närivan khārun, tĕkytāl, vāridān and ādidarshun have a great charm of their own which they have retained.. The närivan khaārun ceremony appears to resemble the simāntonnayana ceremony in some ways with husbands adorning the hair of their wives with the help of small mulberry twigs.   Performed prior to upanayana of a boy or the marriage ceremony of a boy or a girl, divagōn is indeed a uniquely Kashmiri ceremony, colourful and exciting. On this occasion the to-be bride is decorated with bridal jewellery for the first time. This includes the dejihor, the symbol of her married status, which is said to be designed as a stylized form of shrīchakra. The ornament is a late comer and shows the xtent of the influence of the Shākta cult on Kashmiri Hindus.   The word divagōn is probably derived from Sanskrit devāgamana and entails invoking the presence of gods – Ganesha and the sapta māttrikās – to bless the intiate or the boy or girl to be wedded.   It begins with a ritual bath given to the initiate or would -be bride or bridegroom by four maiden holding a cloth over their heads and pouring oblations into the sacred fire.  On the eastern wall drawing of a kalpavriksha or the wish-fulfilling tree supposed to be the abode of the divinities in Nandanavana or the Garden of Paradise is made on a shatchakra base symbolizing Shakti is made for the invocation.  The drawing is called divtamūn in Kashmiri meaning ‘column of the gods’.

The yajñopavīta ceremonies do not conclude with samāvartana or the ceremonial return of the brhamachārī after the supposed end of his student career.  On the day following the sacred thread investiture, a small homa is performed to thank the gods for everything having passed off well.

Marriage, or nethar as it is called in Kashmiri, is regarded by the Kashmiri Hindus as the most important of all samskāras as it forms the cultural pivot around which the life of a person as a householder revolves and ensures continuation of the family and the race through the progeny.  A Kashmiri Pandit marriage has all the core elements that constitute a Hindu wedding, but it also has several peculiarities that are distinctly Kashmiri, being a charming and yet a serene affair. Like mekhal, it too has divagōn as an essential constituent with Ganesha and the sapta mātrikās showering benedictions on the bride and the bridegroom.  I would like to point to two ceremonies in particular  as they are suggestive of historical and civiliztional facts.. One is remembrance of Saraswati, the river and the goddess both.  As the wedding is going on, a hymn is recited by the bride and the bridegroom in praise of the River Saraswati on the banks of which the Brahmins of Kashmir are believed to have originally lived. The river, says the hymn, distributes its sweet waters as a mother distributes her wealth to the daughter:

Āsyandamānā subhage nirgiribhyah Saraswati / Māteva duhitribhyah kulyābhyo vibhajā vasu //

[LGS Vol. I, 25 / 19]

Praising the goddess Saraswati, to whom Kashmiri Brahmins are so deeply devoted, the husband describes her as a gracious and beautiful lady of resplendent complexion, beautiful eyes and eyebrows, and prays to her to protect the lifelong companionship between him and his bride. 

Another unique ceremony is about ceremonial entry of the ganga vyas or River Ganga personified as the bride’s personal friend soon after the madhuparka ceremony. This is mentioned in the karmakānda manual brought out by Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotshi. The role is played by a young girl from the bride’s side who acts as a confidant of hers.  Nothing is known about the origin or purpose of this ceremony, but it appears that in ancient times the bride was actually led to the banks of a river by her female friends for a ritual bath. Later, during the Muslim rule, most probably during the Afghan period, this ritual must have been discontinued for fear of harassment. Supposed to be the embodiment of the holy river itself, the young girl is understood to function as a witness to the purity and sanctity of the marriage ceremonies.

There are some other uniquely interesting features of a Kashmiri Pandit wedding that need mentioning. These include ceremonies like dvāra pūzā and posha pūzā’, the latter probably showing an influence of the Shivakarmī cult.    After the bride’s father and the bridegroom’s father have greeted each other and the wedding guests have settled down to enjoy the wedding feast, the bride and the bridegroom are called to perform the dvāra pūzā at the entrance gate of the bride’s house. The bridegroom cannot enter the house without performing this ceremony at which the guardian deities of the gate are invoked and worshipped according to set procedure.  They include Ganesha, Dharma, Adharma, Dehalī, Khinkhinī and gods of the ramparts of the Sumeru Mountain.  The doors are taken to be the thresholds between the outside world and the consecrated space inside, offering passage into a new phase of life. It is considered essential to pay homage to these guardian deities of the door to ward of perils and dangers and bring in protection and auspiciousness. Before entrance the bridegroom and later the bride are made to stand on the consecrated cosmic circle called the vyūg and are identified with Shiva and Parvati or Lakshmi and Narayana.  These very gods guarding the entrance, it may be pointed out, are also worshipped during Grihapravesha or the ceremony of entering a new house.  

