Upholding Religious Traditions in Foreign land

Thursday 18th June 2015 07:32 EDT

Hundreds of Kashmiri Hindus from in and around London attended the 2nd Annual Kheerbhawani puja and hawan at Rama Krishna Temple in Romford (East London) on Sunday, 14th June 2015.

Organised by the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society, UK the effort was to recreate the actual Kheerbhawani puja held in Kashmir and continue the religious traditions of the Kashmiri Hindu community. A scattered community of around 400 families across UK, the Kashmiri Hindus, the Pandits are a community in exile now in the 25th year. Through the years in exile, some of the community members have gone on to make careers and build their lives for the better however, owing to having been uprooted from their homes the struggle over the years has not only remained limited to the geo-political demand but also of identity.

KPCS UK for the last 4 years has made a huge difference to the community cohesion as well as awareness of not only the Kashmiri Hindu cause but also their religious, social, cultural traditions. "Our effort has not just been to organise a puja but it is an effort to learn the religious traditions and build awareness of our heritage and practices among those living in the UK who are not Kashmiri. The Kheerbhawani puja is a classic example of one such effort where non Kashmiri priests have picked up the tradition and religious practice that is so unique to the Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits)," says Lakshmi Kaul, Founder & Executive Member of KPCS UK.

The puja held in Romford was the second one in the UK, the first ever having been organised in Southall at the Vishwa Hindu Kendra last year by KPCS volunteers. The hawan and puja was conducted in the methodology followed at the main Kheer Bhawani temple with the mother Goddess seated inside a water body and offerings made to her at the hawan.

"We had a wonderful puja and havan of Mata Tulmul Khir Bhavani (Kshira Bhavani) of Kashmir. Felt totally blessed. Thanks to all the Kashmiri Hindu members at KPCS," says Madhava Turumella, a Hindu scholar and priest who conducted the hawan along with the Shri Rama Krishna temple, Romford Priest Sanjay Pandit.

"It is wonderful to see our community connecting to roots and initating young children in these events," says Sunil Raina from New Delhi, India."

Kheer Bhawani is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Kheer Bhawani (originally just Bhawani) constructed over a sacred spring in Kashmir.The worship of Kheer Bhawani is universal among the Hindus of Kashmir. The temple is situated at a distance of 14 miles east of Srinagar near the village of Tul Mul. The term kheer refers to rice pudding that is offered in the spring to propitiate the Goddess, which became part of the name of the temple. As is the custom with Hindu deities, she has many names: Maharagya Devi, Ragnya Devi, Rajni and Ragnya Bhagwati. Because of the forced exodus in 1989-90 from the valley, Kashmiri Hindus have struggled to continue the tradition of going to Kheer Bhawani temple in Kashmir. Traditionally, an annual festival is held at Kheer Bhawani temple on the Jesht-Ashtami (may-june) when Hindu visit the temple and offer prayers and perform hawan to please the mother Goddess. The historic temple was built by the then Dogra ruler of Jammu & Kashmir, Maharaja Pratap Singh. Later it was renovated by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1912.

Tejas Kotwal said, "I am a 17 year old Kashmiri Pandit. I was 16 months old when I came to this country and am now a British citizen. My parents talk very fondly about their birthplace Kashmir which sadly because of terrorism they are unable to visit. There are many families like ours in the U.K who share a common heritage and ethnic identity. KPCS has played an important role in bringing us all together and by holding events to preserve our rich and unique heritage. Their group of dedicated volunteers encourage not just my own community but other communities to work with each other and contribute to the rich tapestry of this country.”

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