Kashmiri girls dressed in traditional Pandit attire on the eve of MahashivratriTwitter

The festival of Mahashivratri, also called Herath in Kashmiri dialect, is celebrated every year with gaiety in the valley with the participation of the minority Hindu community and the Muslim population alike.

Despite the conflict taking a toll on peace and normalcy, festivals like Mahashivratri are celebrated with all the fervour sending a powerful message to those who often talk of dividing communal lines in the valley.

It is a fact that thousands of Kashmiri Hindu families (Pandits) migrated to other parts of the country in the wake of armed insurgency in the 1990s, but nearly 1,000 Kashmiri Pandit families who live in the valley have co-existed with their Muslim neighbours for more than two decades now.

Festivals like Mahashivratri or Herath which is marked with night long worship of Lord Shiva is also believed to bring a change in the cold weather of the valley. Interestingly, even the Muslim population have their beliefs reinforced in the fact that Herath always brings snow and rains to the valley.

"Although, it will always snows or rains during the fortnight of Mahshivratri celebrations, the period after that is a pleasant change. The beautiful spring of Kashmir follows after Mahashivratri when the flowers start blooming on trees, the gardens are back to glory and the cold conditions improve," said Shams-ud-Din, a historian based in Srinagar.

The tradition of cooking Kashmiri delicacies among Hindu families has also remained intact over the years. Unlike the Hindu culture in the rest of the country, one cannot miss the special Fish Rice or mutton delicacy of Kashmiri Pandit cuisine which is relished by the Hindus and Muslims alike.

Besides, the Pandits also distribute soaked walnuts on Herath as a mark of respect to the Hindu deities. The legend has it that those who do not fast on the main ritual (Puja) day or do not consume the sacrificial food which is offered to Hindu deities will not be blessed or may be reincarnated as animals in next life or even face disappointments.

Maha Shivaratri 2019 Quotes
Devotees offer prayers and perform rituals in front of a statue of Lord Shiva inside a temple during the Maha Shivaratri festival in Mumbai, February 13, 2018. [Representational image]REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

In the valley, various pujas are offered at Shankaracharya temple, Khir Bhawani temple, Hanuman temple.

Over the years, when the Hindu population in the valley thinned out due to escalating violence, the Muslims took the onus of cleaning the temples, arranging food services for the pilgrims who visited the religious places from all over the country.

"The Hindu-Muslim bonhomie in Kashmir has been present since ages. Unfortunately, the conflict has overridden the festivities and affected our relationships. But all Muslims have been calling out to their Pandit brothers to return. I have lived here all my life and never wanted to go anywhere," said Shanta Devi, a school teacher based in Budgam.