Today is a twin-auspicious occasion. On this day, the Kashmiri Pandits celebrate the onset of the Kashmiri New Year, called "Navreh" while Hindus, in general, start the nine-day long celebrations for the Navratras (in honour of the nine avatars of Maa Durga).
On the eve of Navreh (which literally means a ray of new light!!), the Kashmiri Pandit families observe a "thaal-bharun" ritual, in which they fill a thali (metal plate) with uncooked ricegrains. Atop the rice, there is walnut (its four partitions representing the four Vedas!!! with and without kernels), curd, cooked rice, a piece of roti, a pen, a currency note (of any denomination), salt and fresh fruit and a gold ornament. Besides, a few petals of dry flowers as well as a few fresh flowers are also placed on the rice-plate. The reason why walnut (or akhrot) and the dry flowers are a part of this thali is that because of extreme harsh winters in the valley, there used to be no fresh fruit or fresh flower available in Kashmir at the time of onset of new year. That is why, the walnut and dried flowers were used.
But after migration, when KP families settled in other parts of the country and world, fresh fruits and flowers are included as per availability. In fact, KPs celebrating this day in Kashmir itself, can procur all these things from the market as well. That is the changing world and power of technology, I would say but I will come to that later.
Apart from the things discussed above, the two most important things that are placed in this thali are:
1) Nechipatra (or almanac): The Kashmiri Pandit community's religious scholars undertake a tedious process to prepare an almanac every year, which is traditionally released and bought during the onset of traditional new year.
2) Wye, a special weed: Wye, a wild weed, resembling in shape to arabi, and considered pure, is also a part of this traditional thali.
This Thali is then covered with another metal plate for the night and early next morning, just before sunrise, a young member of the family, either boy or girl, takes this thali and circulates it among all the family members. In this way, the KPs welcome the new year, with the hope to receive and enjoy all those ingredients that form part of the thali and also as a kind of thanksgiving to the God Almighty, for keeping them safe and satiated in the year gone by.
Scholars put Navreh as the beginning of the lunar new year, which coincides with the onset of Navratras, celebrated during Chaitra (or spring) month. KPs celebrate their birthdays, death anniversaries, marriages and other auspicious occasions according to this calendar.
However, KPs are not the only ones who celebrate today as the onset of their new year.
This day is also celebrated as New Year's Day in Maharashtra (Gudi Padwa), in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (Ogadi), by Sindhis as Cheti-Chand as well as in whole of North India as Chaitra Shukla.
Now we come to Navratras, literally meaning "Nine nights." This festival, as told above, is celebrated to invoke the energies emanating from all the nine avatars of Maa Durga. Navratras (or also called Navratris) are celebrated twice every year. One is celebrated during the spring time, which starts from today and the other one falls in the month of September, just at the onset of winters. Thus, twice every year, devotees celebrate the glory of the Goddess and her nine forms, during two different seasonal changes. Fasts are observed during these nine days and special food is cooked, which is devoid of onion, tomatoes and garlic.
Families plant "Jow" (or unchaffed paddygrains) in earthen pots inside a mound of dry earth and sand. Along with the jow, a whole supari is also planted inside the pot. This pot is then placed at a pure and sacred place within the house, where milk and water is sprinkled on it every morning. Just as the paddygrains start sprouting, these are covered with leaves. By the end of the eighth day, the paddygrains have grown into blooming shafts, coloured greenish yellow.
On the ninth day morning, a pooja is performed, wherein neighbourhood girls, who, on this day, are referred to as "Kanjakein" (little girls in reference to Goddess Durga's Mata Vaishno Devi avatar as a young girl), are served with Halwa (a sweet preparation) and poori (round wheatcakes deep fried in oil or ghee). Their feet are washed and then sindoor put on their foreheads, after which they are served the prasad (halwa-poori) and given gifts, etc.
The photograph above shows a thali filled with the Navreh items to give the readers an idea of what it exactly is.
Just one more thing, my fasts also began today and I would be keeping some of them. So, here is for a happy and auspicious Navreh and Navratras for all of us!!!!!!!!!
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