By Upender Ambardar
The divergent and varied Shivratri rituals are priceless and richest legacies of Kashmiri Pandits, which speak volumes about the antiquity of our culture. They are the core not only of our socio-cultural heritage but also of our religious tradition as they deepen the connection between individuals and the Divine, opined Sh. Arjan Dev Majboor, the noted Kashmiri poet, writer and researcher, an erstwhile resident of Zainapora, district Shopian and presently putting up at Udaiwalla, Bohri Jammu.
Refreshing the festival related old memories, Majboor Sahib divulged with obvious pride that all the Shivratri rituals were performed with unbridling faith and reverence even during the bone chilling cold winter.
Speaking on a nostalgic note, he disclosed that day's ahead of the festival, a flurry of house cleansing activity was visible, which was a motif for the house being ready for the festival. He recalled that on Phagun Krishna Paksh Ekadeshi or Duadashi, the village potter would bring the pooja untensils, collectively known as 'Vatuk' usually in the morning. The 'Vatuk' was usually brought in the 'carry back' willow basket, locally called 'yaet'.
The 'Vatuk' comprised of two long necked big sized earthen pots, locally called 'Nout', one small sized pot called 'lokut nout', a wide mouthed large vessel called 'Doul', a small pot designated as 'Resh Pyala', one 'Sanipotul' (a clay representation of Lord Shiva), two or three clay saucers, called 'Touk', a dhoop-holder called 'Doupzoor', two small earthenwares, known as 'Sahniewari' and lastly nine wide mouthed small sized vessels called 'Vaer'. Out of the two big sized earthen pots or 'Nout', one was symbolic representation of Lord Shiva, whileas the second one was used for storing drinking water for the while year as a mark of good omen and auspiciousness. The small sized pot 'Lokut Nout' was a representation of the Goddess Parvati during the pooja.
The potter and the 'pooja utensils' were welcomed in the house by a ritualistic waving around of a water filled vessel usually by an elderly lady. The ritual is locally known as 'Aalath Kadin'. In addition to cash, the potter was paid in kind in the form of unhusked rice, seasonal vegetables, loose tea and sugar. On the morning of 'Haerath', the head of the family would prepare dry grass woven long strips, in which were embedded dry merigold flowers and 'Baelpatter leaves. They are locally known as 'Vucer'.
However, as per his family reeth, utmost care was taken to rub the dry grass from left to right direction during the making of 'Vucer'. Elaborating further, Sh. Arjan Dev Majboor recapped that an uncooked small fish, called 'gurun' was a traditional offering to the designated 'Bhairav Doul'. Additionally the combined dish of raddish and nadru and small sized rice flour rotis called 'Chochivar' also formed a part of ritualistic offering to the designated vessels of 'Doul' and 'Resh Pyala' respectively. As per the family custom, each family member would also offer one sugar candy known as 'Kund' to the big sized clay pot 'Nout', symbolizing Lord Shiva. Pooja was also offered to two small clay vessels called 'Sanie Wari' in which as per family reeth cooked rice was put inside. It is in stark contrest to reeth in some families where only walnuts are placed inside them. Gugul, locally called Kanthgun, black seasame seeds (Tael) and dhoop put collectively in a clay soucer called 'Touk' is ignited during pooja as it's aroma and fragrance is supposed to ward off the evil and damaging influences. Sh. Arjan Dev Majboor also recollected that different figurative images were carved out of kneaded rice flour on Shivratri. They were locally known as 'Butt, Battin' (probably male and female Kashmiri Pandits), Kral-Kraej' (Potter and Pottress), 'Kaeith-Katin' (Ram and Ewe i.e. male and female sheep), Hangul (Kashmiri stag) and 'Hound' (lamb). They were backed dry on the frying pan and as per the family reeth were ritualistically offered to the 'Bhairav Doul'. The said ritual probably actualized an era when Viashnavite faith was once predominant in Kashmir. Additionally, small sized rice flour rotis fried in oil, known as 'Dren' are taken as 'Naveed' after the Shivtratri pooja is over. Interestingly in some families, 'Dren' is a ritualistic offering to the 'Bhairav Doul'. Continuing his conversation, Majboor Sahib further revealed that on the day following Shivratri i.e. 'Salam', the potter, ironsmith, milkman, sweeper, washerman carpenter, mason and Sarangi player would come to offer festival salutations. In addition to cash, they were given rice from the rice filled willow container, locally called 'Phout', which was specially set aside for the said purpose. Sh. Arjan Dev Majboor went nostalgic while recalling that on 'Salam', as per the family reeth, the family priest would invariably come early in the morning exclusively to apply Chandan Tilak to the family members. As per a family belief, it would signify heightened auspiciousness to the whole family for the entire year.
