New Delhi: The celebration of Shivratri is called Herath in Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits celebrate "Shiv-Parvati" marriage in a very different manner. The customs and rituals of Herath are very different from other cultures. For Kashmiri pandits, Shivratri signifies the great "night of Shiva," also the day when Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. We call the celebration as 'Herath' in Kashmir, which is a word derived from the Sanskrit word 'Hararatri' the 'night of Hara' (another name of Shiva).
Kashmiris offer puja on the 13th night of Phalguna. The reason for it is that this long drawn festival that is celebrated for one full fortnight as an elaborate ritual is associated with the appearance of Bhairava (Shiva) as a jwala-linga or a linga of flame and also the night of Shiva and Parvati marriage.
During the first week, they clean their homes. They begin the second week with different kinds of worship after collecting earthen utensils and articles of worship. On 13/14th night they have long worship of the articles which represent Shiva-Parvati and a host of other deities.
It is a happy time, time of joy, devotion, and peace. Recitation from the Vedas, hymns pertaining to the deities, and mantra chanting are made individually and collectively.
Namah Sambhavaya Cha,
Mayo Bhavaya Cha,
Namah Sankaraya Cha,
Mayas Karaya Cha,
Namah Sivaya Cha,
O Almighty God. Thou art the supreme source of all worldly and divine pleasures. Thou art the impeller of our physical and spiritual advancement. O supreme Father! We pay our humble obeisance to Thee.
The special thing with Kashmiri Pandits is their mode and way of celebrating Herath. Two earthen pitchers filled with nuts soaked in water and flowers represent Shiva and Pravati. Then a definite number of small earthen pots containing a nut and water symbolise the Ghanas and other deities. These pitchers and pots collectively are called Vatuk. There is a set form of worship in each or in a group of Kashmiri Pandits' homes.
After the fast and worship, prasad is taken about mid-night. The next day also is observed as a day of worship and feast.
However, it is clear from what I have said above that there is a difference in the way Shivaratri is celebrated by the Kashmiri Pandits and by Hindus elsewhere in the country. The Pandits not only celebrate it as Bhairavotsava one day earlier but also perform quite different rituals.
Born in a Kashmiri family, let me tell you how I celebrated my Shivratri (Herath). My memories of celebrating the "Herath" or "Shivratri" (in Kashmir) have always been joyful. Shivratri normally begins from the lunar calendar of falgun Krishan paksh-dwadishi/triodishi(12 or 13th day of descending moon) and culminates on falgun-paksh-Amavasya(new-moon).
In my Kashmiri family, we celebrate Shivratri a day earlier than the rest of their compatriots around the country. On the day of pooja, my father was preoccupied the entire day because of the preparations. The first thing he does is to decorate all the "Vatuk" (steel vessel pot) with flowers and put walnut inside it. After that, we wait for the actual pooja to start. With kalash, kand, flowers and wood ready for havan, the pooja started at around 6.00 pm and lasted till 10 or 10.30 pm.
It took him anything between 4-7 hours to go through the intricacies and religious-hymns of the festival. During the pooja of and on, he would look down towards his right and read the shlokas from the pooja book and nobody dared interrupt him while he was chanting his mantras.
After the pooja was over, his face would reflect a sense of accomplishment. My mother, on the other hand, spends most of her time in the kitchen during the festival. On religious occasions such as herath, she uses a new set of utensils. On this herath, she made Dum Aloo, Paneer, Haaq (green Spinach), Matar Palak, Mooli Chutney (curd and radish chutney).
Me and my brother were waiting impatiently for food. Just after the shivratri pooja got over, we all wished each other Herath Mubarak and sat to eat dinner together. Over the years, I have seen 22 Herath celebrated at my house. My elders have always made sure that we fully contributed to our traditional ritual by helping them. I feel blessed to have lived and celebrated festivals with my elders, not only in Kashmir but in Delhi as well. The aura of "Kashmir-ness" is visibly written over them, so are their stories of Kashmir and the unique tradition of herath.
The "Prasad" in the form of walnuts was distributed amongst the family members and neighbours. To the family members living outside the city, the prasad (walnut, kalawa, teeka) is couriered. They form a part of sweet memory of the "Shivratri" that was once celebrated with zeal in the valley. However, Today I will distribute prasad in my office too. On the next day of Salaam (13th or 14th day of Falgun-Krishan Paksh). "Herath-Kharach" – money will be given by the elders to the young. (This is still widely practiced).
Just after the pooja was over, my dad told me, "I am thinking about how it might have looked in Kashmir today. If I were in Kashmir; still cold, the windows would have been opened today and the fresh cold-air would rush-in and titillate the chocked walls of the first floor. Sometimes the occasional sunshine would tease the freshly-drenched soil and its sparkle on the quagmire would look like the shining-jewels. The passing clouds over my house would block the sunshine for a while and the wind would then merrily swing it away over the mountains."
While listening to this, a drop of tear rolled down my eye and even I imagined what Herath in Kashmir would have been like.
I wish you all Happy Shivratri and Herath Mubarak.