Kashmiri Pandits started arriving at the Kheer Bhawani temple in Tullamulla town on Monday in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ganderbal district to attend the annual festival.
Officials said 85 buses carrying the pilgrims arrived late on Sunday at the temple to spend the night in prayer and penance.
Right from morning, devotees in buses, taxis, private cars and even two-wheelers reached the temple dedicated to the Goddess Kheer Bhawani constructed over a sacred spring.
“The 25-km long route from Srinagar city to Tullamulla has been secured by the police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) contingents.
“Facilities like safe drinking water, healthcare, sanitation have been provided at the temple complex,” an official said.
Tullamulla locals said comparatively lesser number of pilgrims have reached the temple so far this year.
“We had a larger number of Pandit devotees at the temple last year than this year so far. We are expecting more arrivals today,” said Assadullah Bhat, 52, a resident of Tullamulla town.
Rajinder Jatta, 65, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit has come from Faridabad. He spent the night at the Kheer Bhawani temple.
Talking to IANS, Jatta said: “We lived in Jawahar Nagar area of Srinagar city before migrating to Faridabad in 1989. I worked for the Archaeological Survey of India.
“Besides, our family had a shop called ‘Jatta and Company’ in Budshah Chowk. Our family traded in silk garments.”
He said he has prayed for peace and development in Kashmir.
“We must be able to return to our native places where we can live alongside our Muslim neighbours without any government security. I have prayed for the return of those glorious days when Muslim friends ate in my home and I dined at theirs,” Jatta added.
Another migrant Pandit, Ravinder Bhat, 60, said he lived in the old city Sathu Barbarshah locality before migration.
“Our children living outside and the children of our Muslim friends and neighbours living in the Valley cannot imagine the traditional brotherhood Pandits and Muslims had in Kashmir.
“Unless this distance between the younger generations of Kashmiri Pandits and local Muslims is bridged, Kashmir can never be the same again,” Bhat said.
Housing the shrine of Mata Ragnya, the Kheer Bhawani temple in Tullamulla village in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district is the holiest religious destination for Kashmiri Pandits.
True to the centuries-old tradition of brotherhood, local Muslims living near the temple offer milk in small earthen pots to the devotees coming to pray at the shrine each year.
Interestingly, the Muslims living around the temple don’t eat or cook mutton on the festival day. This is done in deference to the practice of Kashmiri Pandits who do not enter the temple complex if they have had a non-vegetarian meal before visiting the shrine.
Kashmiri Pandits believe that the colour of the holy spring at the temple foretells the events of the next 12 months.
“The colour of the spring water on the festival day foretells the events that will unfold in the next 12 months till the next festival.
“Black colour of the spring water foretells violence and suffering while milky or light green colour is the harbinger of peace and prosperity,” said Ashok Kumar Koul, 60, who comes each year to perform the pilgrimage.
Koul lives in Jammu ever since the Kashmiri Pandits migrated from the Valley in 1990.