The Winter Rituals of
Kashmiri Pandits -The Legacies of Past
By Upender Ambardar
The hallowed land of
Kashmir is blessed with divinity in enormousness. The rituals, customs,
traditions and celebration of sacred days are cultural, social and religious
expressions of great cultural mosaic of Kashmir. Mysticism, mythology, spiritual
thought and socio-cultural history are formidable ingredients of our festivals,
rituals and customs. The local shades and native identities inherent in them not
only connect us with the past but also help in the socio-historical
reconstruction of antiquity. They land hope, grace, zest, variety and grandeur
both to an individual and the society. The prominent winter rituals of Kashmir
are - Gada Bata, Majhor Tahar, Chari Oakdoh, Lavsi Chodah, Kichdi Amavasya,
Makar Sankranti (Shishar Sankrat) and Shishur etc. They represent the
community's religio-cultural pride as they give us social, psychological
religious, cultural and emotional compactness. Moreover, their origin and roots
can be traced to the progenitors and forebears of the community centuries back.
Our unbending faith in them
reminds us not to forget the ancient land and rich civilisation of the past to
which we belong.
'Gada Bata' stands
out conspicuously as an imposing and time honoured winter ritual of Kashmiri
Pandits. The ritual has survived even in our forced exile despite a brush with
the modernity. It is celebrated in the month of December during the dark
fortnight of Posh locally known as 'Poh Gutpach' either on Tuesday or
Saturday. As per a religious belief, every house has a presiding and governing
deity, reverently remembered as 'Ghar Divta' or 'Dayat Raza' by
Kashmiri Pandits. The house is believed to remain under the benevolent and
protective surveillance of 'Dayat Raza' everytime. A religiously pious
house is thought to have auspicious and positive dividends. The believers share
a firm conviction that positive and spiritual resonance generated due to the
presence of presiding deity of the house drives away bad omens, evil spirits,
acrimonious feelings and negative retardants if existing in the house. His
indivisible presence also guarantees wellness, harmony and stability of kinship
among the inmates of the house.
It also testifies a
centuries old notion that elements of spiritualism, religiousness coexist
alongwith materialism in a harmonious blend in the houses of Kashmiri Pandits.
The ritual of 'Gada Bata' is an eagerly awaited occasion in every Kashmiri
Pandit house even now. On any selected Tuesday or Saturday of Posh Krishna Paksh,
the divine patron of the house called 'Ghar Divta or Dayat Raza' is propitiated
by an offering of fish dish and rice. On the designated day, the kitchen is
cleansed and the needed utensils are thoroughly washed. The fish to be cooked
are spotlessly cleaned and cut into whole girth pieces. The entire volume of
used water along with the scrubal fish scales, fins, discarded fish inners are
retained and thrown off only when the fish and rice offering is made to the 'Dayat
Raza'. The fish are cooked in combination with nadru, reddish or Kadum (Knolkol)
as per the family's ritual or 'reath'. It is followed by invocational pooja of
rice and fish dish. Afterwards, rice and cooked fish pieces in the sequential
order of head, middle and tail portions are kept either in fresh earthen plates
(toke) or on grass woven circular base (Aer) called 'chret' or in a thali as per
the family 'reeth'. They are now placed on the clay smeared floor of the upper
storey room of the house called 'Kani or pbraer-Kani' A washed uncooked and
..dressed fish is also kept on a separate grass woven ring called 'chret'
adjacent to the above offering. An oil lit earthen lamp (choang), a tumbler
filled with water and a tooth pick (optional) are also kept near the rice and
fish offering. As per the family custom, the offering is either kept underneath
a willow basket called 'Kranjul' or left uncovered. The said room is then left
undisturbed and unattended during the night. The following morning, the families
in accordance with their 'reeth' either put the rice and fish dish offering on
the house roof to be fed upon by the birds or share the consecrated
food-offering as 'naveed' by the family members. As per belief, the scattering
of rice grains and sight of fish bones kept aside is indicative of the
acceptance of the offering by the 'Ghar Divta'.
Every care is taken by the
family to ensure the religious purity during the celebration of this ritual as
any deviation or flawed observance invites 'Ghar Divta's' annoyance and anger.
The oral narratives and family lores are full of the wrath inviting incidents.
