State of our Culture

Migrations of people from their native places to other areas in small numbers are a normal phenomenon through out the world. It can be termed as a voluntary absence from your home & is generally restricted to individuals. When it takes place en masse and is forced, it is called exodus & also projects a motivation of perpetrators.

In our case it has been a forced exile - as a means to an end- ethnic cleansing . Tragic part of our exile in 1989-90  is that  it took place in independent India &  that it was part of a larger plan hatched by enemies of the state -  To ethnically cleanse the valley of KP’s who could be a  hindrance to their larger game plan to usher in an Islamic order and strengthen the movement of the separatists leading to Aazadi .It was clearly aided by Islamic State  Pakistan as part of their stated overt objectives – to provide moral & material support to Kashmiris on Indian side of  J&K .

Looking back on this event we can see the consequences : –

  • Effacing the traditional values of Kashmiriyat.
  • KP’s as minorities getting dispersed & becoming more powerless.
  • KP’s as exiles losing their properties either by  destruction or distress sales.
  • A confused majority caught between ideals of Aazadi, Islamization (read nizam e- Mustafa) & a perpetual turmoil not letting them lead a normal life.
  • The State waking up to the new reality on ground – a generation which has seen only turmoil & radicalization, with more force on ground as a rebound.
  • A perpetual downward spiral of normalcy. This has , perhaps as a collateral damage, caught in it the unwilling majority of Muslims (wonder if there are any left) too  in the valley.

It has been nearly three decades in which dead are gone and living (on all sides  ) are nursing not only their wounds but also despairing about the future.

I believe , the adage that describes the situation best is – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always got.” The reality is that people in  places of responsibility have not understood the problem or have understood it but have no clue to resolve it. The problem also changes its character over generational spans. Abraham H. Maslow in “Toward a Psychology of Being” has aptly summed up the situation- “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”  

We, as a community have been forced to take an inventory of our lives . One of the major fallouts has been that  we find ourselves lost in so far as our Culture is concerned ,especially as it affects our gen-next .In this regard the turmoil has badly  hit those, who were born around 1989 or after.

Communities, in normal circumstances, do ponder over state of one’s culture every now & then, but it is always perhaps a natural and slow process. It manifests itself in terms of reforms that could be ushered in to suit the changing times .

 Elders who in normal times have the responsibility of passing on the traditions et al to gen-next are confused to say the least. Liberal traits in our community had already set in the rot ,but  now, the fear of losing our cultural roots  is real & we have become very sensitive about it.

While each of us is concerned, but many of us are in a state like the blind men & the  elephant . It is a story of a group of blind men (or men in the dark) who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk etc.. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.


So, we must admit that an perceptible erosion of our culture has been occurring from times immemorial on account of normal migrations and influence of so called modernity . Cultures are not static as they cannot exist in isolation.

The cultures have both a uniqueness as well as adaptability to environmental influences. The fact that we feel we are losing our culture is that the delicate balance of this uniqueness and adaptability was shaken by the forced exile. 

While we might have adapted very well but at the same time ,we may have lost sight of uniqueness of our culture. It is time to reset perhaps. The  difficulty to go back to mother land has heightened our craving to revisit our cultural mores.

I believe we would have been engaged in a similar exercise in & out of Kashmir without exodus also. This is natural for all societies when generations keep visiting their roots to see what is relevant & what is not.

Various modern cultural studies and social theories have investigated cultural identity. In recent decades, a new form of identification has emerged which breaks down the understanding of the individual as a coherent whole subject into a collection of various Cultural Markers. The predominant cultural Markers that are of critical concern to KP community at this point in time are : 

Location, Gender, History, Nationality, Language , Religious Beliefs ,Ethnicity and  Food.

We shall briefly examine these cultural markers & their  status in our present state of exile.


For those of  us wo were forced to move out as well as for those who had otherwise moved out with the hope to return,  LOCATION has assumed very painful dimension. Our tragedy is compounded by the fact that the state has kept us away from acquiring any defined categories by International norms – “Migrant” or “Internally Displaced Persons”. We have not moved out of our country ,so Migrant label in international sense is not available to us. IDP status is not forthcoming as it goes against the National ethos to call its own people as displaced. A position ,which in the least, is  hypocritical . Our dispersion makes it doubly difficult to assess the impact of this marker on our community.

