It is today Herath, the most ancient, auspicious, traditional socio-religious and cultural festival of Kashmir. Herath is held generally one day ahead of Shiv-Chaturdashi of Hindu lunar month Phalgun, which falls in February or March every year.
There are twelve Shiv-Chaturdashis in a year, but the Shiv-Chaturdashi of Phalgun is considered as Maha-Shivratri. Herath, which is the indigenous festival of Kashmir valley though independedent of Maha-Shivratri is also deeply connected with the grace of Bhagwan Shiva.
In fact Herath is dedicated to the two wishful sons of Bhagwan Shiva and his consort Mata Parvati, who are called Vatuknath and Raman (Ramgaudh). They and especially Vatuk Bhairav are recognised as Bhairavs with the divine power of removal of distress (Sankat-Haaree). The reference to the Mahashirvratri festival is in the ancient scripture of Kashmir, the Neelmatapuran.
Herath as it is called in Kashmiri language is the offshoot of “Har-Ratri”, the night of Hara -the lord of lords, Shiva. Usually the festival begins from the first day of the Phulgun lunar month with the cleansing process of houses and especially of the place where the Vatuknath-Puja is ceremonised. The establishment of the Vatuk-Bhairav in the form of “Kalashas” in homes is a very significant part and the core of the whole festival.
The current puja system is based on a very specific and special way compiled and composed, on the basis of the earlier traditions, by Rishi Logaksha, one thousand years ago, and the Grah-Sutra. A modern look was given to the Logaksha-Padati by Pt. Keshav Bhat Shastri almost a century ago which was later adopted by the Kashmiri Pandit community as the final voice on the subject.
The coincidental togetherness of Herath with Mahashivratri is the beauty of the festival and adds charm and bliss to the festival both socially and spiritually. Both the nights of the Herath and the Mahashivratri are considered spiritually oriented nights and the great ‘sadhaks’ use these two nights as a means to their spiritual advancement and attainments.
In south Bharat, there was a tradition in certain areas to throw small pebbles on the roofs of the people in order to remind them to keep awake during the night of Maha-Shivratri so that they are led to do ‘sadhana’ during the blissful night.
Herath is a wonderful manifestation of understanding, co-existence, assimilation and beauty of thoughts that impact the spiritual and cultural pathways. Vaidik tradition, Advaita philosophy, Shaivism, Kashmir’s Sarvastvadin school of Buddhist philosophy, Vajrayana Bhairav-leniage and Vaishnava and Shiva Astuti have found their comfortable place in the tradition of Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits.
The nature-lovers and nature-worshippers; and spiritually oriented community of the Pandits maintained its tradition for the last thousands of years with, without and despite through the vicissitudes of history. There is a very famous story of history of Kashmir related to one of the unkind rulers of Kashmir, Jabbar Khan, who took over from his younger brother, Sardar Azim Khan, as an Afghan ruler of Kashmir in the early years of nineteenth century and the observance of Herath in Kashmir.
Pandit Anand Kaul Bamzai, the celebrated author of the famous book, The Kashmiri Pandit (released on 1st January 1924) on page 69 records, “Jabbar Khan was once told by someone that it was a common notion among the Pandits that snow falls invariably at the Shivratri night (13th of the dark fortnight of Phalgun). To test this, he ordered that the Pandits be not allowed to observe this festival in Phalgun (February-March) but in Haar (June-July).
Accordingly, it had to be observed on the corresponding night in the latter month. It so happened that even on this night flakes of snow, preceded by a heavy rainfall which had rendered the atmosphere very cold, fell. The bard then, mocking at him, sang-
Wuchhton yih Jabbar, Jandah,
Haaras tih karun wandah.
(Look at Jabbar, the wretch,
Even Haar turned into winter)”.
Consequent upon the miraculous happening, the local Muslims (who were also irritated by the unjust dictum of Jabbar) turned up for their neighbours and friends, Hindus; on the following day and congratulated them on the occasion. They additionally paid their tributes (Salam) to the deity of the festival for the wonderful thing that had happened. It is with effect from this particular event that the following day of Herath was recognised and called as ‘Salam’ in the valley and continues to be as such till date, practically.
Herath this time is being observed by the Pandits in their 32nd year of displacement due to their forced mass exodus as a result of the Pak-sponsored terrorism in the valley. They continue to practise the rituals and festivals even in their exile with more dedication, devotion, commitment and sense of duty towards their indegenous cultural tradition. This makes them more akin to the soul of Kashmir’s proud past, tormented present and the bright future.
There has been a consistent proverbial repetition by all and sundry about the Kashmiri Pandits that ‘Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits’. Time has come to translate the famous proverb and the off-repeated rhetoric into a reality as soon as possible. This can happen only when the whole community is practically resettled in the valley as per its geo-political aspirations. But the resettlement in Kashmir has the following three important preludes:
1. Establishment of a lawfully created Board mechanism to protect and preserve all Hindu temples and shrines in Kashmir;
2. Formation of Special Crimes Tribunal-Court to go into the excesses committed against the Kashmiri Pandits which the NHRC recognised as ‘acts akin to genocide’ and
3. Reserve or Nominate five seats for the minorities of the valley in the Assembly of the UT of J&K in the all important process of Delimitation along with reservation and nomination of one seat each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively for them. This will eventually empower the community politically and provide it the much awaited justice which deluded them for the last seven decades consistently.
Though there is no provision for reservation for religio-ethnic minorities or groups in the constitutional scheme of things but equally was there was no idea in the minds of the founders of the constitution that any section of the people will be forced to live as refugees in their own country.
Unbelievable and unforeseen situations lead the vibrant societies and nations to go for a new thinking. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary solutions and the necessary political will in this context can be expressed by the effective constitutional amendment as did happen in the case of abolition of Article 370/35A and the related issues.
In case the constitutional amendments are not brought to this effect, yet there is another option available with the Delimitation Commission and the government. The important thing to note is that we have both the constitutional mechanism as well as the precedence available on this account in the case of Puducherry Assembly which mutatis mutandis can be applied in case of J&K as well to nominate 5 seats for the minorities of Kashmir valley with voting rights. The same scale can be applied in respect of Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha as well.
It is the question of the national will, the intent of the State and the accommodation of the constitution of India to make believe the Pandits that they are and continue to be part and parcel of Kashmir inspite of them living as refugees in their own country. Delimitation will definitely test the intent of the State and the polity of the nation towards the indegenous people of the Kashmir valley, the Kashmiri Pandits, in the real sense and use it as the practical confidence building measure in respect of Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits.
Thus, the million dollar question on this Herath about Kashmiri Pandits remains: “Is Kashmir really incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits”..?
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