For Kashmiri Pandits, Tulmul is not just a village in Ganderbal district, it is a cradle of faith that has been there for over 5,000 years. Tulmul is a purpose helping the community to connect with its roots that were disentangled by terrorism in 1990s.
Mention the name Tulmul before any Kashmiri, a feeling of reverence gets manifested because it is the abode of Mata Ragnya Bhagwati, locally known as Khir Bhawani.
The ancient temple has stood the test of time and even witnessed terror onslaught.
No one knows the exact date of its origin, but finds its mention in Rajatarangini, Nilamat Paurana and all other old scriptures.
It does not have a big majestic building, nor has it a vast structure. On the contrary it is a small canopied structure, open from all sides with idols inside, lying in the middle of a natural heptagonal spring.
It is this spring that manifests the mystique of the Mata Khir Bhawani temple. The water changes its hue from time to time, sometimes it is pink or light bluish or crystal colour or slight light greenish. It is said that during the Kabali (Pakistani tribes) raid in 1947, it had turned total black and during the early 1990s too, the colour was not pleasing. Why the colour changes, the devotees have their own explanations.
The temple has no high walls but majestic Chinars surround the place like guards securing a fort where the Mother sits and meditates. The Chinars are also age-old and generations of Kashmiri Pandits have sat under the shade to meditate, worship, sing bhajans or just pray together.
As per the Kashmiri Pandits, for hundreds of years, generation after generation, every year Tulmul sees a big congregation on the occasion of Zysetha Ashtami. Special prayers are held on the day and Khir, a sweet rice pudding, is offered to the Goddess. The day is known as Khir Bhawani Mela.
For the past two years, the yearly Mela could not be held because of the Covid protocol, but this year the temple gates have been opened for the devotees.
Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits are trooping in the holy place to have ‘darshan’ and make the special offering to the Goddess.
Thirty years ago, when terrorism had not hit the valley, the Zysetha Asthami was a big celebration in the whole valley. The Muslims too joined the community and many would visit the temple.
Much of this has changed over the decades. The KP community, scattered all over the globe after the exodus in 1990 still is trying to remain connected to its roots. And Zysetha Ashtami is one such occasion when the community goes back to Mother Goddess to pray for peace and return.
Today, again the community is finding itself in dire straits after being targetted by Pakistan-backed terrorists. For the past few years, several members of the community have taken up jobs in the valley and moved in with their families. This has given rise to the hopes that things are improving for them in the valley and the majority community is again giving them the much needed space. But the targeted killings have again led to fear and many of the employees have been agitating for transfers to safer places.
In the renewed atmosphere of fear, once again comes the Kher Bhawani Mela and despite threats, hundreds of devotees are gathering at the temple.
“Maej Devi Daya Kar (Mother, please shower kindness’) Bhajans reverberate the place and the bells ring for once as the Kashmiri Pandits pray with zest. Thousands of diyas (earthen lamps) are lit around the temple and the spring is carpeted with flowers and milk offerings. After the puja, the worshipper savours the special ‘licch roti’ (made of Maida-refined wheat flour) and ‘kahwa’ (local tea).
For once in a year, this place comes alive with worshippers and the visitors. For the displaced Kashmiri Pandits the day is full of emotion and contemplation. Living far away from Mother Goddess, not being able to visit Tulmul often and remembering the good old days when going to Tulmul was not a costly affair, but only a local travel, the Pandits have a lot to feel sad about.
As eyes go moist, the hearts are full of devotion. “The Mother knows best,” that is how a Kashmiri Pandit devotee describes his feelings.
Tulmul may be far away for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits now, but the yearning has not ebbed and is being passed on to the newer generations.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)