A feeble effort for Homeland – “Panun Kashmir” is one of the initiatives to correct the Location as a cultural marker. Many of us may not be sure whether returning to homeland will become a reality in  our lifetime.  So we support this marker of our culture in the same way as we do the issue of achieving Moksha in our personal lives i.e., helplessness. As of now our plight is summed up by the Kashmiri song (vedaakh)…yeli yaad pevaan sonahaer watan,hani hani pevaan teer mateau……

The situation on the ground is in a state of flux on this issue on account of multiple factors – Aazadi , Separatism, Meek governance, Lack of Political will & above all traditional indifference to our community by all concerned. One of the major contributors to the latter is our own disunity in our community. We have too many leaders but no followers & that is why we are ignored. This narrative is on account of our affliction which is perhaps summed up by someone as under:

I struggle to find  any references to a Kashmiri Pandit who has acquired some standing in his life that is unconditionally laudatory, without any undertones of prejudice or censure.

As a result, this Marker is currently out of our control and not much can be expected in near future .


Gender is generally not an issue for a literate society as ours. We may have diluted this over generations from the  high pedestal of  gender equality which was handed down to us as far back as Nilmat Purana times.

One must admit that even  in pre exodus era ,we did not have any pressures to keep our womenfolk confined. The lady of the house in Pandit families ,majorly has always been domineering & continues to be so .

Our girls have flown out to adapt to the changing times and prefer career oriented lives ,like our boys.

Male chauvinism is visible but restricted to  in social circles .We, as a society, generally exhibit liberalism in this area. It could also be attributed to our quality for adaptation to changing times. In our current state of community affairs , this Marker is adequately taken care of as we have examples of our gen-next not exhibiting any major hindrance  to their lives on this account. This liberal trait ,perhaps has impacted the traditional mores in the  marriage arena .Dispersion has over a period of time resulted in our children acquiring  a new found freedom - to choose a life partner. The changing times & financial independence has been a deciding factor in this change.

With nuclear family unit becoming a norm as a result of migrations , forced or otherwise, the gender as a marker shall remain healthy as ever.


History is a non issue as a Cultural Marker as we are fortunate to have loads of literature Ancient , Medieval &  Modern. We only need to sift legend & mythologies from our history for it to become relevant to us in the present times.

We must however  be aware of  historical perspectives written by the so called historians from the majority  community. This is a serious issue that needs to be understood. As liberals we may not resent counter narratives of our past, but any distortion needs to be countered academically .

Transition of Lalded to Lalla Arifa is one such distortion which  points out to her so called conversion . We find Lalla identified and revered by both Hindu and Muslim religious traditions, despite her Hindu heritage.  Perhaps this is due to the temporal placement of her life. She lived at a time when the presence of Islam was growing in the valley, and the recognition of her by the Sufis was a natural inclination especially as she was in any case propagating oneness of God as against the highly ritualistic religious beliefs of the original settlers -Kashmiri Pandits of her time.

A bill was introduced in the J&K assembly (2009) by the PDP, MLA Peerzada Manzoor Hussain proposing to change the name of historic Anantnag town to Islamabad. It must have fallen through is no guarantee that such bills will not come up in future. The names of 700 villages in the valley have been changed. Even the names of the landmarks is propagated to be changed like Shankaracharya  & Hari Parbat  to  Takht-i-Sulaiman  &  Koh-i-Maran respectively. The proposed name of the Srinagar airport as Shaikh-ul-Alam airport is on cards. This mindset is visible in the statement of Mehbooba Mufti (2008) During Amarnath Agitation who had said that the land from Panchtarni to amaranth belongs to Maliks…..(Abridged version of R Koul’s writeup on 17/03/2009 )

Renaming of various places had feebly been undertaken in the past by majoritarian governments - Islamabad for Ananntnag .It is being followed up with impunity in absence of KP’s - ,Shehar-i-khas for Srinagar

Advent of Islam in Kashmir is another distortion when we are made to believe that it was not through sword but only because of its nature as a social liberating force and the great work of Sufi’s.

The reasons for our exodus in independent India  being a conspiracy by Hindu Nationalists (read Gov. Jagmohan) follows a similar trait of majority Muslims.

Our status in history as aborigines of the valley is getting reasserted as a cultural marker because of displacement from our location . However , one must accept that we have given this Marker a pass on many counts in the past and never seriously asserted our Cultural history as aborigines. Was it because of our minority status or our trait of over adaptation to circumstances to be taken count of especially  in the sphere of jobs and our general economic well being.  

One of the positive things about our  Dispersion is that we have been forced to revisit this Marker in right earnest. We find many from our community bringing out books on our historical past ,especially women folk ( Chitralekha Zutshi). This gives us an opportunity to reframe the concepts of this Marker.

The awareness of our history in Kashmir as a cultural marker is not difficult to reassert in view of our sincere objectivity with which our young historians from our community have taken it up.


