Omanand Koul

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Kawa Punim: A Tradition, A Connection

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 Kashmir 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 Ganga for Kashmir ), 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 Kashmir -- 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].

Omanand Koul, Burlington, Massachusetts



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