Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits today thronged the Kheer Bhawani temple here for the annual Zeshta Ashtami festival and were joined by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who prayed for a “dignified” return of the displaced people to the valley. The festival, an annual mela marking the hindu-muslim amity, was celebrated with religious fervour at the famous temple of Ragnya Devi in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, about 30 kms from Srinagar. Chanting religious hymns, the devotees congregated at the temple and paid their obeisance, with the local muslims making all the arrangements like providing the material for offerings.
The state government had made elaborate security arrangements for the festival. It is believed that the colour of the sacred spring water which flows through the temple premises is an indicator of the situation in the valley. 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.
Like last year, the water in the spring was clean and pure which the devotees believe is a good omen for the valley. Nana Ji, a devotee, lauded the government for the arrangements at the shrine this year. “This year, the arrangements are much better than the last year. We appreciate the government. Even the security is very strict,” he said. Mehbooba, her cabinet colleagues, leaders of her coalition party BJP and opposition parties joined the pandits in paying their obeisance at the revered temple.
The visit of the chief minister evoked mixed response at the shrine. Many devotees praised the government, with many youngsters jostling to get photographed with her, while a few protested by raising slogans like “we want justice”, apparently referring to the exodus of the Pandits from the valley in early 1990s with the onset of militancy. Speaking to reporters, Mehbooba said she wants a dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley.
“This day is very revered for our Kashmiri Pandit brethren and they have come here in thousands today. We pray to God for their dignified return to the valley so that they live in their own homes,” she said. “I saw that there were many children who had not seen Kashmir and know nothing about it as they have not lived here. So, on this occasion, I pray that Jammu and Kashmir is bestowed with peace and happiness and that situation gets better here so that all Kashmiri Pandits return to their homes and live their lives together with us happily,” she said.