I have always wondered as to why we do not find enough takers from our community  who cherished the notion of being part of an Independent Kashmir. The only confirmation of this stance is found in some papers now lying buried – An account by Radha Rajan in her writeup entitled  - J&K- Dilemma of Accession-a historical analysis and after. This paper also indicates about a note purported to have been penned by Mr. R C Kak, PM J&K entitled RCK Missing Link. These writings establish the intention of the Princely state of J&K to be independent. This got trounced mainly on account of Nehru, Gandhi & Sheikh Abdullah. Pakistan’s involvement by tribal attack on Kashmir & Indian union’s efforts to seek accession cleared reluctantly by the Maharaja. So J & K became an integral part of Indian union. The will of the people was assumed to have been carried by Sheikh Abdullah.

The uniqueness of our being  -  a majority as Hindus in pre muslim era &  then falling as a minority with Muslim invasions and conversions   , ruled by Muslims, Sikhs ,Dogras and Britishers  over 400 years & finally driven out of our homeland in independent India -is a lot of historical baggage we are laden with. This did not prompt us, to ever, review our Nationality as a group .Did we ever consciously or unconsciously subscribe to the theory of Valley of Kashmir as a nation state in itself ?

Those of us who did not migrate  as a normal course of action, seemed to be  always content  with the belief that no body  throws out people from their motherland .This false belief which ultimately caught us all on the wrongfoot when circumstances changed drastically in 1989 .This belief can now be elucidated as:

  • Content with living with majority Muslims who are  basically pandit converts & that too of  Sufi order .Changing Islamic global order never crossed our learned mind. Please note that  period of establishing Muslim Brotherhood coincided with the self-rule movement in Kashmir in 1930’s.The means of communication were not as fast and prevalent as we have in these days & as such we would  not have foreseen the advent of Islamization then.
  • Kashmiri Pandit leaders like Mr. P N Bazaz were deeply associated with Kashmir political movement & National Conference. Chitralekha Zutshi writes in her ‘Language of Belonging’....Bazaz’s discomfort with National Conference, however stemmed from far more than the fact that the organization did not represent the interests of Pandits. The close alignment of the Conference with the politics of Congress was particularly distasteful to Bazaz. . Mr. P N Bazaz’s dissociation from  National Conference & Congress after feeling that in their scheme of things KP’s had no political value of significance even then .
  • India a Hindu majority state is always available to us as a protection. This self professed notion of importance of our community  which was brought to  naught by the likes of Gandhi, Nehru et al. Chitralekha Zutshi writes in her ‘Language of Belonging’- It was evident to Bazaz that Congress leaders would readily sacrifice the interests of Kashmiris( both Hindus & Muslims) at the alter of Indian Independence.
  • Being educated is a lifetime guarantee for our well being .We never cared to look at the changing circumstance with majority Muslims also  getting into schools and colleges and projecting themselves as worthy competitors for jobs etc.

The narratives between 1930’s till 1947 by Muslim majority were never encouraging for KP’s even though quite a few KP’s then were a part of the movement to shake off the Dogra rule. Sheikh Abdullah had famously quipped about Kashmiri Pandits , as a community whose “standard of success is to acquire clerical posts in the offices.”

The feeble attempt towards Independence by the Maharaja came to a naught because of Sheikh -Nehru domination of the scene and subsequent military intervention of Pakistan Army. At that time  accession of J&K to Indian state was an issue of importance  and not its constituents.

In history you can find Kashmiri Pandits dispersed in all camps- British Raj, National Conference, Congress, Communists ,Freedom Fighters ,GOI to name a few. Unity ,in thought at least , of the community was never a quality of KP’s, is established by this behavior.

Nationality is a settled issue now & it was for us from a long time in the past .In spite of our numbers ( which are yet to be ascertained with any sense of accuracy)  and on that score our being neglected by the various powers that be, we shall remain Indian Nationals by choice as it is the only alternative for us . On a lighter note ,Gen next may have to technically  abandon Kashmiri nationhood  on account of laws on dual citizenship.

Our worldview ( confined to our community of pre exodus) had evolved  as liberals on account of being a Minority in a Muslim majority province with predominant Sufi culture. The turmoil resulting in our exodus has also caused a dent in our  traditional liberal outlook. We are yet not reconciled to change it as we do not see any  better alternative emerging in our motherland.

Currently, except people who have settled in Jammu , we are stateless in technical terms, although we have established ourselves in various states of India and abroad.–“Gores” somewhere after 15 th Century.

Even as a small child I could see the hypocrisy , irrationality in these rituals as the generation prior to ours had lost the plot & were carrying out these as a burden & not with any faith or conviction. Did we ever have a tradition of formally passing on the religious traditions to our next generation. Did we, over a period of time ,shy away from this  responsibility and sacrificed it on the altar of modernity. During my stay in south ,I could see how the tradition is passed on to next generation by the Brahmin families.

