Srinagar:Driven apart by three decades of conflict, Jammu and Kashmir’s two separated communities, Muslims and Pandits, on June 11 witnessed a rare union on the annual festival of Zyeshth Ashtami at the Kheer Bhawani temple in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal, as hundreds of Pandits from across the country converged to pay obeisance.
Keeping the age-old tradition alive, local Muslim shopkeepers were seen selling earthenware lamps, marigold flowers and other puja paraphernalia at the temple located at Tulmulla area, 30 km away from Srinagar.
“It was heartening to see local Muslim music artists playing on the occasion, while Pandits were whirling around,” said Neerja Kaul, 63, a Pandit who had migrated to Delhi after militancy broke out in the 1990s.
The festival is fast emerging as a source of healing of relationships between the Pandits and Muslims of Kashmir. Aliya Assad, manager at the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering and a resident of Baramulla, makes it a point every year to visit the temple to meet old friends and get new ones.
“I visit the temple to meet my old friends. I met a lovely couple this year. Their sweet daughter, Avishi Pandita, became my friend. We enjoyed ‘kheer’, ‘halwa’, etc. We also clicked selfies,” said Ms. Assad.
Brotherhood and harmony
She urged the Pandit community to pray for brotherhood and harmony. “For centuries, the celebration of the ‘mela’ has been an epitome of harmony and brotherhood. There is a need to strengthen the bond of togetherness between various sections of society,” said Ms. Assad.
With the temple and the sacred pond nestled under the shade of the centuries-old mighty Chinar trees, the festival sees the new generation of Pandits also connecting with their roots and the Muslim brethren. “It’s my first visit. I am moved by the warmth showed by the locals,” said Shaina, 17, from Delhi.
“Brotherhood and communal harmony is so evident here. All communities have gathered to facilitate the organisation of this ‘mela’. I appreciate the wholehearted support of locals in making this religious congregation a successful event,” said Governor Satyapal Malik.
Special buses were arranged to ferry hundreds of Pandits from Jammu to Srinagar on the occasion.
Separatists also see the occasion as one where they can reach out to the displaced community. Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also greeted the community. “It was heartening to see a large number of Pandits visiting the Valley,” said the Mirwaiz.
A delegation of Kashmiri pandiths visiting the valley in connection with Meala Kheer Bhawani, called on APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at his Nigeen residence. The delegation was led by Satish Kumar and Nathil Razdan who said that are a group of ordinary Kashmiris and not affiliated with any organisation.
Members of the delegation told the Mirwaiz that they and hundreds like them are extremely eager to return to their homeland and seek his help in this regard. They said that they do not want to live in separate and segregated colonies as is being suggested by authorities but like in the past want to live among all in common neighborhoods. They said that as land prices are much high than since before , they would not be able to afford individual plots and homes, so they suggest that in each district of the valley some land may be allocated to them where they can build affordable flats in which they can live. They said that members of other communities can also buy flats there if they want. They do not want segregation but want to live together.
The delegation told the Mirwaiz that they being a part and parcel of the Kashmir society and its composite ethos, are as much pained by what is happening here as there Muslim brethren. They said that many claim to represent them, but in reality most are exploiting there situation and there deep emotional desire to come back, rather than doing much about it.
Mirwaiz told the delegation that he empathises with their pining to return and assured them that all Kashmiri Muslims want them to come back and live together as before, as Kashmir belongs to them as much as it does to those who did not leave. He assured them of all help and assistance in there suggestion which he said he found sincere and sensible. He said he will help in building a consensus around it among all segments of people and will try to bring others on board.
At the end of the meeting it was decided that members of the delegation will stay in touch with the Mirwaiz and work on the idea to concretise it and take it forward.
In the past, JKLF chief Yasin Malik started a tradition to meet the migrant devotees at the temple.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav also visited the temple.
Meanwhile, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti also welcomed the devotees.
Governor Satya Pal Malik also visited the Kheer Bhawani shrine.
“Brotherhood and communal harmony is so evident here. All communities have gathered to facilitate the organisation of this ‘mela’. I appreciate the wholehearted support of locals in making this religious congregation a successful event,” said Mr. Malik.