Kashmiri Pandits & their rituals

Kashmir held esteemed position in ancient times, same as kashi/Varanasi held for rest of India. It was inhabited by Nagas, Peshachas and Yakshas, later joined by Aryans who came from outside valley. Kashmiri Pundits [KP] today are a segregated cluster of Saraswat brahmins. Kashmir being a mountainous belt, was nearly isolated place in past, developed culture of its own which aptly can be called K P Civilization. He made his own rituals ,rites and tirth sathans [places]. Kashmiri pundit even developed his own spiritual philosophy, now called Kashmir Shaivism. This Shaivism is different from Shaivism prevalent in rest of India.

Nagas had lot of rites and ceremonies which became foundation for Kashmir Shaivism.Nagas did not accept Aryan caste system. Naga religious practices continued for long along Vedic practices brought by Aryans. Naga religious practices in rudimentary form continue in KP society even today. There has been intermingling of religious beliefs of Buddhism and Hinduism in valley. Buddhism reached valley in 400BC in king Surendra’s reign. Buddhist, Naga and Vedic cultures flourished side by side in valley. In Kalhana’s time there was not much distinction between Buddhism and Shaivism in valley. Kashmir became centre of learning for Sanskrit scholars. This intermixing of NAGA, Buddhist and Vedic beliefs led to formation of distinct culture in valley---can be called Kashmiri pundit culture. Muslim rule [1339AD---1819AD] in valley destroyed millennia old culture in valley. Sufi Araki [1480AD] personally supervised destruction of temples in valley. Muslim rulers were ruthless, forced conversions, destroyed temples and forced abandonment of various rituals. They were even forced to dress deplorably, give ride on back to Muslim passerby and many other orders were issued to the detriment of self-esteem of KP . These events had telling effect on future and culture of KP.Kashmiri pundit was forced to devise means and methods for his survival and identity. Live and let live had been his motto of life. Kichdi Amavasya is an classical example of brotherhood and peaceful existence of KP with other communities. FOR preservation of his identity he developed various rites and rituals Many of those customs/traditions are no longer in use. Some customs have been modified with changed times and circumstances. Customs, rites, rituals which collectively can be called Sanskars not only preserved his identity but elevated him morally and spiritually. He created local replicas of Tirths . Gangbal [equal to Ganga] ,Prayaga [akin to Allahabad Prayaga] ,Koti , to quote a few. He sanctified various places in valley to make them Tirth sthals [pilgrimage spots].

There was no caste system in KP society unlike rest of India, yet because of Ego and myopic vision two castes got created inadvertently—“-BAHUR and Goar.”Bahuris were reconverted KP’S who were not accepted in fold by Brahmins of the day. A new class of purohits was created during Sultanate rule as no purohit was left in society to preside over religious rites. This new set of purohits were labelled,”Goars”, who were later disowned by society. This bizarre type of priesthood is unique to KP in valley. Rigid attitude of then Brahmins had telling effect on future of Kashmiri pundit. This has turned out to be root cause for his fall in valley. Before talking about his preserved sanskars a word about gotra. According to Bhagwat puran there were 14 prajapatis who have given us various tribes [Gotras] in this world. Mr Bamzee gives number of gotras as 133, who are descendants of rishis. Rishis in whose name gotras are there where Brahmins of highest order---Saraswat Brahmins. Among KP’S there are 124 gotras. 21 gotras belong to 21 rishis and rest 103 gotra are there due to inter marriage of descendants of 21 rishis families who belonged to different gotras.

Now coming to sanaskars KP observes nearly 12 of them even today. It is sanaskars which keep society alive. Lot of rites done today have gone through changes. Pre-birth rituals like observing ceremony for fertilization ,secluding pregnant lady and ceremony for getting male offspring are no longer in vogue. Out of over dozen post birth sanaskars only six are observed today. These are briefly as under:--

