By Upender Ambardar
Festival Customs in Gurtoo Families
The rituals are traditional beliefs representing iconic symbols, which have layers of stories, legends and ancient wisdom embedded in them. They also give valuable insights into social, cultural and econmic expressions of human presence inthe bygone times. Many Kashmiri Pandit families follow a strict code of conduct supplemented with overriding faith and enormous devotion in observing Shivratri rituals. These families are recognised by the surnames of Gurtoo, Malla, Kak, Jailkhani and Naqaib’s. In addition to them, a few families belonging to the surnames of Raina, Razdan, Bhan and Tikoo’s also follow a rigid vegetarian and undiluted customs handed over to them both orally and by practice. For them any derelection in observance of the traditional rituals is not only a religous offence but also an unparadonable sinful act.
Due to the unquestionable faith reposed in the established rituals, all such families are broadly known by the name of Gurtoo’s The ritualistic purity sustained with unbroken devotion and faithful allegiance spanning over centuries of time is a characteristic and pronounced feature of them. The fierce religious discipline and amazing purity exhibited by them in guarding this indigenous strain of religious variant exemplifies their unaltered tradition. They deserve all the accolades and acclaim for having preserved their centuries old clan specific rituals and in the process also having kept their essence intact.
Driven by immense faith, the Gurtoo families desist to blur the traditional line as even a minute abberation or wrong doing in the ritual observance is believed to have fearsome outcome. The Shivratri rituals of Gurtoo clans not only strike a connectivity with the preceding times when Vaishnavite influence occupied a pivotal space in our belief system but also represent a spill over of the past in the form of their present day rituals.
Interestingly, the word ‘Gurit’ is also associated with the best quality clay in Kashmir which is known for the finest purificatory properties. Locally known as ‘Gurit Maech’, it is procured from Sampora area of Pampore tehsil of Pulwama district of Kashmir. Incidentally, it is not without reason that ‘Gurit Maech’ or clay mixed with water and cowdung is utilised for smearing the rooms, whenever the houses in Kashmir are to be spurced up for the auspicious events as it is supposed to remove all the traces of contaminations and ensure wholesome purity. Likewise , all those families, who steadfastly adhere to the purity of the rituals are commonly referred as 'Gurtoo's in Kashmir.
The Gurtoo rituals are sacred commitments, which make us feel close to the Divine, opined Smt. Chunji Gurtoo, an erstwhile native of Kharyar, Habbakadal Srinagar and now putting up at Anand Nagar, Bohri Jammu. She informed that in Gurtoo families, the intake of non-vegetarian food including 'Tamsic' one is totally given up from Phagun Krishan Paksh Dashmi and vegetariansim is stictly followed. From that day in accordance with the 'Gurtoo specific clan strictures, excepting for 'Sattvic' vegetables, fruits and milk, the purchase of cheese and bread and getting them inside the house is forbidden. Adding to it, Smt. Chuniji disclosed that in earlier times, on this days all the used earthen cooking untensils were broken and replaced by the new religious one's. The adherence to the code of purity and piousness was so obsessive in the earlier times that Gurtoo families would not spare even the clay container used for storing charcoal ash locally known as 'Soore Laejh'.
Apart from it, even the iron vessel used for holding edible oil, locally known as 'Tila Vaer' was put inthe roaring fire of the indigenous mud hearth (dhaan) to ensure the removal of all traces of impurity.
She also revealed proudly that day's ahead of the festival, painstakingly efforts and extraordinary care were undertaken to ensure scrupulous and spotless cleanliness of the house by smearing it with a mix of 'Sampur' clay, water and cowdung. The purificatory act of cleansing locally known as 'livun' was accmplished with enormous faith even in the wintry chill. Continuing in the same vein, she recalled that on 'Dyara dahum'. i.e. dashmi, the potter and in some families potteress would deliver the earthen pooja vessels, called 'VatakBane', and freshly baked cooking untensils to be used for the entire year. In line with the auspiciousness of the occasion the utensils were taken inside the house after the ritualistic waving of water filled vessel around the potter and the utensils. The ritual known by the local name of 'Aalath' is an act of supplication to the Divine. Likewise, the procurement of the flowers, grass woven spherical seating bases called 'Aarie', grass woven string embedded with flowers and Bilvai leaves, locally known as 'Vusur' were also ensured usually on the same day through a courier known by the local name of 'Push'. Interestingly, 'Pushan' is a deity in the Vedas, having the etymological root 'Push', meaning the nourisher. As per a religious belief 'Pushan is the protector of cattle and of human possessions and is said to bless the bride in marriage functions.