Posha Pūzā is the concluding and one of the most important ceremonies of Kashmiri Hindu marriage without which the nuptials are regarded as incomplete.  The bride and the bridegroom are made to sit under a red canopy and worshipped with flowers as embodiments of Shiva and Parvati by their parents and close relatives. The benedictory verses recited on this occasion refer to the names of gods and goddesses, sages and seers, ancient warriors and famous kings and queens, pious mothers etc., perhaps to remind the couple of having ideal children like them, and wishing them a firm and loving relationship like ideal couples of Vedic and Puranic lore. The gods are invoked seeking their blessings so that they may obtain long life, learning, wealth, happiness and, of course, “many sons” . The ceremony seems to have to do with Shivakarma ritual tradition.    

As in the case of rituals of life, in performing rituals of death too Kashmiri Hindus are guided by notions of purity and impurity (shaucha-ashaucha) and auspicious-inauspicious (shubha-ashubha).  But even more than that, they regard the ritual of cremation as a “sacrifice” or an act of expiation through the medium of fire.  This is because of a deep influence of Shaiva ritual and it has made the death rites among them very elaborate. It is the “final” sacrifice”, according to the Shaivas, before the departed soul attains liberation or identification with the “supreme state of Shivahood”. The funerary rituals of the sect known as Shivakarmīs are even longer and more complicated as they involve performance of a whole set of purification rituals even on the cremation ground to consume and destroy the karmic bonds of the deceased.  The extreme shortage of performing priests after the exodus of Kashmir Pandits from Kashmir has made the situation indeed very difficult for those who want to perform the last rites of  their deceased kin according to Kashmir rites as other priests are not acquainted at all with the procedures of the Kashmiri ritualistic system.         

I have devoted a whole long chapter to Kashmiri pūjā rituals and festivals, analysing their structural aspects, history and also distinguishing characteristics.   Rites are prescribed in religious texts for the nitya or daily worship and naimittika or acts of worship performed on sacred dates and special occasions. The latter include religious festivals, birthday celebrations, propitiation of planetary deities etc. in which elements from folk religion, mystic rites, cultic practices all combine and co-exist as constituents. Conceptualization of cosmic forces and symbolization of ceremonial acts and movements are significant aspects of Kashmiri pūjā rites, their basic ritual structure being related to the shodasha upchāra pūjā or the sixteen-step worship service which is the norm followed by  Hindus  everywhere, with of course some modifications and variations prompted by local factors. In its simplest form it starts with āvāhana or invocation to the deity to be present at the ritual setting, after which life is infused into the image by means of the prescribed mantras (prāna pratishthā) signifying that it is not the external image but the living deity present inside  it who is being worshipped. After being invoked, the deity is welcomed as a guest and offered seat (āsana), water for washing feet (pādya), libation of sacred water with rice grains, Dūrvā grass and flowers (arghya), water for rinsing the mouth (āchamanīya), bath for purification (snāna), lower and upper garment (vastra and upavastra), fragrant materials (gandha),  flowers (pushpa), incense (dhūpa), lamp (dīpa), and last of all food (naivedya) which is partaken by the performer and the participants as the deity’s gift of grace. The worshipper concludes the pūjā with namaskāra or salutation to the deityand then offering flowers and waving lamps (ārātrikā).  With mantras he bids farewell to the deity (visarjana). In case of congregational or public pūjā performed in temples and sacred shrines, the concluding act is that of pradakshinā or circumambulation. The Kashmiri Hindus have, however, reduced it now to pañchopchāra and even further to what has been given the name of “dhūpa-dīpa”.        

There are several other important ritual acts associated with pūjā,  like purification of self, the ritual setting, and ritual objects, prānāyāma, recitation of the Gāyatrī mantra called vyāhriti, waving a five-wick oil or camphor lamp (ratnadīpa), holding a parasol (chhatra) over the image of the deity, blowing a conch (shankha) and singing hymns to the accompaniment of a ringing hand-bell (ghantā). This is what Richard Davis has termed as “the least common denominator of Pūjā as a form of Hindu worship”.  It is within this broad structural and conceptual framework that regional variations, modifications and additions have emerged and given shape to peculiarities that can be distinctly identified as “Kashmiri”.

