28th June 2014
Kashmiri Pandit community recreate the magic of Kheer Bhawani Puja in London
(Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society (UK) in association with Vishwa Hindu Kendra, Southall)
Twenty Four years ago the Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) were forced to flee the homeland they once called their own and are perhaps the only community that have been living as ‘migrants’ in their own country ever since. Among various other traditions and rituals lost because of the forced migration, the annual visit to the Tulmul Kheerbhawani shrine in Kashmir has remained simply a reminiscence of childhood memories for all the displaced KPs.
The Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society (UK), a group of vibrant and dedicated Kashmiri Pandits in the UK have attempted to recreate the memories of the Tulmul spring and Mata Kheerbhawani puja right here in the heart of London. On 28th June 2014 anyone who attended the day’s proceedings at the Vishwa Hindu Kendra, Southall were transported very magically to Kashmir to the Tulmul Springs and shrine of Mata Kheerbhawani. Nearly 400 Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus participated in the much revered Kheerbhawani puja with people also coming all the way from Holland, India and other parts of the UK – Bristol, Birmingham, Oxford, Hull, Cambridge etc.
The occasion was graced by a number of dignitaries:
MP Virendra Sharma of the Ealing and Southall Constituency. Mr. Sharma currently chairs the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and is Vice-Chair of the APPG for British Hindus.
Mr. Ranjit Dheer, Councillor & Deputy Leader of London Borough of Ealing.
Mr. Sanjay Jagatia, Director/Secretary General of Hindu Council UK.
Mr. Madhava Turumella, Vice President Hindu Forum, UK and Director of Council of Dharmic Faiths, UK.
Ma Ragnya Devi is the presiding deity of the KPs. One of the most sacred pilgrimages for KPs is the visit to the Kheerbhawani temple in Tulmul particularly on the auspicious occasion of Jyestha Ashtami.
The day started with an audio-visual presentations showcasing how the puja was celebrated in Kashmir. A slide show on socio-cultural and religious heritage & traditions of Kashmir was also shared with the spellbound audience. “The celebration of the Tulmul Kheer Bhawani Festival evoked fond childhood memories”, said Dr. Vivek Kaul from Oxford.
This was complemented by an exhibition of unique Kashmiri objects & artefacts on display. The dignitaries and other guests showed keen interest in this unique exhibition.
The programme of the day included Mata’s havan performed with ‘Shri Maha Ragnya Sahasranam’. The havan lasted for three hours, culminating with a poornahuti, followed by prasad to all the devotees. This was followed by singing of bhajans that comprised a mix of Kashmiri and Hindi bhajans. “What a hallowed day! Ma Bhavani came to visit us all the way from Tulmul and blessed us,” said a mesmerised Mridula Kaul, Greenwich. Vikas Labroo from Sutton said he felt “spiritually uplifted and elevated throughout the day.”
Anupama Handoo fondly recalled the entire journey to making this dream come true, “To celebrate the kheerbhawani mela in the UK came about initially as a casual chat among friends. But the momentum of this vision brought together KP professionals from all walks of life who put in a lot of time and effort to realise the dream. From planning to publicity to preparation and finally the execution on the day- it was teamwork all the way.”
An eight-point petition for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits was put forth for signatures on the day. All the dignitaries led by MP Virendra Sharma signed the petition for wholeheartedly supporting the demands of KPs for their rehabilitation and reversal of the damage done to the ethos and morale of the community by continued ignorance of various Indian governments so far. “I congratulate the Kashmiri Hindu community for this auspicious celebration. Let this be the beginning of a movement and not a one off event for your community. I along with my colleagues will extend our support to you”, said MP Sharma. He also pledged his support to further lobby the cause of the KPs in the Parliament and work with the community leaders to influence international pressure for necessary action by Indian government for the betterment of the community.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Sudarshan Bhatia, President of the Vishwa Hindu Kendra, Southall said, “Live and let live has been the philosophy of Hindus. It is not a religious issue, the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits is a humanitarian issue and they must be rehabilitated with dignity.”
The KPCS (UK) volunteers have been working dedicatedly to not only bring the community together but also showcase Kashmiriyat for local communities in the UK. Says Lakshmi Kaul, KPCS (UK) Executive Member & Community Worker, “We are grateful to MP Virendra ji, the Hindu Community in London and the management of Vishwa Hindu Kendra, Southall for their whole hearted support to our cause and efforts. We dream of our homeland and in our small ways are trying to recreate it in our hearts where we reside now. It will be another dream come true if we could have a dedicated Cultural & Religious resource centre here in the UK so that our children remain connected to their roots.”
About Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society (KPCS), UK: After our exodus from the Kashmir valley in 1989-90, we Kashmiri Pandits have been scattered all over the globe; a community known for its tolerance and hardwork. There is a small group of vibrant expats in the UK who have come together to form a socio-cultural group Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society (KPCS), UK. We get together for religious, social, cultural community events like Mahashivratri, Navreh (Kashmiri New Year), Holi, Diwali etc. We also morally support one other as one big family. The aim of the group to spread awareness of Kashmiri Hindu culture, traditions, food and language among the local community. Occasionally, we also raise money for noble causes pertaining to not only the Kashmiri Pandits but also the wider community (local and in India).
For details, visit:
Contact: Lakshmi Kaul, Executive Member KPCS (UK) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Anupama Handoo, Executive Member KPCS (UK) – email@example.com
Vinod Tikoo, Executive Member KPCS (UK) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Lakshmi Kaul (Ms.) Executive Member, Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society (UK)