Shivratri - Revisiting Kashmiri Ritual Variants
By Upender Ambardar
Festivals are vibrant representatives of traditional values, cultural and religious ethos and mythologised past. The
various rituals and religious rites having localised distinctive uniqueness are
vital components of festivals. They add substance, strength, warmth and
spiritual colour to the weave of human life. The indigenous ritual variants of
Kashmiri Maha Shivratri carry multilayered mystic truths and meanings. They not
only denote ancient roots but also our cultural and religious moorings. The
various Shivratri rituals having a time wrap of antiquity signify centuries old
beliefs, traditions and wisdom. The festival is believed to symbolize the
celestial wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and that of Goddess Sati in
Her previous birth. As per a belief, the auspicious divine function was
solemanised by the Lord Brahma Himself in present of all Deities, Rishis and
Saints. Maha Shivratri is an eagerly awaited and enthusiastically looked forward
festival as Lord Shiva, the great God of the Universe is the most favourite and
lovable God, WHO is revered equally by all the Gods, human beings and the
Lord Shiva represents a contrasting life of a householder and an
Lord Shiva also connotes a happy and contented family life, Who
is believed to reside in the snowcapped mountain of
Kailash along with His ever auspicious spouse Goddess
Parvati, sons Lord Ganesh, Lord Kartikey and a host of His faithful attendants
like Nandi, Kubera, Yakshas, Gandharvas and other 'Ganas'. Rightly Kailash
mountain is also known by an alternative name of 'Ganaparvata', the mountain of
'Ganas' as it is frequented by all the Deities, saints, sages, demi-Gods and the
Divine incarnations. As per a popular lore, Lord Shiva also personifies the
frightful and disturbing aspect of nature in the form of snow and harsh chilly
winter. It is one of the reasons that Maha Shivratri is celebrated in the severe
and rough winter. The festival celebrated in the night designated as 'Kalratri'
also symbolises ignorance, obscurity, seclusion, tranquillity, quietness,
impiety, depravity, incomprehension and degradable imperfections. Lord Shiva is
the only Supreme God, who grants redemption from all these imperfections. The
dark night of Maha Shivratri is also a metaphor for 'Tamogunic' aspect as Lord
Shiva is believed to have revealed His divine appearance just before the
Universe stepped into 'Kaliyuga', the fourth and last era of Hindu mythology.
Lord Shiva is also regarded as the foremost God of the whole
Universe, which comprises earth, sky, air, fire, sun, moon and space. Lord Shiva
is also known as the lord of music and dance, both of which are regarded as the
divine arts. Lord Shiva is also the God of 'Prates', 'Pischas', Kirates, demons,
goblins, ghosts, wandering spirits, the forest spirits of Yakshas' and the
troublesome forces of the Universe. It is indicative of the benevolent nature of
Lord Shiva, Who is believed to give refuge and shelter to all those, who feel
rejected, disregarded, ignored and margianlised. The festival also signifies all
that is sacred, pious and auspicious in this Universe. As such, as a run-up the
preparations for the festival start nearly a month in advance as the whole house
is spruced-up and readied for the welcome of the divine spouses and the divine
guests. In tune with the aupiciousness of the Cosmic alliance, all the dress-up
attires, utensils are washed and old earthen utensils are replaced by the new
one's. The smearing of the house with a mix of mud, water and cowdung and use of
earthenwares in the pooja are metaphors for the essential element of Earth,
which speak volumes about earths generosity and benevolence.
The various Shivratri rituals, which are deeply embedded in our
social life denote the celebration of mythologised heritage and indigenous
individuality of our presence. The glory of these rituals is like a sweet memory
for Sh. P.L. Razdan, an erstwhile resident of Purshiyar Srinagar and now
stationed at Subash Nagar, Delhi. He recalled with pride that ritualistic 'Panch-ratri'
pooja was an essential component of Shivratri festival in the earlier times.