She also recounted that on Phagun Krishna Paksh Ekadashi, eleven saucer shaped earthenwares known by the name of 'Parvav' are seated on grass woven spherical bases 'Aarie' and their ritualistic pooja is performed usually in the morning.
The vegetarian dishes of 'haak', unpounded moong daal in combination either with nadru (lotus stem) or raddish are cooked and a small portion of them mixed with a bit of rice are put in these 'Parvas' as a mark of offering amidst religious invocations. On the next day i.e. Phagun Krishna Paksh Duvadasham, locally known as 'Vagur Bhah', an earthen vessel (nout or 'choud') according to individuals family 'reeth' filled up with water and walnuts is reverentially installed amidst pooja.
The rituals is known as 'Vagur Barun' and the most favoured dish is moong daal in combination with raddish. As per a locals belief 'Vagur' symbolises the preparatory welcome extended to the family priest of the bridegroom, who visits the bride's home as a prelude to the actual marriage function. Smt. Chuniji Gurtoo further revealed that on Shivratri a narrow mouthed earthen pitcher called 'Gagar', a symbolic representation of Lord Shiva, a wide mouthed utensil called 'doul' or a small clay pitcher known as 'Choud', symbolizing Goddess Parvati, are reverantailly docked with 'mouli', flowers, Bilva leaves and 'Vusir'. They are afterwards seated on the grass pedestals 'Aarie' in the Pooja room, locally kown as 'Vatak Kuth'. Additionally a small sized pitcher called 'Ram Goud', small earthenwares called 'Sanivarie', ling shaped 'Sonipatul' and Dhoop holder called 'Dhupazoor' are also positioned in the 'Vatak Kuth'. All the Pooja utensils are collectively known as 'Vatuk' the Pooja material as 'Vatak Samagri' and Pooja ingradients as 'Vatak Masola.'.
It was also disclosed that best culinary skills are employed to cook a lavish-spread of vegetarian dishes of 'moong daal' in combination with nadru, 'nadru yakhni', sour raddish slices, locally known as 'mujie kaela', deep fried crisp nadru slices called 'nadur churma', 'dum aalu' and sour methi on Shivratri. As per a centuries old reeth, a sort of distinctive ethnic drink having exotic taste and known by the local name of 'Madhu Panakh' is an integral part of Shivratri pooja of most of the Gurtoo families. The various ingredients especially almonds, cardamom, dates Kishmish coconut, bhang (cannabis), jujbee and sugar crystals (nabadh) are thoroughly pounded andmixed with milk to get this specialised brew. It is a symbolic hallucinogenic drink believed to bring heightened consciousness and ecstasy in the worshippers. 'Madhu Panakh' is supposed to eliminate wordly distractions and ignoable thoughts and facilitate communion with the divine. Interestingly, god of the gods, Lord Shiva is said to be fond of narcotic preparation of bhang and milk called 'Siddhi'.
It is due to this reason that one of the names of Lord Shiva is 'Sidheshvara'. On Shivratri, 'Madhu Panakh' is also offered to the earthen utensil of 'Nout' the symbolic representation of Lord Shiva.
Extending her conversation, Smt Chuniji disclosed that Gurtoo families being 'Shivkarmis' display boundless devotion and reverence for Lord Shiva. It is in total contrast with most of the non-Gurtoo Kashmiri families, who have endless adoration for 'Bhairva' the fearsome manifesation of Lord Shiva. This varying devotional allegiance has correspondingly influenced the rituals and customs performed by them on Shivratri. In some Gurtoo families, the ritual of 'Parmujan' is done on the day next to Shivratri, i.e. 'Salaam' but in the process, they ensure the clearance of the symbolic sacrificial obltation material done for the departed souls, known by the name of 'Ankan'. It is completed on Shivratri evening itself.
