By Upender Ambardar
The Shivratri rituals having socio-religious and the historical continuum provide contextual relevance to the exemplary cultural traditions of Kashmir. They are evident expressions of Kashmir's own version of unbroken religious customs, observed Sh. Roop Krishan Dhar, an erstwhile resident of the village Thajvara, district Anantnag and now putting-up at ORT Complex Purkhoo Jammu. Sharing the festival related memories, he disclosed that all the three erstwhile Pandit families of the village followed vegetarian tradition. The distinctive cuisines comprised yellow cheese, dumalu, muja kaela, crisp fried potato and nadru chruma cauliflower and the prized hakh as meat was a taboo on Shivratri. He also revealed that potter from the adjoining village of Wagam would bring the Vatak utensils at the auspicious timing about two to three days prior to the festival. They were initially stocked in the uppermost storey of the house 'Kaeni' before their final entry in the Vatak Kuth on the Shivratri day. As per the family ‘reeth’, rice and cooked vegetables were the permitted offerings to the designated ‘Resh Doul’. The notable mission was the absence of milk offering. In sharp contrast to the usual practice, the ‘Doon Mavus’ pooja was performed in the morning and not in the evening and that too in the ‘Vatak Kuth’ and not at the river or stream bank. The uniquely myriad hues of the Shivratri rituals are embodiments of an ancient tradition, which fortify our familial and social structure, affirmed Sh. Pran Nath Koul, an erstwhile native of Bijbehara, district Anantnag and presently residing at Buta Nagar Janipur Jammu. The haunting and memorable recollections of the festival are like a sweet memory for him. Overtaken by a sudden rush of nostalgia, Sh. Koul stated that as a run-up to the festival, the whole house was readied for the momentous occasion by clay smearing called 'livun'. The clay utilised for the said purpose was procured from the local Jaya Devi Wudar or plateu. It was specially collected in autumn and then sun dried for subsequenct Shivratri use. The potter from the nearby village of Waghama would bring the Vatak untensil comprising two big sized pitchers 'Nout', one smaller pitcher 'Choud', five wide mouthed utensils called 'Doulji, five earthen lamps, clay saucers called 'Toke', dupjoor and about three to four cooking utensils, locally known as 'laej'.
Out of the two, one of the 'Nout' was utilised for storing drinking water on the festival day and the other earthen utensils 'laej' were subsequently used for cooking purpose for the ensuing year as all the previously used cooking utensils were discarded and replaced by fresh one's on Shivratri.
The Vatak utensils were taken to the Vitasta ghat to get them filled-up with water by the ladies of the house. However utmost care was taken to protect them from the onlooker's gaze by covering the pooja untensils with the corner portions of the worn sari's.
Elaborating further Sh. Koul also revealed that as per his family reeth, it was customary to utilise only the water procured from the Vitasta river during pooja. Another curious custom entailed that grass 'Aarie' and 'Vusier' had to be made from the dry grass bundle, which had been washed thoroughly in the flowing water of the Vistata river. The left over untilised grass had to be fed to the cows in order not to dilute the piousness of the grass, which was utilised for the pooja purpose. The potter who had brought the pooja utensils was given rice, fresh vegetables, sugar, loose tea and fire wood in addition to cash.
As per the family, reeth, the tempting meat dishes of 'roganjosh, kaeliya, minced meat preparation of 'maech', sour sheep liver cuisine of chouk charvan, palakh, hakh and 'mujkaela' were the sacrificial offerings to the designated untensils of 'Bhairav Doul'. Additionally, a mixture of seven uncooked pulses comprising rajmash, moong, corn, masoor, maha, black and white channa, known by the local name of 'Sut Soaj' was a special offering to the 'Resh Doul'. It is in complete variance with the reeth prevalent in most of the families where only milk is the lone offering. A portion of 'Sut soaj' was specially kept in the Shali storage room, locally known as 'Dhan Kuich'. It was in accordance with family belief that observance of this reeth would ensure bounteous produce of the grains and pulses during the ensuing year. The family specific reeth also ordained that apart from sugar candy 'kund', kishmish, cardimum, almond kernals and sugar crystal locally known as 'nabud', were also offered to both the 'Nout' and the 'choud'. Sh Koul also revealed that in addition to the electric light, an oil lit earthen diya was ensured to remain burning throughout the night of Shivratri in the Vatak Kuth. On 'Salam', the family priest would invariably come to apply tilak and tie 'mouli' (naerven) on the wrists of all the family members. In contrast to the most common reeth, the 'Doon Mavus' pooja was performed at home and not at the river bank.
On Tila Ashtami, eight oil lit earthen lamps were placed in the Thoker Kuth, cow-shed, Shali storage room, charcoal ash heap, yarbal ghat and outer door of the courtyard. No Jattu Toun was performed.
The traditionally revered heritage customs of Shivratri are our treasured possession. They not only facilitate our spiritual progress but also assist to sustain our inner strength, observed Sh. Pushkar Nath Koul of the village Uttersu, district Anantnag and now a resident of Bantalab, Jammu. Refreshing the festival related memories, he disclosed that Phagun Krishan Paksh Pratipadha, locally known as 'Hur Oakdoh' would signal the cleaning process in the form of smearing the whole house with a mixture of water and clay. The special clay having unrivaled purifactory qualities was procured from the adjacent Gadibal forest. The house cleanliness process would continue upto Phagun Krishna Paksh Suptami, locally know as 'Hur Satum'.
