Kaw Bhatt Kawo!


Image courtesy: Vishal Raina
aw Punim is one of the unique festivals of the Kashmiri Hindus i.e. Kashmiri Pandits. This year, ‘Kaw Punim’ is being observed today, 25th of February. This festival is austere, simple and indigenous in character. Unlike other festivals, there is no ostentation on this occasion. It is not being celebrated in the same fashion as it once used to be when Kashmiri Pandits lived in the Kashmir valley. Many such festivals are celebrated with less fervor and enthusiasm or forgotten now due to detachment from community’s cultural roots.

Before the exodus from the valley, Kashmiri Pandits used to celebrate ‘Kaw Punim’ every year. There was special kind of charm associated with ‘Kaw Punim’. Children used to wait anxiously for this occasion. They would make ‘Kaw Potul’ (a hand type ladle/spoon made of a long stick and hay) for pious offerings to crows from the window of upper storey or balcony of their respective houses. While offering the food, the children would chant -

Kaw Bhatt Kawo,
Khechrey Kawo.
Gangabala Sharana Karith,
Gurey Mechey Tyoka Karith.
Walbha Saney Larey Pyeth,
Dal Bata Khyene.
It means, “O erudite crow! O Khichri (a mixture of rice and moong dal cooked together) eater! After having a dip in river Ganga, put tilak (of clay) on your forehead and come to our house to have dal and rice.”

In Kashmir, the women of each and every Kashmiri Pandit family used to offer fresh cooked food to crows every day before serving it to the family members. She would not even taste it to confirm the quality of dish. A ‘Kaw Paet’ (smooth wooden piece) hanging on the front wall of a house signified that that particular house belongs to Kashmiri Pandit.

Many myths are attached with crow in Hindu mythology. One of the myths is of Kak-Bhushandi, who was a pious man devoted to Lord Ram but he was cursed to become a crow. The crow is considered to be very curious animal. Kak-Cheshta and Kak-Snaan are the idiomatic expressions of curiosity and bathing like a crow (crow only dips his head while having bath) respectively in Sanskrit language.

According to Hindu belief, crows are the representatives of our ancestors, planet Saturn, Yama, Dharamraja and Krishna. By offering food to crows, they get pleased. The Nilmat Puran which is our source of cultural history says, “Pournmasyam Tu Maaghsya Shraadam Kritva Tiler-narah, Kakanaam Bhojnam Dadyaat Prabhootam Bali Sanyutam.” (Verse 516) It means, “On full moon night of Maagh, a man should perform Shraadh with sesame and give enough food consisting of pious offerings to crows.” It is also believed that ‘Kaw Punim’ is birthday of the crow.

Hindus see God in many creatures; be it crow, snake, or human being. As such offering food to crows is equal to Jeeva-Karuna i.e. having pity on every creature. Also, it is equivalent to Bhoot-Yajna i.e. one of Panch Mahayajnas (fivefold duties) a family man should perform every day.

I think crows serve as a hot line medium between living and deceased ones. Therefore, we should maintain the tradition of offering food to crows and other animals to make the departed ones happy so that they shower their blessings and good wishes upon us. The ubiquitous crow does not eat alone but along with his fellows. This activity of crow is indicative of fellow feeling and community care.

The Kashmiri Pandit community may not be celebrating this festival with great charm due to uprooting from their homeland or advancement of western culture but its significance is even much more relevant today when human values have faded away. Let it be either out of sheer compassion or out of blind beliefs perpetuated since ages, it is clear that this festival gives us a message that fellow feeling is transacted through collective sharing and community caring which is must for our survival in exile.
Dr. Jai Kishan Sharma is Ph.D. in Kashmir Shaivism from University of Jammu. He has written research papers and articles for several magazines, journals like Shiraza, Hamara Sahitya, Dharma Marg etc. He devotes his time in reading, researching and writing.
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