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Festivities Galore - Shivratri

By Upender Ambardar

Festivals and sacred days have deep roots in our socio-religious traditions. They form a significant part of our cultural heritage. Their celebrations lead to spiritual upliftment, soul purification, moral enrichment besides self-discipline. The festivals sustain our spirits, add colour, zeal, variety and zest to our existence and in the process help to keep our traditions and time tested rituals alive. Kashmir has been a seat of spiritual and cultural strength since ancient times, Kashmiri Pandits are basically Shaivites and Shaivite philosophy has attained growth and strength in the serenity of cool and calm surroundings of Kashmir. The worship of Lord Shiva and his Divine consort Parvati is an inseparable part of our tradition and culture. Shivatri, locally known as 'Hayrath', is sacred festival of Kashmiri Pandits. This ancient and auspicious festival has immense religious and cultural sanctity. It's sanctity finds a prominent reference in the sixth century Sanskrit text, 'Nilmat Puran' of Kashmir. Shivratri festival has also been highlighted in the famous philosophical work 'Shivastrotravali' of Utpal Dev, the great Shaivite philosopher of the eighth century. One of the greatest Shaivite, AbhinavGupt has also paid salutations and obeisance to Vatuk Bhairava in his famous Trika philosophical work called 'Tantraloka'. Even the renowned historian Kalhan's 'Rajtarangni' also bears an invocation to Lord Shiva at the very start of the text. The famous treatises like 'Sivadrashti' by Acharya Somananda, 'Shivstotravali' by Utpal Dev and 'Pratyabhijna Darshnam' by AbhinavGupt have contributed immensely towards the enrichment of Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmir Shaivism, also called Trika Shastra is the philosophy of triad, which comprises Shiva-the Universal consciousness, Shakti-the Divine energy and Nara-the human soul. It regards the entire creation as His manifestation, which is real and not illusion. We worship Lord Shiva in His both forms of Shiva and Shakti. Shakti for us is the Goddess Raginya, Sharika, Kali or Durga, who are the energy aspects of Lord Shiva. Worshipping Lord Shiva leads to the cosmic mother, who offers solace, protection and divine grace to one and all.

Accordingly, the ultimate Truth or Supreme Reality is Lord Shiva Himself and the whole creation is His manifestation.

He is consciousness and Bliss. Everything emanates from Him and everything merges in Him. He is in us and we are in HIM. In reality, Kashmir Shaivism is a spiritual quest for an inward journey and search rather than an outward one. It is the exploration and realization of the divinity within ourselves. Lord Shiva is also known as Mahadeva-the Great God, Triloki Nath-the Lord of three worlds, Umapati, Gauripati, Parvatipati, Chandrashekhar-the moon-crested, Gangadhar-the bearer of Ganga, Girisha-the mountain Lord, Mahakal -the Lord of death, Pashupati-the Lord of beasts and Vishwanath-the Lord of Universe. HE is the Lord of his spiritual consort, the Goddess Parvati, which in reality is the cosmic energy. The union of Lord Shiva with Shakti is Shivratri. Every Monday is sacred to Lord Shiva. Generally, the fourteenth day of the dark half of each month is called Shivaratri. But the one that falls on Phalgun (February-March) is Mahashivratri. Mahashivratri known as 'Hayrath' in Kashmir is a twenty three days festival, which starts from Phalgun Krishna Paksh Pratipada (Phadgun gatapach Oakdoh), the first day of the dark fortnight. It culminates in Phalgun.

Shuklapaksh Ashtami, known as 'Tila Aetham'. On Shivratri, the sun and the moon are usually in the Zodiac sign of Aquarius or Kumbh Rashi. Kashmiri Pandits perform Shivratri Puja called Vatak Puja on the intervening night of Triyodashi and Chaturdashi, while in the rest of the country, people observe Mahashivratri on Chaturdashi.

