SRINAGAR: With situation in Valley tense and fragile, only few hundred Kashmiri Pandits on Friday thronged the Kheer Bhawani temple at Tumulla in central Kashmir for the annual Zeshta Ashtami festival with messages “Kashmir is incomplete without you” greeting them.
The festival was celebrated with religious fervour by the Kashmiri Pandits at the famous Ragnya Devi temple with spring at Tulumulla area in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district.
The Kashmiri Pandit devotees from Jammu and other places of the country visited the temple to participate in the festival.
However, the number of Pandit devotees at the shrine was less this year as compared to previous years. Only few hundred Pandit devotees were present in the temple. In previous years, thousands of devotees used to throng the temple on the annual festival.
The Kashmiri Muslims had put up sign boards enroute the temple to welcome the Kashmiri Pandits.
“Welcome Home-breaking walls of hatred” and “Kashmir is incomplete without you” read some of messages.
The devotees congregated at the temple by chanting religious hymns and bhajans.
The temple at Tulmulla is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mata Ragnya Devi.
Like the past, this time also the festival witnessed Hindu-Muslim amity with the local Muslims setting up stalls for the convenience of the devotees. They provided material for offerings including the milk and flowers to the Pandit devotees.
A group of Pandit devotees living in Delhi said they have Muslim friends in the Valley, who made arrangements for them.
“The local Muslims have been very hospitable. They provided us all the material,” they said adding nobody attacked or heckled them.
Another Pandit devotee Shuban Ji, who hailed from uptown Srinagar and now lives in Jammu, said due to turmoil-like situation in Valley, most Pandits preferred not to attend the Kheer Bhawani mela this time.
He said the Pandits were apprehensive that something untoward may happen during their visit to the Valley.
Mahesh Tikoo, a Kashmiri Pandit settled in New Delhi, said there is less number of devotees this year due to prevailing tension in the Valley.
“The situation in Valley is fragile and can deteriorate anytime. for this reason, most devotees preferred not to visit Kashmir this year,” he said.
Kashmir has been tense after killing of eight civilians in security forces firing on protestors during bypolls to Srinagar parliamentary seat on April 9. The tension further escalated after student protests and recent killing of Hizbul Mujahideen top commander Sabzar Bhat during an encounter with security forces in Tral in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
According to the devotees, the colour of water of spring this year was clean and pure as was the case last year.
“It is a good omen for the valley,” they said adding colour of spring water, which flows through the temple premises, is an indicator of the situation in the valley.
The Pandits had migrated enmasse from Kashmir after eruption of militancy in 1989. However, they have been annually visiting Kashmir to attend the Kheer Bhawani festival.
Meanwhile, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visited the temple and interacted with the Pandit devotees.
“People in Kashmir eagerly await return of the Pandits. The socio cultural milieu of Valley is incomplete without Pandits,” Mehbooba said.
She hailed the gesture of local Muslims and appealed the devotees to pray for peace, harmony and brotherhood, which has been a characteristic feature of the State.