Recounting a happening of such nature at her Habbakadal residence as heard from
her elders Smt Aneeta Tikoo revealed "Once a delay in performing the 'Gada Bata'
ritual resulted in disquietening noise coming-out from the 'Thoker Kuth' for
several nights. It was taken as displeasure and annoyance of the 'Ghar Divta'.
Immediate celebration of the ritual astonishingly put an end to the mysterious
incident of the yore, she elaborated "once an elderly lady Smt. Visherded
received a mysterious bash from an invisible force in the house. It was taken as
an indication of some wrong doing during the observing of ritual. Afterwards,
the ritualistic offering made once again put the things right." Narrating one
more unusual happening of 1970s, wherein a lady in the neighbourhood the fried
inner parts of fish before the customary offering was made to presiding deity of
the house. It resulted in the hurt caused to the said lady by unexpected
collapsing of the kitchen wall during the course of cooking, which was an
indication of 'Ghar Divtas' anger and ire".
Sharing a personal
experience in the existence of 'Ghar Divta', Sh Susheel Hakim, an erstwhile
resident of Karan Nagar,
also recounted "for several days in the year 1980, I would feel enormous and
mysterious heaviness pounding my body in my bed during night in wakeful state
following the opening of my room door on its own. Astonishingly, the mysterious
feeling of pounding vanished after the well-known mystic of Karan Nagar Kashi
Bub, fondly known as Kashi mout, who used to frequent our home advised me to
make an offering of rice and fish to 'Ghar Divta'. Narrating one more related
incident of the same year, Sh. Susheel Hakim divulged "one of our tenants Sh.
Anil Kachroo, a student those days would observe the unoccupied bed in his room
getting weighed down by a mysterious and invisible force during night, which
would precede the automatic opening of the room door. The bed would regain its
original form after a brief spell, indicating that a divine figure had rested
for a while on the bed".
Sh. Roshan Lal Zadoo,
presently at Bhagwati Nagar Jammu also shared a similar incident that his father
late Sh. Dina Nath Zadoo had noticed a divine figure in white robes descending
the staircase of his home at Nowgam Kuthar, Anantnag.
One more important winter
ritual is that of 'Majhor Tahar', which is celebrated on Magh
Purnima, locally known as Manjhor Punim. The ritual comes in the months of
November-December. It is a thanks giving ritual towards the all pervading
Almighty God, who is the source of our sustenance and subsistence. It is
symbolic of His generosity and benevolence bestowed upon us in the form of
bountiful cultivated crops. On the day of Magh Purnima, yellow coloured rice (Tahar)
and potatoes and 'Kadum' (Knolkol) spiced with red chillies are cooked during
After the customary pooja,
the offering - the 'Tahar' and the cooked vegetable dish known as 'chout'
is kept on the roof top during the night itself. Afterwards, the remaining
portion of the food is taken as 'prasad' by all the family members. In certain
places, the ritual is regarded to signify the fertility of the soil. The
believers offer the oblation of 'Tahar' and cooked vegetable dishes to the deity
of crops in their crop fields. The ritual of 'Manjhor Tahar' is celebrated to
invoke the deity of crops and soil fertility for ensuring allround welfare and
prosperity in the form of bountiful crops. The ritual is also supposed to ward
off the damaging influences, which may affect the crop production. The ritual
also enforces the intimate and fruitful relationship between man and the forces
of nature, which are believed to shower grace, mercy and blessings in the form
of different varieties of crops cultivated by us. The food or crop represents
the physical matter, which guarantees the sustenance, nourishment and household
The yellow colour of 'Tahar'
is a mystical interpretation of auspiciousness, spirituality and positiveness.
Yellow is regarded as a royal colour and is symbolic of the flow of sacred
energy, which is believed to activate and stimulate the surroundings. The yellow
colour of 'Tahar' also denotes warmth, glow and bloom in every action connected
with our life.
'Manjhor Tahar' is followed
by another ritual know as 'Chari Oakdoh', which is celebrated on Posh Krishna
Paksh Pratipadha, locally known as 'Poh Gutpach Oakdoh'. The ritual involves
the cooking of rice and moong dal. About seven or nine small rectangular stones
collected from the river or streams are seated on grass woven rings called 'Arie'.
These are symbolic of the 'Mother Cult' or 'Shakti Pooja' and represent 'Matrakas'
or little Divine. Mothers.' 'Matrakas' are known by the names of Brahmni,
Mahesvari, Kumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narasimhi and Aindri or Indrani.
