Maha Shivratri-Revisiting Kashmiri Ritual Variants-XII

By Upender Ambardar

April 2011

The indigenous uniqueness and amazing diversity of the rituals have added grandeur, magnificence and richness to the Shivratri festival. They portray diverse and distinct phases within the dynamics of historical and cultural continuity of our existence, observed Sh. Rattan Lal Thussu, originally hailing from the village Karihama, district Kupwara and now a resident of Pounichak, Ghou Manhasa Jammu. Recollecting the festival related haunting memories of the yesteryears’, he recalled that prior to the festival, the potter would bring a whole lot of earthen cooking utensils along with the ‘Vatuk’. It was in consonance with the family belief that substitution of old cooking pots with the new one’s on the festival would usher in heightened prosperity and auspiciousness for the family. As a run-up to the main festival, the processes of house cleansing, dusting, customary ‘livun’ and washing of garments and bedding linen were undertaken from Phagun Krishan Paksh Pratipada i.e. ‘Hur Oakdoh’, which would continue upto ‘Hur Navami’. The ‘Hur Navami’ is locally known as ‘Tathji Navum’. Anysort, of cleansing act performed after ‘Tathji Navum’ was forbidden as it was regarded a sinful act.

It was also customary for all the daughters’-in-law to return to their in-laws on ‘Dyara dahum’ from their parental hmes after their customary bath, locally known as ‘Mus Chalun’. They would invariably bring individual cash called ‘Autgut’, salt ‘Hayrchie Kanger’, wooden footwear called Khrav’ and separate cash known as ‘Hayrchie bogh’. The festive ferver would commence on Phagun Krishna Paksh Duvadasham, i.e. ‘Vagur Bah’ with the reverential installing of an earthenware called ‘Choud’, two small sized earthenwares called ‘Varie’ and four wide mouthed clay pots, known locally as ‘Doulji’ in the ‘Vatak Kuth’ amidst elaborate pooja. The ‘Choud’, symbolic representation of the Goddess Parvati was embellished with ‘Vucir’, flowers and ‘mouli’. It was an lnie with a belief that a bride should have a decorous get-up and befitting wedding finery prior to the marriage ceremony as according to the local folklore, Goddess Parvati is said to be the divine daughter of Kashmir. Out of the four installed ‘Douljis’, three represented non-vegetarian ‘Bhairavs’ and the remaining one was said to symbolize the vegetarian one. Accordingly, the ritualistic offerings to the non-vegetarian ‘Douljis’ were cooked dishes of fish and meat, whileas uncooked raddish and milk were the designated offerings to the remaining vegetarian ‘Douljis’.

It was also revealed that back side wall of the ‘Vatuk Kuth’ infront of the Vatak utensils was given a lime coating over the previously done mud smearing. Afterwards, markings with Sindoor were made on this wall, which bore close resemblance to the act of ‘Divtae Moon’ of the marriage ceremony. On the evening of the main festival of ‘Hayrchie Truvah’, all the household inmates including male members and children would collectively accomplish the ritual of ‘Vatuk Kharun’ at the village stream. The vegetable dishes and yellow mixed cuisine of meat and turnip were the ritualistic offering to the ‘Bhairav Doulji’s. The blood of the slaughtered goat kept in an earthenwere ‘toke’ in the Vatak Kuth was an additional offering to the ‘Bhairav Doulji’ amidst pooja. On ‘Salaam’, the folk singers ‘Baand’ would invariably drop in to the accompaniment of folk tunes to add colour and gaiety to the festivities. On ‘Doon Mavus’, the family head would keep a fast and ‘Vatuk Parmujan’ was performed at the village stream ghat. All the embellishments like ‘Vucir’, ‘Mouli’, ‘Aarie’ and used flowers were collectively wrapped up in grass. It was subsequently floated in the flowing stream after a fresh flower garland and an oil lit earthen lamp and burned dhoop were placed on it as a mark of send off.

After replenishing the Vatak utensils with fresh water, an elderly lady of the household would cut the flowing water of the stream seven times with a knife. Afterwards stretching her hands upwards, she would make circular movements seven times on the village stream bank, probably as an expression of thankfulness on the satisfactory completion of the major part of the festival. It has a striking resemblance with the ritual of ‘Vigie Nachun’ performed by the ladies on the wedding and Yegnopavit functions in honour of bridegrooms. Interestingly enough, the ‘Vucir’, and mouli embellishments of both Nout and Choud were not untied but retained and both the utensilswere again seated in the Vatak Kuth at their respective positions upto Tila Ashtami. The said reeth of retaining the pooja utensils of Nout and Choud upto Tila Ashtami was followed widely in a earlier times in our households but presently only a few families have preserved this ritual. Both the utensils were replenished with fresh water everyday in the morning. It was followed with pooja, of walnut, kernels and rice flour rotis i.e. Tomla cooking etc. could follow only after it. It was idsallowed to take tea or food before the observance of this ritual upto Tila Ashtami Sh. Thusu also divulged that it was forbidden to clean the rooms and kitchen by sweeping with a broom upto upto Tila Ashtami.

