On Sunday, Kashmiri Pandits will celebrate Dussehra in the Valley after 19 years, with a little help from Muslim residents.
Most Pandits fled Jammu and Kashmir after militancy gripped the state, but on Saturday many trooped to the Mata Shiva Bhagwati shrine in Srinagar to perform a havan before Dussehra for the first time after 1988.
The Pandits were not the only devotees present. Hundreds of local Muslims — the majority of them women and children — came for the havan as well.
The Muslim families in the area also provided utensils and firewood to prepare tehar, an offering of rice that is distributed at the end of Navratri.
“We are very thankful to the local Muslims, who provided us all help to make our puja successful,” said Bansi Lal Bhat, a member of the All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee. This organisation of Kashmiri Pandits has been formed to revive and renovate temples in the valley.
“We reached here late on Friday evening. We had to spend the night with our Muslim brothers here. They treated us like family,” said Sandeep Bhat, another member of the committee.
Many devotees travelled from Jammu and also other states for the havan.
The temple has been opened under the guidance of All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee, an organisation for Kashmiri Pandits formed to revive and renovate temples in the valley.
“This is the tenth religious place to be reopened by us in the Valley,” said Vinod Pandit, chairman of the organisation. “The shrine is about 600 years old.”
“It had been a ritual here to distribute tehar at the end of Navratri. But the practice stopped after the abnormal situation here. We are happy to revive the festival,” Pandit said.
“We will gather at the Amar Singh cricket stadium where Ravana will be set ablaze,” said Sanjay Tikoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti.
The samiti also took out a shobha yatra in Srinagar last month. “The Muslim brothers encouraged us to celebrate such religious functions,” Tikoo said.