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Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits visit Kheer Bhavani Mela

Tulmul, Kashmir, Jun 18: Ajay Pandita, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit, has been yearning for long to re-visit his roots in the Kashmir Valley.And the opportunity came on Monday as thousands of Kashmiri Pandits congregated at
thousands of kashmiri pandits visit kheer bhavani...
PTI June 18, 2013 9:30 IST
Tulmul, Kashmir, Jun 18: Ajay Pandita, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit, has been yearning for long to re-visit his roots in the Kashmir Valley.



And the opportunity came on Monday as thousands of Kashmiri Pandits congregated at the famous temple of Ragnya Devi here on the occasion of annual Kheer Bhavani mela.

Situated amidst Chinar trees in this village of central Kashmir's Ganderbal district, the revered temple is thronged by devotees, mostly Kashmiri Pandits, every year for paying obeisance.

The devotees believe the colour of the spring water flowing under the temple hints at the situation in Kashmir.

While most of the colours do not have any particular significance, black or darkish colour of the water is believed to be an indication of inauspicious times for Kashmir.

Some people claim to have observed a murky tinge to the water just before the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the eruption of militancy in 1989 in the Valley.

Pandita, aged 36, who was among thousands of Kashmiri Pandits to flee the Valley in 1990, feels not much has changed in his homeland over the past two decades.

"Nothing has changed here over the years. The same brotherhood among the communities which I was witness to during my early years of life is still visible everywhere. I don't feel like an outsider," Pandita, accompanied by his wife Sheen, told

Pandita said he was desirous of visiting his homeland but had to put his plans on hold owing to elders narrating stories of forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley.

"The elders still narrate stories of forced exodus of our community from Kashmir. Given the welcome I have received from general people, I find it hard to believe.

"The Kashmiri Muslims have come across as the same people with whom I have spent my childhood," he said.

Pandita said he wants to return to Kashmir as he had a sense of belonging to the place.

Sarla Koul (55) has been coming here every year for the last five years.

The initial apprehensions she had were soon overcome by the warmth of locals during her first visit.

"I re-constructed the house in Budgam town with the help of Muslim neighbours and I stay in my house five to six weeks every year," she said.

Koul said the state and Central governments were not sincere about return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.

"We need whole-hearted support from the state and the Centre for returning to the Valley which is lacking," she said.

"Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris and it is like a garden where you need different varieties of flowers."

Kheer Bhavani mela has become a symbol of centuries-old communal harmony and brotherhood as local Muslims make all the arrangements for the devotees.

The Muslims set up stalls selling flowers and other material for the devotees to offer at the temple.

Some voluntary organisations also serve the devotees by providing water and other help during their stay.

A group of Kashmiri Pandits booed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who had come to interact with the community as per past practice.

They were angry over the lack of adequate arrangements for them at the temple.

"There were no blankets to keep our children warm during the night," said the protestors, mostly hailing from Jagti migrant township in Jammu.

They were also agitating over lack of basic amenities in their township. "We are facing power cuts of up to 18 hours per day. How can one live in such a sweltering heat with no means to operate fans or coolers," the protesters said.

JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik also faced protest at the temple but he continued to meet the devotees.

Some Pandits raised anti-Malik slogans but were pacified by other members of the community.

Besides the Chief Minister, Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, JK Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, minister for Housing and Culture Raman Bhalla and State Secretary of CPI(M) M Y Tarigami visited the temple and interacted with the devotees.

Referring to his visit, Omar said it was an excellent visit.

"Had an excellent visit to Kheer Bhavani this morning, a small rowdy fringe element notwithstanding. Met and interacted with a large number of pilgrims visiting Kheer Bhavani. Was fortunate to make an offering as well," Omar wrote on Twitter.

The Chief Minister posted several photographs of his interaction with the devotees at the temple.

"Ordinarily I wouldn't have posted so many pictures but they speak louder than words," he said.

Omar expressed satisfaction over the number of pilgrims visiting the temple without security escort.

"Biggest satisfaction was seeing large number of pilgrims coming in their own cars and taxis where earlier their convoys were given armed escorts," he said.

Omar Abdullah was flooded with compliments when he visited Mata Kheer Bhawani temple, where an annual mela was held today.

Kashmiri Pandits, who had come from Delhi, Jammu and other parts of the country, complimented 43-year-old Omar for the improved security situation.

"I remember till middle of 2000, we were brought here under tight security, with guarded convoys. Now the situation is different, we can come ourselves without any fear," said Mohan Lal from Jammu while Omar gave a patient hearing.

The Chief Minister told the gathering that their genuine grievances were being taken up with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also that the state government urged the Centre to increase the package for migrants willing to return and construct houses from existing Rs 7.5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh.

There were some slogans against the state government at the behest of a Kashmiri Pandit leader belonging to Opposition but these were silenced by other people who had gathered at the annual mela, which is an emblem of Kashmiriyat where Muslims provide puja material to their Pandits brothers and sisters.

"The organisation of this annual mela is extremely wonderful and I am pleased with your administration," Mata Kalyani, who visits the temple every year, told Omar.

A group of devotees led by Mata Kalyani over-powered the miscreants, who numbered less than a dozen, and forced their quick retreat.

The Pandits decried hooliganism at a religious place where people had come to seek spiritual bliss.

Nagdandi Vivekananda Mission, on the occasion, welcomed the Chief Minister and expressed gratitude for making adequate arrangements.

Omar also expressed his happiness to be at the Kheer Bhawani temple as he tweeted, "Had an excellent visit to Kheer Bhavani this morning, a small rowdy fringe element notwithstanding. Met and interacted with a large number of pilgrims visiting Kheer Bhavani. Was fortunate to make an offering as well."

He posted several photographs of his interaction with the devotees at the temple.

"Ordinarily I wouldn't have posted so many pictures but they speak louder than words," he wrote.

Omar expressed satisfaction over the number of pilgrims visiting the temple without security escort.

"Biggest satisfaction was seeing large numbers of pilgrims coming in their own cars and taxis where earlier their convoys were given armed escorts," he said.
 

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