Haerath mubarak to my Kashmiri readers, and a very happy Shivratri to the rest of you! There was much feasting at my mom’s last night where we gathered for Mahashivratri puja. Shivratri is the most important festivals for the Kashmiri Pandit community. The festival marks the end of winter in Kashmir. The preparations start weeks in advance and culminate in the final three days ending with doon pooza (walnut puja!) on Phalgun amavasya, which is tomorrow. [Read more about it here and here] For us, today is Salam, the day after Shivratri, the day the youngsters receive Shivratri kharcha (spending money!) from the elders in the family. We got it last night itself from my father!
The rituals are quite elaborate and food and cooking is an integral part. Every family has their traditions and the ceremonies are not complete without the cooking of certain dishes. In the puja last night we had vatuks (vessels for water) that symbolised Lord Shiva and his wife-to-be, Parvati, who were married in the presence of other gods and invitees (represented, in their turn, by smaller vatuks). Only the eldest family member observes a fast while the rest feast. Walnuts are soaked in another vessel, to which are offered tiny bits of fresh food from the meals cooked everyday. Meat and fish are traditional and are part of the puja offerings. In the last 25 years, since their relocation from the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits, on finding themselves amongst Vaishnavites, have started observing vegetarianism during this festival. In deference to tradition, my mother cooked fish the day before Shivratri. Last night’s menu for the Shiv-Parvati wedding: rajma, paneer kaliya, mujj chetin, dum-olu, palak-matar, steamed rice, roti (for the non-Kashmiris!), and modur polav.