Strangely, in most of the Gurtoo families, the vegetarian 'reeth' or tradition is done away with on Phagun Krishna Paksh Amavasya evening with the cooking of meat preparations of yellow meat, locally called 'Kaliya' or meat mixed with turnips or in combination with goat's stomach, locally called as 'demni gogzi'. It is due to this reason that 'Amavasya in Gurtoo families is known as 'Demni Mavas'. It is in contrast to non-Gurtoo and non-vegetarian families, where 'Amavasya' is designated as 'Doon Mavas'.
A sizeable section of Gurtoo families cook meat dishes on the day next to 'Amavasya' i.e. Phagun Shukla Paksh Pratipidha as they shy away from taking meat on 'Amavasya' due to religious sentiments. Smt Chuniji Gurtoo stated that 'Amavasya' related pooja was performed on the Vitasta river bank. The ritual involved taking the 'Vatak Nout' and 'Choud' or 'dulij' in a wicker basket to the river bank, where their contents were emptied in the flowing water before performing pooja of walnut kernels, which served as 'prasadh' or 'naveed' for the devotees.
The 'Visarjan' ritual is followed by symbolic cutting of the flowing river water seven times cross-wise with a knife. Understandably, the symbolic cutting of water reiterates our vows and commitments seven times to perform Shivratri related rituals with reverence, determination and steadfast devotion as the figure seven has a sacred and holy connotation in Hindu religious tradition. The Rigveda speaks of seven underworlds of 'Patala' of the earth known by the names of Atal, Vital, Sutal, Rasatal, Talatal, Mahatal and Patal. They are said to be inhabited by Nagas, Daityas, Danavas and Yakshas etc Vitala is believed to be ruled by Hatakeshvara, a close confident of Lord Shiva, while as Vasuki, the king of Nagas or snakes is said to reign supreme in Patala. The holy scriptures also speak of seven upperworlds, which are designated as Bhuvloka (earth), Bhuvarloka (area lying between earth and sun, where Munis and Sidha's are said to reside), Swarloka (region between Sun and Polarstar, Maharloka (abode of Bhrign Rishi and other saints).
Janaloka (abode of mind-born sons) i.e. 'manas-putras' of Lord Bramhav, Taparloka and lastly Satyaloka, also known as 'Bramha Loka', where Lord Bramha is believed to reside. The digit seven also denotes seven holy and pilgrimage cities of Ayodhya, Mathura, Gaya, Banaras or Kashi, Kanchi of Canjeveram, Avanti or Ujjain and Dwarka. Seven also symbolises seven Saptrishis or Prajapatis, who are also known as 'manas-putras' or mind born sons of Lord Bramha. As per Satapatha Brahmna, they are Gotama, Bharadwaj, Vishwamitra, Jamadagn, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Atri. According to Mahabharata, they are Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulaha, Kratu, Pulastya and Vasistha, Seven also stands for seven names of Rudras, the fearsome and frightening manifestations of Lord Shiva, which are Bhava, Sarva, Ishana, Pashupati, Bhima Ugra and Mahadeva. It also represents seven sacred holy rivers of Ganga, Saraswati, Sindhu, Gomati, Gandhak, Saryu and Beas or Vipasha. The number seven is also associated with 'Saptpadhi' ceremony of going around the 'agni' seven times at the time of marriage ceremony, symbolising togetherness of the spouses for emotional strength, wealth, food, progeny, long life, prosperity and eternal association. The said number also represents the seven streams into which the river Ganga is believed to split after descending down from the matted hair of Lord Shiva. The digit seven also symbolizes seven sacred mountains, seven sacred trees of Bilvav, Peepal, Ashvatha, Banayan and Mangoo etc. and seven segments of earth called Jambu, Kura, Palaksh, Shalmali, Kranch and Pushkar.
*(The writer is a keen socio-cultural researcher)
Source: Kashmir Sentinel