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Navreh - The New Year of Kashmiri Hindus

By Upender Ambardar

Festivals are windows to our culture.  'Navreh'--the festival of New Year for Kashmiri Pandits reflects their age-old social, ethnic, cultural and religious ethos and ushers them into the freshness of the New Year.

'Navreh', the first day of the Saptrishi Samvat of the lunar year marks the start of the New Year for Kashmiri Pandits. It is also the first day of the Basant or spring and 'Navratras'. It proclaims the advent of spring season, 'Sonth' in Kashmir. 'Navreh'-the festival of the New Year is celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Paksh Pratipadha, the first day of the bright fortnight of Chaitra (March-April).

The momentous festival of 'Navreh' finds a special mention in the 'Brahma Purana'. According to it, the whole universe was created by the Lord Brahma on the first day of Chaitra Shukla Paksh Pratipadha i.e. day of 'Navreh'. As per the 'Matsya Purana', one of the eighteen Puranas of Hindus', Lord Vishnu, the God of preservation among the Trinity is believed to have incarnated, as 'Matsya' avatar on the earth on the day of 'Navreh'. The festival of 'Navreh' also signifies the start of 'Satya Yug', the first of the four golden eras of Hindus. 'Navreh' has historical significance as it signals the initiation of 'Vikram Samvat' to commemorate and memorialize the victory and triumph of famous king of golden era of Indian history, ChandraGupt Maurya over 'Shakas'. 'Navreh' is the day, when the new almanac, an annual calendar of months and days with astronomical data and other related information starts for the new Hindu calendar year.

Navreh heralds the arrival of soothy season of spring when fresh life becomes evident from fields to forests with new foliage, blossoms and riot of colours in the form of flowers making their presence felt everywhere. Yamberzal or Narcissus poeticus, having white coloured petals and yellow stamens is a beautiful and sweet scented flower, which is frequently spotted from meadows to gardens. It is one of the early flowers, which announces the arrival of 'Sonth' in Kashmir. Similarly, the appealing flowers of Primula Rosea, Primulla elliptical and Primula denticulata also make their appearance immediately after the snow melts in Kashmir.

Likewise, the early migratory birds of 'Phemb-Seer' (Paradise Flycatcher), 'Poshnool' (Golden Oriole), 'Kukil' (Ring-Dove), 'Katij' (common swallow), 'Tsini Hangur (Himalayan Sterling) and 'Sheen-pipin' or Doeb-Bai (Pied-Wagtail) also proclaim the advent of 'Sonth' in Kashmir through their melodious notes.

As such, the festival of 'Navreh' is a celebration of change of season, regeneration and fertility, a journey from cold to warmth, an escape from winter confinement to social communion and a beginning for new lease of life everywhere.

The celebration of this joyous day in the medieval times also finds mention in 'Kitabul Hind', a book written by a renowned foreign voyager Al Beruni. According to him, the month of Chaitra denotes festivities for the natives of Kashmir on account of the victory gained by an ancient Kashmiri King Muttai over the Turks. In the words of celebrated historian Srivara, the Chaitra festival in ancient times in Kashmir was laced with enthusiasm and fervour to the accompaniment of lighting and merriment everywhere.

'Navreh' also marks the time to bid 'adieu' to harsh and severe winter and welcome season of spring when multitude generosity of Nature is visible everywhere. The display of new life in nature and invigorating ambience arouses hope and inspiration even in most brazen hearts.

Prior to the festival of 'Navreh', the family priest known as 'Kul Brahman' brings to every Kashmiri Pandit family, the almanace of the New Year known as 'Jantari or Panchang or Nachhipater' in Kashmiri. 'Nachhipater' is a derivation of Sanskrit word. 'Nakshetra Patri'. The Kul-Brahman also brings the 'Kreel Pach', which is an illustrated scroll usually having a picture of Goddess Saraswati or Goddess Sharika with a hymn in Her praise.

On the night prior to Navreh, an elderly lady of the Pandit household fills a big thali with rice. On this rice filled thali, various items like walnuts (in odd numbers usually five or seven), paddy (as per family 'reeth'), a piece of bread (usually 'Kulcha'), a lump of cooked rice, a pen, an inkpot and book, a Katori filled with curds, a currency note or a coin or a gold ornament like ring or a bangle, a pinch of salt, seasonal flowers (usually Yamberzal), a piece of medicinal herb called 'Vai' ) known by the name of Sweet flag or Acorus Calamus and a mirror are arranged. The 'Nachhipatar or Jantari' of the new year and the 'Kreel-Pach' also find a special place in this rice filled thali.