Shivratri is also known by the names of Mahashivratri, Kalratri and Talaratri. Shivratri, the night of Bliss, has a special significance as the Divine Mother symbolically merges with the divine Lord, thereby establishing non-dualism in the Absolute form. It is also believed that Jyotir Linga appeared on the earth at midnight during the intervening night of Triyodashi and Chaturdashi to remove darkness and ignorance from the world. As such the great night of Shiva is said to commemorate the auspicious advent of the divine Mahajyoti or Supreme light. According to the holy Hindu scriptures, the festival of Mahashivratri also signifies the day on which Lord Shiva saved the world from total annihilation by drinking the deadly 'Haalahal' poison, produced during the great churning of the ocean (Samandhar Munthun). According to sacred texts at this time a forceful natural upsurge of energy is said to take place in the human system, which advances the process of soul purification and enlightenment. This energy in combination with the significant planetary positions help in the upward flow of the energy flow in the human beings. These energy forces help us to overcome the Karmas and raise one's consciousness beyond the veil of illusion resulting in the intensification of the spiritual process.

Lord Shiva also represents the life cycle of living beings. It is due to this very fact that walnuts are used in the Shivratri puja. Walnuts, known in Kashmiri as 'doon' is a seed, which in reality represents a complete life-cycle i.e. the beginning and end of life. It is also a miniature representation of our universe and is symbolic of our respect for the entire cosmos. The four kernels of the walnut are also believed to represent the four directions of the hemisphere and the four Vedas.

As Mahashivratri falls on the darkest night of the year, it symbolises the darkness of ignorance and Lord Shiva is said to manifest Himself during this night to enlighten the universe by removing the ignorance.

As per a prevalent belief in Kashmir, the Divine Couple of Lord Shiva, and Goddess Parvati visit the devotees' homes on the night of Mahashivratri and are said to stay as Divine Guests upto Amavasya, known as 'Doon Mavas' locally (fifteenth day of Phalgun Krishnapaksh). Preparations such as cleansing of the house and washing of the clothes for celebrating the Mahashivratri festival are done from 'Hur Oukdoh', the first day of Phalgun Krishnapaksh to 'Hur-Shaeyum' (Sixth day of Phalgun Krishnapaksh). 'Hur-Satam' is the day when special dishes as per the individual family ritual or 'reeth' are cooked.

On 'Hur-Athum', the devotees prior to their forced migration used to visit Hari-Parbat Srinagar for night long meditation and Bhajan Kirtan at Chakrishwar and Pokhribal temples. It is on 'Hur-Navum' that womenfolk visit their parental homes. On their return, they bring alongwith them the 'Kangri' (the traditional fire-pot), a pack of salt, 'rotis' (bread) and some money locally called 'Atagut' as 'Shivratri Shagoun'. Next comes 'Dashmi' called 'Dyare-Dahum', which has a special significance for the newly-wed Kashmiri Pandit brides. They return back to their in-laws bringing with them new clothes and 'Hayrath-bhog' in the form of cash and kind. It is on this day that vegetarian or non-vegetarian food are cooked as per the family ritual or 'reeth'. It is followed by 'Gada-Kah' (Phagun Gatapach Kah), wherein fish is cooked as per the family tradition. This day has got tantric significance as per the Hindu mythology. On the following day called 'Vagurbah', a small earthenware pot known as 'Vagur' is installed amidst elaborate rituals in the pooja-room, locally known as 'Vatak-Kuth'.

