Tulmulla: Amid tight security, Pandit pilgrims paid obeisance at the famous Ragnya Devi temple here in Ganderbal on Wednesday for the annual Kheer Bhawani mela on the occasion of Zyeshta Ashtami, but the recent killings of Hindus in the Valley cast a shadow on the festivities.
While the Mela has been organised after a gap of two years due to COVID-19 pandemic, the number of devotees this year was far less than in the past.
The devotees carry rose petals, walk barefoot, and offer tribute to the goddess and offer milk and kheer at the sacred spring. It is believed that the colour of the spring which flows below the temple indicates the valley’s well-being. 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.
Referring to the colour of the water in the temple compound which is “clear and milky white” this year, a devotee, Vivek Bhat, expressed hope that the coming time would be good for the Kashmir valley.
“We wish to see the festivities as they used to be in the previous years. We hope it brings back good times and our brothers who have left the valley return,” he said.
Despite dismally low attendance this time, the festival witnessed the usual communal amity as local Muslims welcomed the Pandit devotees with milk when they reached the Tullamulla shrine.
Muslims, in a sign of brotherhood, had erected many stalls distributing refreshments and soft drinks among the pilgrims.
Devotees jostled with each other to move closer to the main temple complex, while the chants of hymns echoed through the temple compound.
“It is so beautiful and people here are friendly, very hospitable and simple. We prayed for peace and our return,” said a Kashmiri Pandit who had come from Jammu to celebrate the festival.
The District administration Ganderbal had made adequate arrangements for the devotees, including accommodation, water, electricity, and medical assistance, besides stocking ration there.
Additional Chief Secretary, Agriculture Production Deptt, Atal Dulloo, and Junaid Azim Mattu, Mayor of Srinagar, visited the Kheer Bhawani mela and paid obeisance at the temple.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted his wishes to the Kashmiri Pandit community on the occasion. “Greetings to everyone, especially my Kashmiri Pandit sisters and brothers on Jyeshtha Ashtami. We pray to Mata Kheer Bhawani for everyone’s well-being and prosperity,” the PM tweeted.
“The festivities are different this year as compared to the previous years. The fervour is missing. It is painful. Our hearts are filled with pain as the number of devotees this year is very low,” Meenakshi, a devotee, told PTI.
She said there was an atmosphere of fear in militancy-hit Kashmir before as well, but since the last couple of months, the fear has increased due to the killings.
“We (Kashmiri Pandits) are terrified,” she added.
Another devotee Sandeep Koul said it was unfortunate that there was not much of a rush of devotees.
“We feel good when we see our friends and relatives when they visit the temple. But, this year we are sad. The PM’s package employees have also left. Not many people have come from outside,” Koul said.
Meenakshi said the government had made security arrangements for the mela, but the community members were living under constant fear.
“See, I had no security with me while I travelled. Even when we go to the market to get vegetables, we are constantly in fear. We see everyone with suspicion. We never know who will take out a pistol and opens fire,” she said, adding, “People here are good, but there are certain elements who are bad.”
Meenakshi said the community is hopeful of the situation improving.
Nanna Ji, a Kashmiri Pandit who is a regular at the Mela every, said there used to be no vacant space left in the temple compound in the previous years, but this year, the scene is different.
“I pray to Mata that the situation improves and those who have left the valley because of target killings return to the valley and next year we can celebrate with great enthusiasm,” he said.
He appealed to the Muslim brethren to support the community to give a befitting reply to those behind the target killings.