This ritual is known as 'Thal-barun'. Early in the morning of 'Navreh' well before sunrise, a female member of the family, usually a daughter, makes each and every member of the family  have a 'darshan' of this thali in their respective rooms. This ritual is known as 'Buth-Vuchun'. The ritual of 'Buth Vuchun' is said to bring happy year full of health, wealth, wisdom and good luck for the entire family. After having darshan of this thali, every elder member of the family puts some money in it, which is then taken by the girl as a gift known by the name of 'Kharch'.

As per mythological belief, a mysterious power lies hidden in all human beings. It can be stimulated only by the use of specific symbols as our subconscious correlates fully with the symbols in comparison to the words.

As such, all the items arranged on the rice filled thali have symbolic significance. Rice, the principle diet of Kashmiris is a symbol of abundance, life, growth, development, expansion and prosperity. Rice is also an integral part of our every auspicious occasion and function in our lives. It also stands for the quality of refinement and purity in the individual life. Paddy or unhusked rice connotes unsullied clarity, natural perfection and untainted life without deception and imitation.

Cooked rice indicates metaphoric process through which paddy has passed upto the cooked form. As such, the cooked rice is a symbol of transformation and progression in life in the right direction. Besides it, the cooked rice is regarded as a 'prasad' and gift of God to the mankind. Apart from it, paddy, rice and cooked rice being the source of survival and sustenance are symbols for our physical and mental growth. Curds is a symbolic representation for fullness, stability and cohesiveness in life. Due to its' 'satvic'-quality, curds also represents placidity, consistency and virtuous conduct in life. The next item of bread kept on the rice thali is a symbolic representation for absorption, expansion and integration in one's socio-cultural surrounding.

The walnuts indicate regeneration, evolutionary process, continuity and flow of life. The four kernals present in the walnut represent the four aspects of dharma or divinity. Wealth or arth, Kama or wish fulfilment and moksha or salvation. A coin or a currency note or a gold ring or a bangle represents good fortune, prosperity, wealth and material strength. The gold ring or gold bangle is a symbol of purity and auspiciousness. The gold metal also has religious and spiritual significance as it not only gives contentment but is also believed to drive away evil influences. The coin, currency note and the gold ornament together remind us not to shun righteousness in the pursuit of material wealth. The medicinal herb of 'Vai' known by the name of sweet flag or Acorus Calamus is a symbolic representation for disease free life and good health.

Flowers represent freshness, hope, fragrance, compassion and feeling of concern in life. They are so inextricably associated with the human life that no celebration or rejoicing is complete without them. Flowers are also symbols for the impermanence of life.

Flowers cheer-up the mood and drive away the feelings of depression and dejection.

The pen, inkpot and the book taken together are symbols for wisdom, knowledge, awareness, insight, enlightenement, learning and intellectual brilliance. They also represent the power of knowledge for the eradication of illiteracy, ignorance and shallowness. They have the allegoric meaning for 'Apara Vidya' i.e. Knowledge of wordily objects and 'Para Vidya' i.e. knowledge of Self. Salt, which is central to our day to day life is supposed to generate positive energy and drive away negative retardants and bad luck. Some families also keep sugar on the rice  thali, which signifies cordial social bondings and sweetness at every stage in life.

The 'Jantari' (Nachhipater) represents the symbolic connection of the events in human life to the planetary influences and their movements. 'Kreel Pach' having a picture of Isht Devi is indicative of religious inclination, our trust in Her grace and our total surrender to the sovereignty of the Divine.

Mirror due to its' attribute of reflection stands for duplication of auspiciousness, apart from all the good events of life.

Mirror is also believed to dispel and deflect the damaging impact and influences if present in the house.

As such Goddess Lakshmi is symbolically represented in Her different aspects of Vidyalakshmi (represented by pen, inkpot and book), Dhanyalkshmi (represented by paddy, rice, cooked rice, bread and curd) and Dhanlakshmi (represented by a coin, currency note or a gold ornament). Inversely, the various agriculture and cattle products are symbolic representations of Mother Nature, Mother Earth-Bhoodevi and Goddess Shakambhari, the Goddess of vegetarian and agriculture.

Besides it, Goddess Mahakali, the presiding deity of longevity represented by the medicinal herb of 'Vai' or sweet flag is also worshipped and remembered during the ritual of 'Buth-Vuchun'. On the day of 'Navreh', the rice of thali is used for making yellow coloured rice called 'Tahar' and after performing pooja, it is taken as 'Prasad' or 'Naveed' by the family members.

