Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits will on Sunday celebrate Kheer Bhawani, the biggest Hindu festival in Jammu and Kashmir after the Amarnath Yatra, that will fall in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan after three decades.
Amid a debate over their return to Kashmir, Pandits from across the state and outside will converge at the temple of Kheer Bhawani representing Hindu goddess Ragnya Devi in Tulmulla village of Ganderbal, 27 km from Srinagar.
Muslims began fasting for the holy month of Ramadan from Tuesday.
The Kheer Bhawani festival falls in the month of May, June or July and the Muslim month of Ramadan shifts 11 days each year, as the cycle of the lunar calendar does not match the solar one.
The last time when the two religious symbols of Muslims and Pandits coincided was in the early 1980s. A majority of Kashmiri Pandits left the valley after militancy erupted in the valley in 1989. Their return has now become a matter of public debate between different stakeholders.
Vijay Aima, president of All India Kashmiri Samaj, expressed hope that the coincidence will bring something better for the people of Kashmir particularly after the “politics” over the return of Pandits.
“Every Kashmiri believes in these divine coincidences. We look forward to something concrete in these auspicious days,” he said.
Sanjay Tickoo, the head of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti in the valley, said the coincidence is a ‘good omen’ for the people of Kashmir who have suffered the conflict for the past 25 years.
“The day is pious for us and the Ramadan is holy for you. We will read Geeta and you will read Quran. Maybe God will listen to us this time,” he said.
As a majority of the Pandits migrated from the valley, local Muslims took care of the temple of Kheer Bhawani. Since 2008, the temple has seen a revival with thousands of devotees, especially migrant Pandits, thronging it every year as the conditions in the valley improved.
The annual festival has become a rare platform where Pandits and Muslims exchange their feelings, a religious geniality which became elusive in the strife-torn state. Muslims make arrangements like installing flower stalls and other puja items for the visiting pilgrims.
“We have a tradition of Hindu-Muslim bonhomie on these festivals. Earlier, when Pandits would visit Kheer Bhawani, Muslim elderly women would request us to pray for them as well. Similarly, a Muslim neighbour would come to a Pandit to say goodbye before going to Hajj,” Tickoo said.