Truy:-- It is a ceremony done on 3rd day of delivery. Messenger sent to parents of girl informing them of safe delivery. In olden times there was no mobile phone, nor there was any easy transport [no cars] system available to pass message faster.Ocassion today is celebrated by exchanging gifts.
Shran –sonder:-- Still celebrated with lot of enthausim even today. There is bath for child and mother on this occasion followed by feast. This is done on 7th .9th or 11th day of delivery.
Kahnethar:----Most important post-delivery sanaskar. It was celebrated on 11th post-delivery day, the day “hontch” is over. Now a days date is not strictly followed. In case it is not done on said date it needs to be done invariably before marriage, Yogneopavit or shadmos [death in family]. Ceremony is followed by Namkaran.
Functions like Masnether [one month post-delivery] , 40th day bath” ‘Kan-chaumbun’ have lost relevance as on today.
Anaprevesh:--- This is done when baby is nearly six month old. Khir [sweetened rice] is fed to baby. Ceremony attached with this function is no longer in vogue now.
Zarkasay:--- This is done for male child only. This is done when baby is three years old . Baby hair are shaved off and hair buried along with some walnuts etc at some pilgrimage site /Garden or courtyard. Ritualistic portion attached with this sanaskar done in much attenuated form now.
Rituals for Brahmcharya:-- There are two rituals connected with this----Vidhya Aram and Yogneopavit. Vidhya aram is connected with introducing alphabets to child.
Yogneopavit:-- This ritual is most important for KP boy. This ritual makes person, a Brahmin without which he cannot perform any ritual. One may/may not perform pre-birth and post birth rituals but Mekhala [YOGNEOPAVIT] is mandatory for KP boy. This ritual includes house cleaning ,sending invitations[ Dapun] ,Mehndi application , Devagon [god worship] ,Duribata[ in-law arrival and feast] and actual thread ceremony followed by Koshal Hum[thanks giving]. Yogneopavit thread has three strings which denotes three obligations—“for Devas, pitras and elders including teachers”. Strings also denote Tridevas and three stages of human life.
Other significant rituals are for household and death rituals. In house hold rituals most important one is Vivah[ marriage].
KP marriage ceremony is most elaborate function. It has many components which are as follows:--
1. Tekni milvan:- Horoscopes of boy and girl are matched for compatibility.
2. WUCHUN:-Once horoscope compatibility assessed boy and girl are made to see each other so to have self-assessment of each other.
3. Zatuk mangnavun:--Once boy and girl give consent, girl side asks for horoscope of boy and process of marriage ceremony begins.
4. Betrothal ceremony:-Dates for engagement ceremony are fixed. On fixed date ring is exchanged between boy and girl. This is followed by big feast and exchange of gifts between boy and girl side. Gift given in Kashmiri parlance is called Gulumeuth.
5. Marriage ceremony:--On an auspicious day fixed by Gurujee marriage is ceremonised. At groom side function of importance is Dastar bandi [to put turban] of groom followed by departure of barat. Dastarbandi is preceded by mahindirat and Devagon.At bride side after mehindrat and Devagon there is preparation for receiving barat. Barat is received with high pomp and show. Baratis settle for mega feast, groom and bride head for Darpuza. After this boy and girl head to place where marriage puja is completed by kulguru. Other salient features include Kanya dhan, Athwas, Dayi Bata [joint dining], posh puja. Once puja completed there are preparations for departure of barat.

Other post marriage rituals are Satrat, Phirsal [ist invitation to soninlaw], Navsheen, KADALTAR, Phir lath, Chai chawan, Gar-achun, Dod Dyun. They have lost their relevance in modern times. Rothkhabar is still in vogue, Shishur and Zag try ceremony now is purely symbolic.

Festivals of KP:--

Kashmiri pundit observes and celebrates all festivals which are observed in free India. But there are some festivals exclusive to KP, which will be outlined below:--
1.Navreh:-- This day celebrated on 1st Chaitra as new year [Sapt rishi calender] has special significance for KP. On this day added attraction is “Thal Wuchun” in early morning. Thal besides rice contains packet of salt, a cup of curd, pen, walnuts , milk , portrait of mother goddess , some coins and Nechpatar[panchang of full year].

2.Zang-tray:-- 3rd day of Chaitra month [zona pach]. On this day married women visit their parents and eat meals there. Same day they are to return to their homes with packet of salt[Zang] and Atgat[ some nominal cash].

3. Ashtami:--Kashmir is a Shakti peeth. There are many Shakti sathals in valley. On Ashtmi KP is vegetarian, most ladies keep fast and there is puja for MATA. Out of all Ashtamis three need special mention—Zeth Ashtami, Ganga Ashtami, Til Ashtami. On zeth Ashtami there is a mela at Khir Bhawani, Tullmulla . This is birth day of mata khir Bhawani. KP’sfrom alover places throng to khir Bhawani for mata’s darshan on this day. Nag in which mata temple is there changes color now and then. Red or black colour is ominous sign.Ganga Ashtami is celebrated in month of Badhun. On this day ‘shrad’ to departed one’s is performed.Til Ashtami is celebrated in month of Phagun. On this day there is offering of lamps to departed souls. There is also saying that on this day rule of Peshachas ends and they recede to jungles. On this day old kangris are burnt--- a sign of end of harsh winter.