They are the 'Shaktis' of
Brahma, Isvara, Kumar or Skanda, Visnu, Varaha, Narasimha and Indra. According
to Tantarshastra, Brahmini represents the primordial nada, which is the
unmanifest sound denoting the origin of all the creations. It resembles the
Divine energy as represented by the 'Pranav' or 'Om'.
In the ritualistic invocation of the 'Matrakas', offering of rice and dal mixed
together are placed before the seven or nine 'Matrakas' represented by small
rectangular stones. It also involves the applying of tilak to all the idealised
images of 'Matrakas'. Afterwards the family members take the 'naveed'. The 'Chari
Oakdoh' is also known as the ritual of 'Matraka Pooja'.
One day ahead of 'Kitchdi
Amavasya' comes the little known ritual of 'Lavsie Chodah'. It is celebrated on
Posh Krishna Paksh Chaturdashi. In this ritual, apart from rice, moong dal in
combination with reddish is cooked.
After the traditional pooja,
the offering of rice and the cuisine of dal and reddish is kept on the roof top.
The consecrated portion is taken as 'naveed' by the house inmates.
The ritual of 'Lavsa Chodah'
has presently lost much of the original ritualistic fervour and has receded in
significance. It needs to be taken back to its pristine glory.
All the community rituals
need to be celebrated with unquestioned faith as besides spreading cheer and
mirth, they have an impacting role in shaping our lives.
is an ancient winter ritual
of Kashmiri Pandits. It is celebrated on Posh Krishna
Paksh Amvasaya (Poh Ghata
with unshakeable faith by Kashmiri Pandits. Khaechimavas besides being an
integral part of our religio-cultural life also encompasses the mythologized
history of Kashmir.
Further, it authenticates
and affirms the historicity of
the ancient aboriginal tribe of Kashmir, who dwelled in the upper mountainous
region of the Himalayan ranges extending from the present day Uttranchal,
Himachal Pradesh to Kashmir. The Hindu scriptures have elevated Yakshas to the
status of demigods along with
(the celestian musicians),
The influence of Shaivism
on the ritual of Khichdi Amavasya is clearly visible.
were also ardent
worshippers of Lord Shiva, the most adored and revered God of Kashmiri Pandits.
is regarded as an intimate
friend of Lord Shiva. Lord Kubera, known as the Lord of wealth, is said to be
the son of sage
and grandson of the sage
Pulastya besides being the half brother of the demon king, Ravana. As per the
Hindu mythology, Lord Kubera resides in the mythological city of Alkapuri, which
is said to be situated on one of the spurs of the Mount Meru in the exalted
Himalayas. Incidentally, Mount Meru, which is believed to be densely forested
with the divine 'Kalpavraksha'
trees is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva also. Alkapuri is also known by the
As per the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharat, Lord
had his sway on the city of
Lanka before he was ousted from there by his half brother, the demon king Ravana.
He was also the proud owner of the celestial aerial chariot 'Pushpak
which was later-on snatched away from him by the demon king Ravana. The city of
Lanka is believed to have been built of gold by the divine architect
for the residence of
also known by the
alternative names of
the spouse of Lord Kubera is said to be the daughter of Danav Mura. She is
believed to serve Goddess Durga as one of the attendants. Manigriva (also known
as Varnkavi) and
(also called as
are Lord Kubera's sons, whileas Menakshi is his daughter. Lord Kubera, the King
known as Dhanpati (the lord of wealth),
(the King of men),
(the King of Kings),
(one who gets
immense wealth at his own wish and will),
(one who possesses plenty
of jewels and diamonds) and also as
(the chief of demons).
He is also known as the presiding deity of the northern side of the universe and
the house. Hindu mythology describes Kuber to have a white complexion, a
deformed body with three legs and only eight teeth. Further, he is regarded not
only as the lord of gold but also of silver, jewels, diamonds and all other
kinds of precious stones. He is also known as the protector of the business
class of the society.
