Kheer Bhawani festival sees lowest turnout of Pandits in recent years

Only 400 devotees visit revered temple amid unrest in Kashmir

Kheer Bhawani festival sees lowest turnout of Pandits in recent years
Due to the prevailing unrest in the Valley, the annual Kheer Bhawani mela at the famous temple of Ragnya Devi in Tullamulla village of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, saw the lowest turnout of Pandit devotees in the recent years on Friday.

Situated amidst Chinar trees in Tullamulla, 24 kms from here, not more than 400 devotees visited the revered temple this year, to celebrate the holiest religious festival of the displace Kashmiri Pandit community.

While in recent years, thousands of Pandits, including women and children, would converge at the temple from various far-off places including Delhi and Jammu to offer special prayers on the occasion of annual Holy day of ‘Zyeshth Ashtami,’ this year the devotees preferred not to visit the Valley due to the prevailing unrest, a police official said.

Around 55,000 Pandit families left their ancestral homes in 1990 and migrated to Jammu and other parts of the country when a bloody insurgency broke out in Kashmir in 1989. Before their migration, Pandits used to visit the temple once a month to conduct ‘havan’ and ‘puja.’ Now, it is held once a year on on Jyeshtha Ashtami (June).

While summer unrests of 2008, 2010 and 2016 had affected all types of activities in the valley, the festival remained untouched as these unrests started after mid-June and by that time the festival was over. On January 25, 1998 when suspected Lashker-e-Toiba terrorists killed 23 Pandits in nearby Wandhama village, the arrivals of devotees in the subsequent years decreased. However, after 2003, attendance at the festival started increasing with each year.

However, despite dismally low attendance this time, the festival witnessed the usual communal amity as local Muslims welcomed the small number of Pandit devotees with milk when they reached the Tullamulla shrine.

Reports said Muslims, in a sign of brotherhood, had erected many stalls distributing refreshments and soft drinks among the pilgrims. The devotees believe the colour of the spring water flowing under the temple hints at the situation in Kashmir.

While most of the colours do not have any particular significance, black or a darkish colour of the water is believed to be an indication of inauspicious times for Kashmir. Some people claim to have observed a murky tinge to the water just before the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the eruption of militancy in 1989 in the Valley. The water in the spring this year was clean and pure, which the devotees believe is a good omen for the Valley.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visited the temple on Friday and met the devotees. She told the devotees that the day will come soon when Pandits would return to their home respectfully. “I pray that the day comes soon when Pandits will return to their home respectfully while peace and harmony prevails in Kashmir," Mehbooba said.

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