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Festivals bring Kashmiris together

In a long-standing tradition, Hindus and Muslims dine and celebrate together during each others' festivals.

By Adil Akhzer for Khabar South Asia in Srinagar

December 01, 2012
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Each year during Diwali, the festival of light, the Koul family gets busy in their small kitchen, preparing special Kashmiri food for their Muslim neighbours.

  • Children in Srinagar set off firecrackers to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. [Photos by Adil Akhzer/Khabar]

    Children in Srinagar set off firecrackers to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. [Photos by Adil Akhzer/Khabar]

  • A Kashmir Pandit family makes Rangoli (decorative designs) for Diwali.

    A Kashmir Pandit family makes Rangoli (decorative designs) for Diwali.

In doing so, they are following a centuries-old tradition. It has long been customary for Kashmiri Pandits to invite their Muslim brethren to feast with them during this and other major Hindu festivals. Likewise, Muslims entertain their Hindu neighbours during their festivals, especially on Eid.

Diwali, honouring the Goddess Kali, was celebrated this year for five days starting on November 13th. Also known as Deepavali, it is the biggest holiday in India. In Kashmir, the festival also offers an opportunity for minority Pandits and majority Muslims to renew their fraternal ties.

"There are just a few families left in this area. Since my childhood, I have seen my Muslim friends visiting our home on every auspicious occasion. For Diwali, again we have invited our Muslim neighbours for dinner, and they will also do the same for us during their festivals," said Assema Koul as she prepared the Kashmiri Wazwan, a delicacy made of goat meat.

"My family never ever experienced the feeling of being a minority here," she told Khabar South Asia.

"We are still together"

For Sanjay Tickoo, president of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), an organisation of Kashmiri Pandits, Diwali is an opportunity to invite Muslim friends for a get-together.

"We organised Eid and Diwali Milan on the same day to give a message to the outside world that we are still together and we will be together, no matter what," Tickoo told Khabar. "Our Muslim friends and neighbours visit our homes and we celebrate the festival together. During Eid, we too visit our neighbours and share the food together."

Muslims eagerly await these joyous occasions. Srinagar resident Shaban Mohammad told Khabar that local Muslims take part in every non-Muslim festival.

"We have political uncertainty in Kashmir, but that doesn't mean that we don't take part in the non-Muslim festivals. Every year, I visit homes of Kashmiri Pandits and even Sikhs during their festivals," he said.

"Kashmir belongs to them also. They are not visitors here. We have shared pain and happiness together during the prolonged years of conflict," Mohammad said.

Welcoming non-locals

The younger generation in Kashmir is also helping keep the Diwali tradition alive. Rahul Kumar, 22, who is pursuing engineering from NIT Srinagar, told Khabar that his Kashmiri friends invited him and other non-locals to their home for Diwali.

"I can't tell you how happy I am. This is my first year in Kashmir and I thought I would miss my family. But thanks to my friend Jibran and his family, they made me feel like I am in my own home," Rahul said.

Tajamul Shah, 24, a student at SKIMS Medical College Srinagar, told Khabar he celebrated Diwali with non-local friends on campus. "We had a grand get-together with all the non-local friends on the campus and we enjoyed it a lot," he said.

Festivals like Diwali bring nostalgia to some Kashmiri Pandit families who left the Valley after the insurgency erupted.

Sameer Bhatt, a Delhi-based Kashmiri Pandit, vividly recalls childhood celebrations at his home in Anantnag, South Kashmir.

"My mind goes back to those wonderful times, and though we are settled here in Delhi now, I miss my Kashmiri friends who call me up on every Eid and Diwali and insist that my family come back to the Valley," he told Khabar.

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