sacred days have deep roots in our socio-religious traditions. They form a
significant part of our cultural heritage. Their celebrations lead to spiritual
upliftment, soul purification, moral enrichment besides self-discipline. The
festivals sustain our spirits, add colour, zeal, variety and zest to our
existence and in the process help to keep our traditions and time tested rituals
alive. Kashmir has been a seat of spiritual and cultural strength since ancient
times, Kashmiri Pandits are basically Shaivites and Shaivite philosophy has
attained growth and strength in the serenity of cool and calm surroundings of
Kashmir. The worship of Lord Shiva and his Divine consort Parvati is an
inseparable part of our tradition and culture. Shivatri, locally known as 'Hayrath',
is sacred festival of Kashmiri Pandits. This ancient and auspicious festival has
immense religious and cultural sanctity. It's sanctity finds a prominent
reference in the sixth century Sanskrit text, 'Nilmat Puran' of Kashmir.
Shivratri festival has also been highlighted in the famous philosophical work
'Shivastrotravali' of Utpal Dev, the great Shaivite philosopher of the
eighth century. One of the greatest Shaivite, AbhinavGupt has also paid
salutations and obeisance to Vatuk Bhairava in his famous Trika philosophical
work called 'Tantraloka'. Even the renowned historian Kalhan's 'Rajtarangni'
also bears an invocation to Lord Shiva at the very start of the text. The famous
treatises like 'Sivadrashti' by Acharya Somananda, 'Shivstotravali' by
Utpal Dev and 'Pratyabhijna Darshnam' by AbhinavGupt have contributed immensely
towards the enrichment of Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmir Shaivism, also called
Trika Shastra is the philosophy of triad, which comprises Shiva-the
Universal consciousness, Shakti-the Divine energy and Nara-the human soul. It
regards the entire creation as His manifestation, which is real and not
illusion. We worship Lord Shiva in His both forms of Shiva and Shakti. Shakti
for us is the Goddess Raginya, Sharika, Kali or Durga, who are the energy
aspects of Lord Shiva. Worshipping Lord Shiva leads to the cosmic mother, who
offers solace, protection and divine grace to one and all.
Accordingly, the ultimate
Truth or Supreme Reality is Lord Shiva Himself and the whole creation is His
He is consciousness and
Bliss. Everything emanates from Him and everything merges in Him. He is in us
and we are in HIM. In reality, Kashmir Shaivism is a spiritual quest for an
inward journey and search rather than an outward one. It is the exploration and
realization of the divinity within ourselves. Lord Shiva is also known as
Mahadeva-the Great God, Triloki Nath-the Lord of three worlds,
Umapati, Gauripati, Parvatipati, Chandrashekhar-the
moon-crested, Gangadhar-the bearer of Ganga, Girisha-the mountain
Lord, Mahakal -the Lord of death, Pashupati-the Lord of beasts and
Vishwanath-the Lord of Universe. HE is the Lord of his spiritual consort,
the Goddess Parvati, which in reality is the cosmic energy. The union of Lord
Shiva with Shakti is Shivratri. Every Monday is sacred to Lord Shiva.
Generally, the fourteenth day of the dark half of each month is called
Shivaratri. But the one that falls on Phalgun (February-March) is Mahashivratri.
Mahashivratri known as 'Hayrath' in Kashmir is a twenty three days festival,
which starts from Phalgun Krishna Paksh Pratipada (Phadgun gatapach Oakdoh), the
first day of the dark fortnight. It culminates in Phalgun.
Shuklapaksh Ashtami, known
as 'Tila Aetham'. On Shivratri, the sun and the moon are usually in the
Zodiac sign of Aquarius or Kumbh Rashi. Kashmiri Pandits perform Shivratri Puja
called Vatak Puja on the intervening night of Triyodashi and Chaturdashi, while
in the rest of the country, people observe Mahashivratri on Chaturdashi.
