Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits, who migrated from the Valley after the 1989 armed rebellion, have converged on Kashmir to be part of the annual festival at Khir Bhawani temple in north-east district of Ganderbal.
The government is leaving nothing to chance to make the festival, which is fast emerging as a source of reunification between the Valley Muslims and Pandits, a success.
"Officers have been asked to work with missionary spirit and ensure proper coordination to ensure all possible facilities are available to the devotees on mela days at Ashthapan," said state tourism minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir, who visited the shrine at Tulmul on Sunday to take stock of the arrangements for Monday's festival.
Traditionally, the Pandit population of Kashmir has been performing special prayers on the occasion of annual holy day of 'Zyeshth Ashtami' at Khir Bhawani temple.
However, the festival became a low-key affair after a sizable population of Pandits fled the Valley in 1989. In the past few years, the festival is picking up with Pandit population, scattered across the country, travelling to Kashmir to attend the festival refresh their bonds with their motherland.
"I have brought my two sons first time to Kashmir to pay obeisance at the temple. I want them to see their roots and interact with all communities here," said Manoj Kaul, a resident of Pune now.
The fear factor among the Pandit population is fast dissipating, which is reflected in growing number of Pandits travelling to the temple every year.
Last year, around 40,000 Pandits visited the shrine with Muslims mainly making the arrangements and selling the paraphernalia required for puja.
"I have been selling necessary puja material for ages now," said Abdul Rasheed, a local.
Buoyed by the Pandit rush, the government has come up with a temple complex at Rs. 16 crore. It has 64 one-room sets, one prayer hall, Two langars, two dining halls and 64 bathrooms.
"Reformative initiatives are underway to upgrade the boarding and lodging facilities at pilgrimage sites for the convenience of the devotees," said Mir.
Kashmir observes a holiday on the occasion of Kheer Bhawani Mela on Monday.
"The festival serves as a reminder of the communal harmony. Time is not far when both Muslims and Pandits would be living together as they had been living earlier for centuries. Their return to the Valley is the cherished goal and yearning of the government and the civil society," said Mir.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah, while felicitating Kashmiri Pandits on Zestha Ashtami, prayed for peace and development of the state and the country.
Governor NN Vohra, in his message of greetings, said, "The festival is a shining example of communal harmony and brotherhood, which are the hallmark of the glorious pluralistic ethos of Jammu and Kashmir for centuries past."
2,500 devotees from Jammu leave for mela
Jammu: Over 2,500 devotees from the city on Sunday headed to the Kashmir Valley on a pilgrimage to Khir Bhawani temple in Ganderbal.
About 50 buses rolled out from Jagti Township on the outskirts of the city towards the Valley with relief commissioner RK Pandita flagging off the pilgrimage. However, buses available were found to be short of requirement with many devotees protesting against the inadequate arrangements.
They demanded that the government make necessary provisions to ferry the pilgrims who had been forced to stay behind. Police, however, sought to differ and said that there was no dearth of buses.
"There was no shortage of buses as such. Actually what happened was that people who had not registered for the pilgrimage also queued up to board the buses. In the process some genuine devotees were left behind," the official said.