As Sarswat  Brahmins,  we are a peculiar sample of a Hindu. We are mostly meat eating brahmins, we propitiate gods with non-vegetarian offerings ,we worship all predominant gods of Hindu pantheon – Shiv is very dear to us and can be rated as a presiding deity. Vishnu ,Lakshmi, Sarswati, Ram ,Sita are not ignored. Conforming with our tribal traits we also give space to Sages as well as Yakshas & include animals and even  inanimate object for worship. With our dispersion ,  we have adopted  other popular saints in the Hindu pantheon ,Sai Baba, Shiridi Baba, Tirupati. We also carry our tradition, even as displaced lot, of worshipping and following various sages /godmen e.g., Gopinath Bab, Anand Bab, Nanda Bab etc.

Kashmir Shaivism  had its great exponents in Kashmir in Medieval (Abhinavgupta) & modern times (Swami Lakshmanjoo) . It has remained an esoteric belief & out of reach of common masses.

We continued to adhere to the rituals without having understood their  message. Short cuts to  being Religious was adopted instead of making it a base for spiritualism. We brought it down to a lowest common factor. Surprisingly , many of these very beliefs,  ingrained in the  converts  to Islam were a great hindrance to establish the pure Islamic concepts .So much so that Ali Shah Hamdani  got frustrated with neo converts. This was a strong factor in making Islam in Kashmir, a Sufi tradition.

The current generation of the community ,dispersed as they are,  feel the need to  revisit all Religious rituals &  to understand them as a rational belief. Intellectual dishonesty is still the main hurdle in bringing our traditional beliefs into a coherent structure. This will need a reform movement which as a society is not existing. Even as we trying to unite as small units where ever we establish our new homes, we try to revive this Marker. Honestly the effort so far has only resulted in symbolism & not reform. We shall hopefully  continue to follow the reformist agenda for this Marker even in our dispersed state.


Ethnicity can exhibit in other cultural markers e.g., Religious Beliefs, Food etc., We shall bring out the popular festivals, which play a great role to exhibit our Ethnicity and also bring out the uniqueness of our tribe.

Let us examine very briefly some of the prevalent popular festivals of our community.

All festivals have “WHEN,”WHY” & “HOW” as critical elements.  We have retained & dutifully passed from generation to generation  the “WHEN” & “HOW” but forgotten the “WHY” which is  the most vital  part & which would help in perpetuating these festivals in the true form. All our festivals have become feasting days as we only remember what to cook & eat on these days. This is the result of poor handling of earlier generations of these affairs of culture.

The brief essence of Major popular festivals of our community are described here under:

Herath /MahaShivaratri :

The emphasis on the ritual of Herath  celebrated the primarily as marriage of Shiv with Parvati has overshadowed the original belief - as a major festival of all Hindus that is solemn and marks a remembrance of “overcoming darkness and ignorance” in life similar to that of Deepavali.  It is about taking refuge in divine consciousness, which brings peace and solace to all layers of consciousness. The “vidhi” has been handed down with strictures that you cannot discontinue it or change it without incurring the wrath of God. Modern house holds are more or less following it as a  symbolic rote without enjoying the solemnity of this great festival. The feasting of course is a food festival of sorts.

Sonth / Navreh :

It has hardly any religious significance & no Pujas are recommended. Sonth is actually the New Years Day as it falls on the first day of Chaitra the first month of our Calender. Navreh ,which has perhaps its origin in Nav- Varsh (sanskrit ) is celebrated a couple of days after Sonth -the beginning of New Year .The Saptarshi Era of the Kashmiri Hindu calendar is believed to have started on this very day, some 5079 years ago. According to the legend, the celebrated Sapta Rishis assembled on the Sharika Parvata (Hari Parbat), the abode of the goddess Sharika, at the auspicious moment when the first ray of the sun fell on the Chakreshvara on this day and paid tribute to her. Astrologers made this moment as the basis of their calculations of the nava varsha pratipada, marking the beginning of the Saptarshi Era.

Zyeath-Atham (Jyeshtha Ashtami):

To celebrate the pradurbhava of the Goddess Ragya (Kshir Bhavani) -  the sacred spring of the shrine that as per the legend ,miraculously changes its colour having been discovered on the saptami of that month.

The legend goes  that Ravana worshipped Mother Ragnya who showered her blessings on his kingdom. The goddess thus resided in Srilanka. Later on due to Ravana’s misdeeds the goddess cursed him  and ordered Hanumanji to take her to “Satisar”(Kashmir), a place cutoff from the outside world by snow clad  mountains. The mother on her vehicle along with 360 nagas was installed at Tulamulla. Exclusively preferring milk ,sugar and only vegetarian forms of offerings, the mother is worshipped in the name of Maha Ragnya.

