• Publish Date: Jul 8 2018 9:38PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 8 2018 9:38PM

Mela Kheerbhawani, the largest annual religious gathering of Kashmiri Pandits at Tulmul offers heart-warming and glaring scenes of Hindu-Muslim bonhomie, togetherness and touching re-union of estranged friends and neighbours. Like every year, this serene and tranquil temple, nestled under the shade of mighty chinars in Tulmul village of district Ganderbal, witnessed heart-warming scenes of emotional reunions. A visit to this temple on the eve of the mela is an illuminating experience. One feels very ecstatic and nostalgic to witness this brotherhood and amity and utterly sad also for having lost an important and indispensible part of our rich and glorious culture to the brutal conflict which shattered our relations besides devouring thousands of human lives.

From our childhood, we, the post conflict generation, have been hearing from our elders that Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits have lived in ages old tradition of mutual brotherhood and camaraderie. However this seems a lullaby to us as we hardly have had the opportunity to witness it. I always crave for the revival of rich composite culture but so far craving continues to be a craving. But thanks to the Mela Kheerbhawani, which at least offers a glimpse of what I crave for. What I see here is though a small but an apt reflection of what I have been hearing from elders. It is reminiscent of the good old times. The exemplary display of Pandit-Muslim bonhomie even after three decades of  separation gives one a feeling of elation, an idea how the two communities would have been living their happy life of togetherness. It strengthens one’s belief in our plural and secular traditions.

What is more interesting is that this mela is a celebration of coexistence and has assumed great social significance aside religious. It is a cultural festival that goes beyond religiosity fostering composite culture and coexistence which has been an important fabric of our society. This cultural-religious festival brings back thousands of Kashmiri Pandits to their roots not with merely a religious intent but also to meet their Muslim friends and neighbours. For many it is an annual homecoming day. It gives an opportunity to the detached Pandit-Muslim friends and neighbours to meet and interact with each other and plays a pivotal role in opening channels of communication, friendliness, strengthening the bond of togetherness and bridging the gap between two young generations born after the tragic event that separated us.

The temple premises wears a festive look and the occasion turns a colourful get-together rather than a strictly religious congregation with Muslims thronging from far-off parts of valley to meet their Pandit brethren. Elderly men and women catch up after years and share anecdotes that are fascinating repositories of knowledge about our glorious past.

Since I live here, every year I get to see Muslims from every nook and corner of valley throng the temple to meet their Pandit friends and take them home for stay.

Without any intention of self appeasement and exaggeration, honestly speaking the help the local Muslims extend to the pilgrims during this festival speaks a lot about the unique bond that Muslims share with Pandits and our firm belief in the plural and secular tradition which intentionally has been tarnished by the vested interests.

What better example of brotherhood can one get to see than a local Muslim boy distributing welcome cum invitations cards on this sweltering June day among the devotes. The decorated card reads: “We the people of Kashmir especially Tulmul welcome our Pandit brothers on the special occasion of Mela Kheerbhawani and humbly request you to stay with us at our homes and feel the warmth of relation we share from the time immemorial.”

At one corner under a mighty Chinar tree, a heart-warming scene added to the mystic ambience and spiritual reverence to the celebration, it left me spell bound for almost two hours. It was a treat to my ears to listen to a staunch Muslim and his group enchant the audience with melodious sufi songs of Lal Aragaem and Neam Saeb. The audience which consisted of both Pandits and Muslims stayed huddled in a group and was completely engrossed in the mystic verses. People jostled for space to listen to the mesmerizing mystic songs.

The event offers a mixed feelings of elation, sadness and longing. At the temple I met a septuagenarian Pandit, S.N Saproo, who nostalgically and emotionally shares his golden days and cherished memories of his life in Kashmir and how eagerly he waits for this day of homecoming. He tells me that his regular visits during his stumbling stage of his life have a special motive that is to make a special prayer: “I yearn to die here and be cremated at my birth place.” The emotionally shattered Saproo, presently based in Jammu, adds that after spending couple of days here in the valley with the hope that his last prayer will be fulfilled, unwillingly boards the SRTC bus to Jammu with a heavy heart and moist eyes.