With Muslims selling earthenware lamps and Marigold flowers for obeisance, thousands of displaced Kashmiri Pandits on Friday converged on a north Kashmir temple with a renewed hope to return to their homeland one day.
Chanting hymns, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits, including many who left the Valley in 1990s, following an armed rebellion, made a beeline outside the Kheer Bhawani temple in Tulmul area, 30 km away from Srinagar.
"It is bliss to be at home and at Kheer Bhawani temple. We yearn to return to our roots one day," said Krishen Sapru, 67, who travelled all the way from Delhi to pay obeisance at the temple.
Resting under the shade of the centuries old mighty Chinar trees on the temple premises, the new Pandit generation in their late 20s is looking at the return business with a pinch of salt.
"I would love to return. My worry is if my lifestyle may mismatch with the lifestyle of Kashmir. I am also worried about my economic growth in the Valley, prone to violence," said Sakshi Kaul, a banker by profession.
While the older generation yearns to return to welcoming Kashmiri Muslim friends, the new generation is mulling over means and ways to establish them in the strife-torn Valley.
However, beyond doubt, the mela of Khir Bhawani observed annually on the holy day of Zyeshth Ashtami, saw more enthusiasm among Pandits this year about their return. Unofficial report suggests more than 40,000 Pandits visited the temple.
The reason behind the renewed hope to return to Kashmir comes from the fact that many Pandits are pinning hopes on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has the rehabilitation of the community on its top agenda.
"We are hopeful to see some genuine movement (on rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits) from Modi. However, the bigger challenge remains how Pandits can melt into the Muslim population like the old days. Setting up enclaves for Pandits may not be enough to bring them back," said Amit Raina, Delhi coordinator of the All Parties Migrant Coordination Committee.
The Prime Minister reportedly has asked the home ministry to put together its plan for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. It has been asked to provide security to Pandits once they return to the Valley.
The visiting Pandits have another reason to think over their return seriously. Separatist JKLF chairman Yasin Malik, who too visited the temple along with the Pandits, described them as "inseparable component of our land and life".
"Every Kashmiri desires and wishes early return of these brethren to their homes so that our nation gets rid of its imperfection," said Malik, who was seen clicking pictures with elderly Pandits men and women as souvenir.
Hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah too welcomed the move to pave way for return of Pandits. "We believe that Pandits should return to their original places and live like they used to live next to Muslims and not in separate colonies," said 84-year-old Geelani.
Several lakh Pandits left the Valley in 1990s following militant threats and raging violence against security forces. While some are living in camps in Jammu and Delhi, many are scattered across the length and breadth of the country.
Will work with new govt for honourable return of Pandits: Omar
Chief minister Omar Abdullah, who religiously visited Kheer Bhawani temple as head of the state in the past, on Friday expressed regret on not been able to visit this time "due to official engagements".
"Warm greetings to the members of the Kashmiri Pandit community on the occasion of the Kheer Bhavani Mela," Omar tweeted.
"I regret that the presence of and meetings with the 14th Finance Commission has meant, I haven't been able to visit Tulmul (Kheer Bhawani temple) on Friday," he said on the micro-blogging site.
"I look forward to working with the new government as they unveil their plans for the honourable return of the displaced Pandit community," Omar wrote.