"Separatist leader Muhammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), also visited the shrine and interacted freely with the Hindu devotees."
Srinagar, June 6 - Hundreds of migrant Kashmiri Pandits Friday thronged the Mata Khirbhawani shrine in Kashmir's Ganderbal district for an annual festival.

Kashmiri Hindus -- young and old -- from different parts of India started reaching the famed shrine Friday morning.

The shrine in Tullamulla town, about 25 km from here, is dedicated to Ragnya Devi, one of the many incarnations of Goddess Durga and the holiest Kashmiri Pandit shrine in the Valley.

Legend has it that goddess Ragnya Devi's idol was installed in Sri Lanka, but the licentious ways of Ravana prompted the goddess to ask Hanuman to shift her idol from Sri Lanka to Tullamulla in Kashmir.

Devotees throng the shrine each year to seek the blessings of the deity.

Ankur Bhat, 24, came here for the first time along with his friend Sahil Dhar, 26, from Jammu where their families migrated after separatist violence broke out in the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s.

Ankur said he and his friend have prayed for peace and harmony in Kashmir as their parents and they want to return to the land of their ancestors.

We have prayed for peace and harmony in Kashmir. Our parents are eager to return to the Valley. We have been received with warmth and care by Muslim locals in Tullamulla.

Given the atmosphere at the Mata Khirbhawani shrine today (Friday), it is difficult to believe our families had to migrate from Kashmir because of violence, Ankur said.

Bhushan Lal Bhat, 63, has been coming to attend the annual festival at Khirbhawani shrine since his childhood.

I have been coming here even after migration from our ancestral place in Badgam district. We want to come back and that desire would remain with me till I am alive, he said.

Kashmiri Pandits believe the colour of the spring water inside the shrine foretells the events of the coming year.

When we migrated from Kashmir that year the colour of the spring was black. This year, the colour of the spring water is milky which foretells peace and prosperity for Kashmir and the rest of the country, Bhushan Lal said.

Governor N.N. Vohra and senior minister Raman Bhalla were among the devotees who prayed at the shrine Friday.

Separatist leader Muhammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), also visited the shrine and interacted freely with the Hindu devotees.

Elaborate arrangements for transport and healthcare facilities had been made by the state government for the devotees.


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