By Upender Ambardar
Undeniably the festival of Maha Shivratri has a local essence, indigenous character, ethnic attribute and native flavour. It has acquired diverse hues and colours in the form of various symbolical and allegorical strains over the years. The symbolic dimensions of our rituals and customs have given a near heritage status to our socio-cultural history. The various rituals which run through our social fabric give a continuity to our exemplary culture, opined Sh. A.N. Koul, an original inhabitant of Narpirastan, Fatehkadal Srinagar and now a resident of Vijay Nagar, Talab Tillo Jammu. Reminiscing about the festival of old times, Sh Koul revealed that ritualistic dish of 'rajmah' cooked with turnips was a must on 'hur oakdoh', while as the mixed dish of meat and nadru (lotus stem), fish cooked with reddish and indigenous vegetable of 'hakh saag' were the mouth watering culinary delights, which were offered to the 'Bhairav Doul'.
Elaborating further, he recounted that in addition to ensuring of continuous burning of oil lit earthen lamp (choang) through out the festival night in the 'vatak-kuth', an elderly male member of the family would also sleep there on the Shivratri night to ensure symbolic family hospitality to the 'divine baraatis' . Sh A.N.Koul also added that on the occasion of 'Vatak Parmuzan' done on 'Doon Mavas' i.e. Phaghun Krishna Paksh Amavasya, the cutting of river water seven times with a knife while performing the pooja on Vitasta (Jehlum) river bank ghat was an integral part of 'Doon Mavas' pooja. He has not abandoned this ritual even at Jammu as it's continuity is ensured by symbolic cutting of the tap water flow seven times with a knife during the 'Doon Mavas' pooja now performed at home instead of the river bank. The time honoured Shivratri rituals carry the resonance of the mystic tradition handed down to the posterity by our ancestors, articulated Smt. Renu Koul (Misri) of Zainadar mohalla Srinagar and now a resident of Talab Tillo, Jammu.
She recollected that Shivratri festival was collectively celebrated by all the five Misri families of Zaindar mohalla Srinagar and mixed preparations of meat and nadru, fish cooked with reddish (muje) were the ritualistic ethnic cuisine offerings during the pooja. Smt. Renu Koul also informed that in addition to the ritualistic ordination of two earthen pitchers (Nout) designated as 'Ramgoud', nine big size narrow mouthed earthen pitchers, nine wide mouthed smaller dimension pitchers called in vernacular parlance as 'doulji' , two clay utensils called 'vagurs' in addition to the usual 'Resh Doul', two 'Saniwaris' and one 'Sonipatul' formed an essential part of 'Vatuk' of Misri clan pooja.
Our commitment to the observance of ancient rituals should be firm and steadfast, observed Sh Raj Nath Koul, an erstwhile resident of Rawalpora Srinagar and now living at Vijay Nagar, Talab Tillo Jammu as according to him the rituals chronicle our centuries old cultural and religious history.
Supplementing his assertion, he recollected that he made it a point to procure the fish needed as a ritualistic dish from the distant Telbal area, when fish were in short supply due to freezing of Dal Lake and other water bodies in the year 1984. Rituals are beliefs in the symbols, which give a sort of spiritual and religious fortification to a festival, stated Sh.Makhan Lal Bhan, earlier a resident of Khardori Habbakadal, Srinagar and now settled at Jaipur. Sharing his fond memories about Shivratri, he recollected that after Phagun Krishan Paksh Panchmi, the house inmates would refrain from taking tea or meals outside and outsiders excepting 'Gurtoo' families were disallowed from entering the home. Adding to it, Sh. Bhan also recounted that it was customary to fill-up the 'Vatuk' earthen wares with the water from the river Vitasta and the exercise was usually undertaken by the ladies. Rituals are inextricably linked to our ethno-religious identity and should be celebrated with unbroken tradition as they remind us of our native geography and original locale, affirmed Sh. P.N. Bhat of Zainapora Shopian. Recapping the Shivratri tradition of earlier times, he fondly reminisced that a small fish variety locally called 'gurun' fried without oil on a frying pan was a traditional offering to the designated clay utensil of 'Bhairav Doul'. He also informed that snow and icicles locally known as 'Shishirghant' also formed a part of ritualistic offering to both Nout' and 'Doul', the earthen pitchers as the supreme God Shiva is regarded as the Lord of snow.