Kalsha pūjāna or worshipping or the water pot is an essential preliminary of Kashmiri pūjā  cermonials as it is believed to be the abode of all gods.  According to Heather Elgood it conveys the idea of fullness and is “such a central element in and symbol of Hindu art that no ceremony can be performed without the installation of an auspicious vessel”.   Consecrated by swastika and shrīchakra marks made on it by vermilion, it is placed on an ashtadala kamala or eight-petal lotus drawn with rice flour or lime powder on the ground at the ritual site towards the east and on the left side of the agnikunda. Vishnu is supposed to occupy its mouth, Rudra its neck and Brahma its bottom. The group of mātrikās is known to reside in the middle part. Indra, Agni, Varuna, Vāyu and Yama all reside inside it. The kalasha also represents the ten directions along with their presiding deities. All the oceans and the earth with its even continents rest in the interior part of it. The Vedas – Rig, Yajus, Sāma, and Atharva, with all their auxiliary texts assemble in the water pot:

Kalashasya mukhe Vishnuh kanthe Rudrah samasthitah /  mūle tatra sthito Brahmā madhye matriganah smritāh / kukshau tu sāgrāh sarvesaptdvīpā vasundharā / Rigvedo tha Yajurvedah Sāmavedo hy’ Atharvanah / angaishcha sahitāh sarve kalashantu samāshritāh //

Kalasha pūjā begins with the hymn portraying the Vedas as the wish-fulfilling tree and praying to it for protection.

 There are special procedures for special pūjās as, for instance, those associated with festivals.  Linked with civilizational memory, which they help to enact, festivals and celebrations can be described as cultural events internalized by people to such an extent that they feel compelled to participate in them as they find their identity in doing so.    

An interesting fact about some Kashmiri Hindu festivals that I have tried to investigate is that their dates fall one or two days earlier than the day on which they are celebrated in the rest of the country.  Shivaratri and Janmashtami are two examples of such festivals. As for Shivaratri, the most important of Kashmiri Pandit festivals, it is celebrated on tryodashī or thirteenth day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna and not on chaturdashī as in the rest of India. The celebrations actually extend from the pratipadā or the first day to amāvasyā or the last day of the dark fortnight or even beyond to the tenth day of the bright half. Digging into the pages of some forgotten Tantric texts, I have excavated the story of the Jwālālinga about the origin of the festival. Describing the whole festival in all its details and symbolism, I have explained that these texts term Shivaratri as Bhairavotsava as on this occasion Bhairava and Bhairavi are to be propitiated through Tantric worship. According to the story, Svachhandanatha Bhairava, a five- faced form of Shiva, appeared as a Jwālālinga or a column of fire at pradoshakāla or the dusk of early night on trayodashī. Failing to find the beginning or end of the linga, Vatuka Bhairava, the principal deity of the pūjā, and Ram Bhairava sing its praises while Shakti, whose mind -born sons they were, merges into it. The two emerged, one after the other, with all their weaponry from two pitchers filled with water when the Great Goddess cast her glances into them. She assured Vatuka that he will essentially receive worship first on the trayodashī.  This is perhaps the reason that Vatuka is worshipped in the form of a pitcher filled with water into which walnuts are kept to soak and later distributed as naivedya. Rāma Bhairava or Raman Bhairva also has a role to play on the conclusion of Shivaratri celebrations. He is the “Rām Bror” who knocks at the door and promises to bring happiness and prosperity to women of the celebrating family. It is sad that this beautiful piece of drama hasbeen forgotten and Ram Bror is regarded to be a benign cat and not Rāma Bhairava, the Devi’s mind-born son.    

Consecrated an iconic pottery is an important part of Shivaratri pūjā – a unique feature of it.  Apart from the earthen pitcher representing Vatuka Bhairava, special hand-moulded vessels of various shapes and sizes  believed to be charged with spiritual power and representing the main deities are worshipped during the pūjā. These include a cone-shaped clay linga called Sanipŏtul and an open-mouthed vessel having three parts called Vāgur. Ridiculous etymology of both these images have been floated, but the sanipŏtul actually represents five-faced Shiva (Svachhandanāth Bhairava?) on which water is sprinkled for abhisheka.  The etymology of Vāgur is more confusing. Could it be derived from Vyāghreshvar – probably the name of a  Bhairava?  Whatever the case may be these aniconic vessels are a very interesting and fascinating aspect of Shivaratri pūjā in Kashmir and decoding its mystery is very challenging job. 

