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Kashmiri Panda in Haridwar

An Officer's Diary

By Chandra Kanta Gariyali (IAS)

Chandra Kanta GariyaliAfter any more years, in Oct. 1999, I was invited to attend a training programme at the National Academy of Administration. I decided to take this opportunity to visit Haridwar once again. My daughter had got married in the month of January. Many Hindus believe that one should have a thanksgiving bath in Ganges after performing the marriage of the daughter, hence it was an ideal opportunity to visit Haridwar. This time I made a second visit to the seat of Kashmiri Panda. I was met by one of the brothers Shri Sanjay Kumar Sharma and his elder brother. According to them their family has been attending to Kashmiri pilgrims for twelve generations and four hundred years (from Samvat 2056 of Hindu calendar). They are not sure if their ancestors came from Kashmir or not. However, one of their early ancestors was called Shri Kanth which is a typically Kashmiri name. Earlier there were several families of Kashmiri Pandas but in due course of time the records in the other families were purchased by this family and today the brothers and cousins exercise monopoly on Kashmiri Pandit clientele. Between the families the pilgrim records are divided as the property.

Originally there were about 2500 Thirtha Purohits (Pilgrimage Priests) in Haridwar but now the number has dwindled to 1700. These Purohits are different from the Ghat purohits (the river bank priest) and enjoy a better status than Ghat purohits who may or may not be genuine, where as a Purohit, with a tradition of twelve generations and four hundred years of records behind him, enjoys enormous credibility in a slippery pilgrim city. They are to attend to the needs of all the Hindus coming to Haridwar from across the globe. The regions and the geographical areas of India are divided among the different families of the priest. Today when the Hindu community has spread to all parts of the world the distribution of the clients still works out on the basis of the original place of inhabitation in India. A Kashmiri family living in USA, UK or Australia will still be attended by the Kashmiri Panda.

Till recently, clients stayed with the pandas. When there was no custom of staying in hotels etc., people stayed with their priest. That way they felt more safe particularly when they were traveling with the family and women. They could trust the panda. If somebody was robbed enroute or his pocket was picked, panda would also lend him money to complete the pilgrimage and the money will be returned to Panda later. In this type of circumstances Panda also acted as ones bank or traveler's cheque. Panda also protected clients from cheats and thugs who were rampant in the past centuries. In olden days people generally did not eat outside their homes due to superstition and ideas of purity and impurity and normally preferred to eat food cooked by a Brahmin, considering it to be more clean, hygienic and unpolluted. According to Sanjayji till fifty years ago clients ate with Kashmiri Panda who were well versed in cooking vegetarian Kashmiri cuisine. The preferred menu in Haridwar then seemed to have been chamam (paneer), Hakh (kadam greens), rice and Kahwa (milkless green tea spiced with cardamoms, saffron and almonds). However, with the coming up of hotels and Kashmiri Dharamshala the clients had to no more stay with the pandas. It is a very sad reality that Kashmiri Pandit Dharamshala, near Ratan Talkies, today is in a very dilapidated condition. There is lack of water facility and practically no one stays there though there is a cake taker of some sort existing. Perhaps it will be useful that the members of the Kashmiri Association in Delhi have a look at it and take a decision on raising some funds to repair the Dhramshala.

The main objective of a family coming to Haridwar is to immerse the mortal remains of the near and dear ones into the holy Ganges as well as carry out the rituals which could help their souls to attain eternal peace. The important ritual is the ritual of Pinda Dhana (the gift of the Pinda). In this connection families are assisted by Pandas. These rituals are thoroughly described in the ancient scripture of Garuda Purana. A Pinda is made of cooked rice or rice flour. The spirit of the dead relative is invoked into the Pinda. It is believed that Pret (the ghost) is around for ten days. Five Pindas are given on the day of death and one each given for the next nine days. At the time of immersing the ashes into the Ganges one Pinda is given three times. On the eleventh day thirty-two Pindas are given. On the 12th day the dead is supposed to unite with his ancestors like father, grandfather and great grandfather and hence four Pindas are given. In all fifty two Pindas are given. Wheat is not used in Pinda Dhana because rice is supposed to be the original food.

In addition, the ritual consists of giving food to thirteen Brahmins for thirteen days. The clothes, seat (assan), mala, money, food and articles belonging to the dead are also given as an offering. Apart from Haridwar other important places for Pinda dhan in north India are Shri 'Gayaji, the place where Buddha achieved enlightenment and Brahma Kapali Badrinathji. According to Sanjayji the number of persons making pilgrimages is not decreasing, but is increasing due to the impact of TV serials like Ramayana and Mahabharata. People continue to come with great love, affection and devotion.

The contact address for Kashmiri Panda:

Radhey Shyam Ji Hari Shyam Ji

Kashmiri Panda

Opposite Ganga Talkies, Upper road

Haridwar, Uttar Pradesh, India

Phone:427195, 450498

Residential : Karamchand Ki Haveli

Jawala Pur, Haridwar, UP, India.


Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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