In the mythological
depictions, Lord Kuber is shown as seated on the shoulders of a man or riding a
carriage pulled by men. Sometimes an elephant or a ram (an uncastrated male
sheep) are also shown as his mounts. The subjects and devotees of Lord Kuber are
they are believed to possess supernatural powers. They can change their shape
and form at will. They are regarded to be full of kindness, compassion and
resided on the mighty mountain ranges of Kashmir. They would descend to the
plains during the winter season, where the
inhabitants would extend
the hospitality to them by offering the delectable cuisine of Khichdi. The
Yakshas are believed to be historical reality down the ages as innumerable
villages and temples have been dedicated to them. They exist in vast stretches
of land right from the present day states of Uttranchal, Himachal Pradesh and
Jammu and Kashmir. In the capital city of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, there is a
famous Hanuman temple on the adjacent Jakhu hill. It is believed that thousands
of years back Yaksha sage performed austerities and penance there. Lord Hanuman
is said to have made a brief stopover at the Jakhu hill during his search for 'Sanjeevani
Lakshman. The sage Yaksha latter-on built a temple on the hill in honour of Lord
Hanuman. In Rohru and Arki tehsil of Shimla district, two villages dedicated to
are known by the
names of Jakhu and
The word Jakhol in the local dialect means 'Yakshalai'
or the abode of Yaksha.
In the central part of
Himachal Pradesh, there are many temples dedicated to Yakshas and
who are worshipped as the village deities of the natives. They are also regarded
as the deities of domestic cattle. In order to ward off the evil spell and to
guarantee plentiful of milk,
are propitiated by burning
and incense sticks in the cowsheds. Dr. M.S. Randhawa, a noted researcher writes
in his book "Farmers
of India" that
tribes inhabited Kashmir in
ancient times. Prof. DD Sharma, a well-known historian and researcher has
identified numerous villages dedicated to
in the hilly regions of the
Himalayas in his book
"Himalayan Sanskriti Kae
There is a strong belief among the people in the hilly areas that affluence and
fortune will come one's way if the Yaksha King Lord Kuber is propitiated and
pleased. The said belief also exists in the folklore of Kashmir.
According to Prof. D.D.
Sharma, the villages of
Jakhanyali, Jakhvadi, Jakholi, Jakhni
in Pauri Garwal and
on Dehradun-Rajpora road
not only had strong association with Yakshas but also speak volumes about their
possible high concentration in these places in the ancient times. In addition to
it, the entire area of Alaknanda right from Joshimath to Karanprayag is known as
or the area which was
once occupied and dominated by Yakshas.
According to Dr. Jagdish
Prasad Samval, a celebrated researcher, a temple known as 'Yakshraj'
exists on a mountain top about one km. away from Narayankote on the road leading
to Kedarnath. Yakshraj, Lord Kuber is the local deity of the surrounding eleven
villages of the area. Likewise, there is a Yakshraj temple in Pithoragarh also,
where meat offerings are made to the deity. Yakshraj is also the guardian deity
of the adjacent villages. Almora also has a famous temple known as
Jakhani Devi temple.
According to Prof. D.D.
Sharma, Almora area has Jakhnola, Jakhnoli, Jakhani, Jakh villages, whileas
Jakh and Nainital has the village by the name of Jakh. In Jammu province also
there are two villages-Jakhni
(65 kms from
Jammu city on way to Udhampur) and
(4-5 kms from Kathua on
In Kashmir also, the
have left their
impressions behind. These have survived in the form of village names even upto
the present times. The villages of
Ichikote, Ichigam, Ichihama,
Ichigoz and Rairyach situated in the central district of Budgam (Kashmir) might
have been Yaksha settlements at certain
stages of time. I have also
been able to locate one more village by the name of
which is nestled in the foothills of forested mountain on Srinagar - Sonamarg
road in Ganderbal district in Kashmir. One more village known by the name of
Yachinar is situated in the southern district of Anantnag in Kashmir. According
to Late Prof.
a noted Sanskrit scholar of
India and HoD Sanskrit, Delhi University, a village by the name of Alkapuri
exists near the village Manigam in Ganderbal (Kashmir). Some scholars state that
a tribe by the name of Yakshun lives in Dardistan area, which is located in
north of Kashmir. They assert that the name Yakshun is a derivative from
A township to the west of the present day new airport near Humhama village in
Budgam village locally known as Damodar Wudar is said to have been built by an
ancient King of Kashmir, Damodar. Yakshas, who were adept in the construction
skills are believed to have contributed help and expertise.
Yakshas have also left
their imperishable imprints on the social fabric of Kashmir. They are in the
form of Surnames of 'Yaksha', 'Yach' and 'Rakshas' retained by Kashmiri Pandits.
