NAVREH: What does it mean to a Kashmiri Pandit?

Navreh is the first day of the Kashmiri Hindu New Year for the Kashmir pandit population estimated to be around three million. This word is derived from Sanskrit Nava Varsha, meaning the new year.

The day is dedicated to their Goddess Sharika and they pay homage to her on that day. It takes place on the first day of the bright half in the month of Chaitra (March-April) of the Kashmiri Hindu calendar.

This year it falls on 22nd of March. This day is also observed as a new year in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka (Ugadi), Maharashtra and Goa (Gudi Padwa) and Manipur (Cheiroba). The Navreh celebrations however are very different from most of these festivals.

As the legend goes Mother Goddess Sharika’s dwelling was on Sharika Parbat (Hari Parbat) where the celebrated Sapta rishi’s gathered about 5079 years ago, as the first rays of  Sun fell on Chakreshwari at the current Hari Parbat in Srinagar .The Sapta rishi’s are the revered seven sages  (Atri, Bharadvaja, Gautama Maharishi, Jamadagni, Kashyapa, Vasistha and Vishwamitra).

On the eve of the Navreh, the priest of the family provides a religious almanac  (Nechipatra), a collection of the important events and forecasts for the coming year and a scroll (Kreel-Pach) of the Goddess. All the dates are mathematically calculated.

This is followed by preparing the traditional Thali  (a metal tray) on the eve of Navreh. It is filled with rice, the Almanac the scroll, flowers both fresh and dried, milk, yogurt, new grass, wye the bitter herb (sweet flag, Sweet rush, Acorus calamus), walnuts, a pen, an ink container, a paper pad, coins, salt, cooked rice, bread, honey and a small mirror.

This thali is then covered with cloth at the night preceding the new year. On the day of Navreh the family gathers together and uncovers the thali and view it with reverence.

The rice and coins represent our daily bread and wealth, the pen and paper a zest for the desire of learning, the mirror represents retrospection. The calendar signals the changing time and the Deity the universal constant, and they together are a reminder of the constancy of changing time.

The bitter herb is reminiscent of life’s bitter aspects, to be taken in stride alongside the good. The bitter herb ‘wye’ is usually eaten with walnuts to bring wholeness of life’s experiences in the admixture.

The consumption of this bitter herb has also been practiced by Native American cultures as well as by some of the American transcendentalists  for various philosophical reasons.

After a darshan of the thali, each member of the family picks up a walnut and takes it to a river and drops it in it. It is a gesture of thanksgiving. The day is also a hallmark of the beginning of the spring and the Chaitra Navratra.

The special preparation of the day is Tahri (boiled rice with turmeric), along with ghee (clarified butter) which is first offered to the Goddess at the temple. Later a portion of it is consumed as a prasad (sacred food) by the family members.

 The day is full of celebrations with wearing of new clothes, cooking and serving fancy dishes, and visiting friends and relatives. There also used to be a mela where lots of people would gather and in good old days would go for a picnic to view almond blossoms.

Before exodus, the pandits living in the surrounding of this temple used to start their day with morning prayers at the temple at Hari Parbat and many of them also used to go to ‘Makdhoom Sahib’ a shrine adjacent to this temple.

On the third day after Navreh-the day of ‘Zanga Traey’- women folk would visit their parents’ if close by, and return in the evening with presents of a bunch of salt, bread, and small amount of money as atagath (travel money). This was to harken a good beginning (zang in Kashmiri) for the New Year.

This year the observation of fasting and praying during the holy month of Ramadan by our Muslim brethren is also starting during the Navratras which follows Navreh. Let this symbolise our age-old traditional bonding of a peaceful and affectionate co-existence.

Prof Upendra Kaul, Founder Director Gauri Kaul foundation

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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