The abode of the mother is the mystic spring. The Temple in Amrit Kund is a divine invitation to all the devotees to see how Para Prakarti functions. The legend has it  that the colour  of the spring changes serving as an oblique Omen about what is going to happen in near future. Pink, Milky & light green indicate Auspicious omen. The Black, Dark Red indicates an inauspicious omen. In my lifetime ,I have not seen its color except light green.

As late as 1844 people used to cross the marshes  by walking over the reeds grown in the sump. The legend has it that curiosity about the spring spread further when the learned brahmin by the name of  Sh. Govindjoo Gadoo had a vision of the goddess who manifested as a serpent. The devotee brahmin carried a vessel of milk, arranged a boat , rowed through the marshes of Tulamulla. Upon reaching the sacred spot to which the serpent led him, slowly poured the milk as an offering.

KHIR BHAVANI is eulogized as the goddess of learning & knowledge on the mundane level & as the goddess of wisdom & enlightment on a spiritual level. It is said that all those leading saints who have undergone penance (sadhana)in the Khir Bhavani complex have got the spiritual bliss at this place.

Zarmae-Satam (Janmashtami

In Kashmir , Krishna 's birthday is celebrated on the 7th of Bhadra, since that precedes the midnight when Krishna was born. This is why we have Zanama Satam, which is actually called Zarama Satam, and not Janam Ashtami. The day is celebrated with a fast during which one is allowed to drink water, tea, coffee, milk, and fried dumplings made from water-chestnut flour. After moon rise, the fast concludes with a meal of fruit and halwa.

Pan (Roth Puza / Vinayaka Tsoram / Ganesha Chaturthi), 

Pan (literally meaning thread) is a festival originally associated with the spinning of newly produced cotton and worshipping the twin agricultural goddesses-in Kashmir the  local goddesses - Vibha and Garbha .

”Roths” or sweet bread cakes were offered. Though Kashmir is not said to have a climate & soil suitable for growing cotton, there is a strong tradition suggesting that it actually did grow there. The worship of Lakshmi on this occasion seems to have been inducted later. Not that the worship dedicated to the local goddesses was appropriated willfully by followers of the cult of Lakshmi, but there appears to have been a mix-up at some point of time. The twin goddesses themselves seem to have merged into one another assuming the identity of the folk deity “Beeb Garabh Maej”, whose very name- obviously a distortion - points to such a possibility. Beeb Garabh Maj is represented by a lota or a water pot which is placed in the center of the place where the Puja is to be performed, a cotton thread being tied to its neck and handful of dramun or runner grass kept inside it, pointing again to its agricultural origin. A story is told at the Pan Puja which is quite similar to the Satyanaryana Katha, showing some sort of confusion between two different Pujas. Preparation of the roths and their distribution for ushering in prosperity and auspiciousness has, however, become an important part of Kashmiri Pandit religious life.

Kava Punim

This festival is indicative of the love that the Kashmiris have had for the birds and the care they took of them. It may be worth mentioning that every Kashmiri household would scatter some cooked rice on a wooden shelf kept outside the house everyday before serving food to any member of the house. This shelf kept near the top right hand corner of the window is called Kaw paet - a shelf for the crow. Likewise every person keeps apart a little rice from his or her plate to be fed to the dogs. This is called Hoonya myet - the roll of rice for the dog. This shows the compassionate nature of the Kashmiris for the animal world. No doubt the Gita defines a Pandit as one who treats equally a well  read Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog etc.


Winter time in Kashmir is cold, snowy and dark.  Not so long ago most of the people were forced indoors, designing handicrafts, telling stories and whiling away their time until spring. The average life, though dreary, was by no means monotonous thanks to punctuated celebrations of various feast days throughout the winter. One such is that of Kawa Punim, when food is offered to the crows!

We have the tradition of ancestor (pitris) worship, and crows are considered either the transporters of food to the ancestors or actual representative of the ancestors themselves. In Tibetan Buddhism the crow is the herald and protector of the Dalai Lama. Since Kashmiri scholars were instrumental in spreading what eventually became Tibetan Buddhism, they -- while drawing heavily upon the Tantrik and Shaivite systems of Kashmir -- may have taken the crow along as a part of their legacy. As the vehicle of Shani (Saturn), the crow under Shani's influence is a harbinger of hope even in most dreary times of winter. The crow therefore symbolically brings together our tradition of giving thanks to the ancestors, connection to Buddhism, with Saraswat and Dravidian practices in the harbinger of hope.  

