Omanand Koul

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Mystery of Khir Bhawani Festival

A majority of Kashmiri Pundits considers Khir Bhawani, the Goddess whose favorite offering is rice-pudding, as the guardian of Kashmir Valley. The annual festival of Zetha Ashtami, in Her honor, is celebrated on the 8th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month Jeshtha (May/June of the common calendar).

The shrine of Khir Bhavani is located in the village Tulmul, about 15 miles from Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir . Discovery of the site in the swampy areas of Tulmul is ascribed to village mystics Pundit Gobind Joo Gadru and Krishna Taplu. In a vision Pundit Gadru received instructions to follow a celestial snake to reach and offer puja and milk at the designated site of the Bhavani in the marshy lands of Tulmul. Since then the tradition continues with monthly visits by devotees with an annual mela and grand puja on the day of Zetha Ashtami.

The spring in the temple complex has an irregular heptagon shape with its apex, called ‘Pad’ (feet), towards the East. The northern and southern sides are longer than the western side-called ‘Shir’ (Head). In the center of the holy spring now stands a marble temple dedicated to the Bhavani. The water in the spring is said to change color portending the circumstances in Kashmir. Sir Walter Lawrence in his book ‘Valley of Kashmir’ (published 1895) reported the water to have a violet tinge. 

The legend of Khir Bhavani is engrossed in antiquity and has been enshrined in two Sanskrit scriptures: Sri Sri Maharajni Pradurbhava, and the Rajni Mahatmya. Apparently the scripture is supposed to be part of the purana named Bringisha Samhita.

These scriptures indicate that the original abode of the Goddess was in Lanka. After killing of Ravana by Rama, the Goddess ordered Hanuman to carry Her to Kashmir along with her 360 attendants Snake Nagas.

The journey of the Goddess from Lanka to Kashmir is not only a description of a physical journey of the Goddess, but also signifies the journey of the tantric yogi through the various phases of purification during the practice or sadhana.

It is also interesting that vehicle for the journey of the Bhavani to Kashmir is Hanuman-the quintessence of a devotee (Bhakta) in the Vaishnavite tradition. 

Thus we have an esoteric confluence of Vaishnavite and Shaktic traditions, and introduction of a Vaishnavite link for a people more comfortable with Shaivite systems. Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu in her books, ‘goddess is born’ and ‘Images of Indian goddesses: myths meanings and models’ has researched details about the background, introduction, iconography and meaning of Khir Bhavani during the nineteenth century Kashmir . Her research (source for some of the information herein) indicates the confluence of several threads Tantric, Shaivite, Vaishnavite, and even Western in the tradition and molding of the guardian Goddess.

Khir Bhavani is the representation of the Krama tradition where Bhairavi is the supreme power encompassing all-the culmination of Shakti worship. Thus the elements of ancient traditions in Kashmir of Lalla Ded and Roopa Bhawani continue through Khir Bhavani in the modern times.

May the Goddess preserve us all! Click on the URL and sing along the devotional bhajan:

Omanand Koul, Burlington, MA

May 2009



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