Herath – the Shivaratri of Kashmiri Pandits

Mahashivaratri is on the most popular festivals of Hindus in Kashmir, especially that of Kashmiri Pandits. In Jammu and Kashmir, Shivratri is known as Hayrath or Herath. And the most important day of the festival is the 13th day of the dark half of Phalgun month. A day ahead of the normal Shivratri day in other parts of India. To Kashmiris, Mahasivaratri signifies Lord Shiva's wedding with Parvathi.

The preparation for the festival starts well in advance. In fact, it is a 21-day celebration. The most important days are Thrathshi, Choutash, Amavas and Parva. The first two weeks are meant for preparing for Shivratri. House and surroundings are thoroughly cleaned and the puja requires several items especially numerous earthen pots.

Before starting the puja on the main day (two days before Amavasi), several earthen pots (even steel or brass) representing Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and other gods in Hindu pantheon are neatly placed in the puja room. Two big pots represent Shiva and Parvati and small pots represent other deities and Shiva’s attendants. The pots are filled with walnuts and decorated with flowers. These pitchers are known as Vatuk and Shivratri puja is also known as Vatuk puja in Kashmir.

On the right is a picture/illustration of the Vatuk Mandap made during Kashmir Shivratri. (click on the image for a larger view)
The worship begins with special prayers to Lord Ganesha. 

Saniputul – a cone shaped clay figure – is worshipped as Brahmn. Saniputul is an attempt to represent the formless. Then Shiva and Parvati are worshipped and there is singing of hymns and Arati.

On the main day, people visit temples and spend time in worshipping. Many people also observe Vrat or Upvaas or strict fast.

The next is meant for celebration and feasting.
The pujas come to an end on the Amavasi day and the day is known as Dunya Amavas. The earthen pots which represent the various deities are taken to a nearby river or water body and are immersed. Before immersion the walnuts are removed from the pots and are brought back and are distributed as ‘prasad.’

Shivratri is also an occasion to socialize. Relatives and friends visit each others home and food items and ‘prasad’ are exchanged. Elders also distribute money to youngsters and this is known as ‘herath kharch.’

Shivratri is observed by Kashmiri Pundits in a similar way as Hindus in other parts of India observe Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Pongal. There several regional variations in the way in which night of Shiva is observed by Kashmiri people.