Lord Kuber is said to be
the chief of both
Late Sh. Dina Nath Yaksh, a noted Sanskrit scholar of Kashmir was a resident of
Bulbullankar, Alikdal Srinagar upto the year 1990. About five to six Pandit
families having the surname 'Yach' were residents of Rainawari (Karapora Khushki)
area in Srinagar upto their migration from there in 1990. A few Pandit families
with the surname
were also residents of
Karfalli-Mohalla, Srinagar and Sopore township of Baramulla district. According
to few Hindu scriptures 'Rakshshas' are not demons but on the contrary
benefactors and defenders.
According to Kashmiri
folklore, Yaksh is believed to make two and half sounds of 'Waaf'
(two high pitched and one low volume sounds). The same folklore says that Yaksh
dons a red cap made of gold, which is studded with jewels and diamonds. This cap
known as 'Phous'
is said to bestow enormous supernatural powers to Yaksh.
As per prevalent lore in
Kashmir, anyone who succeeds in snatching the cap and then hides it under a
mortar or a hand mill stone or a pitcher filled with water or an earthen pot
full of fermented kitchen leftover vegetables called 'Saderkanz'
is believed to tame Yaksh. The snatcher is given unlimited wealth if the cap is
given back to Yaksh.
According to family lore of
one of their ancestors is believed to have seized the cap of Yaksh. After the
cap was returned to Yaksh, the Ambardar families were exempted from offering the
Yaksh on the ritual of
The same family lore states that once one of their ancestors, who in violation
of this exemption dared to observe the ritual of
had his house engulfed
by fire. Since that time the Ambardar families of Kashmir continue to abstain
from observing the said ritual.
Observance of the Ritual:
On the evening of Khichdi
Amavasya (Khaechimavas), rice mixed with turmeric powder and ungrinded
is cooked. Khichdi is
also prepared with meat or cheese as per the individual family's tradition.
Khichdi cooked with sanctimonious purity is kept either on a fresh earthen plate
(toke) seated on a hand woven circular grass base called 'aer'
or in a 'thali'.
it, a pestle (Kajvut)
is also seated on a round grass base (aer) in an upright state.
During the ritualistic
is applied to the
pestle. The pestle is a symbolic representation of Lord Kuber, the King of
Yakshas. After the completion of navigational pooja, the offering of Khichdi
kept in the earthen plate and seated on the grass base (aer) is placed on the
court yard wall of the house. Afterwards, the consecrated potion of Khichdi is
taken by the family members as 'prasad' either with uncooked reddish or Knolkhol
In some rural areas of
Kashmir, Khichdi of 'mash dal' called
or Khichdi of black
beans or 'Varimuth'
cooked. It is prepared for the domestic cattle. This kind ofKhichdi along with a
bit of honey is kept in the cowsheds, paddy storage room (daan-kuth)
and on cowdung heaps. In the morning it is fed to the cows. As per belief, it
not only increases the milk giving capacity of the cows but also protects them
from the various ailments as the Lord Kuber is also the Lord of domestic cattle.
It bears close resemblance with a practice followed in certain rural pockets of
Uttranchal and Himachal, where pooja is performed in the cowsheds. The pestle
kept during the ritual of Khichdi Amvasaya is symbolic representation of our
steadfastness and unwavering faith for the said ritual. It is also metaphoric
representation of the hilly regions where Yakshas lived in the past.
The pestle denotes the
absolute formlessness of the all powerful God. On the evening of Khichdi
Amavasya, a few Pandit families of Sopore township of Baramulla district make a
bonfire of wood on the riverbank (Yarbal)
and burn crackers. It is believed to bestow health as fire is supposed to
consume all kinds of human ailments since Yakshapati, Lord Kuber is also
regarded as the deity of health.
Sharing a ritual related
incident of the year 1981, Sh. PN Tikoo, a retired engineer of Vijayanagar,
Talab Tillo Jammu, recalled. "The residents of the newly constructed government
quarters of Khannabal, Anantnag (Kashmir) were baffled by the unusual sounds of
'waaf', heard continuously during wintery nights. All the measures undertaken by
the residents neither stopped the unusual sounds nor led us to the origin of
sound. Astonishingly, the sounds of 'waaf' stopped the moment I made a
ceremonial offering of Khichdi to Yaksh".
All the rituals need to be
celebrated with fervour and faith as they give spiritual resonance to our lives.