Shivratri literally means the night of Lord Shiva. On this night Lord Shiva is worshipped as Bhairava, which is the joint form of Shiva and Shakti. This day is celebrated when both the sun and the moon are in the Kumbh Rashi and as Sun is considered to be the lord of Aatma, and Moon is considered as the lord of Mann, this night signifies the union of Mann and Pran or life and soul. Hindus all over the world celebrate this day with great zeal and ferver. Devotees flood temples to gain the blessings of the Supreme Lord in a world where relativity fades away as calm and peace prevail in the minds of the devotees. This festival symbolizes the mystic union of the individual soul (Jiva) with the Supreme Lord (Parmatma).
Shivratri has been the most prominent festival among the Kashmiri Pandits, who have been the followers of Shaivism since ages. Even though the age-old traditions have been modified a bit, to keep in with the changing times, devotees still celebrate this festival with great excitement, exultation and euphoria. The elaborate festivities that cover nearly twenty one days of celebration, start from the first day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna, a month in the Hindu lunar calendar that falls in sometime in Feb-March.The grandiose celebration of the Mahashivratri festival by Kashmiri Pandits can be compared to the way people celebrate Durga Puja and Ganpati festivals in other parts of India and the world.
Mahashivratri is called "Hayreth" in Kashmiri. It is believed that it was on this night that Lord Shiva opened his third eye to burn Kamadeva to ashes and when the wailing wife of Kamadeva, named Rati came in front of Lord Shiva, he addressed her as "Hay Rati". That is how this day came to be known as Hayreth in the Kashmir mandal.
According to legend, Shivratri in Kashmir was always accompanied by heavy snowfall. However, a Pathan ruler named Jabbar, in order to test the sanctity of the festival, ordered the Pandits to celebrate Shivratri in the month of Ashad, which falls in June-July and is the hottest month of the year. But the pathans, who could not dream of a snowfall in the hottest month were startled when the valley was covered by heavy snow even in the month of Ashad and thus the festival got its name. However, the untimely snowfall caused much damage to crops and during the ensuing months the people in the valley suffered great misery. A verse that has been quite popular since that time goes as follows: Wuchton Yi Jabbaar Jandah, Haaras Ti Kurun Wandah! When translated, it means, that see the evil Jabbar has gone from riches to rags and has turned summer into winter!
Coming back to the festival, the preparations for the auspicious day begin with the cleansing of the entire house. The cleansing process generally starts from the first day of the dark fortnight,which is known in Kashmiri as Hur Ukdoh. The first six days being are reserved for cleansing,during which the items needed in the Shivratri Puja are assembled and cleaned, which prominently include, utensils, walnuts and other things needed during the worship. The seventh eighth and the ninth days of the Phalgun month known as Hur Sattam, Hur Atham and Hur Navam are dedicated to worshipping Goddess Sharika throughout the nights. Also, before the main Puja, the married females of the community pay a mandatory visit to their parents and return to their in-laws house with them Shivratri Shagun in cash and kind, which is known as "Hayreth Bhog".
One of the most important things that makes the Kashmiri Shivratri different is the actual day of its celebration. While Hindus all over the world, celebrate Shivratri on the fourteenth day of the Phalgun month, the Kashmiri Pandits actually celebrate the festival on the thirteenth day or triyodashi, of the Phalgun month. The Hayreth Puja symbolizes the wedding ceremony of Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati who are represented by pots decorated with flowers and yellow vermilion. The Puja is also known as Vatuk Puja, as Vatuk means 'collection of different objects' and on this occasion the Kashmiri Pandits worship a collection of various utensils which symbolize various Gods and deities. Two earthen or metallic pots, out of which one is smaller than the other, decorated with flowers, yellow vermilion and silver paper are filled with water and walnuts and are then places on a round seat called Asana, that is made of grass. These pots represent Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati. There are various other smaller pots and utensils, that are also decorated with flowers and vermilion and filled with water and walnuts. These represents the various other gods and deities attending the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. There is also a special open mouthed pot called the Dullgi that represents Lord Shiva's most trusted gate-keeper named Vatuk Bhairav.
Every family follows its own tradition for performing the Vatuk Puja. During the Puja people give offerings of flowers, fruits, milk, curd, sugar cakes, Bilva leaves. The offerings made to the Bhairava, include bread made from rice flour called Chouchvour, in addition to many vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes.Not too long ago, most families offered non-veg dishes to the Vatuk Bhairava. However with the times having changed considerably and since the Kashmiri Pandits have moved to areas with entirely different climatic conditions, this ritual has been modified accordingly.
On the day after the Vatuk Puja, that is the fourteenth day of the month of Phalgun, Kashmiri Pandits wish friends and relatives with the salutation of "Hayreth Mubarak", which means "Congratulations on the occasion of Shivratri". This day is normally spent with the elders of the family visiting, relatives, neighbors and friends to wish them on auspicious occasion. Children eagerly wait for this day, as the elders of the family give monetary gifts to the youngsters , which is called "Hayreth Karch". In the earlier times, people used to play with small sea-shell, called "Hara" in Kashmiri, during the entire period of the celebration of Shivratri. In the modern times, sea-shells have been replaced by cards in many families. Besides all this the Vatuk, is worshipped in the morning and the evening, though the prayers are much shorter.
The final day of the Vatuk Puja is the fifteenth day of Phalgun month. This day is the Amavasya according to the Hindu Calendar and Kashmiri's call it the Duyn Mavas (Walnut Amavasya). On this day, after the final worship of Vatuk Devta, the walnuts are taken out from the various utensils and the water flowers etc are immersed in a stream or a river.. This again resembles the immersion of the idols of Maa Durga and Lord Ganesha into water. The walnuts taken out of the utensils are then distributed as prasad along with the bread made from rice flour. The process of prasad distribution amongst family and friends, continues till the eighth day of the bright fortnight of Phalgun, which is known as Tila Aatham in Kashmiri. It represents the last day of the celebration of Mahashivratri.
Thus ends the most important and the grandest festival of the Kashmiri Pandit community. There are many other sub-parts and festivities, associated with the celebration of this most auspicious occasion. Every family performs the Puja according to the trends set long ago by their forefathers. However it is not possible to list all the sub procedures and moreover, the above given write up is the gist of the basic rituals that are performed by everyone. So let Lord Shiva shower his blessings on all of you. And before i end, here is a verse that is usually sung at Shivratri time:
Sun Sheen Volun Daari Dhaare, Maharaza Raaza Kumar Hai Aav!
Flakes of golden snow have started falling slowly and steadily as King Shiva has arrived to marry Princess Uma!
Article written/submitted by: Meetu Nadir
Submission date: February 25, 2009
About author: A very talented content writer working at 'Virka Infotech Services' (an IT firm based in Ludhiana)
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