Shivratri - Revisiting Kashmiri Ritual Variants
By Upender Ambardar
Festival Customs in Gurtoo Families
rituals are traditional beliefs representing iconic symbols, which have layers
of stories, legends and ancient wisdom embedded in them. They also give valuable
insights into social, cultural and econmic expressions of human presence inthe
bygone times. Many Kashmiri Pandit families follow a strict code of conduct
supplemented with overriding faith and enormous devotion in observing Shivratri
rituals. These families are recognised by the surnames of Gurtoo, Malla, Kak,
Jailkhani and Naqaib’s. In addition to them, a few families belonging to the
surnames of Raina, Razdan, Bhan and Tikoo’s also follow a rigid vegetarian and
undiluted customs handed over to them both orally and by practice. For them any
derelection in observance of the traditional rituals is not only a religous
offence but also an unparadonable sinful act.
the unquestionable faith reposed in the established rituals, all such families
are broadly known by the name of Gurtoo’s The ritualistic purity sustained with
unbroken devotion and faithful allegiance spanning over centuries of time is a
characteristic and pronounced feature of them. The fierce religious discipline
and amazing purity exhibited by them in guarding this indigenous strain of
religious variant exemplifies their unaltered tradition. They deserve all the
accolades and acclaim for having preserved their centuries old clan specific
rituals and in the process also having kept their essence intact.
by immense faith, the Gurtoo families desist to blur the traditional line as
even a minute abberation or wrong doing in the ritual observance is believed to
have fearsome outcome. The Shivratri rituals of Gurtoo clans not only strike a
connectivity with the preceding times when Vaishnavite influence occupied a
pivotal space in our belief system but also represent a spill over of the past
in the form of their present day rituals.
Interestingly, the word ‘Gurit’ is also associated with the best
quality clay in
Kashmir which is known for the finest purificatory properties. Locally known as
‘Gurit Maech’, it is procured from Sampora area of Pampore tehsil
of Pulwama district of Kashmir. Incidentally, it is not without reason that
‘Gurit Maech’ or clay mixed with water and cowdung is utilised for
smearing the rooms, whenever the houses in Kashmir are to be spurced up for the
auspicious events as it is supposed to remove all the traces of contaminations
and ensure wholesome purity. Likewise , all those families, who steadfastly
adhere to the purity of the rituals are commonly referred as 'Gurtoo's in
Gurtoo rituals are sacred commitments, which make us feel close to the Divine,
opined Smt. Chunji Gurtoo, an erstwhile native of Kharyar, Habbakadal Srinagar
and now putting up at Anand Nagar, Bohri Jammu. She informed that in Gurtoo
families, the intake of non-vegetarian food including 'Tamsic' one
is totally given up from Phagun Krishan Paksh Dashmi and vegetariansim is
stictly followed. From that day in accordance with the 'Gurtoo specific clan
strictures, excepting for 'Sattvic' vegetables, fruits and milk, the purchase of
cheese and bread and getting them inside the house is forbidden. Adding to it,
Smt. Chuniji disclosed that in earlier times, on this days all the used earthen
cooking untensils were broken and replaced by the new religious one's. The
adherence to the code of purity and piousness was so obsessive in the earlier
times that Gurtoo families would not spare even the clay container used for
storing charcoal ash locally known as 'Soore Laejh'.
from it, even the iron vessel used for holding edible oil, locally known as
'Tila Vaer' was put inthe roaring fire of the indigenous mud hearth (dhaan)
to ensure the removal of all traces of impurity.
also revealed proudly that day's ahead of the festival, painstakingly efforts
and extraordinary care were undertaken to ensure scrupulous and spotless
cleanliness of the house by smearing it with a mix of 'Sampur'
clay, water and cowdung. The purificatory act of cleansing locally known as
'livun' was accmplished with enormous faith even in the wintry chill.
