Tulmulla: Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits from all parts of India gathered at the Kheer Bhawani temple on Friday to take part in the annual Kheer Bhawani fair, a major festival of Kashmiri Pandits. The temple of the goddess Ragnya Devi is located in Tulmulla area of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
Pandits offered their prayers and sang hymns in praise of the goddess at the temple which is situated amid majestic Chinar trees.
The fair has also become a symbol of communal harmony with local Muslims making all the arrangements for the Hindu devotees. Muslims set up stalls for flowers, prasad, nuts, sweets, and other eatables that the devotees offer and take back as holy gifts.
“Without Muslim participation, our festival is incomplete,” a Kashmiri Pandit, Suresh Kaul, who has migrated out of Kashmir, said. “This festival symbolises the inter-faith bonhomie where Pandits and Muslims come together to celebrate the festival,” he added.
The shrine is called Kheer Bhawani because devotees offer milk and kheer to the deity.
Sadly, this year witnessed the lowest number of Pandits visiting the shrine for the festival. In 2016, about 40,000 people took part in the fair. About 30,000 took part in 2015 and about 60,000 in 2014.
When asked about the resettlement of Pandits in Kashmir, Nand Lal, a migrated Kashmiri Pandit, said, “We know that nobody is sincere about the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits, neither the state government nor the centre. We have just become a slogan and politics is being done in our name.”
A group of Pandits from Jammu said they did not face any difficulty in Kashmir. “We did not find any change as people here welcomed us,” they said.
“I am happy to be here and to see young boys, both Muslims and Hindus, making arrangements for the festival,” said a devotee.
“Pandits are coming and everything is all right here. Our Pandits wants to return to live among us, not in separate colonies,” said a local shopkeeper.
Local shopkeepers accused TV channels of creating a “fear psychosis” about the situation in the Valley. “I don’t understand why the media is against Kashmir. Who will come here? There is ban on the internet. News channels are showing encounters and protests. Army operations are being shown daily. We are doomed,” said a local tea stall owner.