Thousands throng Kheer Bhawani Temple in Kashmir, Muslims offer milk and flowers

Keeping their tryst with the Hindu deity Mata Ragnya, hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits on Sunday paid obeisance at the Tullamulla shrine in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
Using different modes of conveyance, Kashmiri Pandits, most of them migrants, started reaching Tullamulla town, 24 km from Srinagar, since Saturday evening.

The annual festival of Mata Kheer Bhawani, the name used by local Pandits for goddess Ragnya, is celebrated each year on this day.

Despite their exodus from Kashmir Valley in the beginning of 1990s due to separatist violence, members of the Pandit community have not given up their practice of visiting the temple.
Around 15,000 migrant Pandits, including men, women and children, gathered at the shrine by midday Sunday to offer ‘Kheer’ (rice pudding) and flowers to propitiate the goddess.
Keeping the centuries old tradition alive, Muslims living in the town came to greet the devotees.
Some Muslims also offered milk to the devotees which was received with love and reverence by members of the Pandit community.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also visited the shrine in the morning. Mufti was accompanied by professor Amitabh Mattoo, advisor to the chief minister with a cabinet minister’s status.
A group of migrant Pandits shouted slogans blaming the separatists for their migration and for opposing their return to the valley.
They also accused the mainstream political parties of “non-serious approach to problems faced by the Pandit community”.
Raj Kumar Bamzai, 46, a migrant who originally belonged to Habba Kadal area of Srinagar city led a group of protesters shouting slogans against a stone pelting incident in Anantnag district on Friday. Two women travelling to Tullamulla in a bus sustained injuries in the incident.
“The government says it will give us separate colonies and sometimes it says we will be settled at our ancestral places,” Bamzai told IANS.
“These are all political talks because whosoever heads the government, Pandit community is only used as a political tool and nobody wants to address our problems.”
“We are thankful to Muslims in Tullamulla who have welcomed us with open arms,” he added.

The shrine also includes a spring whose colour, the devotees believe, foretells the annual future for the state.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Ragnya appeared before Ravana after she was pleased with his devotion.
Ravana had an idol of the goddess installed in Sri Lanka, but angered by his licentious way of life, the goddess ordered Hanuman to shift her seat to Kashmir.
Authorities had made adequate security arrangements to secure the passage of the devotees to the shrine.
Scores of police and paramilitary troopers lined up the 24-km route from Srinagar city to Tullamulla town. (IANS)