Pandits Traditions at Cross Roads
Piyaray Lal Raina
Have you ever wondered why we Pandits do not observe our festivals like
other Hindus? Diwali, Holi, Dusshera
etc are celebrated by most Hindus in a lot of enthusiasm and fanfare. But we
Kashmiri Pandits hardly celebrate them but instead celebrate Shivratri
with much more fervor than most other Hindus from other regions. What could be
reason for such dichotomy? The answer lies in our religious philosophy.
Superficially, Hinduism looks like one religious philosophy with beliefs in
trinity of Gods and performance of rituals to propitiate them. But if one delves
deeper there are beliefs so divergent that one can get confused with the very
fundamentals of Hinduism.
Broadly, we can divide Hindu belief into two broad philosophies or beliefs
– Shaivism and Vishnavism. Shiava philosophy which one associates with tantra is
well developed in Kashmir, Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, and to some extent in
Andhra Pradesh. Hindus elsewhere follow Vishnavism predominantly. It has nothing
to do with vegetarianism as some may believe.
Vishnavism broadly denotes the philosophy of Vedanta which recognizes that Brahman
(not to be confused with Brahma) as the Supreme God - the ultimate Reality who
is Transcendental and thus beyond any description. The manifestation of Universe
that we observe takes through His immanent aspect called Ishwara.
The manifested Universe that we observe is not like the one we know it. It is in
reality, an illusion, caused by divine power called Mayashakti. Shankaracharya who is considered the master of this
philosophy called this manifestation of cosmos as “Brahmasatyam, Jagatmithya”
(Brahman is Truth, manifestation is illusion). He explains this further by
giving an example of mistaking a rope for a snake in dim-light. Though when seen
in full-light, the real rope is recognized and imaginary snake (illusion)
disappears. Likewise, when through Karmic and other means when our ignorance
(illusion) is removed, we begin to realize the true nature of Brahman. The goal
of the human life for a Vaishnavite is therefore to remove this illusion or
ignorance which is binding him to endless cycles of life and death (samsara).
The goal of liberation of from these cycles of life and death is termed a Moksha.
Ishwara is equated with Vishnu who incarnates from time-to-time to guide people
In comparison, Shivites (Kashmiri Pandits are Shivites) while agreeing that
the Brahman is at the substratum of all manifestation, do not reconcile with the
assertion that this manifestation of cosmic world is a mere illusion (mithya).
The philosophy contends that how could a world of such diversity, a world of so
many names and forms be unreal? Shivites on the other hand argue that Supreme
Consciousness called Parmshiva cannot
get involved in any manifestation process directly as that would bind Him in the
process of ‘cause and effect’ like humans. The philosophy postulates that
manifestation is just a reflection of Pramshiv
as personality seen by us through His dynamic aspect of energy called ‘Shakti’. While Shiva represents the male aspect, Shakti represents
the female aspect of Parmshiva. Parmshiva is formless and static. He is witness
of all that His Shakti aspect manifests.
Kashmiri Pandit Aspect of Shaivism
Shakti has been identified as the mother of manifestation and has been given
the name of Durga, an incarnation of Parvati (Lord Shivas wife). Although
Shivite philosophy does not lay stress on the performance of Karmic rituals as a
means of liberation, it stresses observance of mental discipline through Pranayama
and Jap. However, the philosophy recognizes the role of rituals as
‘helpful’. Durga over a period of time was accepted by Vaishnavites as
Goddess. Vishnavism associated her with their Goddess Lakshmi (wife of Vishnu)
and other Goddesses such as Sarawati etc.
While the Isht devtas (family
deities) of the Vaishnavites are male Gods such as Vishnu and his incarnations
such a Rama, Krishna, Dattatreya etc, among Kashmiri Pandits, Durga in her forms
as Ragnya, Sharika, Jwala and Tripursundari came to be recognized as Isht Devis.
Thus Kashmir became associated with Shakti worship. Vishnu and His incarnations
do get the same reverence among Kashmiri Pandits as they get among Vaishnavites.
So much so that all the temples built in Kashmir during Hindu rule (ending 14th
century) were totally dedicated to Lord Shiva, not withstanding the fact that
the murals on walls of some of these temples depict Vishnu and His incarnations
Even the mountains of Kashmir are named after Lord Shiva or Mata Parvati. Neelmatpuran
describes “Kashmir is Parvati, know that its king is portion of Shiva”. The
peak overlooking Srinagar city is known as Mahadev
(the great Shiva). Harmukh (Shivas
face) stands on the east and Amarnath
in the South. The famous temple on top of Shankaracharya hill in Srinagar with a
recorded history of more than 2000 years is also dedicated to Lord Shiva. All
the shrines in Hariparbhat are dedicated to Durga and her incarnation.
Festivals and Rituals
Our festivals and rituals are a reflection of our religious philosophy.
Shivratri, the night of union of Shiv and Shakti has to be recognized as an
outcome of this basic philosophy. Absence of our involvement in festivals such
as Diwali, Dusshera, Holi etc which are related to Lord Vishnu or His
incarnations, can also be understood in the same way.
The division between these two traditions is not sharp. Centuries of
interaction between the followers of these traditions has brought about a mixed
tradition. Thus while Kashmiri Pandit observe Janam Ashtami as birthday of Lord
Krishna, but Kashmiri Pandits celebrate it as ‘Jarm-e-satm’
(Saptami of Lord Krishnas birth). The reason behind this is that while arrival
of such a luminary as Lord Krishna is an occasion of great importance and
necessary preparations are needed in advance to pray for His arrival and once
Lord Krishna has arrived amongst us, it is not a day of fasting but rather a day
of celebrations. The same theme applies to Shivratri one day ahead, when it is
celebrated in rest of India.