4. Month ASHAD[HAR]:-

Har satam----Harmundul laid in lawns, verandah, and courtyard. This is day of worship of Sun.
Har Atham--- Mother goddess worshipped at number of places like Pokhribal , Khir Bhawani , Devibal to name a few.
Har Navam--- On this day big function is at Hariparbat. Mata Sharika worshipped in the form of SRI Yantra’.There is a story Mata brought a pebble and put it over back of asura Jalodbhava. This pebble turned into a mountain [parbat] and crushed asura, hence the name Hari parbat.
Har –chodha----This function celebrated at Khrew for mata jwaladevi who resides here in mystical yantra. TAHR [YELLOW rice] with cooked Liver [Charvan] is offered to Mata.
5. Chandan sheshti-----This is celebrated on 6th of Bhadun month [Krishna pakh]. This is akin to Kadva chaoth observed in rest of India. On this day ladies keep fast for welfare of their husbands and family as a whole.Pecularity of this rite is that one has to take Chandan [sandal wood] bath on this day.
6. Shravan Purnima:--- Added attraction for KP on this day is culmination of Amaranth yatra.
7. Herath [Siva ratri]:-

Out of all festivals/rituals Herath for KP is foremost. Celebrations last for 15 days [1st phagun—Amavasya phagun] with different functions for different days. On 8th day[Huri Ashtami] mata Ragnya worshipped at Pokhribal, sgr. On 11th day there is preparation of feast, fish etc , day is called Gada kah .On 12th day preparation for receiving deity [VAGUR]. On 13th day vatak puja followed by SIVA puja. 14 th day celebrated as Salam---receiving friends/relations, exchanging gifts and giving Herath kharach [money gift]. Salam is a day of rejoicing and merry making. It is interesting to note whole of India celebrates Siva Ratri on this 14 th day. 15TH DAY IS DAY FOR Vatuk Parmuzun [puja for sending off deity]. This is followed by distributing walnuts among friends and relations. This process continues till Tel Ashtami.
8. Miscellany:---
Darbi mavas:-- in honour of manes in Badun month.
Veyth Truwah:--13th Badhun [zona pach] , birth day of Vitasta river.
ANT chodha :-- in honour of Nagas. PILGRIMAGE HELD AT Nagbal on14th of Badhun [zona pach].
Gada bata:-----Offering to home in charge deity, done in posh month [tue/sat].
Mahakali Jayanti:--- 8th posh [Krishna pach] at fateh kadal ,sgr.
Khichdi Amavasya:--- Oblation to Yaksha [kubera] , posh Amavasya.
Shishar Sankranti:------ Kangri offered to departed souls.
Rang doy:--------------2nd magh month [ zona pach],making Saraswati portraits of flowers and leaves.
Gor- Tray:-- Magh 3[zona pach] , day dedicated to mata Sarswati.
Kaw Purnima:---- Magh Purnima dedicated to birds [crows].
Shiv Chaturdashi:--- Magh 13 [Krishna pach] ,meeting of Lord Siva and mata Parvati.
There are some rites already lost. Some of them are:-- Sonth [on set of spring] ,Harpunim at Harishwar , shrad for ancestors at Shopian, Goddess Laxmi puja in shravan month[11 gata pach] , Navreh Mavasya at Vichar nag etc.

Kashmir has been land of Rishis, aptly called’ Rishi Vaer’. KP would celebrate birth or death of some these departed great souls with all shrada. Out of scores of swami’s ,only a few are listed below. Reader can have full list of these swami’s from panchang.List is as follows:--

Laleshwari Jayanti-------- Chaitra Amavasya.
Sed bab--------------------- jeth ,Shukla pach 9.
KALANDER------------------------Chaitra Purnima.
Rishipir----------------------------- vaishak ,Krishna pach 6.
Naranju-------------------------------vaishak,Krishna pach 10.
Laxman joo birth day------------vaishak ,Krishna pach 12.
Jeshta devi Jayanti---------------jeth ,Krishna pach 5.
Swami Gopi nath------------------jeth ,Shukla pach 2
Rop bhavani Jayanti------------- jeth Purnima.
Gopi nath Jayanti-----------------Har , shakula pach12.
Janki nath dhar--------------------shravan ,Shukla pach 9.
Laxman joo yag--------------------ASUJ ,KRISHNA PACH 4.
Mast bab Jayanti------------------Marg ,Shukla pach 8.
Sri bhat Jayanti--------------------Chaitra Amavasya.

We KPS are on verge of extinction. Need of hour should be to preserve our identity. We should regenerate/rejuvenate our rituals and customs. Our goal should be to organize under one banner and have three point strategy:--
1. Force central Government to declare us internally displaced persons.
2. Force central Government/ state Government to give us minority status. Right now Kashmiri Muslim despite being in majority is getting benefits of minority status.
3. We should revive our lost customs/rituals and preserve at all costs what is left over.
*Dr. Makhan Lal Babu, Born and brought up in Kashmir, lived in Kashmir till his migration from valley in 1990. Retired as Professor and Head Neurosurgery from Institute of Medical sciences, Soura, Srinagar. Has published a lot of professional articles, both in national and international journals. His interests, besides medicine, are in Ancient history of Kashmir, Vedas and Ancient India. His focus is educating youth who are fast losing track of their glorious roots and culture.