October has arrived and with this has arrived the season of festivals which engulfs entire India. Among them one major festival is “Dussehra”.
Dussehra / Vijayadashami is celebrated at the end of Navratri every year throughout India. This festival is celebrated for different reasons and beliefs in various parts of the country. Through most of North India Hindus celebrate this day By burning the effigy of Ravana, depicting Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana.
Traditionally the culture and rituals of Kashmiri Pandits differentiated from the customs in the plains of India due to various reasons, like Kashmir’s geographical location, religious practices and also climatic conditions.
According to the Indic texts ‘Neelmath purana and Rajatarangini’ the beautiful valley of Kashmir emerged out of a vast lake which was inhabited by a demon called Jalodbhawan. He had been granted invincibility as long as he remained underwater. It was then that the Rishi Kashyap transformed the lake into a valley by draining the water out by striking his trident into the hills of Baramulla (Vārāhamūla is the old name), which sent the demon running to the hills. The Rishis/ Sages found this place secure for their “Tapas (meditation)” so made it their home. They named the place Kashyapa-mir after Rishi Kashyap. Which eventually became Kashmir. In the olden days The Valley of Kashmir was cut off from the rest of India every winter due to heavy snowfall. But slowly as Kashmir got more connected to the rest of India politically, Kashmiri Pandits embraced and adopted some of the North Indian festivals and cultural practices. Burning the effigy of Ravana to celebrate the victory of good over evil was one of them. Kashmiri pandits follow Shaivism in which they worship Lord Shiva and Shakti, the avatar of Goddess Durga, more than other Gods. During Navratri Kashmiri Pandits observe fasts and go to various temples to offer prayers. The 8th day (Ashtami) being the most sacred day for the community as on this day they worship Goddess Durga as Maharagnya at the Kheer Bhawani temple in the village of Tulmul in Kashmir, which is one of the most important temples of Kashmir(Kheer Bhavani is the house Goddess of most of the Kashmiri Pandits). This temple is located in the middle of a natural spring which is said to change colours. On the 9th day (Nawmi), also called Ram Nawmi, hawans (fire rituals) were performed at the temples dedicated to Lord Rama.
Image: Sharada temple that is occupied and destroyed by Islamic extremists in Kashmir.
Due to religious persecution in the 1990’s, Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the valley to save the lives and dignity of their families. Since then life has not been the same for Kashmiri Pandits as they became refugees in their own country. They still long to return to their beloved homeland while living dispersed around the world and hope to celebrate Dussera in Kashmir, once again.
Author: Neha Bhatt
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