The festival rituals having religious essence and spiritual connotations should not get diluted in the time wrap of the present, declared Sh. Jagan Nath Koul Sagar of Manzgam, Kulgam (Kashmir) and now putting-up at Lakshmi Nagar Muthi Jammu. According to him 'Vatak Raaza' is a local honorific given to the great God Shiv Nath as Kashmir is Lord Shiva's and Goddess Parvati nee Satis' own land and mystic paradise. He also added that every past memory of the festival and the native landscape gives a sense of area specific belonging to the community.
Speaking on a nostalgic note, Sh. J.N. Koul Sagar recollected that thirty three earthen utensils comprising of three 'Bhairav Douls', seven Resh pyala's, three wide mouthed pitchers of 'Doulji', apart from the customary utensils of 'Nout' and 'Choud', two Saniwari, one 'Sanipatul' and a 'duphjoor' were a part and parcel of Shivratri pooja utensils, collectively known as Vatuk'. Adding to it, he further remarked that Shivratri for Kashmiri Hindus is a festival of rejoicing as it marks the celebration of the divine marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati nee Sati. As such all the necessary functions and rites before and in the aftermath of marriage function are performed by us as Goddess Parvati is regarded as the daughter of Kashmir and Lord Shiva as the divine son-in-law. It is due to this reason that all the auspicious marriage rites and symbols are strictly adhored to during the observance of the festival. Accordingly in tune with the requirement of the ceremony, the earthen utensil of 'Doul', a symbolic representation of Goddess Parvati is kept on the left side of the designated utensil of 'Nout', taken as a representation of Lord Shiva as during a marriage ceremony also, a bride is always seated on the left side of the bridegroom. Sh Koul also recounted that as per his clan tradition the ritualistic immersion known as 'Vatuk Purmoojan' was done on Phagun Shukla Paksh Pratipadhav i.e. 'Oakdoh' instead of the usual Phagun Krishna Pakash Amavasya as planetary configuration on 'Amavasya' is as pre a belief regarded as ominous. It is testified by a Kashmiri maxim 'Maghi Gach, Mavsi Na' i.e. never on Amavasya but reluctantly on Maghi.
Rituals are repositories of ancient wisdom and traditional beliefs and have imprints of bygone eras, opined Sh Prem Nath Bhat Shad, an original resident of Qazibagh, Budgam Kashmir and now putting up at Barnai, Jammu. He went nostalgic while recalling the festival of yester years and recapped that use of brass utensils in the Shivratri pooja was disapproved and instead the utilisation of clay utensils was a common practice. The procurement of a live fish (guran) even from the frozen village stream and kept alive in a water container for the eventual offering to the 'Bhairav Doul' on Shivratri was a customary ritual for his family. In addition to it, the cooked fish with separate pieces of head, middle and tail portions was also a ritualistic offering to the 'Bhairav Doul'. Sh. Shad also revealed that it was obligatory for the head of the family to sleep in the Vatuk Kuth' on Shivratri night and also to keep an oil lit earthen lamp burning day and night upto 'Amavasya' in the 'Vatuk Kuth'.
According to him, apart from the relatives, neighbours, friends, the village carpenter, ironsmith, potter and barber would invariably drop in to extend festival greetings on the day following Shivratri, locally known as 'Salam'. It was also binding for the family head to see his face in the mirror brought by the village barber as mirror is said to double the festive mood of the auspicious occasion. Rituals are summation of past experiences and ancient knowledge, which have percolated down to our lives from prehistoic times, commented Sh Avtar Krishan Ganjoo of Ganderbal town, Kashmir and now putting up at Govt. Quarters, Jewel Jammu.
