Herath: Shivaratri: An interpretation


Herath: Shivaratri: An interpretation
Felicitations on the Herath 2012

Omanand Koul
erath is celebrated during the month of Phalgun according to the Hindu lunar calendar. The main puja (pooza in Kashmiri) is held on the 12/13th night of the dark fortnight of the month of Phalgun (this year on February 19th.). Tradition has it that in different eons of the Hindu cosmology, Shiva drank poison to become Nealakantha, got married to Parvati, performed His Tandava dance, and was declared by the goddess Uma as the Unfathomable entity. For Kashmiri pundits this day truly is a family celebration. While inviting the ideal inseparable family of Shiva and Parvati into our homes, we celebrate Their bond and share the blessed joy together. In the elaborate preparations for it no stone is left unturned. And it does take a village to get it together.

Although the ceremonies are laden with symbolism, and at times resemble a chaotic scene with all the pots and pans used in the puja, yet the festival does manage to bring together the ultimate unit of daily life-the family.

What follows is a description of my practice while living in the US (and might be similar to what is followed by others living outside of Kashmir). It is an adaptation of the practice of Herath/Shivaratri that we grew up with in the Kashmir valley.

My notes about the significance/philosophy of Shivaratri are based on an explanation of the festival written by my father, Pundit Bishamber Nath Koul.

The ritual and the philosophy:

In Kashmir, we celebrate Herath with the grand ritual of Vatuka Pooza. Vatuk is corruption of the word Batuka the young Bhairava- that is Shiva.

Although the ritual is given the name of Vatuka Pooza, yet it is a three act play running concurrently: a Kashmiri Pundit multitasking.

Act 1. The re-enactment of the marriage ceremony between Vatuk (Shiva) with Parvati (Uma). To get married, Shiva is accompanied by his Bhairavas (played by the five little pots; dulgees (and Dhull) and an assortment of little pots). Shiva and his retinue are offered the feast. Depending on the family tradition (reeth), vegetarian or non-vegetarian food is offered. In Kashmir meat and fish preparations were offered with gusto by most of the families.

Act 2. The annual return of Parvati (along with Shiva) to her parent’s home, and her stay for three days. Shiva (Large pot; Nott) comes along with his wife Parvati (small pot; Naar). This is annual enactment of the inseparable union between Shiva and Shakti.

Act 3. The attempt to identify one’s self with the Source of all. (the person performing the puja: symbolically also represented by the Nott with the dry walnuts in water; as Bhairava (Shiva unrealized) with the ParamaShiva (as Nott with shell softened and kernels accessible). Thus the ritual is a symbolic demonstration of the processes needed to remove ignorance (shell) and access and realize the Truth (kernel inside), and unify the seeker with the Source. In this portion of the play the dulgees play the part of our senses that need to be directed and appropriately positioned, kept clean to help.

The progression of Herath festivities during the fortnight:

Kashmiris begin the festival on the first day of the dark fortnight. The celebrations in Kashmir were literally made possible by the hard work of Pundit women-the cleaning, the arrangements and cooking-the eating and merrymaking was, however, done by us all. Now outside Kashmir these burdens on women have changed somewhat although not completely.

Huri Okdoh (Feb. 8 this year): marks the beginning of the fortnight long Herath festival for Kashmiri Pundits that ends on Amavasya, 15 days later. Each day has significance in the sequential progression to the climax. I have listed them as we see them here in the US.

Huri Okdoh to Huri Sheyam (the first day of celebration to the sixth day):
Clean the house, and give it a festive look.
Procure material for puja.

Huri sattam, huri atham and Huri Navam (seventh to ninth day): Offer prayers to the mother goddess Sharika-the presiding deity of the valley of Kashmir.

Dyara Daham (Tenth day: - literally the Day of the Money -Day of Lakshmi).
Offer prayers to Goddess of wealth. Send a felicitation card to the mother-in-law if not living with you.

Gadda kaah (11th day: the feast of fish day):
Feast with fish, according to the reeth (i.e. the family tradition)

Wagur Baah (12th day): Day of the Wagur. Ritual performed after sunset

At sunset, tie a naarivan around a small pitcher (wagur: the priest: the messenger) and offer tilak. The messenger brings the good news about Shiva and Parvati visiting next day. Another tumbler or pitcher is filled with water and walnuts (called kalusha: the witness: the mind). The priest and kalusha sit on grass mats. A brief puja is offered, culminating with eating of rice cakes and walnuts. At the end of the ceremony, the mats and naarivan are collected and deposited under a tree (parmoozan). In Kashmir we would deposit this in a running stream of water.

