Kashmiri Pandits flock to attend Kheerbhawani festival
Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits on Monday left for Kashmir Valley to attend the annual "Kheerbhawani" festival in the northern Ganderbal district. Forty-seven state buses, and dozens of private vehicles and taxis carrying over 2,000 Pandits left in a convoy in time to attend their holiest festival of Mata Kheerbhawani, a senior state government official told IANS here. The festival at Kheerbhawani shrine in Tullamula village of Ganderbal district starts from Tuesday. The shrine of the Hindu goddess, Mata Ragyna, was built by Dogra Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1912. Later, Maharaja Hari Singh carried out renovation of the shrine. It houses a temple of the deity and a spring which local Pandits believe to be sacred.
They offer milk and "kheer" (rice pudding) at the spring. They also believe the colour of the shrine's spring foretells the events that would take place later in the year. The annual festival is held between May-June to coincide with another festival, dedicated to the goddess, on "Jesht Ashtami". Local Muslims living in Tullamula village traditionally offer milk to their Pandit brothers when they reach the shrine on "Jesht Ashtami". Despite the migration of the community from the valley after separatist violence started here in early 1990s, the tradition has continued. The state government has made elaborate arrangements for security, healthcare and other facilities for the pilgrims.