In a sleepy Budgam village, people from ages have been celebrating Nauroz in a very unique manner. They argue that their way of celebrating spring arrival makes them healthier throughout the year.
By Umer Ahmad
IN the dead of the night haunted by canine howling, Javed Ahmad suddenly rises from his warm bed and ventures into darkness.
His dazed state makes him appear a sleep walker. And yet he warily walks out of his courtyard as a solitary man. With that nocturnal move, he embarks on an eerie expedition.
Despite Kashmir nights silenced by strife scare, Javed walks unperturbed by the side of wailing willows and watchtowers. He soon steps on the bank of a river meandering through his village.
What he does next looks suicidal.
He jumps into the frozen water body, and comes out after sometime, with a new spirit.
“This sounds crazy, isn’t it?” Javed says with a beaming face.
“But that’s how we celebrate the arrival of Nauroz here.”
Marking the start of spring in a unique way, people of Mujhpathri in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district leave their home before the first light of the day for rivers, brooks and streams, to take what they call a “secret bath”. Residents of neighbouring Raithan village equally seem keen about it.
But while the idea of bathing with cold water can send chills down one’s spine, the villagers embrace this age-old ritual wholeheartedly.
“I’m taking these midnight baths from last three years now,” Javed, who lives in Mujhpathri, talks about his village tradition. “I first took the plunge when an elderly person narrated a story of Nauroz to me.”
It was village elder, Ghulam Mohammad Khatana, who explained the health benefits of this Nauroz bath to Javed and made him an ardent follower of it.
The story doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Nauroz being springtime is the seasonal stage when earth comes back to life after rendered forlorn and frozen by winter.
This belief—“the beginning of life after lifelessness”—fuels this midnight-bath mindset in Mujpathri, where most villagers term themselves “fit and fine”.
Even the oldest among them, Khatana, who calls himself as 120-year-old, is still perfectly fine.
“Ever since I started taking bath on Nauroz,” Javed continues, “I remain fit for the whole year. I don’t recall any day in these years when I needed medicine for any sickness.”
While Javed is still new to the ritual, some village elders like Abdul Aziz, an octogenarian man in Mujhpathri, have been taking the bath since their teenage years.
“I was just 17 years old when I first took Nauroz bath in a nearby stream which originates from the glaciers of Tattakoti,”Aziz says. “And I felt very healthy for the whole year. I always wait for this day.”
Another villager, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din, 52, says his father, Ahmad Sheikh, used to leave home at 2 in the night to take a bath in a river.
“Till his demise,” Mohi-ud-Din recalls, “my father was very healthy.”
But some new-age “enlightened class” among the villagers, who believe in the “cause and effect” theory, simply downplay the ritual as the sign of “mindless tradition”.
While they don’t offer any plausible explanation behind their disavowal, the ritual-driven majority seems unruffled.
What’s more interesting in this age-old ritual is that nobody should see the one who takes bath.
The villagers believe that some supernatural forces come to earth on this day. And that’s way, they argue, this bath needs to be taken in complete secrecy.
This, perhaps, explains the reason why the bath needs to be taken in the dark of the night.
“Kashmir is not a place to venture in the night, but still this day, I don’t think much about the situations or the consequences of seeing anyone on the streets,” Javid says.
“I try to explore all the streams flowing in my area just to start a new and healthy year of my life.”
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