Tulmulla (Ganderbal): Keeping the faith alive with high spirits, Kashmiri Pandits thronged the revered Kheer Bhawani temple dedicated to Ragnya Devi here in Tulmulla area of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district on the occasion of Mela Kheer Bhawani which was celebrated with religious fervour on Wednesday.
Mela Kheer Bhawani, one of the important festivals of Kashmiri Pandits, was observed after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
Devotees had started arriving at the famous Kheer Bhawani temple since Tuesday to celebrate the annual festival. Kashmiri Pandits, in particular, were in high spirits and celebrated the festival with great enthusiasm.
Nestled in the shade of mammoth Chinar trees in this village, the temple witnessed participation of devotees and most of them included migrant Kashmiri Pandits, who had come from various parts of J&K and outside the UT.
The entire route from Ganderbal to the shrine wore a festive look as vehicles carrying the pilgrims in colourful dresses converged in long rows there. Singing hymns and chanting slogans, the devotees made it to the Kheer Bhawani temple.
Walking barefoot, the devotees carried rose petals and offered tribute to the Goddess as men took a dip in the stream close to the shrine.
Travelling all the way from Jammu and other parts of the country where they have been living or settled since their mass migration in the nineties, as the KPs reached there; the congregation evoked nostalgia about the good times when they and their Muslim brethren lived side by side across the length and breadth in Kashmir.
With tears in eyes and roses in hands as a symbol of love, these displaced Pandits folded their hands and bowed before Mata Kheer Bhawani with the motive of seeking her blessings.
On the occasion, the Kashmiri Pandits said that they yearned for peace in the Valley - their homeland. “Inspite of prevailing tension in the Valley, we are here to participate in the Mela Kheer Bhawani, and I will seek the blessings of Mata Kheer Bhawani for entire Kashmir valley. I will pray for normalcy and peace in my Valley,” a Kashmir Pandit Shambu Nath said. The Kashmiri Pandits praised the hospitality exhibited by local Muslims.
“I am so happy that I’ve come here. I prayed for peace and harmony. I was glad to see young boys, both Muslims and Hindus, making arrangements for the festival of the Mata,” said Santosh Nath, a Kashmiri Pandit. It was an unusual event in the area as the festival is celebrated with the participation of many local residents, providing essentials to the pilgrims.
Tulmulla shrine, in addition to being the holiest shrine of the Kashmiri Pandit community, is also the symbol of centuries-old eclectic culture and brotherhood among different communities of Kashmir.
Tourists were also seen paying obeisance at the temple. A group of tourists, who visited the Kheer Bhawani temple said that they had seen Kheer Bhawani shrine for the first time and were ecstatic.
“There is a solace and it’s a heavenly experience seeing Muslims and Pandits celebrating the Mela together,” said a tourist.
The annual festival is held here on ‘Jyeshtha Ashtami’ when pilgrims seek the blessings of the deity. According to belief, the Goddess changes the colour of the spring's water, which is ascribed to her different manifestations.
Chairperson Wakf Board Dr Darakhshan Andrabi, Chief Secretary Dr Arun Kumar also visited Kheer Bhawani temple to pay obeisance. Later they interacted with the devotees.
Several other leaders from different political parties including CPI-M leader M Y Tarigami, PCC J&K president Ghulam Ahmed Mir, senior BJP leader Dr Nirmal Singh also visited and paid obeisance at Kheer Bhawani temple.
To ensure a peaceful festival, the government, particularly the district administration, had made elaborate arrangements. Heavy security arrangements were made by the police here to ensure a smooth and peaceful Kheer Bhawani mela.
Meanwhile various social organisations and government departments had set up refreshment stalls for devotees.