Mahashivaratri the most popular festival of Kashmir
*Late S. N. Dhar
ashmir, the paradise on earth, was discovered by the great Sage Kashyap Rishi in the hoary antiquity. There is an acceptable myth about its coming into present shape, some ten thousand years back. They say that it was a gigantic lake which was drained by the great Sage after he dismantled the narrow pass in the northwest and made a channel to drain the standing water. How far this myth is true, is left for believers to accept and rationalists to leave it to the researchers to find out the truth. The present name Kashmir is derived from the original name “Kashyap Var” meaning “the garden of Kashyap”.
It was entirely inhabited by Kashmiri Hindus and ruled by Hindu rulers till AD 1339 when Shah Mir, a brute ascended the throne after defeating then ruler Kota Rani. It was Kashmir’s bad luck that the Hindu rulers were not capable which resulted in the throne being snatched by Muslims.
Under the tyrannical rule of Muslim kings, Hindus were driven out of the valley multiple times after facing “die or convert to Islam” directives. Zainul Abedin (better known as Badshah) was an exception. He was perhaps the best known ruler to rule Kashmir and allow the two faiths to propagate their religions. In this connection, a reference may be made to the English translation of “Baharistan-i- Shahi” by Dr. K.N. Pandita, an ememinent Professor of Persian language in India.
Kashmir has a rich cultural past so much so that one of the sources of Indian History, Raj Tarangini (River of Kings) was written by Pandit Kalhana, a learened Kashmiri Pandit and a great scholar of his time. It is a good read for anyone who is interested to understand Kashmir’s history over centuries.
Out of numerous festivals celebrated by Kashmiri Hindus or Pandits as they are known, the most popular festival is Heirat or Mahashivratri. Even after the tragic forced exodus of Hindus from the beautiful valley from 1990 onwards, under the threat of Pakistan sponsored terrorism, Heirat is celebrated with enthusiasm, faith, fervour and traditional rituals. The worship of Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati is performed by the Pandits wherever they are throughout the World in traditional manner established by our forefathers. No other festival is celebrated in such a manner and scale by Kashmiri Pandits.
The importance of Heirat is based on the belief from spiritual injunctions contained in various Puranas and other holy books of Hinduism. The festival falls on 13th/14th day of the dark half of Falgun (Feb/March). Shivrarti name implies the following meanings:
The faithful and devotees in Kashmir would fill the “Kalash” with walnuts and worship the Lord by chanting “Om Namaha Shivay” and “Shiv Mahima Stotram” by Pushpadanta. The Shivlangam would be worshipped throughout the night by washing it with milk, yogurt, honey and rose water. Offering of flowers and bel leaves is part of the tradition. Bel leaves are considered to be very sacred according to Hindu philosophy. Hymns composed by great sage of 6th century AD Sri Sri Shankaracharya are chanted all along to get the divine blessings of Lord Shiva, one among the Trinity, Tridev. Tridev is actually manifestation of one God in three forms.
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