In our ritualistic worship we attach great importance to the worship of
deities as our mothers. Hence we not only worship them as our Isht devis, but
they also receive extensive worship in their other forms as well.
In our ‘Prepun’ –which is
ubiquitos in all our pujas as in act of offering bhog
to deities, Durga is not named only as Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva, but she
is named as the source of all alphabets in the words.
A part of the Bhog in Prepun called ‘chatu’
is again meant for offering to 14 sky deities. In the performance of pujas on
the occasion of various samskaras such
as Kahnether (tonsure), Mehkhal
(thread ceremony), Khandhar (marriage)
etc besides the worship of usual female deities such as seven mothers (known as
Spt grt matrikas) or sixteen mothers (known as Shodsh Matrikas) or sixty four
Yoginis (chtush –shshti yogni), we perform puja of sen mother (which is different from Spt grt
matrikas) by offering them Kheer (rice
pudding) with moongyr (cake prepared
from moong flour).
In our stutes (recitations) as
well, the mother aspect is overwhelmingly. Bhavanishastranama,
which has 1000 names of Durga, is recited regularly on important occasions and
used in home as well, is purely the work of Kashmiri Saints. Similarly, Panchastavi
and Indrakshi, Leela rabda
recitations are not recited by non-Kashmiri Hindus.
On marriage our daughters wear dejhour
with athor on their ears as a symbol
of being or getting married which is symbolized by wearing Mangalsutra (a necklace) by non-Kashmiri Hindus. The wearing of
Dejhour by the ear itself represents male and female aspect of Paramshakti the
Supreme power, one is called Shivakona and other Shaktikona.
In the end we may conclude that we Kashmiri Pandits are Shakti worshippers.
Shakti is the dynamic power of Lord Shiva, represented by consort Parvati in Her
various aspects. Shakti worship in common in West Bengal and South India also.
In the plains of India, worship of Vishnu and His incarnations as Rama, Krishna
etc is common. The ritual that a group of people observe represents the
philosophy of their faith.
How to save our traditions
Our Baradari members keep on lamenting over the unfortunate situation in
which we have been caught up due to non availability of our priests for
performance of our rituals and samskaras which are so dear to us. Yet we do not
bother to see how we can save this institution from total collapse. We pride
ourselves as Kashmiri Pandits, inheritors of great traditions from our
ancestors, yet we are helplessly witnessing the end of these traditions.
During the last five years, I have been trying to study the causes of this
indifference. I think the following three are the main causes:
disrespect that we have had for the priest community at social level and
also not paying them due wages for performance of rituals. Our priest
community has shrunk in numbers. We do not have young priests. The youngest
priest practicing may be above 50 years in age.
are usually regional in character. They are based on Greha sutras which is the work of knowledgeable persons. The
Karmkandas followed by us has been written by Lagukrishi centuries ago and
copies of this are non-existent. About 80 years ago, a teacher by the name
of Keshav Bhat published relevant portions of this book used in the
performance of samskaras which have also become prized processions of few
now. The instructions for performance of rituals documented in these books
are given in Sanskrit. Present day priests do not understand Sanskrit and
hence they are not following proper instructions. Some senior priests have
remembered relevant mantras by heart and they have passed it to their
juniors. The younger generations of priests are totally ignorant about our
over India, Karmkanda followed by a particular group of people has been
revised from time-to-time, keeping pace with the change in times and
providing instruction in their vernacular language. However, no such effort
has been made by Kashmiri Hindus. Some pamphlets written by our priests,
lack of essential details to be followed by a novice.
The cumulative effect of all these factors has lead to our younger generation
in the loss of faith in our traditions and unless some changes take place we may
lose this knowledge base completely.
I recommend few changes for revival of this important institution in our
should get our Karmkanda books translated by learned scholars who may or may
not be from Kashmir.
make up shortage of our priests, we may find out if our priest class is
prepared to train their younger ones in this profession. If they are not (as
is likely the case), then we should train priests from other communities in
our Karmkanda. It may be a part-time or a full-time job for them.
baradari seniors have tremendous responsibility in preserving this
institution too. They should try to learn at least the basics of our pujas
offered on certain occasions such as birthday, shivratri etc rather than
using audio cassette. This would ensure that the youngsters in the family
can make sense of what is going on these days. Unless we invest time in
understanding why we do things the way we do, it is just a matter of time
before these rich rituals will die.
have 24 samskaras among Kashmiri Hindus. In comparison, most other Hindus
follow only 16 Samskaras. Most our samaskaras are in dire need of
rationalization to keep up with the times. For example, our priests recite
about 22 of these samskaras on ‘Mekhal’ of young boys. These are not
only time consuming but quite irrelevant also.
Samskara of Garbhadana is to be performed when women gets pregnant.
The performance of this samskara during ‘Mekhal’ makes no sense.
Similarly, our Antyeshti samaskara (death ritual) has also a very lengthy
ritualistic tradition, which is difficult to follow in the modern times. The
learned ones of the community should work out a strategy to make performance
of our samskaras brief and meaningful – keeping in touch with modern
About the Author
The author has written a book (800 pages) titled “Socio-religious
traditions of Kashmiri Pandits” which is in the process of being published in
India. Besides discussions about religious philosophies, the book has extensive
coverage of Karmkanda and performance of samskaras with mantras written in Roman
Script and Sanskrit along with translation. The book also covers all the
recitation (stutes) made by Kashmiri Pandits in above format. The book also
covers details about social traditions of Kashmiri Pandits such as festivals,
saints, pilgrimages and calendar followed by Pandits.
The author can be reached by email at email@example.com
or by phone (In USA – 770-754-9567 or in India (0124) 505176 or mobile in
India at 9891664644.