Gaada Batta 

This word literally means fish and cooked rice. This festival for Kashmiri Pandits which focusses on the dependence of Kashmiri Pandit festivals on the sacrificial offerings. This ritual is basically for the Guardian of the House, locally called as Gar Divta, for which the sacrificial offering of fish is offered. Offerings to your Gar Devta is known to keep our house away from evil spirits and protect us..

According to the myth in Kashmiri Pandits folklore, Gar Divta has been perceived by many acts. According to an anecdote, one day, a girl went upstairs where the fish offered to Gar Divta was kept and waited there till she could see Him; the girl was found dead next morning. Another anecdote cites an example of a girl who denied His existence and she was dragged down from top storey to ground floor via stairs.

Some people were even said to have communicated with Him. It is found that only on some occasions ( perhaps when you do not have a cat around) you find all the offering has been eaten with the skeletal remains of the fish left behind.

First of all a plate full of rice and fish is arranged and it is placed at a clean place in a room on the top floor, called “Kaeni” or in the attic.  This is meant for the deity of the house referred to as “Ghar Devata‟.  The plate is properly covered with an upturned basket and a glass of water is placed nearby. Some households even serve raw fish.

Khetsimavas (Yakshamavasya)  

This again appears to refer to some forest-dwelling tribe that lived there before the rishis. There are several other festivals and Puja rites peculiar to Kashmiri Pandits, some of them dating back to hoary antiquity. One such distinctly Kashmiri festival is Khetsimavas or Yakshamavasya. Commemorative of the coming together and co-mingling of various races and ethnic groups in prehistoric Kashmir. Khetsimavas appears to be a folk / religious festival.

On this day a special dish of moong mixed rice (KHICHARI) is prepared in the evening. It is served  as sacrificial food to the Yaksha on an improvised plate made of dry grass.  The plate is placed on the top of the compound wall. The kitchen  mortal (kajwatt) is washed & anointed with sandalwood paste and vermilion & placed on a grass ring.It is then  worshipped as a symbol of the cosmos .Some households serve fish on this day also. . Khichari is offered to him with Naivedya mantras and a portion of it is kept on the outer wall of his house by the worshipper in the belief that Yaksha will come to eat it. The family then enjoys the feast of khichdi with some ghee, anchar of Kohl rabi, or even cooked fish and radishes.

Afterwards all hush up to listen for the call of the Yachh passing by in the dark of night, supposedly as a large cat-like creature. Legend has it that the Yacch dons a golden cap which, if snatched away would bestow the grabber enormous amounts of wealth.  

Who is this Yachh? Yachh is a corruption of the Sanskrit word Yaksha. Apparently Yakshas were meat eating people living in the northern areas of India (including Kashmir and beyond). They possessed knowledge, wealth, technology and power. In the Mahabharata the famous discourse between Yudhishtara and a Yaksha (Yaksha Prashna: the questions by the Yaksha to Yudhishtara) illustrates the deep understanding of the mundane and the subtle by these people. In the epic Ramayana, king Rama returns from Lanka to his kingdom Ayodhya in an aero plane called Pushpak Vimana that belonged to the king of Yakshas -Kubera. The Yacch mavas offering is for this chief of the Yakshas.  

Yakshas have been a part of the Indian landscape since ancient times. With the passage of time, folklore has ascribed both bad as well as good qualities to the Yakshas. Because of their supernatural powers they gradually became part of the pantheon of deities for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains- just as the elves of the North have become part of the Christian tradition in various forms. Some of the famous deities that we adore in Kashmir probably have Yaksha origins directly or indirectly with Saivite, Buddhist and Jain influences mixed in together. The modern Kashmiris may in fact be the descendants of the original tribes of Yakshas, who lived in Kashmir from times immemorial, intermingled with lineages of the sage Kashyapa. No wonder then, we offer Khichdi to Kubera not only to propitiate him to bestow us with wealth but also to remind ourselves about our own ancestry derived from the ancient lineages that have gone before us.

So now, hush, and get ready to snatch that golden cap!  And may Lord Kubera bestow us all with wealth and happiness

Tiky Tsoram

Tripura Sundari, literally meaning “she who is lovely in the three worlds”, is one of the most important goddesses worshipped in the Tantric tradition in Kashmir. Her cult is particularly popular among the Tiku clan of Kashmiri Pandits who celebrate her festival on Tiky chorum.The surname ‘Tiku’ is derived from “trika”, according to popular etymology. Her devotees believe that she combines in her form all three Goddesses, Mahalakshmi, Maha-sarswati and Mahakali, and all three of her cosmic functions. However, she is also worshipped by the entire Brahmin community in Kashmir and from very early times. As Tripura Sundari (Shodashi), she occupies a prominent position in both Kashmiri and South Indian Tantrism. Apart from her anthropomorphic image, she is accessed ritually through her mantra and yantra.