It may sound to be a tall claim but the manner in which I have described most of the major festivals of Kashmiri Hindus together with their peculiarities and symbolism, seems to have some lesser known facts concerning them to light. Besides Herath or Shivaratri these festivals include Navreh, Jyeshtha Ashtami, Khetsi Mavas, Pan, Tiky Tsoram and several others.  The fact is that they reveal Kashmiri Hindus as people who celebrated life and tried to live in perfect harmony with their beautiful natural environs, finding glimpses of divinity in its phenomena.   Their all-inclusive philosophy of Shaiva monism rejects the otherness of God and emphasizes the oneness of Man, God and World. It is sad, however, that some pūjās that were quite popular in Kashmir only a few decades back are now completely forgotten. And though in my study, I have tried to record for the religious historian facts of their history and their ritualistic aspects as far as I could, I feel sad that they are no longer being performed.  One of these was the Pañchāyatana Pūjā, which  involved worshiping the five major deities of the Hindu pantheon – Vishnu, Shiva, Devi (Durga), Ganesha and Surya – with the image of the favourite deity (ishta devatā)  of the worshipper placed in the centre and of the others at four corners in the temple or the  thokur kuth.  Forgotten also is the Parthiveshvara pūjā, which isat once a folk art and a ritual. It consists of making an instant Shivalinga of clay, together with images of Kumara, Ganapati, Uma and the eleven Rudras.  The linga and other images were made artistically of clay obtained from a devasthāna or place of worship, the Shankracharya Hill being a popular place for Pandits of Srinagar to dig for it. As the clay images could be easily immersed into the river after the worship, Parthiveshvara pūjā probably became quite popular in Kashmir during the Muslim rule when fear of persecution made visiting temples for congregational worship a risk.

Ritual art compliments religious practices as a means to express the invisible in terms of the visible. Though not exactly driven by aesthetic impulse, this art has been an integral part of the religious life of Kashmiri Hindus.  To put it in the words of Heather Elgood, the role of Hindu religious art is to “act as a threshold between the worlds of gods and men”.  For the Kashmiri Hindus too ritual art forms serve many purposes. Some of them serve as an aid to meditation, while some are believed to have the potential of driving away evil forces and protecting from calamity and misfortune.  Many of them are associated with auspiciousness and well- being which they are supposed to attract through their magical power. Yet many such art forms have disappeared or are on the verge of disappearing – a sad commentary on a community which claims to be concerned about preserving its traditions.  In fact my attempt to explore the function, meaning and symbolism of these dying folk art forms was a venture no art historian had undertaken so far. I had dared to open a systematic line of inquiry into a totally uncharted area.  The field I surveyed was indeed vast in range, covering Gora Tray, Vyūg, Krūl, Hāramandul, Krūla Pachh, Divtamūn, Tĕky Tāl, Chittāvāsa, Shrīchakra, aniconic pottery used in Shivaratri worship, drawings related to  several life-cycle rituals and much more.   The total indifference and disinterestedness displayed towards these by Kashmiri Pandits, a people whose ancestors gave shape to the building blocks of Indian aesthetics, shocked me.  The way beautiful art forms like Gora Tray executed freehand by priest artists and women were allowed to die – people would paste them on their window panes to block  blasts of cold air from entering the room during winter months --  tells an extremely sad and painful story.  Gora Tray has – the scroll paintings with the image of Saraswati and a hymn to her at the centre which used to delight the hearts of Kashmiri Pandit children only few decades back -- has vanished without a trace. It has beenallowed to die and disappear due to sheer indifference and deadening of aesthetical sensibilities. Years back I went from town to town, village to village, person to find one single surviving specimen, b ut without any success.  The Krūl Pachh and almanac paintings have met the same fate.  The Vyūg, a descendant of the bhūmishobhā of the Nilamata Purana, is still there because it is still thought essential to make the bridegroom and the bride stand on it at weddings, but in what a grotesque and crude form. The same is the case with Krūl, the floral designs painted on the entrance door at the time of a marriage or Yajñopavīt ceremony.   The Hāramandul – a representation of the Sun god drawn on the floor-- is since gone. The Tĕky Tāl or patterns of shrīchakra and bindu is in equally bad shape.  I undertook to note some peculiarities of this wonder art as I was deeply fascinated by the inherent symbolism of the shapes and configurations of these ritual drawings with the square standing for consecrated space and the circle easily identifiable with “the cyclical flow of time”.  

I hope it will be appreciated that in my study I have desperately tried to capture the feel of a culture lived – a way of life once vibrant but now in the last throes of its existence.  What can be more tragic than that the deeply painful  long suffering Hindus of Kashmir should have lost the even the feeling of a cultural loss that should have stunned them. They have lost their land, they are about to lose their language and if they lose their rituals also, they could well lose their selfhood even for rituals are symbols of identity. The danger of deracination looming large over them is real and terrible. I think Prof. Fotedar will bear me out that as we surveyed the situation on the ground to enable me to make a headway regarding my project on rituals, we found it to be appalling.  Amnesia seemed to threaten to take over everything. I hope my work on the rites and rituals of Kashmiri Brahmins will rekindle the flame of desire in them to know their real image and  protect it from being wiped out.         

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