Scores of Kashmiri Pandits on Monday kept their tryst with the deity at the north Kashmir Khir Bhawani Temple, arriving in large numbers from different parts of the country to pay obeisance. Keeping up the tradition that goes back centuries, dozens of local Muslims greeted their Pandit brethren as they arrived at the Khir Bhawani Temple.
Using different modes of transport, Kashmiri Pandits started arriving at the Khir Bhawani Temple in Ganderbal district since Sunday to attend the annual Mela at the seat of the Hindu deity, Mata Ragnya, believed to be the queen of the universe. This holiest place of worship for local Pandits derives its name, Khir Bhawani, from the traditional 'Kheer' (rice pudding) offered by devotees at the temple.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah visited the shrine early Monday to take stock of arrangements made for the devotees. He shook hands with some of the devotees, even as a small group hooted at him, indicating what they considered were inadequate arrangements for devotees. The state government has declared a Valley-wide holiday Monday in connection with the Khir Vhawani Mela. Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the Pro-Azadi Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) also went to Khirbhawani Temple to meet devotees. Malik told IANS that he was received warmly by groups of Pandits who asked him to facilitate their return to the Valley. Others who visited the shrine included union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior officials of the district and provincial administration.
Despite their migration from the Valley in the early 1990s because of the violence against the community, Kashmiri Pandits have, each year, been thronging the Khir Bhawani Temple, 22 km from Srinagar, to re-assert their Kashmiri roots and their identity as Shaivite (worshippers of Lord Shiva) Brahmins. The natural spring inside the temple complex is believed to change its colours, signifying the overall situation in the Valley.
"We want to come back to the land of our ancestors, but despite tall claims, the government has so far done precious little to make our return possible," said Dwarika Nath Pandit, 55, who has been living in winter capital of Jammu after his migration from south Kashmir Pulwama district. Younger generations of Pandits brought up outside the Valley after the migration of their families, however, feel differently. "We have lost our properties to violence. Our families are living as refugees in our own country after migration," said Sunil Kumar Raina, 22, who arrived at the temple with his parents, seeing no hope of returning.
Greeted by protest, Omar happy to see KPs in Valley
Kashmiri Pandits living in the migrant camp in Jammu on Monday staged a protest against chief minister Omar Abdullah. The migrant Pandits held demonstration near Khir Bhawani temple at Ganderbal.
They alleged that government was being indifferent to them. The protestors also alleged that NC-led government was not interested in rehabilitating them since when they chose not to leave the state during the beginning of insurgency in early 1990s. According to eyewitnesses, the chief minister made a quit exit from the place following these demonstrations.
However writing on the micro blogging site twitter, the chief minister dismissed the protests as work of some `fringe elements'. "Had an excellent visit to Kheer Bhavani this morning, a small rowdy fringe elements not withstanding," he wrote.
The chief minister further wrote: "Biggest satisfaction was seeing large numbers of pilgrims coming in their own cars and taxis where earlier there convoys were given armed escorts. Met and interacted with a large number of pilgrims visiting Kheer Bhavani. Was fortunate to make an offering as well''.
Former Member Legislative Council and National Conference leader Bhushan Lal Bhat said the protest was a handiwork of a people belonging to a particular `political party' and hailed the administration for making elaborate arrangements for the occasion.