Zanga Trai

It literally means Zang (good luck) & Tray ( three in numerology) that indicates the third day which is celebrated on the eve of the New Year (Navreh). According to mythology, Lord Shiva created the Universe on Navreh. On the third day, His Consort (Parvati) paid a visit to Her parent's home. So, all Kashmiri married women go to their MALYUN ( Parent's home), and dine there ,conveying good wishes for the new year, wearing a new 'Athura' .From there they go to the temples and gardens with their kiths and return in the evening with new dresses and the customary Noon( Salt )Tsocha( local bread) and Atagat ( monetary gift) as a sign of prosperity for both the families . These three items are a must to be given to the married daughters, whenever they come to their parents' house, at the time of their return to their home.

Teela Aetham

 In effect it is the culmination of the Shivarathri festivals as also bidding adieu to the shivering winter. To begin with pooja is offered at home and a number of lamps are lit.   These lamps are taken to the river bank and are floated on grass bases in the river after  the prescribed pooja. Afterwards old firepots, “Kangris‟ are filled with grass.  A long rope tied to its handle and fire is lit in it. Then the kangri is moved round and round in circles rhythmically till the whole kangri burns down.It perhaps also is a symbolic occasion to cast off the rigorous winter of yore.

Vyetha Truvah

Vitasta or the river Jhelum held an important position in our religious and cultural life. Most of our famous temples are situated on its bank, noteworthy being Ganesh temple, Mahakali Shrine, Somayar temple. It is not surprising, therefore, that they used to celebrate the “Pradurbhava divas‟ or the appearance day of this life line of Kashmir . All the ghats of this holy river were sacred for us to perform Sandhya, to have a dip and to offer pooja. This festival was not very commonly celebrated even before the dispersion. After the exodus , it has only a historical value as we have settled in lands far away from Vyeth.

The river was worshipped by offering water, milk, raw rice and flowers. People also used to go for pilgrimage to its source at “Vyatha Votur‟ and Verinag.

Shruka Tsoram(Shloka Chaturthi)

On this day the child is taught the basic Sanskrit sloka e.g., “Twameva Mata Cha Pita twameva” (O Lord, you are my mother as also my father).

Tvameva Mata chaPita Tvameva,

Tvameva Bandhu cha Sakha Tvameva, 

Tvameva Vidya Dravinam Tvameva, 

Tvameva Sarvam Mama Deva Deva.



Tvameva Mata: You are my Mother, the Supreme One Without a Second, Who nourishes me with Divine Love and graces my life with Self-Respect (the perception of my self as the Soul-Self, and not just as a body, mind, intellect, or ego).


Cha Pita Tvameva: And you are my Father, the Supreme Being Who protects me by raising my consciousness and transforming my mind into a receptacle of the divine; Who instills in me the sterling qualities of Divine Consciousness.


Tvameva Bandu cha Sakha Tvameva: You are my True Relative with Whom I am eternally related as Atman (Soul-self) with Paramatman (the Supreme Self), and You are my Best Friend, my Eternal Companion and Dearest Confident Who will never leave me.


Tvameva Vidya: You are the Divine Wisdom, the Essence of everything I know, everything I am learning, and everything I do not know but seek to understand and realize (actualize).


Dravinam Tvameva: You are the Highest Wealth (Laxmi) and the Bestower of all the best things in this life and the next. You are the Source of everything good and the Bestower of all Resources we require for our physical sustenance and spiritual enlightenment.  You are the Wealth of Wisdom and the Gift of Liberation (Moksha).


Tvameva Sarvam Mama Deva Deva:  You are All-in-All; You are Everything to me, You are the core of my being, the Heart of my heart, the Source of my Self, the Soul of my soul, the Ultimate Reality devoid of duality and partiality; Indivisible, Immutable, Immaculate, the Ultimate Knower and the Absolute Perfect Incomparable Supreme Being. 

Children are taught Sanskrit shloka for the first time by Kashmiri Pandits on the day .This ritual also falls in the category of forgotten ones.


This is the day celebrated as the day when the bride informs her in-laws that she is in the family way.

As per the tradition, the girl informs her mother of the news, and then she carries two pots of yoghurt sent from her parents and places them in front of her in-laws.

This is considered as an information for the in-laws that they need now to take care of the girl's health, comfort and diet.

