Kawa punim (Punim of
the crows) is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the bright fortnight (Shukla
purnima) of the month of Magha.
Winter time in
is cold, snowy and dark. Not so
long ago most of the people were forced indoors, designing handicrafts, telling
stories and whiling away their time until spring. The average life, though
dreary, was by no means monotonous thanks to punctuated celebrations of various
feast days throughout the winter. One such is that of Kawa Punim, when food is
offered to the crows!
The offering of food
to the crows seemingly takes Kashmiri Thanksgiving to new heights, yet the
tradition is steeped in our long history of living in Kashmir valley with (and
as ?) the Nagas, Pisachas, Buddhists and Shaivites.
During the winter,
when birds have slim pickings, Kashmiris have found an opportunity for
redemption and put into practice the Vedic invocation, "[May all beings dwell in
happiness, May all beings dwell in peace]". Ironically though, we want the
crows to come into our house as true Battas (Kashmiri Pandits) with a Tilak on
the forehead (made from red clay) having bathed ceremoniously at Gangabal (the
), and wish them to roost on the porch of our new house and feast on the cooked
rice. The cooked rice is placed on a large ladle made by weaving a grass mat at
the end of a cross made with two unequal length sticks of willow. The offering
(white rice, Khichri, or yellow rice) varies with local custom or reeti. And our
children recite in Kashmiri:
Kawa batta kawo, [the Pandit crow]
Khichiray kawo, [the crow who likes Khichdi]
Gangabala srana karith [bathed at Gangabal]
Gurute metchi teuka karith [with tilak]
Sanei nawe larei kanna darey
beh. [perch on our new house]
Why the crow?
We have the tradition
of ancestor (pitris) worship, and crows are considered either the transporters
of food to the ancestors or actual representative ancestors themselves. In
Tibetan Buddhism the crow is the herald and protector of the Dalai Lama. Since
Kashmiri scholars were instrumental in spreading what eventually became Tibetan
Buddhism, they -- while drawing heavily upon the Tantrik and Shaivite systems of
-- may have taken the crow along as a part of their legacy. As the vehicle of
Shani (Saturn), the crow under Shani's influence is a harbinger of hope even in
most dreary times of winter. The crow therefore symbolically brings together our
tradition of giving thanks to the ancestors, connection to Buddhism, with
Saraswat and Dravidian practices in the harbinger of hope.
Having propitiated the ancestors, Kawa punim also provides a se"™gue to
the next day of Hurae okdoh--the first day of cleaning of houses for the great
feast of Herath [Shivaratri].