Omanand Koul

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Herath (Shivaratri): A Primer

Herath is celebrated during the month of Phalgun according to the lunar calendar . The main puja (pooza in Kashmiri) is held on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Phalgun.

What follows is a description of my practice while living in the US (and may be similar to what is followed by others living outside of Kashmir ). It is an adaptation of the practice of Shivaratri we grew up with in Kashmir valley.

My notes about the significance of Shivaratri are based on an explanation of the festival written by my father, Pundit Bishamber Nath Koul.

The ritual and the philosophy:

In Kashmir we celebrate Herath with the grand ritual of Vatuka Pooza. Vatuk is corruption of the word Batuka the young Bhairava- that is Shiva.

Although the ritual is given the name of Vatuka Pooza, yet it is a three act play running simultaneously. An example of Kashmiri multi-tasking.

1. The re-enactment of the marriage ceremony between Vatuk (Shiva) with Parvati (Uma). To get married, Shiva is accompanied by his Bhairavas (played by the five little pots; dulgees ( and Dhull) and an assortment of little pots).

Shiva and his retinue are offered the feast. Depending on the family tradition (reeth), vegetarian or non-vegetarian food is offered.

2. The annual return of Parvati (along with Shiva) to her parentĘs home and her stay for three days. Shiva (Large pot; Nott) comes along with his wife Parvati (small pot; Naar). The enactment of the inseparable union between Shiva and Shakti.

3. The attempt to identify oneĘs self with the Source of all. (the person performing the puja: symbolically also represented by the Nott with the dry walnuts in water; as Bhairava ( Shiva unrealized) with the ParamaShiva (as Nott with shell softened and kernels accessible). The ritual is a symbolic demonstration of the processes needed to remove ignorance (shell) and access and realize the Truth (kernel inside), and unify the seeker with the Source. In this portion of the play the dulgees play the part of our senses that need to be directed and appropriately positioned to help.

The progression of festivities during the fortnight:

Kashmiris begin the festival on the first day of the dark fortnight. The celebrations in Kashmir were literally made possible by the hard work of Pundit women-the cleaning, the arrangements and cooking-the eating and merrymaking was, however, done by us all. Now outside Kashmir these burdens on women have changed somewhat although not completely.

Huri Okdoh marks the beginning of the fortnight long Herath festival for Kashmiri Pundits that ends on Amavasya, 15 days later. Each day has significance in the sequential progression to the climax. I have listed them as we see them here in the US .

Huri Okdoh to Huri Shiyam (first to sixth day):

Clean the house, and give it a festive look.

Procure material for puja.

Huri sattam, huri atham and Huri navam (seventh. to ninth day) Offer prayers to the mother goddess Sharika-the presiding deity of the valley of Kashmir .

Dyara Daham (Tenth day: - literally the Day of the Money - Day of Lakshmi).

Offer prayers to Goddess of wealth. Send a felicitation card to the mother-in-law if not living with you.

Gadda kaah (11th day: the fish-day):

Feast with fish, according to the reeth (family tradition)

Wager Baah (12th day): Day of the Wagur. Ritual performed after sunset

At sunset, tie a naarivan around a small pitcher (wagur: the priest: the messenger) and offer tilak. The messenger brings the good news about Shiva and Parvati visiting next day. Another tumbler or pitcher is filled with water and walnuts (called kalusha: the witness: the mind). The priest and kalusha sit on grass mats. A brief puja is offered, culminating with eating of rice cakes and walnuts. At the end of the ceremony, the mats and naarivan are collected and deposited under a tree (parmoozan). In Kashmir we would deposit this in a stream.

Herath (13th day: the day of main pooja: Wedding party of Shiva arrives: Shiva and Parvati come to stay in the home: the seeker (you) seek the Source (Universal Truth/Being: the ParamaShiva).

The eldest male in the household keeps a fast.

Collect various pots including -Nott (a large pot: representing Shiva/human being), Naar (smaller pot: meant to signify Parvati) Dhool (a wide pot as the Universal mother: this has also been referred to as the Bhairava-the young Shiva, a voracious eater who has come to get married), 5 Saniwari, Sani Potul, and an assortment of plates and bowls. Cook a feast according to reeth. Arrange the pots in prescribed order.

Tie naarivan and garlands around each of them.

The pots are filled with walnuts and water.

Since the three plays are enacted concurrently, various actors play several roles and accordingly have different names ascribed to them.

A. The Large Pitcher (Nott) containing walnuts in water: The individual Shiva (bhairava) ignorant of the presence of Parama Shiva within. Knowledge and realization of our real identity- symbolically the kernel of the walnut-is enveloped by the hard shell of ignorance. Knowledge comes forth only when one works at it; shell is softened by water over time and the kernel becomes accessible.

B. A small pitcher (Kaloosh) the Manas- the Mind. Though smaller in appearance, yet with appropriate training and evolution everything is attainable. This kaloosh is also the traditional witness in the ceremony.

C. The Dulgees (Five senses): Our worldly existence depends on the information received through the senses. Need to preserve and protect them and pray for their proper use. Our thoughts and actions affect the natural order, so we pray that our contribution be beneficial to all.

