Kashmiri Pandits Throng Kheer Bhawani

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SRINAGAR: Nearly 20,000 migrant and local Kashmiri Pandits on Tuesday gathered for the annual fair at the Kheer Bhawani shrine in Ganderbal district of north Kashmir.

Entire Tulmulla wore a festive look with pilgrims, majority of them displaced Pandits, visiting the shrine on the annual festival (Jyestha Ashtami) and held special prayers. 

Men, women and children from local and displaced Pandit community thronged the village to pay obeisance at the shrine dedicated to Hindu goddess Ragyna.

The devotees offered traditional milk preparation ‘Kheer’ and floral tributes at the Shrine while praying for peace and prosperity.

Many local Muslims in Tullamula village came out to greet their Pandit brothers, keeping alive the centuries old tradition of amity and brotherhood between different communities in Kashmir.

Vijay Kumar Koul, a retired headmaster, lived in the densely populated Habba Kadal locality of old Srinagar city before he left Valley along with his family in early 1990s.

Koul feels different governments in the state since 1990 have done little for the return of the Pandit community to the valley.

“Our community has become a good talking point in television debates for various governments since we left the valley. Nobody is interested seriously either in our return or welfare,” he said.

Ravinder Kumar, 24, is an MBA student and has come to the Shrine with his parents and grandparents.

“I was hardly one or two years old when my family left the valley. I have no memories to seek my return to the land of my ancestors….Yes, my grandparents feel very passionately about their days in the valley and would like to return if possible,” he said.

“But, I believe any attempt to facilitate or try for our return would be looking for another migration of the community that has now settled permanently outside Kashmir,” IANS quoted Ravinder as saying.

“There are less number of pilgrims this year and this has happened due to rains for the past few days,” said Jai Kishan Raina, a Kashmiri Pandit who paid his obeisance at the temple. 

He also blamed bad condition of Srinagar-Jammu national highway, the only land route that connects Kashmir valley with rest of India, as another factor for the fewer number of pilgrims since most of them have to come from Jammu. 

“Government has not done anything for the highway. It is in bad condition and people avoid travelling,” Raina said. 

Similar views were expressed by a number of other pilgrims, who said the government should seriously focus on improving the condition of the highway. 

The pilgrims, however, praised the arrangements made by the government for the annual festival. “The arrangements are nice but the weather has been bad,” said Inder Kak. 

The state government has made adequate arrangements of security, healthcare etc. for the devotees at the shrine.

Governor N.N. Vohra and state Law Minister Basharat Bukhari were among the devotees who paid obeisance at the Shrine and prayed for peace on Tuesday.

The state government has declared a holiday in the valley on Tuesday for the festival.

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