Late in the evening after performing  'Vagur Pooja', cooked rice, vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes depending upon one's individual family 'reeth' or ritual are offered to the 'Vagur'. This day is followed by 'Hayrachi-Truvah' (Triyudashi), which is the auspicious and most sacred day of Mahashivratri. On this day, an elderly lady of the family fills-up the earthen-pitcher designated as 'Vatak-Nout' with fresh water and a good number of walnuts, usually 101 or 151. This ritual known as 'Vatuk-Barun' is performed before the sun-set. The 'Vatak-Nout' is a symbolic representation of Lord Shiva, whileas a smaller earthen-pitcher, locally called 'Choud' placed adjacent to the 'Vatak-Nout' represents the Goddess Parvati. The smaller earthenwares such as 'Sanivari' (two in number), 'Machvari' (2-4 in number) a hollow cone-shaped 'Sanipatul' representing lord Shiva and a 'Dhupzoor (an earthen dhoopstand) are suitably placed near the 'Vatak-Nout'. In addition to them, two bowl type earthen-wares 'locally known as 'Dhulij' are also placed in close proximity to the 'Choud'. The 'Dhulij', 'Sanivari' and 'Machvari' are believed to represent Bhairvas, 'Gandharvas'- (the celestial musicians) and the other deities of the 'Divine-Barat' (the celestial marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati).

A small bowl called 'Reshi-Dulij' occupies a special place near the 'Vatak-Nout'. Only cooked rice and milk are offered to it. The 'Nout', 'Choud' and 'Dulij' etc. are referred as 'Vatuk' and are seated on special pedestals of dry grass made in the form of circular rings locally called as 'Aarie'.

The 'Vatuk' is decorated by tying mouli (narivan) i.e. string of dry grass embellished with marigold flowers and 'bael-pater', which is known as 'Vusur'. Tilak is also applied to 'Vatuk'. Incense, dhoop, camphor and ratandheep form the main ingredients of ritualistic material called 'Vatak Samgri'. Milk and curds and conical sugar preparation called 'Kand' are offered to the 'Vatak-Raz', represented by the 'Nout' amidst elaborate ritualistic pooja and chanting of the holy mantras, collectively known as 'Vatak-Pooja'.

As part of the ritual, special vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes according to one's family ritual or 'reeth' are offered to the 'Dulij'. The day following 'Hayrath' called 'Shivachaturdashi' is locally known as 'Salam'. Salam is a day of greetings and festivity. On this day, all the family members and near relatives are given pocket-money called 'Hayrath-Kharch' by the head of the family.

During Shivratri days, playing of indoor-game with the sea-shells, locally called 'Haren-gindun' is a usual practice especially among the children. Late in the evening of 'Amavasya' known by the name of 'Doon-Mavas', pooja is performed either on the river bank (Yarbal) or at home as per the family tradition. The practice of performing pooja of walnuts taken-out from the 'Vatak-Nout' called as 'Vatuk Parmozun'.

'Doon-Mavas' is also known as 'Demni-Mavas' as some families (Gourit families) prepare meat preparations in combination with turnip as per their family ritual.

It is a usual practice in most of the house-holds, who perform pooja at the river-banks to allow the head of the family to enter the houseonly after he promises blessings and boons in the form of health, wealth, education, employment, peace and prosperity to each and every member of the family. The conversation in Kashmiri, which takes place between the head of the family (who is outside the closed door, and senior lady of the house goes like this, "thuk or dubh-dubh', kous chuv?, Ram Broor 'Kya Heth?, Anna Heth, Dhana-Heth Doarkoth,  Aurzoo Heth, Vidya, Kar-bar, Te Sokh Sampdha Heth.'

Shivratri 'naveed' in the form of water-soaked walnuts and 'rotis' is distributed among near and dear ones during the period of 'Doon-Mavas' to Tila-Ashtami, locally known as 'Tile-Aethum', which falls on Phalgun Shuklapaksh Ashtami.

On Tila-Ashtami, a number of earthen oil lit lamps are placed at different places starting from one's home to the river-bank (yarbal) and also one of the oil lamps is made to float on the river with its base seated on grass ring or 'arie'. The day of 'Tila-Ashtami' also signals the end of the severe cold of winter and advent of the pleasant season of spring, locally known as 'Sonth'. On this day, the change-over of season is celebrated by children by burning old fire-pots (Kangris), stuffed with dry grass and tied with long ropes are rotated around in the air, all the time uttering the words of 'Jateen-Tantah'. It marks the final good-bye to the holy festival of Mahashivratri or 'Hayrath'.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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