D. Two Sani wari: two small pitchers (two nostrils): The two nostrils need to be clean to convey the unhindered daily breath or prana. The same sani wari later on are kept in Pundit household for a ritual cleaning and feeding every morning for the year. The ritual cleaning is to remind us to take care of our own body parts every day.

E. The Dhull (large wide pot) signifies the Universal Mother/Nature that offers shelter to us all as does our earthly mother. The width of Shakti is all encompassing and Shiva is ineffective without it. The dhull is also the bhairava the-unmarried Shiva- and all attendants who come along with Him in the wedding party. Since the attendants eat all types of food, different delicacies are prepared and offered to them according to the reeth.

F. The Lingam with Yoni (Shiva and Shakti). The life-force/ creator. The symbolic union needed at the family and the supreme level for creation and harmony. This reinforces the importance of both Shiva and Shakti: the equality of man and woman in the family.

With the actors set in place, and decked out accoutrements for Vatuka puza, the play is ready, and the Puja begins.

Pooja is offered after sundown with all the family members in attendance. The departed relatives are also invited and ritual offerings are made to them as well.

The Pooza is meant to enliven the actors, invite them in to the home, offer them a place to sit, decorate them with flowers (and clothes), offer them water and food. A little havan is performed, prayers are offered to Shiva and Parvati (Shakti), and we beg for their forgiveness for any errors of omission or commission.

For pooza I use the text published by the Satisar Foundation.

After the puja one of the favorite prayers with Kashmiri Pundits is that of Mahimnapar (mahminaparam). This is the poem written by Pushpadanta extolling the virtues of Shiva as an appeasement, after having stolen flowers meant for His worship.

At the end of the Puja, all the water used in the puja (nirmaal), flowers, rice cakes offered to Vatuk, and any offerings to the departed are collected and deposited under a shade tree.

The eldest breaks his fast and the feast is enjoyed.

Salaam: (14th day: Shiva Chaturdashi). Day after the main Puja.

Morning pooja is offered to the Vatuk. Rice cakes and walnuts are eaten as naveed.

Children receive Herath Kharcha (pocket money for the festival). Exchange presents. This is a day of general festivity for the family, friends and relatives.

Doonya Mavas (15th day: walnut amavasya): day of Parmoozun.

The day Shiva and Parvati return to the Himalayas . Offer Puja in the morning.

Empty the pots, collect water and flowers in a large bucket. Keep wet walnuts at home.

Take the bucket and empty it under a shade tree.

Return home and enjoy rice cakes and walnuts.

Distribute the walnuts among friends, relatives and neighbors.

According to family reeth, different variations of the above routine are considered valid, but the core puja has to be performed. However, the puja may be abbreviated depending upon the availability of time.

Seven more days after Doonya mavas, on day of Teel Aatham, one lights an adobe lamp outside the house on the stoop, heralding the Spring.

Thus Herath for Kashmiri Pundits is an all encompassing major festival celebrating the individual, the family, and the Source of all, and beginning a dialogue within. And paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, Herath has helped us evoke the better angels among us for thousands of years.  

Herath Pooza Materials List (minimal)

  1. A pot to burn wood for Havan
  2. Adobe lamp (1)
  3. Apples
  4. Barley (1 cup)
  5. Coconut dry whole (1)
  6. Coins for Dakshina
  7. Cotton real (to make wick for adobe oil lamp)
  8. Dhoop, and incense sticks
  9. Dry pieces of wood for Havan (birch or pine)
  10. Dry Walnuts (unshelled, whole)
  11. Flowers assorted
  12. Ghee (1 cup)
  13. Grass mat (circular: aari: made with dry grass: each pot needs one)
  14. Havan samagri (small packet)
  15. Honey (1 cup)
  16. Lime white (lime is considered auspicious: if not available use white rice flour)
  17. Match sticks
  18. Milk (1 cup)
  19. Mirror  (1)
  20. Naarivan (one for each celebrant; one for each pot in the pooja)
  21. Naveed (almonds, sugar, raisins, cardamom                        
  22. Oil (mustard, olive or canola) for Adobe lamp (1 cup)
  23. Pavither (made with long dry grass from your lawn or Raffia grass)
  24. Puffed rice (laayi: 1 cup)
  25. Qund (2 sugar cylinder)
  26. Saffron ( a  little)
  27. Sesame seed ( 2 tablespoon full)
  28. Sindoor (for teeka)
  29. Tambool (a mixture of green cardamom , cloves , dry rock sugar, and raisins ( in the ratio of about 1:1:1:1)
  30. Uncooked Rice (washed) ( 1cup)
  31. Uncooked rice Dry (1 bowl; for zang)
  32. Water
  33. White Daicon Radishes
  34. White Rice flour ( for rice cakes)
  35. White Rock sugar ( Crystal sugar: Naabad) (1 cup)
  36. White Sesame seed  (30 grams)
  37. Yagnyopaveet for the eldest person representing family
  38. Yogurt ( 1 cup)
  39. Shiva ling plus yoni
  40. Metal Icon of Shiva

Omanand Koul, Burlington, Massachusetts  

February 2009



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