Me and My Uncle: A personal Memory.
I remember my elder Uncle, today, who blesses us from the heavens always. Whatever, I know of Shivratri came from his wise learnings and teachings to us. He told me that Herath is not a myth but a method. He could explain complex things in simple words and would give us examples.
In his typical Kashmiri style, wearing a grey Pheran and a safa, he elucidated that Kashmiri Pandits refer to famous Hindu festival of Shivratri as Herath. Me and my cousins would surround him to get more share of the Walnuts, which we loved to crack and eat with sugar.
He professed: "Herath is one of the most awaited and spiritually relevant festivals for the Kashmiri Pandits. As a deviation to the timing, the Kashmiri Pandit’s celebrate Herath on Trayodashi or the 13th day of the dark half of the Phalguna month, which falls between February and March. The larger Hindu community celebrates Shivratri on chaturdashi or 14th day of the Phalguna month."
He was proud of the community and would say : "We are different but not disruptive. We take deviations but don’t deviate from the core Philosophy of Hinduism"
It was he who explained to us that word Herath was derived from a Sanskrit word-root which meant Night of the Hara. Hara means Shiva. He further explained that the festival marked the marriage anniversary of Lord Shiva (Hara) and Goddess Uma. She is also known by the name of Goddess Parvathi.
While giving us walnuts, which are linked to many rituals of Herath, what sticked to my memory was that the four sections of this special nut are said to represent the four Vedas. He was also advising us to eat more of walnuts, as in the dance of evolution, walnuts represented the folds of the brain and eating of walnuts meant a chance to become more brainy.
In our three story house in Narpirastan, I still recall the fervor and pomp of Herath in our big hall on the ground floor. There was the spiritual Vatuk Pooja, then the elaborate food followed by Kharach the next day, where children would get gifts and money. I would wait for my Kharach the full year and uncle gave the maximum to me. For some reason I was his favorite child.
The Vatuk Puja, has connection to Vatuk Dev, which has linkage to celibate form of all powerful lord Shiva. I recall him filling two big vessels with walnuts and decorating them with flowers and red thread. He would draw the holy OM on them. I also participated in this activity. There were also other smaller pots which represented other dieties who were the Bharatis. I used to be awe stuck by this beautiful imagery.
The puja would start with invocation of Lord Ganesha and concluded with us blowing conches. I was not good at this part and was always taunted by my cousins for this.
The food that followed was royal and elaborate. So many delicious vegetarian Kashmiri dishes were served by Badi Mummy to all. I would eat to my fullest capacity. I still cherish and relish that big family feeling. I miss this now so much.
Then, for children, next day would come as the day of Kharach where money would flow and we would say Herath Salaam. I would save my money for the books I loved to read.
I now live in Singapore. I don’t have my Uncle anymore to give me Kharach. But I have now the responsibility to propagate his wise teachings to our younger generation and I will do my bit.