Kashmiri Pandits
Hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits thronged Kheer Bhawani shrine, nearly 20 kilometers away from Srinagar during the annual festival. Pictured: A Kashmiri Pandit woman lights earthen lamps during an annual Hindu festival at a shrine in Khirbhawani, 30 km (19 miles) east of Srinagar June 19, 2010.Reuters

In Kashmir's politically charged up atmosphere where the Peoples' Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is receiving flak from various quarters over its proposal to settle Kashmiri Pandits in separate colonies, Sunday was an unusual sight.

Sunday marked the observance of annual Mela Kheer Bhawani in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district where hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits from all over India thronged the Kheer Bhawani shrine, some 20 kilometres away from the summer capital of the state.

Mela Kheer Bhawani, although an annual feature, represents centuries old tradition of communal harmony in Kashmir where Muslims and Hindus celebrate each other's festivals.

As Hindus prayed to the Goddess Ragnya Devi, Kashmiri Muslims were seen offering them greetings, distribute sweets and water.

Kheer Bhawani Mela has acquired its name due to the practice of offering milk and kheer (sweetened milk delicacy) to the Goddess during the festival.

This year, the historic Kheer Bhawani Mela coincided with holy month Ramadan for Muslims.

Even as Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, that did not prevent them from joining their Kashmiri Pandit friends at Mela Kheer Bhawani. Some of them sell materials for the puja and make quick bucks.

"We wait for this day - the day of Ashthami. Pandits come here. We also do good earning. Last year the business was down but this year it is slowly picking up. Pandits are coming and everything is alright here," Mohammad Ashraf was quoted by NDTV as saying.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also dropped by and paid obeisance at the shrine. But Mufti had to meet with anger and protests from people, especially when the tension mounted over the issue of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.

"We pray that goddess provides wisdom to everyone, especially ones who have lost their path, and vision, so that we can resettle in our homes," a devotee, Vijay, was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

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