Herath (13th day: February 19th.this year): the day of the main pooja: Wedding party of Shiva arrives: Shiva and Parvati come to stay in our home: the seeker (you) seek the Source (Universal Truth/Being: the ParamaShiva). The elements of puja are listed below.
  • The eldest male in the household keeps a fast.
  • Cook a feast according to the family tradition (reeth).
  • Collect various pots including
    • -Nott (a large pot: representing Shiva/human being),
    • Naar (smaller pot: meant to signify Parvati)
    • Dhool (a wide pot as the Universal mother: this has also been referred to as the Bhairava-the young Shiva, a voracious eater who has come to get married),
    • 5 Saniwari,
    • Sani Potul, and an
    • assortment of plates and bowls.
    • Arrange the pots in the prescribed order.
    • Tie naarivan and garlands around each of them.

The pots are filled with walnuts and water.

Since the three plays are enacted concurrently, various actors play several roles and accordingly have different names ascribed to them.

A. The Large Pitcher (Nott) containing walnuts in water: The individual Shiva (bhairava) ignorant of the presence of Parama Shiva within. Knowledge and realization of our real identity- symbolically the kernel of the walnut-is enveloped by the hard shell of ignorance. Knowledge comes forth only when one works at it; shell is softened by water over time and the kernel becomes accessible. Of course walnuts are symbolic, and may be replaced by Almonds.

B. A small pitcher (Kaloosh)- the Manas- the Mind. Though smaller in appearance, yet with appropriate training and evolution everything is attainable. This kaloosh is also the traditional witness of the ceremony.

C. The Duljees (Five senses): Our worldly existence depends on the information received through the senses. We need to preserve and protect them and pray for their proper use. Our thoughts and actions affect the natural order, so we pray that our contribution be beneficial to all.

D. Two Sani wari: two small pitchers (two nostrils): The two nostrils need to be clean to convey the unhindered daily breath or prana. The same sani wari later on are kept in Pundit household for a ritual cleaning and feeding every morning for the year. The ritual cleaning is to remind us to take care of our own body parts every day.

E. The Dhull (large wide pot) signifies the Universal Mother/Nature that offers shelter to us all as does our earthly mother. The width of Shakti is all encompassing and Shiva is ineffective without it. The dhull is also the bhairava the-unmarried Shiva- and all attendants who come along with Him in the wedding party. Since the attendants eat all types of food, different delicacies are prepared and offered to them according to the reeth.

F. The Lingam with Yoni (Shiva and Shakti). The life-force/ creator. It is the ultimate reductionist symbolism of the creative force in the universe. And of course, the symbolic union needed at both the family and at the universal level for creation and perpetual harmony. This reinforces the importance of both Shiva and Shakti: the equality of man and woman in the family.

With the actors set in place, and decked out accoutrements for Vatuka puza, the play is ready, and the Puja begins.

Puja is offered after sundown with all the family members in attendance.

The departed relatives are also invoked and invited and ritual offerings are made to them as well.

The Pooza is meant to enliven the actors, invite them into the home, offer them a place to sit, decorate them with flowers (and clothes), offer them water and food. Some families perform a little havan at the same time, prayers are offered to Shiva and Parvati (Shakti), and we beg for their forgiveness for any errors of omission or commission.

For pooza I use the text published by the Satisar Foundation, (and recently Shehjar magazine has published the text of Herath puja in the 2009 Shivaratri edition). Audio versions are available at the KOAUSA website.

After the puja, the Sanskrit poem Mahimnapar is recited. This is one of the favorite prayers of Kashmiri Pundits (Pushpadanta Mahminaparam) that extols the virtues of Shiva. It was written by Pushpadanta to appease and pray to Shiva to lift His curse on him for stealing flowers meant for Shiva’s worship. At the end of the Puja, all the water used in the puja (nirmaal), flowers, rice cakes offered to Vatuk, and any offerings to the departed are collected and deposited under a shade tree. The eldest person in the household now can break his fast and the feast is enjoyed.

Salaam: (14th day: Shiva Chaturdashi) - the day after the main Puja.
Morning pooja is offered to the Vatuk. Rice cakes and walnuts are eaten as naveed.
Children receive Herath Kharcha (pocket money for the festival). Presents are exchanged. This is a day of general festivity for the family, visiting friends and relatives.

Doonya Mavas (15th day of celebration: walnut amavasya): day of Parmoozun.

The day Shiva and Parvati return to the Himalayas. The family offers Puja in the morning. And then we empty the pots, collect water and flowers in a large bucket. Keep the wet walnuts at home. Later on, carry the bucket and empty it under a shade tree.
Return home to enjoy rice cakes and walnuts.
The water soaked walnuts are distributed among friends, relatives and neighbors.

According to family reeth, variations of the above routine are considered valid. Seven days after Doonya mavas, on the day called Teel Aatham, one lights an adobe lamp outside the house on the stoop, heralding the Spring time.

Herath for Kashmiri Pundits is an all encompassing major festival celebrating the individual, the family, and the Source of all, and to begin a dialogue within. And paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, Herath has helped us evoke the better angels among us for thousands of years.

*Omanand Koul is a Kashmiri from Anantnag, a graduate of the Banaras Hindu University, and a professor at the University Of Massachusetts, Worcester(USA).
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thank you for making the process of Herath clear.
Added By surendar kilam