Srinagar, June 17: Scores of Kashmiri Pandits Monday kept their tryst with the deity at the north Kashmir Khirbhawani Temple, arriving in large numbers from different parts of the country to pay obeisance.
Using different modes of transport, Kashmiri Pandits started arriving at the Khirbhawani Temple in Ganderbal district since Sunday to attend the annual Mela at the seat of the Hindu deity, Mata Ragnya, believed to be the queen of the universe.
This holiest place of worship for local Pandits derives its name, Khirbhawani, from the traditional 'Kheer' (rice pudding) offered by devotees at the temple.
Despite their migration from the Valley in the early 1990s because of the violence against the community, Kashmiri Pandits have, each year, been thronging the Khirbhawani Temple, 22 km from Srinagar, to re-assert their Kashmiri roots and their identity as Shaivite (worshippers of Lord Shiva) Brahmins.
Keeping up a tradition that goes back centuries, dozens of local Muslims greeted their Pandit brethren as they arrived at the Khurbhawani Temple.
The natural spring inside the temple complex is believed to change its colours, signifying the overall situation in the Valley.
"We want to come back to the land of our ancestors, but despite tall claims, the government has so far done precious little to make our return possible," said Dwarika Nath Pandit, 55, who has been living in winter capital Jammu after his migration from south Kashmir Pulwama district.
Younger generations of Pandits brought up outside the Valley after the migration of their families, however, feel differently. "We have lost our properties to violence. Our families are living as refugees in our own country after migration", said Sunil Kumar Raina, 22, who arrived at the temple with his parents, seeing no hope of returning.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited the shrine early Monday to take stock of arrangements made for the devotees.
He shook hands with some of the devotees, even as a small group hooted at him, indicating what they considered were inadequate arrangements for devotees.
The state government has declared a Valley-wide holiday Monday in connection with the Khirbhawani Mela.
Muhammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the Pro-Azadi Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) also went to Khirbhawani Temple to meet devotees.
Malik told IANS that he was received warmly by groups of Pandits who asked him to facilitate their return to the Valley.
Others who visited the shrine included union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior officials of the district and provincial administration.