He also divulged that reverential installation of nine small sized vessels, locally called 'Vaer' in the 'Vatak Kuth' (Pooja-room) on the day prior to Shviratri called 'Vagir Bah' is an unusual and rare reeth of his clan. The nine clay vessels symbolically represent the nine attributes of the Goddess Parvati, the celestial spouse of Lord Shiva. They are Maha-Devi (the great Goddess), Haimawati (signifying Her parentage), Gauri (yellow and brilliant complexion) Jagat Mata (Mother of the Univers), Uma (A beauty feature), Girja (Mountain-born), Vindhya Vasini (the dweller in the Vindhyas), Bhavani and lastly Jagat Gauri. Alternately, the nine clay vessels are also symbolic representation of the Goddess Parvati in Her terrible and fearsome form of Durga known by the names of Chhin-mastaka Dush Bhuja, Sinha-Vahini, Rakta-Vija, Mahisha Mardani, Jagat Dhatri, Kali or Shama, Chandi or Chandika, and Tara. The nine earthen vessels also represent the nine names of Goddess Parvati, known as Dakshya (offspring of Daksha), Girija, Kuja (earth-born), Ambika (the mother), Sati (the virtuous one), Riddhi (the splendid one). Sarva Mangla (Always auspicious), Shiva-duti (Lord Shiva's messenger) and Shakam-Bari (the nourisher of medicinal plants). They are also symbolic representations of Goddess Durga, the fearsome manifestation of Goddess Parvati, known by the names of Shailputri, Brahmacharni, Chandraganta, Kushmanda, Skandmata, Kantayani, Kaalratri, Mahagouri and Sidhdatri. Majboor Sahib also recounted that the ritualistic immersion pooja was done on 'Ambavasya' on the bank of village rivulet called Tongri. It is a mutilated pronunciation of the original name of 'Outunggira Kulya', meaning a rivulet having a descent from a high mountain. Lastly on Phagun Krishan Paksh Ashtami, the family reeth ordained that instead of earthen 'diyas', oil lit walnut shells were used for the said purpose. They were placed on the courtyard wall of the house, cowdung heap, kitchen garden, Charcoalash heap and Tongri rivulet bank. However, no Jattu-tu i.e. spinning around of burned Kangri's was done.
The Shivratri rituals of the community are soaked in indigenous earthiness and need to be celebrated with unrelenting faith and reverence, opined Sh. Ashok Bhan, alias Sh. Kundan Bhan, an original resident of Batpora Shopian and presently putting-up at Krishnangar Jammu.
Reminiscing about the festival of earlier times, Sh Bhan recalled that during Shivratri pooja, sheep's hungs with the attached heart was a traditional offering to the designated earthen untensil of 'Bhairav Doul'. He also informed that as per his family custom uncooked raw meat was also a permitted, substitute offering. The 'Doon-Mavas' pooja was performed on the bank of the village Raembara stream.
The 'knock at the door or dhub-dhub ritual' was also an integral part of the 'Parmoojan' ceremony of his family, in which all kinds of luxury, material gains and well-being of the household and the live-stock was desired and symbollically granted for the current year.
On 'Tila Ashtami', oil lit earthen lamps were placed on the cowdung heap, Charcoal ash container, Raembara stream bank, the village foot bridge and main verandah of the house, locally known as 'Brandh'. However, as per his family 'reeth', it was not permissible to keep the oil lit lamp inside the house or even on the courtyard wall of the house. The 'Jatoon-tu' ritual was also a part of 'Tila Ashtami custom.
The Shivratri rituals packed with intrinsic messages are an interaction of ancient wisdom, belief sytem, faith and unbridled reverence, observed Sh. Niranjan Nath Bhat, a native of the village Hanjan district Kulgam and presently putting-up at Muthi, Jammu. According to him all the four Pandit families of his village would offer uncooked meat to the 'Bhairav Doul' during Shivratri pooja.