On 'Navreh' morning, the walnuts of rice thali are thrown in the river as the flowing water of the river and walnuts together symbolically represent regeneration and continuity of fruitful and productive life. It is also a metaphor for the surge and movement of active and energetic life. In the good old days upto mass migration in 1990, on the 'Navreh' morning, Kashmiri Pandits of Srinagar city after having a customary bath and attired in new dresses would make a beeline to Hari Parbhat to pay obeisance to the Goddess Sharika. Hari Parbhat-the historic and heritage hill of Goddess Sharika (one of the manifestation of Goddess Parvati) is the holy spot, which has Chakrishwar Asthapan on it. The Divine Mother Goddess Sharika, the presiding deity of Srinagar city represented by 'Soyambhu' Shrichakra (Mahamaha Shri Chakra) is the very cause of creation, sustenance and dissolution of the Universe. The holy site of 'Devi Angan' at the foothill of Hariparbhat is believed to be the cosmic playfield of the Universal Mother, where all the divinely activities are controlled. In the sacred ambience of Devi Angan and in the serenity of it's cool and calm surrounding, the spiritual seekers do meditation for spiritual awakening and enlightenement.

On 'Navreh Mavas', i.e. Chaitra Krishna Paksh Amavasya, which falls a day prior to Navreh, Kashmiri Pandits while in Srinagar used to visit Viccharnag Shrine, which is about eight kms. from Srinagar on the Srinagar-Ganderbal road. They used to offer prayers and have a holy dip in one of it's sacred springs.

In earlier times on 'Navreh Amavasya', a local annual Almanac, known by the alternative names of 'Janthari', 'Panchang' or 'Nachhipater' used to be released for public use after having been compiled and delebrated upon by the native learned Brahmans at Vicharnag itself.

In Srinagar, on 'Navreh' day Kashmiri Pandits dressed in new clothes would visit 'Badam-Vari'-the orchard of almonds situated at the foothills of Hari Parbhat situated in the down-town. Here they would enjoy sipping steaming tea (Kehwa) made in 'Samavar'. They would also relish roasted water chest-nuts (Trapa bispinosa), oil-fried rotis locally known as 'luchie' and 'nadermonje pakoras'. The children with beaming faces would enjoy playing with water-balls, gas-filled ballons and 'tikawavij'.

On this day, the 'Badam-Vari' would present the look of a fairyland due to the pink and white flowers of the almond trees being in full blossom. People would enjoy the almond blossom locally known as 'Badam Phulai'. Almond is the first fruit bearing tree to blossom in the Kashmir valley in this season.

The violet or green coloured spring vegetable locally called 'Vosta-Hak' (Chenopodium sps.) cooked with reddish or 'nadru' is a special dish alongwith a lavish spread of the traditional dishes on the day of Navreh. In addition to  it, cheese cooked in combination with a native wild vegetable called 'Tsokalader' having the Botanical name of Polygonum persicaria is a much prized and sought after dish on this day. The near and dear ones especially the daughters and son-in-laws are invited on the 'Navreh' feast.

Zangtrai:

As per prevailing Kashmiri folklore, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were not invited for the 'Navreh' feast by the in-laws of Lord Shiva. Inconsequence, Goddess Parvati felt downcast and dispirited on the day following Navreh. In remembrance of brooding and contemplative mood of Goddess Parvati on the day after 'Navreh', Chitra Shukla Paksh Ditya or the second day of bright fortnight of Chaitra is known by the name of 'Deiviein Doie' in Kashmir. As per the connected folklore, realising the said lapse, the parents of Goddess Parvati later-on invited Her to a feast on the third day after 'Navreh'. As a reminder, this day is known as 'Zangtrai', which falls on the third day of the bright fortnight of Chaitra.

In reverence and regard for this day, Kashmiri Pandit ladies even to this day visit their parental houses and return back to their homes in the evening with salt and cash locally known as 'Aetgath' as a token of good omen. Both these days of 'Deivein Doie' and 'Zangtrai' having indigenous distinctiveness are known and observed only in Kashmir and nowhere else in the country.

The auspicious festival of 'Navreh' epitomises our age old traditions, which make us determined not to forget our rich past, notwithstanding the twists and turns in our history and present-day geographical and climatic separation.

If so many momentous events  are embedded in a single day, then that day becomes a special day and that special day is 'Navreh' for Kashmiri Pandits.

Even to this day, 'Navreh' continues to be a popular and adored festival among Kashmiri Pandits and every body eagerly awaits its' arrival every year.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 
 

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