Scores of Kashmir Pandit devotees thronged the Khirbhawani temple shrine in Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday amid emotional scenes of Hindu-Muslim amity.
Using buses, taxis and even two-wheelers, Hindus paid obeisance at the holiest Hindu shrine of Mata Khirbhawani in Tullamulla village, 24 km from summer capital Srinagar in Ganderbal district.
Elaborate security arrangements had been made by the authorities as most devotees arriving at the shrine were Hindus who had left the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s with the outbreak of separatist violence.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also paid obeisance at the shrine and interacted with the devotees who gathered around to speak to him.
Rare scenes of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood were witnessed as locals in Tullamulla village served milk in earthen pots to the Pandits, keeping up the centuries old local tradition.
“It is precisely due to the devotion to Mata and love for our Muslim brothers that I have been coming here regularly all these years,” said Ashok Koul, 42, who came from Jammu with his family.
Muhammad Shafi Baht, 52, a local Muslim, said: “The scene at the Mela has remained unchanged despite the political upheavals. Muslims in Tullamulla have always eagerly waited for the festival each year to be of some help to the Pandit brothers.
“This is what keeps the basic fabric of our eclectic society alive.”
Till midday Tuesday, more than 20,000 devotees had prayed at the temple shrine.
“My prayers now go out for our future generations. They must not lose sight of the great culture and heritage Kashmir has been famous for. Our generation is irrelevant anyway,” said B.L. Zutshi, 75, who came from Dehra Dun in Uttarakhand.
The Jammu and Kashmir Dharmarth Trust, which manages the shrine affairs, had set up free kitchen for the devotees. The departments of public health engineering, electricity, and food and supplies set up camps to facilitate the passage of the devotees.