Shivratri is also known by
the names of Mahashivratri, Kalratri and Talaratri. Shivratri, the night of
Bliss, has a special significance as the Divine Mother symbolically merges with
the divine Lord, thereby establishing non-dualism in the Absolute form. It is
also believed that Jyotir Linga appeared on the earth at midnight during the
intervening night of Triyodashi and Chaturdashi to remove darkness and ignorance
from the world. As such the great night of Shiva is said to commemorate the
auspicious advent of the divine Mahajyoti or Supreme light. According to the
holy Hindu scriptures, the festival of Mahashivratri also signifies the day on
which Lord Shiva saved the world from total annihilation by drinking the deadly
'Haalahal' poison, produced during the great churning of the ocean (Samandhar
Munthun). According to sacred texts at this time a forceful natural upsurge of
energy is said to take place in the human system, which advances the process of
soul purification and enlightenment. This energy in combination with the
significant planetary positions help in the upward flow of the energy flow in
the human beings. These energy forces help us to overcome the Karmas and raise
one's consciousness beyond the veil of illusion resulting in the intensification
of the spiritual process.
Lord Shiva also represents
the life cycle of living beings. It is due to this very fact that walnuts are
used in the Shivratri puja. Walnuts, known in Kashmiri as 'doon' is a seed,
which in reality represents a complete life-cycle i.e. the beginning and end of
life. It is also a miniature representation of our universe and is symbolic of
our respect for the entire cosmos. The four kernels of the walnut are also
believed to represent the four directions of the hemisphere and the four Vedas.
As Mahashivratri falls on
the darkest night of the year, it symbolises the darkness of ignorance and Lord
Shiva is said to manifest Himself during this night to enlighten the universe by
removing the ignorance.
As per a prevalent belief
in Kashmir, the Divine Couple of Lord Shiva, and Goddess Parvati visit the
devotees' homes on the night of Mahashivratri and are said to stay as Divine
Guests upto Amavasya, known as 'Doon Mavas' locally (fifteenth day of Phalgun
Krishnapaksh). Preparations such as cleansing of the house and washing of the
clothes for celebrating the Mahashivratri festival are done from 'Hur Oukdoh',
the first day of Phalgun Krishnapaksh to 'Hur-Shaeyum' (Sixth day of Phalgun
Krishnapaksh). 'Hur-Satam' is the day when special dishes as per the individual
family ritual or 'reeth' are cooked.
On 'Hur-Athum', the
devotees prior to their forced migration used to visit Hari-Parbat Srinagar for
night long meditation and Bhajan Kirtan at Chakrishwar and Pokhribal temples. It
is on 'Hur-Navum' that womenfolk visit their parental homes. On their return,
they bring alongwith them the 'Kangri' (the traditional fire-pot), a pack of
salt, 'rotis' (bread) and some money locally called 'Atagut'
as 'Shivratri Shagoun'. Next comes 'Dashmi' called 'Dyare-Dahum', which has a
special significance for the newly-wed Kashmiri Pandit brides. They return back
to their in-laws bringing with them new clothes and 'Hayrath-bhog' in the form
of cash and kind. It is on this day that vegetarian or non-vegetarian food are
cooked as per the family ritual or 'reeth'. It is followed by 'Gada-Kah' (Phagun
Gatapach Kah), wherein fish is cooked as per the family tradition. This day has
got tantric significance as per the Hindu mythology. On the following day called
'Vagurbah', a small earthenware pot known as 'Vagur' is installed amidst
elaborate rituals in the pooja-room, locally known as 'Vatak-Kuth'.
Late in the evening after
performing 'Vagur Pooja', cooked rice, vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes
depending upon one's individual family 'reeth' or ritual are offered to the 'Vagur'.
