Hundreds Of Pandits Arrive In Kashmir To Celebrate Annual Kheer Bhawani Festival

Every year thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who have moved out of the state participate in the festival.

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Hundreds Of Pandits Arrive In Kashmir To Celebrate Annual Kheer Bhawani Festival

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Hundreds of Pandits arrive in Kashmir to celebrate the annual Mata Kheer Bhawani festival (PTI)

Srinagar:  Hundreds of Pandits are arriving in Kashmir to celebrate the annual Mata Kheer Bhawani festival - the festival symbolising valley's religious harmony is seen as an occasion to revive the strong bonds between different communities in the valley and to pray for the return of Kashmiri Pandits.

For Usha Devi and her family it is a homecoming.

Twenty-seven years ago the family split up, some migrated from Srinagar to Jammu, others to Delhi, when militancy erupted in the valley. Today, the family has reunited at the Kheer Bhawani mela at Ganderbal, 27 km from Srinagar.

They are praying for peace in the valley and the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits.

"We have homes in Delhi and Jammu, but we don't have peace of mind there. I was doing a government job here, living with my colleagues and friends but life is not so peaceful outside Kashmir," said Usha Devi.

Every year thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who have moved out of the state participate in the festival.

Although there has been a significant drop in the number of devotees arriving this year due to the rising tension in the state, the communal harmony one can witness here is unique, visitors say.

"We are praying to God that the day comes soon when Kashmiri Pandits can return to their homes with dignity, with children. There are so many children who have not seen Kashmir," said the state's Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who also joined the celebrations at Kheer Bhawani shrine in Tulmulla.
 
mehbooba mufti

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also joined the celebrations at Kheer Bhawani shrine in Tulmulla

It is a religious festival where Hindus hold prayers and local Muslims make arrangements. For years Muslim families have been welcoming the Pandits by setting up stalls for selling puja materials and serving them milk.

"We benefit a lot, we earn a living through this, it is a great opportunity for the poor people to earn," said Mumtaz, a puja material seller.

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