As per their family tradition, it was customary to ensure continuous burning of the oil lit earthen lamps in the 'Vatak Kuth' right from Shivratri to Amavasya throughout day and night. The 'Vatak Parmoojan' and walnut pooja was collectively done by the Pandit families on the village stream and during the immersion ritual, stream water was cut cross-wise only three times with a knife. The knock at the door 'Thuk-Thuk' ritual was an integral part of the said ceremony. The Shivratri rituals are a visual expression of our exemplary social-cultural spectrum, said Sh. Surinder Koul, an original resident of the village Nunar, district Ganderbal and now residing at Chinore, Jammu. Reminiscing about the festival of yesteryears, Sh. Koul informed that most of the Pandit families of the village would offer meat delicacies to the 'Bhairav-Doul'. He also recounted that ritualistic immersion and subsequent walnut pooja was usually done collectively on the bank of the village stream called Guhkol.
Reminiscing further, Sh. Surinder Koul recalled that during 'Thuk Thuk' ritual male member remains inside the main door, while as the ladies are outside the door during the ritualistic conversation before the opening of the door. Surprisingly, all the good things of life in the form of health, wealth, children and good produce are wished and symbolically granted by the male member of the family instead of the female which is in charp contrast to the reath prevalent in most of the families. Articulating further it was also revealed that on 'Teil Ashtami', oil lit clay diyas are placed at the stair case of the house, yarbal ghat, adjacent paddy field, cow-shed and cowduung heap. An unusual and exceptional 'Vatak Parmoojan' ritual is that ladies of his family conclude the pooja with a sort of specified dance by moving around rhythmically with their feet immersed in the stream water with hands drawn upwards. It is an act of supplication and expression of cheerfulness on the satisfactory conclusion of the major portion of the festival.
Kashmiri Shivratri rituals are indigenous one's having medieval imprints which make us acquainted with the history and roots, observed Sh. Manohar Lal Zutshi of Ganderbal. Recapturing the fragrance of the festival, he shared that apart from sumptuous meat dishes, an array of seasonal vegetarian dishes are also a ritualistic offering to the 'Bhairav-Doul'. Sh. Zutshi also disclosed that after the immersion ritual on Amavasya, the earthen pitcher 'Nout' having a little water collected from the village stream is reverently placed on the mud hearth, locally known as 'Daan' as a mark of auspiciousness. It was also revealed that during the said ritual, stream water is cut in straight lines five times with a knife. Afterwards, the said earthen 'Nout' is kept underneath a willow basket, locally known as 'Phout' for sometime. As per his family reeth, distribution of walnuts as 'Naveed' is permissible only after one or five rupee coin has been put inside the 'Nout'.
The Shivratri rituals need to be preserved to ensure prosperity to remain acquainted with the socio-cultural heritage and native roots, affirmed Sh. Som Nath Pandita, a resident of the village Sheeri, Tehsil Sopore, district Baramulla. He disclosed that in consonance with his family ritual, only the earthen pitcher 'Nout' and two small earthenwares locally called 'Saniewari' are retained in the 'Vatak Kuth' after the Shivratri pooja. He also informed that as per his family ritual, the dust and dirt gathered during the sweeping of the rooms is not permitted to be thrown away outside the house upto Phagun Krishan Paksh Ashtami, locally known as 'Teil Aathum'. However, as per a family belief the deposition of dirt and dust in the orchards, paddy fields and kitchen garden is believed to boost their respective yields.
It is our shared responsibility to have obsessive adherence and reverence for our Shivratri rituals and in no case should modernity be allowed to push them into irrelevance and oblivion, asserted Sh. R.L. Dhar, an original resident of Nawakadal/Bana Mohalla Razdan Kocha, Srinagar and presently putting-up at Gole Gujral Jammu. He disclosed that despite himself being a vegetarian, he continues to offer meat preparations as per his family reeth to the 'Bhairav Doul' during Shivratri pooja. Additionally as per family custom, walnut kernel pieces are embedded in the square marked potions of rice flour rotis. They are subsequently deep fried in oil or ghee and offered to 'Bhairav Doul' amidst religious invocations at the time of Shivratri pooja. The said preparation is locally known be the name of 'Dren'. The ritual not only generate divine feelings but also give a sense of ethereal sensation of being one with God, stated Sh. Bansi Lal Chaloo, an erstwhile resident of Kawdara, Alikadal Srinagar and now putting-up at Jawahir Nagar, Talab Tiloo, Jammu. In addition to a repertoire of dishes, his family also makes an offering of 'Dren' to the 'Bhairav-Doul' but with a minor difference that 'Dren' are prepared without adding walnut kernels to the rice flour rotis. Both the cited families do not observe the ritual of 'Thuk Thuk'.
*(The writer is a keen socio-cultural researcher)
Source: Kashmir Sentinel