Thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits on Monday thronged the Kheer Bhawani temple in Tulmulla area of Ganderbal district on the occasion of Mela Kheer Bhawani and prayed for return to their homeland in an atmosphere of peace.
The devotees, singing hymns and chanting slogans, started arriving on Sunday to the shrine nestled in the shade of mammoth Chinar trees.
Walking barefoot, the devotees carried rose petals and offered tribute to the goddess as men took a dip in a stream close to the shrine.
The pilgrims, most of them Kashmiri migrant Pandits, came from Jammu and other parts of the country where they settled after the migration in 1990.
Shambu Nath, a Pandit who is a government employee and was living in Mattan, Anantnag, before migration to Jammu in 1991, said he yearned for a return home after peace prevails.
“In spite of prevailing tension in the Valley we are here to seek blessings of Mata Kheer Bhawani for everlasting peace and normalcy in Kashmir. We are here to also meet our Muslim brethren,” said another Kashmiri Pandit, Ashok Kaul.
Santosh Nath, who has been visiting the shrine for the past several years, said he was glad to see both Muslims and Hindus making arrangements for the festival.
“I am so happy that I came here. I prayed for peace and harmony,” said Nath who hails from Habba Kadal area of Srinagar.
Local residents, mostly Muslims, sell eatables and Puja materials to the pilgrims, a tradition reminiscent of the inclusive Kashmiri culture.
The government had made elaborate security arrangements for the festival.
Several devotees said they hope Prime Minister Narendra Modi would work for the community’s return to their homeland.
“We hope that Modi Ji keeps his promise of ensuring dignified return of displaced Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland,” said BK Das, a migrant Pandit.
Another devotee, AK Koul, who was living in Chahnapora area of Srinagar before the migration, said, “I have been coming here every year. We want to come back and that desire would remain with me till I am alive.”
He was sceptical of the government’s claims of making Pandits return to Valley possible.
GOVERNOR PAYS OBEISANCE AT TEMPLE
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik visited Kheer Bhawani temple and paid obeisance.
Talking to reporters he said that this festival is a shining example of communal harmony and brotherhood.
“The holy festival epitomizes mutual brotherhood and communal harmony in the state which is a shining example of unity in diversity of cultures, regions and religions and we pray for the long lasting peace and harmony in state of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
He was accompanied by his Advisors Khurshid Ahmed Ganai, K K Sharma and K Skandan.
FAROOQ ABDULLAH INTERACTS WITH DEVOTEES
National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah also visited Kheer Bhawani and interacted with devotees.
“It is good that Kashmiri Pandits have come here. I hope that God will bring the Kashmiri Pandits back sooner so that they live here and so that all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians live together,” Abdullah told reporters.
Provincial president NC Nasir Aslam Wani, Party leaders Dr Sameer Kaul and Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar also accompanied the party president.
BJP NATIONAL GENERAL SECRETARY VISITS TEMPLE
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav also paid obeisance at the temple.
“I prayed that more and more Kashmir Pandits come here. I also prayed for the dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland. We also vowed to establish peace and development in the Kashmir valley,” Madhav told reporters.
“We are thankful to the Muslims who help in making the festival a success. We welcome all the devotees who have come here from across the world. We are sure that more devotees will come for the Amarnath yatra this year,” Madhav said.
He was accompanied by MLC Surinder Ambardar, MLC Ajay Bharti and Manzoor Bhat, media in charge Kashmir.
Among others who visited Kheer Bhawani on the occasion were Congress state president Ghulam Ahmed Mir, district president Ganderbal Sahil Farooq, JKPM president Shah Faesal, Awami Itehad Party chairman Er Rasheed and PDP leader Ab Rehman Veeri and others.