Continuing in the same vein, she recalled that on 'Dyara dahum'.
i.e. dashmi, the potter and in some families potteress would
deliver the earthen pooja vessels, called 'VatakBane', and freshly
baked cooking untensils to be used for the entire year. In line with the
auspiciousness of the occasion the utensils were taken inside the house after
the ritualistic waving of water filled vessel around the potter and the
utensils. The ritual known by the local name of 'Aalath' is an act
of supplication to the Divine. Likewise, the procurement of the flowers, grass
woven spherical seating bases called 'Aarie', grass woven string
embedded with flowers and Bilvai leaves, locally known as 'Vusur'
were also ensured usually on the same day through a courier known by the local
name of 'Push'. Interestingly, 'Pushan' is a deity
in the Vedas, having the etymological root 'Push', meaning the
nourisher. As per a religious belief 'Pushan is the protector of cattle and of
human possessions and is said to bless the bride in marriage functions.
also recounted that on Phagun Krishna Paksh Ekadashi, eleven saucer
shaped earthenwares known by the name of 'Parvav' are seated on
grass woven spherical bases 'Aarie' and their ritualistic pooja is
performed usually in the morning.
vegetarian dishes of 'haak', unpounded moong daal in combination either with
nadru (lotus stem) or raddish are cooked and a small portion of them mixed with
a bit of rice are put in these 'Parvas' as a mark of offering
amidst religious invocations. On the next day i.e. Phagun Krishna Paksh
Duvadasham, locally known as 'Vagur Bhah', an earthen vessel (nout
or 'choud') according to individuals family 'reeth' filled up with
water and walnuts is reverentially installed amidst pooja.
rituals is known as 'Vagur Barun' and the most favoured dish is
moong daal in combination with raddish. As per a locals belief 'Vagur'
symbolises the preparatory welcome extended to the family priest of the
bridegroom, who visits the bride's home as a prelude to the actual marriage
function. Smt. Chuniji Gurtoo further revealed that on Shivratri a narrow
mouthed earthen pitcher called 'Gagar', a symbolic representation
of Lord Shiva, a wide mouthed utensil called 'doul' or a small
clay pitcher known as 'Choud', symbolizing Goddess Parvati, are
reverantailly docked with 'mouli', flowers, Bilva leaves and 'Vusir'.
They are afterwards seated on the grass pedestals 'Aarie' in the Pooja room,
locally kown as 'Vatak Kuth'. Additionally a small sized pitcher
called 'Ram Goud', small earthenwares called 'Sanivarie', ling
shaped 'Sonipatul' and Dhoop holder called 'Dhupazoor'
are also positioned in the 'Vatak Kuth'. All the Pooja utensils
are collectively known as 'Vatuk' the Pooja material as 'Vatak
Samagri' and Pooja ingradients as 'Vatak Masola.'.
also disclosed that best culinary skills are employed to cook a lavish-spread of
vegetarian dishes of 'moong daal' in combination with nadru,
'nadru yakhni', sour raddish slices, locally known as 'mujie
kaela', deep fried crisp nadru slices called 'nadur churma', 'dum
aalu' and sour methi on Shivratri. As per a centuries old reeth, a sort
of distinctive ethnic drink having exotic taste and known by the local name of
'Madhu Panakh' is an integral part of Shivratri pooja of most of
the Gurtoo families. The various ingredients especially almonds, cardamom, dates
Kishmish coconut, bhang (cannabis), jujbee and sugar crystals (nabadh) are
thoroughly pounded andmixed with milk to get this specialised brew. It is a
symbolic hallucinogenic drink believed to bring heightened consciousness and
ecstasy in the worshippers. 'Madhu Panakh' is supposed to
eliminate wordly distractions and ignoable thoughts and facilitate communion
with the divine. Interestingly, god of the gods, Lord Shiva is said to be fond
of narcotic preparation of bhang and milk called 'Siddhi'.
due to this reason that one of the names of Lord Shiva is 'Sidheshvara'.
On Shivratri, 'Madhu Panakh' is also offered to the earthen
utensil of 'Nout' the symbolic representation of Lord Shiva.
Extending her conversation, Smt Chuniji disclosed that Gurtoo families being
'Shivkarmis' display boundless devotion and reverence for Lord Shiva.
It is in total contrast with most of the non-Gurtoo Kashmiri families, who have
endless adoration for 'Bhairva' the fearsome manifesation of Lord
Shiva. This varying devotional allegiance has correspondingly influenced the
rituals and customs performed by them on Shivratri. In some Gurtoo families, the
ritual of 'Parmujan' is done on the day next to Shivratri, i.e.