According to him, apart from the customary 'Vayur', two water-filled vessels
known as 'Auster Kalash' and 'Mantar Kalash' were reverently seated on the left
side corner of the Pooja-room. On the day prior to 'Haerath', in addition to 'Vagur'
eleven number of earthenwares known by the name of 'Haerkai' occupied a
reverential place in the Pooja-room, They were regarded as special invites for
the sacred occasion. On the Shivratri day, in addition to 'Vatuk Bhairav', one
more set of eleven earthenwares designated as 'Vatkai', six number of clay pots
known as 'Khaterpals' and an additional set of eight more utensils collectively
called as 'Asht Bhairav's' were an essential component of Pooja vessels. The
eleven 'Vatkai' are said to represent the divine 'barat', while as the eight
earthen utensils of 'Asht Bhairav', 'Symbolize the eight guarding deities of
Srinagar city, who as per a religious belief are under the direct supervision
of Lord Shiva. The 'Asht Bhairav' are also regarded as the body-guards of Lord
Shiva. The notable exclusion of the usual wide-mouthed vessel 'Dul',
representation of Goddess Parvati is peculiar to Shivratri pooja of his clan. An
enormous quantity of flowers along with 'Arg' (a ritualistic mix of dry rice
grains and flowers, was used in the 'Panchratri' pooja performed upto midnight
for the first five day's of the festival. Speaking further, Sh. Razdan revealed
that on 'Amavasya' locally known as 'Doon-maves', in addition to the family
members, all the close relatives including married daughters and sons-in-law
would join the ritualistic pooja, which would continue upto midnight. The 'doon-mavas'
pooja was performed amidst the recitation of 'lila rabdha' stories and offering
of Sugar Candy (Kund) offered to the vessel of 'Vatuk Bhairav' and waving of 'ratan-deep'
brought individually by them. The said pooja would culminate with the mixing of
water contained in 'Astur Kailash' and 'Mantar Kalashi' vessels with a
connecting Kusha grass woven string remaining on both the vessels during the
ritualistic mixing. The Kusha grass string was known by the name of 'Ginan
Afterwards, drops of mixed-upwater were sprinkled on the house
inmates with the help of 'Ginan Khadak' amidst the recitation of 'Bahu Roop
Garab' sholkas. As a final part of 'Amavasya' ritual, pooja was performed on
the river bank of 'Vitasta' at midnight with rice flour made rotis locally known
as 'Chochivar' and fried sheep liver pieces forming the main pooja ingredients.
The festival of Shivratri is like a walkdown on the memory lane
for Sh. Bushan Lal Bhat, original resident of the village Chanderhama, district
Baramulla and presently living at Paloura Jammu. Recapping the holy festival, he
recollected that seven different items consisting of rice, haize, moong, barley,
cooked rice and cotton seeds, locally called 'Kapsi tout' were put in a water
filled earthen vessel called 'Satae Laej' on Shivratri day.
A few families of the village would also offer uncooked fish to
the 'Bhairav Dul'. A small portion of snow usually procurred from the shady area
of the village called 'Asthan' also formed an important offering. On 'Tila-Ashtami'
evening, walnut shells filled with edible oil were utilized in place of oil lit
earthen lamps. As per a local belief snow offering and oil lit walnut shulls
give a touch of auspiciousness to the occasion.
The oil lit walnut shells were usually kept at the front door of
the house, front varandah, courtyard wall, ash-storing container (Soore Laej)
and cow-dung heap, locally known as 'gush loedoh'. Recollecting the festival
celebration of the yore, Sh M.L. Kemu, an erstwhile resident of Zaindar Mohalla
Srinagar and presently at Kunjwani Jammu opined that rituals lend a sense of
belonging and an area specific identity to a community. He recollected that
offering of a live fish locally known as 'neej gadh' to the designated
vessel of 'Bhairav-Dul' was an integral part of Shivratri ritual.
Reminiscing about the festival, Sh M.K. Khushoo, an original resident of
Wazapora, Alikadal Srinagar recalled that a few families in his neighbourhood
would offer a small part of sheep's hair coating locally known as 'moon' to 'Bhairav
Dul'. In case of its' non-avalability, the said offering was substituted by
unspure cotton. Recollecting further, he revealed that a small quantity of
liquor was also a part of ritualistic offering to the vessel designated as 'Vatuk
Nath'. A few drops of the liquor put on the palins and taken as 'naveed' by the
house inmates was also an integral part of religious faith.
Memories of Shivratri celebration at Srinagar are like a sweet
recollection for Sh. Papuji Khazanchi of Sathu Barbarshah Srinagar and now a
resident of Bakshi Nagar Jammu. He recalled that sheeps' lungs alongwith heart
put on an oval earthenware called 'toke' as a token of sacrificial offering
during 'Shivratri Pooja' was led to the kites on the following day of 'Salam'.
According to him, apart from the lavish delectable meat cuisines, the
preparation of roasted minced meat was a special meat offering to the specific
pooja vessel of ‘Bhairav Dul’ on Shivratri festival. Sh. Papuji Khazanchi also
recounted that fragrant smell of incense resulting from the burning of gugal,
locally known as 'Kanthgun' and black seasome seeds was ensured for the entire
length of Shivratri Pooja as it's fragrance and aroma are believed not only to
please Lord Shiva but also to ward off evil and negative influences. Sh H.L.
Bhat, hailing from Sangam, Kokernag Anantnag and now resident of Durga Nagar,
Jammu regards rituals as watchwords of a festival as they reinforce our implicit
faith for the time-tested traditional customs.
Recounting the Shivratri Pooja of yesteryears he reminisced that
about seven families of his village would make a sacrificial offering of
coagulated blood of slaughtered sheep to the designated pooja vessel of 'Bhairav
Dul'. It was procured either from the butcher or from the village abattoir (Zabahkhana).
He also stated that a preparation of cooked lungs offered to 'Bhairav Dul' was
also a part of tantric rituals.