It was in accordance with a belief that house had been graced with the divine steps of the deities and celestial ‘Baratis’ on the Shivratri. As such it was a sinful act to desecrate and defile the divine step marks by a broom. Accordingly the dusting of the rooms and the kitchen was done with a clean cloth piece. Afterwards the gathered dustand dirt was scattered in the owner’s kitchen garden, orchards and the paddy fields as it was thought to give bounteous production and yield. On the Ashtami, five earthen lamps having a few black sesame seeds were oil lit in the ktichen after cooked rice was kept in front of them. They were afterwards placed at the village stream bank and not in the rooms. The ritual of ‘Jatoon Toon’ was not performed.

The distinct and divergent festival related rituals unmistakably have the resonance of finest traditions of our indigenous belief system, stated Sh. Avtar Krishan Ganjoo, a resident of the village Soibug, Budgam, who continues to stay there. As per his family, reeth, the decorative embellishments like ‘Vucir’ and Mouli etc are tied to the Vatak utensils not in the Vatak Kuth but at the village stream bank. The ritualistic offerings to the Bhairav Doul are the usual meat preparations. The Resh Doul is not a part of the pooja utensils. The ritual of Thuk Thuk is not performed.

The Shivratri customs rooted in ancient edifice aid to consolidate and strengthen our religious beliefs. They need to be preserved for posterity and should not be relegated to corners of memory, articulated Sh. Vesh Nath Bhat, hailing from the village Magam, Budgam and presently putting up at Gandhi Nagar, Jammu.

Recollecting the festival of yore, he disclosed that house was readied to welcome the divine guests from ‘Hur Oakdoh onwards, It would signal the start of tasks of cleaning and ‘livun’ of the house, which would continue upto first three day’s. The subsequent day’s of ‘Hur Chorum’ and ‘Hur Panchum’ were set aside for washing of clothes. After Hur Ashtami, washing of clothes, sweeping of romos and washing of hair by the womenfolk was disallowed. As per the family custom, on Hur Ashtami, the side walls of the main door of the house were afresh smeared with a mix of clay, cowdung and water, which was subsequently whitewashed with lime. Latteron distinctive motifs of creeping plants with leaves and flowers were drawn on it. The said ritual similar to ‘Krool Kharun’ act of wedding ceremony was accomplished before sunset. On Vagur Bah, the earthen untensil designated as ‘Vagur’ and two small sized vessels called ‘Varie’ were reverentially installed in the kitchen and not in the Vatak Kuth. The ritualistic dish was cooked fish.   The Vatuk comprised two Nouts or Gagers’, two doulji and two Saniewari, apart from a soniepatul and dhoopjoor. They were filled up with water at the village stream. Their entry into the house was welcomed by ‘Aaluth’ performed by the youngest daughter-in-law, who had donned new clothes and worn a new ‘Athhoar’. It was also required to cover the head and right shoulder with a new towel or a new cloth piece during the performance of ‘Aaluth’. The panthenon of meat dishes were the ritualistic offerings to the Bhairav Doul amidst pooja. The Vatak parmujan was performed not at the home but unusually at the village stream only after inidnight after all the house inmates had slept as no one could step-out of the house afterwards. On the morning of the ‘Salaam’, the elderly lady of the house would utter the word ‘Poshte’ infront of the mud hearth known locally as ‘Dhaan’ after her entry in the kitchen room. Before cooking meals, it was obligatory on her part to prepare ‘Moughil Chai’, also known as ‘Kahwa’, which was laced with saffron, crushed almonds, elachi and dalchin. It was known as ‘Mubarak Chai’, which was required to be taken by all the family members including children at the first instant. The Doon Mavus pooja was performed in the Vatak Kuth and not at the stream bank.

On Tila Ashtami, 15 to 20 oil lit earthen lamps were kept in all the rooms, ‘Brandh’, courtyard wall, courtyard and the stream bank, care being taken to face them towards east. The Shivratri rituals multilayered with insightful meanings represent a majestic confluence of telling influences, affirmed Sh. Radha Krishan Nazar a resident of the village Sallar, district Anantnag, who continues to live at his native village. He disclosed that rite of livun was completed before Suptami and on the night of Hur Ashtami they would engage themselves with nightlong Jagrun and congregational prayers at the village temple. The Vatak utensils brought by the potteress earlier were stored outside the house in the store room, locally known as ‘Kuich’. They were ushered inside the house amidst the ceremonial ‘Aaluth’ only in the morning of Vagir Bah and not before that. The Vatuk comprised one Nout, five Varie, five Doulji, one Saipatul, a big sized clay, lamp, on ‘gudva’, one Thali and one ‘Khoas’. The delicious vegetarian recipes of Dal-nadru, hakh and cheese were the ritualistic offerings to both the Bhairav and Resh Doulji. The Vatuk parmujan was performed at the streamghat not on Amavasya but on Phagun Shukla Paksh Pratipadha i.e. Oakdoh. The ritual of the knock at the door ‘Thuk Thuk’ was observed.

The walnuts were distributed in the neighbourhood n the same evening. Any inordinate delay in the distribution of ‘naveed’ was abhorred and looked with the disgust. On the day of Salaam, it was customary for all the family members to remain stationed at home to ensure wholesale hospitality and welcome to the guests and well-wishers, who would drop-in to offer greetings.

*(The author is an ace of socio-cultural researcher)