SRINAGAR: The Sheetal Nath Mandir in Kralakhud area of downtown Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, was re-opened after 31 years on Tuesday. Temple bells rang as Basant Panchmi puja and havan were performed, suspended since militancy erupted in the erstwhile state in 1990.
Around 30 Kashmiri Pandits, both migrants and non-migrants, attended the prayers. ‘Prasad’ was also distributed among the devotees.
“We have formally re-opened the temple,” Upendra Handoo, the priest, said, recalling how the temple was closed in 1990.
Handoo said Basant Panchmi puja in Srinagar used to be performed at the Sheetal Nath Mandir where hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits congregated before militancy began.
“Firecrackers were burst and vendors would set up stalls in the area in run-up to the celebrations,” Handoo recalled.
He said the day is very significant for the Kashmiri Pandits as the community starts the formal education of their newborns on this day.
Handoo is also a trustee of Shri Sanathan Dharma Sheetal Nath Ashram Sabha which looks after the maintenance of the temple.
He said Muslims living near the temple have always extended their help to the shrine management.“This time also, they helped us in the arrangements signifying the Hindu-Muslim amity.”
He said reopening of the temple is a big confidence-building measure and would send out a message outside the Valley that Kashmir is safe. He said the Ashram Sabha members have urged the government to take more steps for the return of the Pandits to the Valley.
The Pandits had migrated en masse from the Valley after militancy erupted. According to official figures, 219 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed in the militancy-related violence in J&K.
Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu also visited the Sheetal Nath Mandir on Tuesday and interacted with the Mandir management officials and devotees.