June 2019 News

Kheer Bhawani: This Yatra Is For Bonding Kashmiris

11 June 2019
Kashmir Times
Deepika Bhan

Srinagar: On June 10, Kashmir witnessed the congregation of hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits. The occasion was the Zysetha Asthami and the venue the ancient temple of Mata Kheer Bhawani temple located in the district of Srinagar. Zysetha Asthami is one of the pious days when the community members pray and celebrate the Mother Goddess. This pilgrimage has of late assumed significance in the valley. Both the Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslim majority in Kashmir view this as an opportunity to start the reconciliation process between the two. The Ashtami pilgrimage is gradually getting transformed into a movement to try bringing the true Kashmiriyat back to the valley. Despite the fact that terrorism forced the Kashmiri Pandit community to live away from their native land, their faith in the temple, popularly known as Tulmul, has not diminished. Each year community members troop into the valley to pray in the temple on the Zysetha Asthami. The Muslim majority provides the necessary support and logistics for the celebrations. In the past few years it has been witnessed that the locals eagerly await this yatra and by and large are supportive of this pilgrimage. Realising the potential in the warmth, leaders and civil society groups from both the communities are working hard to build on this. The state government too has lent a hand and is encouraging the displaced community to travel to the valley. Last year, for the first time, the state government provided free transportation facilities to the community members in Delhi and Jammu. And this year too, the government is giving full support by providing security and free travel to the pilgrims from the community. The Yatra this year is seeing a good increase in the number of pilgrims. Devotees from the US and UAE are also joining the Yatra in Delhi. One of the reasons for the increase in the number of Yatris is the encouraging response from the locals in the valley. The success of any event is not possible without the participation of the local populace. The Kheer Bhawani temple is well known among the valley's Muslim population. They have always been connected with all the festivals being observed by the Kashmiri Pandits including Shivratri, Zysetha Asthami and scores of each other's other ritual and festivities. In fact, the festivals were looked up to by both the communities to bond and mingle. There are scores of songs and parodies regarding each other's festivals and religious activities. And sharing of feasts and eating together was a common practice. Till three decades ago religion was hardly the dividing line between the two communities of Kashmir. What bonded the two was the culture and the accepted norm that religious faith was part of the culture. There was respect and acknowledgement of each other's faith and this defined the Kashmiriyat, the soul of Kashmir. But militancy dealt a major blow to this concept of cohesive living and the two communities fell apart. Thirty years later, steps are now being sought to be undertaken to get this Kashmiriyat back in the valley life. And, as a measure to revive this very ethos, the local Muslim leaders as well as the intelligentsia have given a positive response to this big festival of Kashmiri Pandits. Zysetha Asthami Yatra is now gradually being seen as a movement to get the bond back. Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslim fraternity in the valley are seeing this Yatra as a step towards the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland. Kashmiri Muslims understand the importance of Tulmul for the minority community. Young leaders like Shah Faesal are showing enthusiasm towards the yatra and have welcomed the minority community members. By lending warm hearted support to this Yatra, a section of the Kashmiri Muslim intelligentsia is helping build a narrative favouring the return of the community in order to resurrect the dying concept of Kashmiriyat. Perhaps, there is greater need to stress upon the fact that there have been several instances when the two communities came together to safeguard the rights of Kashmiris. In fact, it was the Kashmiriyat that made Kashmiri Pandits join hands with their Muslim brethren to come together and fight the kabalis in 1947 and help to save Kashmir. Thirty years of violence and separation is making the people of both the communities realise that Kashmir and Kashmiriyat is slipping into deep distress. The older generation and a large number of newer generations from both the communities favour a cohesive and inclusive Kashmiriyat. Activists from both the communities are making efforts for reconciliation and return of the displaced people from the valley. And the success of this yatra is the first step in the realization of the dream to bring peace and harmony between the two communities of Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. Given the pious and the holiness that marks the celebration of Zysetha Asthami, the occasion is being viewed as a way to get the two communities to bond together again. Zysetha Asthami is about the prayers and celebration of Mother. For Kashmiris whether they are Pandits or Muslims or Sikhs, Kashmir is Maej Kashir (Mother Kashmir) to all and hence the efforts to build a narrative to get the broken homes and hearts together. The practice of worship on the Zysetha Asthami is ages old and the origins are unknown; the reverence of the community towards this temple is equally unending.