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ON THE 'THRATHSHI' OR THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF THE waning moon in the month of Phagun falls the festival of Mahashivratri, symbolising the wedding day of shiv and Parvati. This festival comes some time in February or March according to the English calendar (14-15 days before Holi ).


Shivratri is a very auspicious day. The married and the unmarried girls perform puja with great faith, fervour and feeling, since Parvati is considered 'Gaura' the giver of 'suhag' - married bliss and a long and prosperous married life. The unmarried girls pray to 'Gaura' to give them handsome husbands with wealth, knowledge and talent.
Shivji is reputed to be of frightening aspect with ash smeared all over his bodyand wearing garlands of human skulls, live snakes and malas (necklaces) of rudraksh round his neck and arms. He has matted hair piled up on his head ( jatta) with the new moon stuck in front of the jatta (hair) and the ganga river coming from heaven falling into his locks,so as to find a soft spot tofall upon.From his hair ganga gently finds her way on the plains of India.Shivji 's neck is blue,because he was the one who consumed th poison when the sea was churned and ou came the various thing that are relevant to life.The devta eagerly wanted the good things , but none would take the poison ,so Shivji took it and drank it,retaining it in his throat,there by giving the neck the blue colour. It is said that the bird (neelkanth) with its bkue neck is specially dear to Shiv and will take your message straight to him, If you tell it to do so.


Mahashivratri is the most revered festival of the Kashmiri pandits. It is celebrated for full sixteen days, from Parva of the waning moon to Parva of the waxing moon (i.e., to the day after Amavas). The wedding of Shiv and Parvati is usually celerated for four days continuously- Thrathshi, Choutash, Amavas (of the waxing moon) and Parva (of the waxing moon). Mahashivratri normally comes just fourteen or fifteen days before Holi.


The preparation for this festival begins 10 days earlier and it is treated like Diwali as per as house cleaning and related activities are concerned. The house is generally whitewashed or the kuchcha houses made of mud have cowdung applied on them, a custom now slowly disappearing. New beddings, utensils and other household items that are required are brought. Everyone in the family purchases new clothes- as many as they can afford, but one set definitely for the main pujan. When one gets down to the nitty-gritty, the activity motivates everyone; there is a lot of excitement and a good deal of work for the whole fortnight and much interaction between the members of the family results. Both young and old alike are involved. Food becomes a great attraction and special dishes of mutton, fish and chicken are prepared. The Kashmiri pandit is not necessarily a vegetarian and, for every meal, everyone is given a chance to learn to cook the dishes. Meat is not taboo during the shivratri week, but on the main days it is not cooked or eaten.


The whole of the 16-day period is devoted to gambling. The old custom of playing with kauri (a type of sea shell) is still prevalent, and no one forbids it. The elders also join in the evenings. Nowadays, of course, cards have taken the place kauri and flash is played in most homes.


The kashmiri Hindu buys earthen pots (gaggar) as symbols for Ganesh, Shiv and Parvati and the other gods and the batatis. Dhatura, aak, aak flowers and camphor are brought for pujan. Also, about 50 walnuts form an essential part of the prasad. In Kashmir itself all the items, except the walnuts, are available in dry powder form because it is cold and wintry and not much can be grown in the valley during this time. This is known as 'vatuk' masala, since the puja is known as 'vatuk puja'.


On the eleventh day the puja room is decorated with the images or pictures of gods and devtas. Floral decoration is usually not done because the carpets and other related items cannot be removed. Everything pertaining to the clothing of the gods or the puja is new.
Next comes the twelth day or the day of Ganesh puja. One earthen pot (gaggar) is placed in the center, filled with water, a little Ganga jal (Ganga water) and some walnuts. This symbolizes Ganesh. Pujan is done to this gaggar with water,roli,aipun,rice and flowers so that the marriage of Shiv and Parvati is blessed. Although Ganesh is their son, still it is decreed that he must be worshipped first and anything coming after that decee must be adhered to in all pujas.

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