Srinagar, Feb 28: The Shivratri festival, which used to be a grand integrative occasion for the majority Muslim and the minority Kashmiri Pandit communities in Kashmir was little noticed this year.
Many locals, especially the younger generation of Kashmiris born during the last 24 years, woke up Thursday asking each other why government offices and banks were closed in the Valley. Shivratri is listed as a public holiday in Jammu and Kashmir and yet in the predominantly Muslim majority Valley, its celebration was conspicuous by its absence.
Shivratri, the most auspicious festival of Shaivite Kashmiri Pandits, has for centuries been celebrated with feasts and festivities in the Valley till the separatist violence forced over 150,000 members of the community to migrate from here in the early 1990s.
Local Muslims would carry walnuts from their trees to Pandit neighbours in villages and friends in towns and cities.
“Walnuts are an important part of the Shivratri Puja. These were put in an earthen pot containing water as walnut symbolizes Shiv-Shakti union.
“In Kashmir, Pandits would perform Puja of ‘Vatuk Bhairav’ (form of Lord Shiva that emerged in the form of light from a pot containing water).
“Vatuk Bhairav Puja is performed only by Kashmiri Pandits and no other Hindu performs this Puja in any part of the country”, said G.L. Daftari, 67, who once lived in the Fateh Kadal area of Srinagar’s old quarters.
Daftari now lives in winter capital Jammu with his wife, son and daughter.
Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits like Daftari would invite their Muslim neighbours and friends on Shivratri to dinner at which fish and the ‘Nadru’ (Lotus stems) those grow in the Valley’s lakes formed an important dish of the feast.
“It was against our culture and communal brotherhood to have the Shivratri feast without our Muslim friends and neighbours. Although one had to invite guests to the feast, yet a formal invitation was often thought to be unnecessary.
“On every Eid, Pandits used to carry sweets to greet their Muslim neighbours. Having food at the neighbours’ home on such occasions was a routine. It is perhaps because of this mutual love and respect that the local Muslims never ate beef and the local Pandits abhorred pork,” said Ashok Kumar, 42, another local Pandit now living as a migrant outside the Valley.
Violence, it is often said, eats its own children and that is perhaps what happened to the proud and lofty tradition of harmony among communities in Kashmir after the resort to guns and grenades was introduced here to fight political causes.
While the older generations of both the communities miss the glory and the magic of that brotherhood, the younger generations of both Muslims and Hindus find it difficult to believe that such a Utopian situation could ever have existed.
“I was taught my first lessons in Arabic by a Kashmiri Pandit teacher who was a scholar of Arabic and Persian languages and literature.
“It was not uncommon for Muslims to learn their Arabic lessons from Pandit teachers in cities and towns”, said Nisar Hussain, 63, who lives in summer capital Srinagar.
The lesser educated Kashmiris in villages had their rustic wisdom to support and justify the centuries-old amity between the Hindus and the Muslims.
“There is none among the older generations of Kashmiri Muslims who is not indebted to a Kashmiri Pandit teacher who taught him/her the first formal lessons in schools although Muslim Imams also used to impart religious teachings to children in cities and villages.
“Undoubtedly, the local Pandits had a generational head start over the Muslims to whom formal learning and education came much later than the Pandit families,” said Abdul Rehman Mir, 68, a village elder in a north Kashmir district.
As the political rhetoric over their return to the Valley gets louder with each passing day, not many among the two communities seriously believe the lost kingdom of trust, amity and brotherhood would return to beleaguered Kashmir soon.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)