June 12, 2016
The celebration is all around, for the Mela the temple compound is decorated with lights, in the Tulmul area of Ganderbal. Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) from around the world have gathered at the temple of Godess Bhawani, built around the sacred pool fed by a spring.
People light up diyas, earthen lamps and the fragrance from incense sticks, and the families meet.
In the shade of a century-old mighty Chinar, in the premises of Khir Bhawani, George Van Den Barselaar is resting on a chair.
An engineer by profession, 64-years old Barselaar is a follower of Kashmiri Shivisim.
“Every spiritual life is a journey and mine began in Kashmir in 1980,” he says. Gorge was 29 when he first visited Kashmir, and fell in love with Kashmiri Shivism. He studied it for a decade under the guidance of Swami Lakshmanjoo.
“I was born in a Methodist family that was not rigid in practicing religion. In Kashmir I became associated with Shivism and helped Swamiji’s trust in publishing books and circulating them in America and Australia,” he says, opening a book to find a photograph of himself.
“This is young me, when I was a student of Shivism,” he says, wearing a smile on his wrinkled face.
George believes that all religions have the same theme that “God is one”, but different approaches. And Kashmir Shivism, he insists, “is the best path for meditation”.
He visits Kashmir almost every year to be at Ishwar Ashram trust at Nishat, Srinagar. His wife too has visited the place. He comes to set-up a bookstall at Khir Bhawani, for books on the life and teachings of Lakshmanjoo.
“History has it that many Kashmiri Muslims are actually third fourth generation Hindus. I feel very bad for the younger generations of Kashmir because they are losing touch with their traditions; the departure of Kashmir pandits has disturbed the social setup completely,” he says.
Kheer Bhawani has been Kashmiri Pandits’ vital connection to Kashmir. And reduction in the number of visitors is the only change Barselaar has noticed at the temple after 1990.
“Except the decline in the number of devotees visiting the temple, there is no change here. There is no change in the way they (devotees) do their religious rituals here,” he says.
Kashmir, he feel is best place for meditation, cool, calm and colorful. The air is filled with piousness and natural surroundings give an arrangements of nature to enlighten yourself with.
“East is going to the west,” he continues, “and the west is coming to the east. Despite their rich traditional and cultural values, people here, unfortunately, tend to follow the West. It is a cause of concern”.
People light up diyas, earthen lamps yet again, and the fragrance from incense sticks spreads around, the families meet each other, yet again. But his year the turnout is extremely low.
On inquiring, a pilgrim says that the Pandit organisations in Jammu had a meeting, and decided not to come, because a police officer was kidnapped. It seemed as an excuse. The reason, it feels, is the lack of sense of security, and prior commitments of a community scattered.
George Van Den Barselaar was nowhere to be found.