This custom  like many other customs had lost its original significance and had turned into a bad social custom. A huge quantity of yoghurt was expected to be received from the parents of the girl, which was distributed among the relatives to give publicity to the event. A gala feast was also organized by the family and the lady concerned comes from her parents' home with new dresses and other costly gifts.

In any case, the current environment of nuclear families and the dispersion , the news is given directly  & the concerned -the husband hopefully takes care of the expectant mother.


On the eleventh day of the delivery or on any other suitable date.

This has its origin in the Punaswan sanskara, one of the sixteen( in general for Hindus, Kashmiris have more than sixteen) prescribed in the rule book.

Ladies of the neighborhood, near relatives and ladies in the house collect In the morning. The mother and the baby are properly bathed and suitably dressed. Thereafter small pieces of “bojpatra‟ bark are burnt and lighted barks moved round their heads of two by turns. . A specific folk song is chanted, perhaps to ward off the bad omens .These pieces of the bark are then dipped into the water kept in a pot nearby. This is called Burza Myet.


This literally means the winter. This is an exclusive occasion for the new born baby and the newly wed bride.

The  rationale  behind this custom is to ward off any evil eye and any ill omen.

On this day a little lime powder is placed in a piece of 'Zarbaft' cloth and stitched into a small triangular shape & fixed on the cap of the new born or on the side of the Sari which covers the head of the bride.. On this day yellow meat is specially cooked and this along with the pan cakes  is distributed among the relatives, friends and the neighbors.


Whenever a child is born or on the occasion of an addition of the bride in the household , this occasion becomes  special .On this day  the family priests visit their respective “Yajmans “ with a printed or painted images of  Gauri -Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. The Priests expect  in return  a handsome honorarium.

This must have been the day of teaching the child the first alphabets after offering pooja to the Goddess of learning.

We have briefly described the rituals and festivals of our community. A separate write-up describes these and many more in detail .We shall attempt to publish in our next edition.

The purpose of mentioning about these here is to give a flavor of our Ethinicity.


Food is one marker which KP's have passionately preserved for centuries even in worst of times for the community . Suppliers of Kashmiri Masala will vouch for it. Our social interactions anywhere are incomplete if these do not cover our cuisine.

So much is the intensity of preservation of this marker that even those who are not Kashmiri Pandits by birth but enter their households through marriages  are touched by it. So do not get surprised if you get authentic “Monj Hak” or “Dumolu” from a UPite or a Gujarati bahu from Kashmiri Pandit families.

Lately it is felt that we must compile & circulate the genuine recipes as  the current “word of mouth & kitchen apprenticeship “may not last long. What gets offered as genuine Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is nowhere near it. It is heartening to observe that youngsters are keen to revitalize this Marker . We can rest assured that this cultural marker is going to be preserved for long.

Here are some favorite KP dishes:

Popular Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine


Vegetarian Dishes of Kashmiri Pandits

Nadeir Yakhean;Haak (with Nadeir Ya Vangan);Nadier Palak;Choek Vangan;Muji Chetein;Razmah Goagji;Haak;Chamani Qaliya;Veth Chaman;Dama Oluv;Bam Choont or Choont Vangen;Nadir Palak,Aaloo or Nadir Churma;Choek Nadir;Kulfa;Sonchal;Wosta Hakh;Wopal Hak ;Choek Muji;KarelaWangun ;Nadeir Yakhani;Kangaech Yakhni;Gogji Kalia; Chatta Gogji;Parem Al Wagiz;Al ledder;Al yakhni;


Sweet Dishes & Beverages

Shufta;Modur Polav;Khir;Firweun;Kashmiri Shier Chay;Kashmir Kehwa


Staple & Other Cereal Foods & bakery



Mutton Dishes of Kashmiri Pandits

Machh. Wazig;Neni Yakhean;Neni Qaliya;Rogan Josh;Shyaem;Kabargah ,Choek Charvan,Damini Kalia;Gogji Seun;Keema Mutter;


Fish Preparations

Ranith Gada;Hogada Ta Hak Ya Bumchoont


Cuisine of Muslims of Kashmir favorite with Pandits also

Goshtaba , Rista


In summary ,I feel ,Language, Religious Beliefs, Ethnicity  & Location are the predominant issues to be debated and actions initiated as individuals as well as a community. We will have to change our trait as being socially demanding but individually indifferent. Various groups are engaged in this effort but honestly speaking the gap between intention and action is wide. The responsibility is with people who can spare some time from the humdrum of career building under the guidance of those who are resting in their sunset period.

Note: This article is based on various writings on these subjects by community writers & my own  perceptions ,learnings and experiences  in my life time till date (1949-2017).My experiences are based on urban(Srinagar ) world view .I do not claim any scholarship in studying cultures of societies.


14 th Apr. 2017