By Upender Ambardar
The Shivratri festival rich in symbolism and metaphors represents a ritual canvas of contrasts, which celebrates a rich legacy of mythology, culture and social history of Kashmir, affirmed Smt. Basanti Hakchar, originally a resident of the village Trehgam district Kupwara and presently putting up at Janipur, Jammu. Reminiscing about the festival celebrations of the yesteryears, she divulged that the house hummed with the festival related activities on Phagun Krishan Paksh Duvadashi or ‘Vagur Bah’ with the reverntial installation of an earthenware named ‘Doulij’ usually in the morning. The ritualistic offerings to the ‘Vagur’ amidst religious invocations were leavened chapatis’ locally called ‘phulka’, a kind of sweetened fried puri and fried fish. However, the offering of fried fish has now been substituted by fried nadru slices called ‘nadir churma’ after displacement. The said offering to the ‘Vagur’ is made in the morning to the accompaniment of pooja and recitation of Shiv Mahmnapar in which all the family members participate. Continuing further, she disclosed that on the morning of Shivratri, the ‘Vagur’ was emptied of its ritualistic offerings at the village rivulet. In the evening, the earthen pot of ‘Nout’ is filled up with walnuts and water. Afterwards, cooked rice is mixed with ghee, milk and ‘Vatak Masala’. The Shivling or Parthishor made out of it is worshipped amidst recitation of ‘Mahimnapar’. The ritualistic offerings made to it are leavened rotis called ‘phulka’, a kind of sweetened oil fried roti called locally as ‘naej’, backed rice flour rotis’ called ‘tomlavoer’ and fried pieces of sheep’s liver, locally known as ‘churvan’. All these offerings are also taken as ‘naveed’ by the family members and the rest is distributed among near kith and kin. Apart from the walnuts, the naveed also includes delectable meat preparations and cooked fish. The Shivratri festival is a colourful tapestry of different customs and sacred commitments having acquired diverse settings in bygone times, opined Sh. MK Kapoor, an erstwhile resident of Safakadal Srinagar and now putting up at Anand Nagar Bohri Jammu. He revealed that on Shivratri, walnuts and water are put in a brass untensil ‘Gagar’ instead of the earthen pitcher ‘Nout’.
The ritualistic offering to it are milk, Vatak, masala and Sugar Candy ‘Kand’. Additionally pooja is also performed for ‘Parthishor’ made out of clay, which in earlier times was procured from Shankracharya hill. Presently as a substitute, ‘Parthishor’ is made out of water chestnut flour, locally known as ‘garioat’. The meat preparations and vegetable dishes are the ritualistic offerings to it instead of the usual ‘Bhairav doul’. The ritual of knock at the door, known as ‘thuk thuk’ is performed on ‘Doon Mavus’ at the home. On Tila Ashtami, eight oil lit lamps are placed, one each at the main door entrance courtyard, connecting lane of the house and the road crossing. There carefully nurtured and painstakingly preserved Shivratri rituals moored in medieval origin make Shivratri a brand festival of Kashmir, spoke Sh. KK Raina, an originally resident of the village Goshbug, tehsil Pattan, district Baramulla and presently settled at Durga Nagar, Jammu.
Recapping the festival of earlier times, he recalled that ‘Vatuk’ comprised of earthen Nout, Choud, Doulji and two Saniewari. Extra Saniewaris were added as per the number of children in the family. Only the ‘Nout’ and ‘Choud’ were taken to the village stream called ‘Darjin’ by the ladies of the house on their heads or shoulders. The said stream was about one km. away from his home. All the male members and children of the household would also participate in the ritual of ‘Vatuk barun’ at the village stream. Only eldest male member of the family who had undertaken the fast, locally known as ‘Yezmun’ was required to remain in the house. He would perform ‘aalath’ on the entry of water filled Vatak utensils at the main entry door of the house. It is at complete variance with the reeth in most of the houses where the said act is performed by a female member of the house. Sh. Raina also recalled that all the old grass woven floorings locally known as ‘Vagiv’ and ‘Pautji’ were discarded and substituted by new one’s.
The entire path of the ground floor corridor locally known as ‘Vuz’ and the connecting stairs into Vatak Kuth were also required to be covered with dry grass to welcome the entry of water filled ‘Vatuk’ in the house. It bears a striking resemblance with the welcome gesture of earlier times displayed at the time of Kashmiri marriages, where in the connecting lane upto bride’s house was covered with coloured wood saw dust on the day of marriage. The bridegroom and his accompanying baraat would walk down on the decorated path as a token of regality and royal privilege. In accordance with the culinary culture of Kashmir, the most celebrated dishes of meat and vegetables were the ritualistic offerings to the ‘Bhairav Doul’. A sheep was collectively purchased by the Pandit households of the village for the purpose of meat. As a part of the celebrations, the children would play the indoor game of ‘Harun Gindun’ with the sea shells for one week upto ‘Salaam’, but strongly enough the family elders would not participate in it during the said time. However, in accordance with an unusual and unfamiliar custom of the Pandit households of the village, at least one male member of each family had to assemble in a prefixed house on the day of ‘Doon Mavus’. They were required to participate in an indoor game of even and odd with the walnuts.
