The three-day festival of â€˜Kheer Bhawaniâ€™, devoted to Mata Ragnya Devi, began in Tulmulla village of central Kashmir on Friday.
Observed on the Zyestha Asthami, the mela was attended by over 2000 devotees who offered special prayers amid Covid-19 pandemic following the protocol.Â
The devotees from different parts of the country participated on the first day of MelaÂ
Although the mela remained a low-key affair for the second consecutive year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many devotees particularly those who live in the valley visited the temple and held ritual prayers. They also organised the night-long Hawan and special morning puja prayers.
Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, former Chief Ministers, Mehbooba Mufti, and Omar Abdullah greeted the people, especially the Kashmiri pandits on the occasion.
The district administration had made elaborate plans to ensure smooth conduct of this religious event.
Additional Chief Secretary, Health & Medical Education, Atal Dulloo, IG Kashmir, K Vijay Kumar and Deputy Commissioner Ganderbal, Krittika Jyotsna visited the Shrine and paid obeisance at the revered shrine.
Mela Kheer Bhawani is one of the revered festivals of Kashmiri pandits. It also displays a peculiar site of religious harmony as the Muslims surrounding the Kheer Bhawani temple in Tulmulla area of Ganderbal district throng it to greet their pandit brethren and celebrate with them.Â
The temple is named after Mata Ragnya Devi, a revered goddess symbolised as a sacred spring. The annual festival is held on 'Zyestha Ashtami' when pilgrims seek the blessings of the deity.Â
The devotees seek the blessings of the goddess Bhawani and pray for the peace and prosperity of J&K and the country. Every year devotees from different parts of Kashmir and outside attend the festival and pay their obeisance at the temple to keep the faith alive.
Thousands of devotees from different parts of the country and within the J&K visit the shrine on the occasion every year. The number of devotees, which declined after the migration of the Pandit community from here in the early 90s due to the eruption of militancy, later witnessed a manifold increase during the past about a decade.
â€˜Melaâ€™ refers to a festival while â€˜Kheerâ€™ refers to rice pudding that is offered in the spring to propitiate the goddess, which became part of the name of this revered temple.Â
Some religious beliefs of Kashmiri Pandits say the spring at the temple changes its colour as per the manifestations of the goddess Bhawani and reflects the future of the valley.
Black colour signals the approaching disaster while as the milky colour of the spring indicates the peace and prosperity for the people of J&K.
One of the rituals at the temple is to walk barefoot and carry rose petals as an offering to the goddess. Male devotees also take a dip in a nearby stream close to the temple, which according to the devotees washes their sins.
Sandeep Koul, one of the devotee said the mela keeps decades-long tradition of Hindu-Muslim alive in Kashmir.
â€œThe spirit of unity and brotherhood is always visible during the festival when Kashmiri Pandits are welcomed and hosted by the Muslim community during the mela. They also offer food and accommodation to the visited devotees,â€ he said.
Koul, who is also part of the Kashmiri Pandith Sangarsh Samiti, said the mela is celebrated with the participation of many local residents who provide essentials to the pilgrims and itâ€™s incomplete without their participation.
Local Muslims of Tulmulla village greet the devotees with water, milk, tea, coffee and the cold drinks as they are equally enthusiastic about the celebration.Â
â€œThis festival brings our age-old tradition of brotherhood alive,â€ said Abdul Hamid, a local villager.Â
He said Muslims establish special stalls and shops for the pilgrims where they make available special offerings to the devotees. Some civil society groups also offer tents and refreshments to the guests.
Religious Significance and BackgroundÂ
The devotees of the goddess Mata Kheer Bhawani fast and gather here on the eighth day of the full moon in the month of May or June. The annual festival is also a public holiday in Kashmir.
According to belief, the goddess changes the colour of the spring's waters, which are ascribed to different manifestations of the goddess Mata Kheer Bhawani. Turning the colour into shades of black is supposed to signal approaching disaster.
Some people say that before the mass migration of the Pandits (Kashmiri Brahmins) from Kashmir the colour had turned completely black in 1990!
According to the legend, there were 360 springs surrounding the main spring but all of these seem to have disappeared as the land has become marshy all around.
In the last half century, the pilgrimage has become the most important for Kashmiri Brahmans who come here from all over Jammu & Kashmir and even from outside.
Kheer Bhawani is considered to be the Presiding Deity of most of the Kashmiri.
The sacred spring which sometimes witnesses mysterious events like formation of bubbles into the mystic Chakra on the surface of the water is found nowhere in Indian subcontinent.
The spring has an irregular heptagonal shape with its apex called Pad (feet) to the East. The northern and the southern sides are longer than the western side which is called Shir (Head). In the centre of the holy spring where once stood a mulberry tree, there is one marble temple which enshrines some idols found at the time of cleansing the spring.
Religious prechears and historians have associated many interesting stories related with the Kheer Bhawani festival. One of them is that when Ravana was killed at the hands of Rama, goddess Bhawani ordered Hanuman to carry her to Satisar-Kashmir along with 360 Nagas.
Another interesting story is that this spring came to exist after a Brahmin named Krishna Pandit of old city Habba Kadal had a vision wherein he was informed by a Deva to offer Puja to Kheer Bhawani in the swamps of Tullamulla. The pandit was guided by a snake through the swampy and marshy land, until he reached the hollow trunk of a mulberry tree.
The pandit took the clue and after performing puja poured milk which he had brought for this purpose. It is thus that the holy spring was discovered and was known to Kashmiris.
It is believed that the discovery of the holy spring has been made on Ashadha Saptami, the seventh day of the bright fortnight of the month of June-July. Kashmiri Hindus come here every Ashtami, the eighth day of the bright fortnight of each lunar month and the majority of Kashmiri Hindus consider Kheer Bhawani as their guardian Goddess. The annual festival is held on Zyasth Ashtami (May-June) when Kashmiri pandits visit the place in large numbers to offer prayers to seek the blessings of the deity.