This day is followed by 'Hayrachi-Truvah' (Triyudashi), which is the auspicious
and most sacred day of Mahashivratri. On this day, an elderly lady of the family
fills-up the earthen-pitcher designated as 'Vatak-Nout' with fresh water
and a good number of walnuts, usually 101 or 151. This ritual known as 'Vatuk-Barun'
is performed before the sun-set. The 'Vatak-Nout' is a symbolic representation
of Lord Shiva, whileas a smaller earthen-pitcher, locally called 'Choud' placed
adjacent to the 'Vatak-Nout' represents the Goddess Parvati. The smaller
earthenwares such as 'Sanivari' (two in number), 'Machvari' (2-4 in number) a
hollow cone-shaped 'Sanipatul' representing lord Shiva and a 'Dhupzoor (an
earthen dhoopstand) are suitably placed near the 'Vatak-Nout'. In addition to
them, two bowl type earthen-wares 'locally known as 'Dhulij' are also placed in
close proximity to the 'Choud'. The 'Dhulij', 'Sanivari' and 'Machvari' are
believed to represent Bhairvas, 'Gandharvas'- (the celestial musicians) and the
other deities of the 'Divine-Barat' (the celestial marriage of Lord Shiva and
A small bowl called 'Reshi-Dulij'
occupies a special place near the 'Vatak-Nout'. Only cooked rice and milk are
offered to it. The 'Nout', 'Choud' and 'Dulij' etc. are referred as 'Vatuk' and
are seated on special pedestals of dry grass made in the form of circular rings
locally called as 'Aarie'.
The 'Vatuk' is decorated by
tying mouli (narivan) i.e. string of dry grass embellished with marigold flowers
and 'bael-pater', which is known as 'Vusur'. Tilak is also applied to 'Vatuk'.
Incense, dhoop, camphor and ratandheep form the main ingredients of ritualistic
material called 'Vatak Samgri'. Milk and curds and conical sugar preparation
called 'Kand' are offered to the 'Vatak-Raz', represented by the 'Nout' amidst
elaborate ritualistic pooja and chanting of the holy mantras, collectively known
As part of the ritual,
special vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes according to one's family ritual or
'reeth' are offered to the 'Dulij'. The day following 'Hayrath' called 'Shivachaturdashi'
is locally known as 'Salam'. Salam is a day of greetings and festivity. On this
day, all the family members and near relatives are given pocket-money called 'Hayrath-Kharch'
by the head of the family.
During Shivratri days,
playing of indoor-game with the sea-shells, locally called 'Haren-gindun' is a
usual practice especially among the children. Late in the evening of 'Amavasya'
known by the name of 'Doon-Mavas', pooja is performed either on the river bank (Yarbal)
or at home as per the family tradition. The practice of performing pooja of
walnuts taken-out from the 'Vatak-Nout' called as 'Vatuk Parmozun'.
'Doon-Mavas' is also known
as 'Demni-Mavas' as some families (Gourit families) prepare meat preparations in
combination with turnip as per their family ritual.
It is a usual practice in
most of the house-holds, who perform pooja at the river-banks to allow the head
of the family to enter the houseonly after he promises blessings and boons in
the form of health, wealth, education, employment, peace and prosperity to each
and every member of the family. The conversation in Kashmiri, which takes place
between the head of the family (who is outside the closed door, and senior lady
of the house goes like this, "thuk or dubh-dubh', kous chuv?, Ram Broor 'Kya
Heth?, Anna Heth, Dhana-Heth Doarkoth, Aurzoo Heth, Vidya, Kar-bar, Te Sokh
in the form of water-soaked walnuts and 'rotis' is
distributed among near and dear ones during the period of 'Doon-Mavas' to
Tila-Ashtami, locally known as 'Tile-Aethum', which falls on Phalgun Shuklapaksh
On Tila-Ashtami, a number
of earthen oil lit lamps are placed at different places starting from one's home
to the river-bank (yarbal) and also one of the oil lamps is made to float on the
river with its base seated on grass ring or 'arie'. The day of 'Tila-Ashtami'
also signals the end of the severe cold of winter and advent of the pleasant
season of spring, locally known as 'Sonth'. On this day, the change-over of
season is celebrated by children by burning old fire-pots (Kangris), stuffed
with dry grass and tied with long ropes are rotated around in the air, all the
time uttering the words of 'Jateen-Tantah'. It marks the final good-bye to the
holy festival of Mahashivratri or 'Hayrath'.