However, as per an unusual family custom, the smear aiding fabric, locally known as 'livun hur' was permitted to be taken out of the house only on Phagun Krishna Paksh Ashtami i.e 'Hur Aethum'. Strangly enough, the said 'livun hur' had to be consigned to the flowing waters of the village rivulet as it was regarded as a sinful act if it was thrown at an unclean and soiled place. The ritualistic dishes on 'Hur Aethum' were meat, fish and a small fish variety of 'gurun'. The following day of 'Hur Navum' was a rest day . On Phagun Krishna Paksh Dashmi, locally known as 'Dyara Dahum', the daughters-in-law would invariably return back to their homes from their parental houses. As per a belief, their home coming was symbolic of the arrival of Goddess Laxmi'. Sh Koul also disclosed that on the next day locally known as 'Vagur Kah', a small sized earthen utensil, locally known as 'Vaer' was reverentially seated on the back space of the mud-hearth, locally known as 'Dhaan'. It was believed to usher-in good fortune, property and wellbeing. Three to five walnuts were put inside the said 'Vagur' after they had been filled up with water. Only vegetarian dishes were permitted to be cooked on the said day. On the morning of Shivratri', head of the family or the eldest son would ensure the preparation of 'Aarie' and 'Vusur', precaution being taken that grass shreds were twind leftway. Interestingly, the grass rope is made by right side interlacing of the grass strands. The 'Vatuk' comprised nout, choud, doul, resh vaer, sonipatul and three small sized 'varie'. The three 'varie' were supposed to symbolize the accompanying divine wedding guests.
An array of vegetarian dishes of 'dumalu', nadir yakhni, hakh, vapal hak, mujae kaela and yellow cheese were the characteristic cuisines cooked as per the family reeth. Interestingly enough, the number of walnuts put-in the 'Nout' were in accordance with the family strength and it was ensured that no family member got unrepresented. As per the family reeth, an elder family member was required to sleep in the Vatak Kuth during the Shirvatri night. The continuous and interrupted burning of the oil lit earthen lamps was also ensured in the 'Vatak Kuth', which was in addition to the electric light. The vatak untensils were filled-up at Shankar Nag of the village. As per the family reeth, the male member of the family was required to carry the 'Nout', whileas 'choud' had to be taken care of only by a female family member. The vegetarian dishes were cooked upto Salam.
The Vatak Parmujan was performed on the Shankar Nag, which was accomplished in midst of blowing of conch shell and ringing of the hand-bell locally known as 'ghanta'. The house inmates would return back to the home to loud accompaniment of the said music. It was indicative of rejoicing on the satisfactory accompli-shment of the divine wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. During the 'knock at the door'; ritual of 'dubh dubh', an elderly lady would remain inside the closed door and symbolically wish and grant all the good things of life to the house inmates. On Tila Ashtami evening, seven oil lit earthen lamps having a sprinkle of black sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) were at the first instant covered under a willow basket, locally known as 'Kranjul' for about one hour. Afterwards, each one of them was placed at cowshed, rice storage room, charcoal ash and cowdung heaps, the courtyard wall, the stream bank and emerging spot of the village stream.
The Shivratri rituals are an amazing amalgam of faith, beliefs and abundant devotion, which have helped us to manoeuvre in troubled times, recounted Sh. Avtar Krishan Razdan, an original resident of the village Brah, district Anantnag and presently putting up at ORT complex Purkhoo Jammu.
Sharing the blissful memories, he disclosed that on 'Vagur Bah', a small brass pitcher locally called 'gudva' was reverentially seated in the kitchen instead of the 'Vatak-Kuth' usually after the sun-set. Amidst pooja, three walnuts, water cooked rice, hak and fried nadru slices were ritualistically put-in them. As per the family reeth, the Vatuk comprised Nout, choud, one specially designed pitcher locally known as 'Gangiz' , one sanipatual, dhoopjoor, one 'Doul' and is small sized 'Doulji'. A mixture of rice, maize, barley, black and white sesame seeds, moong and mash were ritualistically put inside the 'Doul' amidst the Vatak Pooja. The said offering was locally known as dry 'Sut Soaj'. As per the family reeth, instead of the usual milk offering, sour reddish locally known as ''mujae kaela' was specific offering to 'Resh Pyala', symbolically represented by 'Gangiz'.
Interestingly, 'Resh Pyala' substituted 'Resh Doul' as per the family custom. The 'Nout' and 'Choud' untensils were decorated with native wild flowers of 'Takibatin, Verkim and dry marigold in addition to 'Babri' twigs. Only female members would fill-up the Vatak untensils with water at the village spring as participation of male members was disallowed. A lavish spread of vegetarian dishes comprised 'dal-nadru', mujae kaela, hakh and nadir churma.
The Vatak Parmujan on Amavasya was done at the village spring Nagbal. All the Pandit families would collectively participate in the pooja to the accompaniment of blowing of conch, ringing of hand-bell and burning of fire crackers. During the 'Thuk Thuk' ritual, it was obligatory to pronounce Lord Shiva as a witness before the main door was opened and house-inmates were allowed inside.
On Tila Ashtami, a red coloured turnip was placed on a grass woven 'Aarie' and seven earthen lamps having a sprinkle of black til seeds were oil lit. They were subsequently placed at Nagbal, cowshed, livestock room, charcoal and cowdung heaps, and courtyard wall. However no lamp was permitted to be taken inside the house as it was regarded inauspicious. It was also revealed that one previously used oil lamp was also placed at the village rivulet bank.
Source: Kashmir Sentinel