History & Culture

A bridge between generations

ILLUMINATING EXPERIENCE: At Kheer Bhawani temple in Tull Mulla, Ganderbal   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

Mela Kheer Bhawani or the fair of goddess Kheer Bhawani is a celebration for Pandit community of Kashmir, a cultural festival that goes beyond the religiosity, fostering larger cultural connections and coexistence that has always been the fabric of the society in the Valley of Kashmir.

Traditionally, it falls during the summer months of Jaisthya or June-July, the event is a festivity happening once every year. Going back in history, the reference of the primordial deity – of goddess Raganya popularly known as Kheer Bhawani can be traced back to the ancient text of “Rajatarangini” by Kalhana. The meticulous chronicler from ancient Kashmir mentions of a certain location containing many natural springs in a marshy land. Interestingly, this is the many spring location of Ganderbal, where till date the temple of the goddess stands. In the book, the location is referred to as Mata Ragini Kund.

The associated mythology explains the same narrative with a little bit more of a story element of the goddess choosing to preside at this same spot many centuries ago having disillusioned by Ravana’s way of life thus moving her base from Lanka to Kashmir.

The 18-kilometre drive from Srinagar to Tula Mula in Ganderbal where the present day fair takes place, would not take much time lest there is a traffic and you may find your car trailing behind, as thousands head to Kheer Bhawani Temple.

Getting closer to large premise, there’s a distinct aroma of reverence and roses in the air. Unlike other Hindu temples, where mogra and marigold mostly are part of offerings to the prevailing deity, here rose petals are one of the elements of worship for goddess Raganya, perhaps an indication of acculturation over many hundreds of years with the Sufi elements of Kashmir.

From afar one could hear the Pandit women singing with accompaniments of harmonium and percussions. Their voices add to the mood of piety. The temple premise is decorated with lamps and strands of marigold flowers. The devotees perform the rituals, a mandatory custom being an offering of rice pudding or kheer to the deity leading to the popular name of the mother goddess.

A bridge between generations

The premise wears a mood of a large colourful get together rather than strictly religious congregation with kids chirpy and playful. Elderly men and women catch up with each other, some after ages perhaps, while others including local Kashmiris look around, taking a stroll through the fair, checking out small artefacts, utilities displayed in the mela.

The bonhomie is hard to measure here while anecdotes from the elderly people in the community, now huddled in groups, remain fascinating repositories of stories about the way of life in the Valley.

From their animated endless conversations, you know how awaited this homecoming event is for the elderlies. Rarely, when the youngsters join these conversing groups, do they find themselves talking about the disconnect that has been an experience of post conflict generation, born after the tragic exodus of the Pandits in 1990 with only a small percentage of the population staying back in the Valley.

A cultural-religious festivity that now has transformed into this annual homecoming has been an undeniable dimension added to the festival of Kheer Bhawani at Tula Mula. With passage of time, the Kashmiri Pandit community worldwide has realised that returning to Kashmir to attend once in a year festival of goddess Raganya is actually about flipping the valuable pages of heritage and inheritance from an ancient and rich culture, attempting to build a bridge between older and newer generations and more importantly retaining their identity.

This year the festival is slated for June 20.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 4:06:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/a-bridge-between-generations/article24162909.ece

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