The said game was known by the local name of ‘Juf and Taak’. Each Pandit household would contribute fifty walnuts for it. As per the game rule, each participant by turns would grasp the stockpiled walnuts with both the hands. If the grasped walnuts turned out to be in odd number, the said participant was entitled to own the said number of walnuts. In case, if it turned out to be even number the game would pass on to the next participant. The game would continue till the exhaustion of the stockpiled walnuts. On the day of ‘Salaam’ in addition to the neighbours and friends, the iron smith, the potter, the village tailor, the carpenter, the milk vendor and the ‘Kashkar’s’ would invariably drop-in to offer Shivratri greetings. As a token of auspiciousness or ‘Shagun’, each one of them would bring a knife, cooking earthen utensil or ‘laej’, a reel of thread and needle, wooden footwear known as ‘Khrav, curd filled clay pot and a handfull of almonds and cardamom respectively. The folk singer ‘ladishah’ would also invariably drop in on the day of ‘Salaam’ to add colour to the symphony of festive celebrations.
The ‘Doon Mavus’ was performed collectively on the rivulet bank. After pooja ladies would exchange the walnut kernels as ‘naveed’ among themselves at the rivulet ghat itself. It would signal the subsequent distribution of walnuts and rice flour rotis’ ‘chochiver’ usually in odd number. It is in contrast with the more prevalent practice of distribution of walnuts with the leavened rotis’ called ‘phulkas’. ‘The ritual of knock at the door of ‘Thuk Thuk’ was not observed. On Tila Ashtami, oil lit earthen lamps, one each was kept at cattle shed, paddy storage room, cowdung heap and charcoal ash pile, while as one lamp was floated in the rivulet.
The Shviratri festival is a majestic community festival and an eventful occasion of month long celebrations. It is the only festival, where a visit to one’s home for participation in the festivities is a must do for every individual, stated Sh. Jagar Nath Handoo, an erstwhile resident of the village Hanand Chowalgam, district Kulgam and now putting up at Bantalab Jammu. Recalling the foul memories of the festival in earlier times, he divulged that flurry of cleanliness related activities would commence on ‘Hur Oakdoh’ i.e. Phagun Krishan Paksh Pretipadha.
In conformity with his family specific custom or ‘reeth’, the piece of cloth material employed for mud smearing of the house locally known as ‘liven hur’ was not dispossessed off but retained for the act of mud smearing or ‘livun’ for the entire year. As per his family belief its’ retention and subsequent sense would ensure plentiful of auspiciousness, prosperity and overall well being for the ensuing year. He also recalled that as per his family lore, the governing deity of scrupulous purity and home cleanliness known as ‘Hur Raza’ was given final good bye on ‘Hur Ashtami’ in the form of token mud smearing of kitchen, the most pious areas of the house and stepping stair slab of the main entry door, locally known as ‘Brandh’. Sh. Handoo also informed that potter would bring the earthen Vatak utensils only on pre ascertained auspicious timing or ‘muharut’. The Vatuk would comprise thirteen items of ‘nout’, choud, eight small sized pitchers called ‘Varie’, one Bhairav Doul apart from Sonipatul and Dupzoor. The notable omission was that of Resh Doul.
The Vatak untensils were filled up with water at the village ‘Doelradh’ stream. It was customary for all the family members to participate in the act of ‘Vatak Barun’. The side walls and upper portion of the main entry door of the house were decorated with the coloured motifs of a creeper plant with its’ accompanying tender shoots and associated leaves and flowers. The said act was known as ‘Krool Kharun’ and it was accomplished on the day of the ‘Vatak Barun’. The sacrificial offerings to the Bhairav Doul were meat preparations and ‘Sutsoas’ comprising barley (Vushka), twigs of a native herb of ‘Babur’, moong, rajmah, maha, masoor and channa pulses. On Doon Amavasya, the Vatuk was not taken to the stream but instead the decorative assemblages like mouli, vucir etc. were untied in the ‘Vatak Kuth’ itself. They were collected in a utensil and then consigned to the flowing water of the village stream. Instead of the earthen lamps, eight lamps were made out of kneaded rice flour. They were oil lit and subsequently placed one each at the main entry door of the house, locally known as ‘Dass’, cowdung and charcoal ash heaps, courtyard wall, the connecting lane and the stream bank. The act of ‘Jatoon toon’ was not performed.
The Shivratri rituals are our social-cultural relics, which bestow an ethno-religious identity to us. The celebration of a festival outside the homeland gives an emotional and sentimental comfort cum contentment. The celebration is also a remembrance of our original geography, locale and native land. It confers a sense of belonging to the community in displacement. It is our collective responsibility and duty to stay faithfully with our time tested rituals for they are distinctly linked with the uniqueness of our identity.