According to him, a few families having the surnames of Tufchis', Thaploos' and Naqaibs' of Srinagar city and the village Vanpoh of district Anantnag had an unique and peculiar Shivratri ritual. An elderly male member of the family would remain awake the whole night on Shivratri in the 'Vatuk Kuth'. During his night long vigil, he would strike the bronze thali with a stick tied with peacock plumes and coloured cloth strips upto the wee hours of the day following it. He also revealed that a few families of Srinagar had an unusual tradition of giving a customary ritualistic bath with liquor to 'Sanipatul', the representative linga form of Lord Shiva during Shivratri Pooja. Our cultural history rests on an ancient edifice and rituals constitute the sentinels that fortify our ties with the splendour of the past, emphasised Sh.Vijay Wali of Narpirastan, Fateh Kadal Srinagar and now a resident of Subash Nagar Jammu. He also revealed that reverential instalation of a clay utensil known as 'Vagur' in the Vatuk Kuth' on the day prior to Shivratri amounts to the creation of festive atmosphere before the symbolic arrival and reception of the divine baraat' on Shivratri. Like a delectable marriage feast, ethnic mutton delights of 'rogan josh', 'Kalya', minced meat dish of 'masch' and fish and nadru preparations are cooked to be offered amidst elaborate pooja to the 'Bhairav Doul' and other clay pitchers regarded as the 'divine baraatis'. In contrast to it, meat offering to the designated utensil of 'Resh dul' is strictly forbidden and in it's place offering of milk, sugar candy locally called 'Kand' and Kishmish are made to it. Many families had the tradition of putting saderkaanj' (a fermented cooked left over vegetable and rice starch preparation), sour liver dish known as 'chok charvan', liver pieces roasted on charcoal and a local preparation of goat legs soup known by the name of 'Pachi Rus' or 'Pakmond Rus' in the 'Bhairav Dul' in accordance with the individual family reeth'. A few families as per the family ritual desist from cooking meat on Phagun Krishan Paksh Amavasya but instead prepare methi mixed with nadru, nadir yakhni, moong daal mixed with turnip yellow cheese dish and fried sliced nadru called 'nadir churma'. A considerable number of families both in rural and urban areas carve-out different figurative images out of kneaded rice flour, which are known by the local names of 'Shaiv' (mutilated pronunciation of Shiv), 'Shavin' (Lord Shivas' Shakti), 'Kraej (potters), 'Hond' (goat) and 'Hangul' (Kashmiri variety of stag). They are subsequently cooked without oil on the frying pan. Amidst incantation of religious mantras tilak is applied and red coloured religious wrist band called 'Naervan' is tied to the fried figurative rice flour carvings of Shiv' and 'Shavin' during Shivratri pooja. Afterwards, they are reverently placed in a thali and on 'Amavasya' evening they are also taken-out to the river bank ghat for the traditional 'Doon Mavas' pooja. The rituals woven with varying strands of centuries old faith evoke blissful memories of the past, nostalgically recalled Sh. Moti Lal Mattoo, an erstwhile resident of the village (Deegam) Kapalmochan, Shopian Kashmir and presently putting up at Barnai, Jammu. According to him, the festival for Kashmiri Hindus is akin to a marriage function and accordingly many rituals which enliven the elated mood of the joyous occasion form a part of the festival. The devotees of his area would use the fragrant wild foliage locally known by the name of 'Ganpatar' in place of the usual 'Baelpatar' (Bilva leaves), which grew luxuriantly in Kushaldar forest area of his village. According to him, the ritual of 'Doon Mavas' performed on the river bank represents the ceremonial send-off of the divine bride, divine bridegroom and the 'divine baraatis'. Further, water a metaphor for the power of nature and remover of all sins is an essential requirement for social, cultural, religious and spiritual growth and sustenance. Recapitulating further, Sh Mattoo recalled that during 'Doon Mavas' pooja, the filled-up water contained in 'Nout' and 'Choud' are mixed together before emptying them in the flowing river water symbolizing the divine union of Lord Shiva and His spouse Goddess Parvati Afterwards, a portion of water collected from the river is sprinkled on the front door of the house as a token of auspiciousness.
*(The writer is a keen socio-cultural researcher)
Source: Kashmir Sentinel