'Salaam' but in the process, they ensure the clearance of the
symbolic sacrificial obltation material done for the departed souls, known by
the name of 'Ankan'. It is completed on Shivratri evening itself.
Strangely, in most of the Gurtoo families, the vegetarian 'reeth'
or tradition is done away with on Phagun Krishna Paksh Amavasya evening with the
cooking of meat preparations of yellow meat, locally called 'Kaliya'
or meat mixed with turnips or in combination with goat's stomach, locally called
as 'demni gogzi'. It is due to this reason that 'Amavasya in
Gurtoo families is known as 'Demni Mavas'. It is in contrast to
non-Gurtoo and non-vegetarian families, where 'Amavasya' is designated as
sizeable section of Gurtoo families cook meat dishes on the day next to 'Amavasya'
i.e. Phagun Shukla Paksh Pratipidha as they shy away from taking meat on 'Amavasya'
due to religious sentiments. Smt Chuniji Gurtoo stated that 'Amavasya'
related pooja was performed on the Vitasta river bank. The ritual involved
taking the 'Vatak Nout' and 'Choud' or 'dulij'
in a wicker basket to the river bank, where their contents were emptied in the
flowing water before performing pooja of walnut kernels, which served as 'prasadh'
or 'naveed' for the devotees.
ritual is followed by symbolic cutting of the flowing river water seven times
cross-wise with a knife. Understandably, the symbolic cutting of water
reiterates our vows and commitments seven times to perform Shivratri related
rituals with reverence, determination and steadfast devotion as the figure seven
has a sacred and holy connotation in Hindu religious tradition. The Rigveda
speaks of seven underworlds of 'Patala' of the earth known by the
names of Atal, Vital, Sutal, Rasatal, Talatal, Mahatal
and Patal. They are said to be inhabited by Nagas, Daityas,
Danavas and Yakshas etc Vitala is believed
to be ruled by Hatakeshvara, a close confident of Lord Shiva,
while as Vasuki, the king of Nagas or snakes is said to reign
supreme in Patala. The holy scriptures also speak of seven upperworlds, which
are designated as Bhuvloka (earth), Bhuvarloka (area
lying between earth and sun, where Munis and Sidha's are said to reside),
Swarloka (region between Sun and Polarstar, Maharloka (abode of Bhrign
Rishi and other saints).
Janaloka (abode of
mind-born sons) i.e. 'manas-putras' of Lord Bramhav,
Taparloka and lastly Satyaloka, also known as 'Bramha
Loka', where Lord Bramha is believed to reside. The digit seven also
denotes seven holy and pilgrimage cities of Ayodhya, Mathura, Gaya, Banaras or
Kashi, Kanchi of Canjeveram, Avanti or Ujjain and Dwarka. Seven also symbolises
seven Saptrishis or Prajapatis, who are also known
as 'manas-putras' or mind born sons of Lord Bramha. As per
Satapatha Brahmna, they are Gotama, Bharadwaj, Vishwamitra,
Jamadagn, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Atri. According to
Mahabharata, they are Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulaha, Kratu, Pulastya
and Vasistha, Seven also stands for seven names of Rudras, the
fearsome and frightening manifestations of Lord Shiva, which are Bhava,
Sarva, Ishana, Pashupati, Bhima Ugra and Mahadeva. It also
represents seven sacred holy rivers of
Ganga, Saraswati, Sindhu,
Gomati, Gandhak, Saryu
or Vipasha. The number seven is also associated with 'Saptpadhi'
ceremony of going around the 'agni' seven times at the
time of marriage ceremony, symbolising togetherness of the spouses for emotional
strength, wealth, food, progeny, long life, prosperity and eternal association.
The said number also represents the seven streams into which the river Ganga is
believed to split after descending down from the matted hair of Lord Shiva. The
digit seven also symbolizes seven sacred mountains, seven sacred trees of
Bilvav, Peepal, Ashvatha, Banayan and Mangoo
etc. and seven segments of earth called Jambu,
Kura, Palaksh, Shalmali,
*(The writer is a keen socio-cultural researcher)