YathaShakti – to the best of my ability as an individual. This refers to tasks undertaken within the limitations of one’s knowledge, health, wealth and resources.

In Hindu tradition, Yathashakti is a very important concept, especially when it comes to performing everyday rituals from limited resources or with a limited knowledge of our sacred texts. There are quite a few stories in the Purānas, where this concept is highlighted; the caveat being that the task or pooja is done with a pure heart, intent and devotion. Just as Lord Shiva is pleased by an offering of a single Bilva leaf, if offered with shraddha, true devotion and humility.

And with this in mind, here is an English translation of the Pann Katha, the Pann-Story. This folk story has been narrated for generations by the women of the household on Pann. With Kashmiri Pandit exodus, we have not only lost our roots, many of us have also lost our language. While it is vital that the love of Kashmiri language be nurtured amongst the young, it is also important that in the meantime, they are able to fully participate and learn from these practices. 

This is how every Pann story in every household that celebrate it, starts:

“Ryethav manz ryetha, Bhadra pyetha Vināyak tchoram t (aath)var.”

Once upon a time in Kashmir, lived a beautiful and virtuous queen who was a devotee of the Mother Goddess, known locally as Beeb Garabh Meaj or Mātrika Devi. Each year, she followed the tradition of worshipping Mātrika Devi, the Earth, our Mother Goddess, a tradition that had been handed down by her ancestors. This pooja was originally associated with the harvesting of cotton in Kashmir and was dedicated to twin goddesses Vibha and Garbha to whom the devotees offered Roth as Prasād. Some cotton is hand spun into a thread and tied around the Kalash* which represents Hiranyagarbha, and during the pooja, devotees ask for specific boons from the Goddess. Pann can be celebrated on a few auspicious dates within a certain time period. It starts from Bhadrapad Shuklapaksh Pratipada to Purnima. Since Vināyak chaturthi is considered particularly auspicious to perform this pooja, many Kashmiris now mistakenly conflate the two festivals.

The manyata (tradition and belief) is that if you perform the pooja with pure heart, all your wishes will be granted. There is just one condition though; if the sanctity of the place where this pooja is performed is desecrated in any way, the devotee and their family will suffer the wrath of the Goddess.

The King, on this particular day, was in a hurry as he was going out to hunt. The Queen asked him to wait and take some Roth as prasād, but she hadn’t finished her pooja yet. But because his luck was about to turn, in a fit of arrogance and stupidity, he decided that as King, he shouldn’t be kept waiting. He walked into the sanctum with his shoes on, thus desecrating it, and took the Roth that was kept there as an offering to the Mother Goddess. [This story might have its origins in the time where Hindu rulers of Kashmir had lost and yāvanas and mlecchas, foreigners, had seized power. Some had married Hindu queens but didn’t understand their customs as no Hindu would have knowingly desecrated a sanctum of the Goddess. Once the rulers changed, it had become quite difficult for Hindus to practice our faith in peace. There is a famous saying in Kashmir about the Afghan governor, Jabbar Khan, who forbade Kashmiri Pandits from celebrating Herath, Shivaratri in winter. As it always snows on Shivaratri, he decreed that the festival be celebrated in the summer. It snowed that summer resulting in crop failure.The saying goes, ‘Wychton yi Jabbar Jande, Harras ti korun Vande’ (Look at Jabbar the fool, he turned summer into winter)].

So, each year the queen herself would undertake the task of cleaning her Mandir and her kitchen before the pooja. She bathed, put new clothes on, and she cooked the Roth, a sweet thick roti made with ghee, by her own hands. No one else was allowed to help or enter during the ritual to preserve the sanctity of the place.

But no good story works if there isn’t a teaching in there or a twist in fortunes! And here is the twist.

Back to the story.

The Queen despaired but what could she do! It was done. As fate would have it, the king was taken prisoner by the neighbouring king who lay in wait for him in the forest, imprisoned him and the kingdom was annexed.There is another version of the story where the king goes away on a ship and his ship sinks and he is left stranded, unable to reach his kingdom. And the neighboring king invades and takes over. Either way, the king immediately suffers the consequences of his actions.

Chaos ensued in the kingdom and with enemies approaching, the Queen was forced to flee the capital with her young daughter. She ended up in a forest on a hillside where she built a small hut. She decided to stay hidden from others and survived on doing odd jobs for families living nearby. She never revealed her identity to anyone in case there were any reprisals on herself and her daughter.

Many years passed. The mother and daughter lived a life of hardship and penury.

One autumn day, as the cold had started to set in the air, the mother (not queen anymore) asked her daughter to get some kindling for their kangri (a portable heat device in Kashmir, made with clay and covered in cane), so they could stay warm. The daughter walked to the nearest house and asked the lady of the house for some tyongul (kindling) from her hearth. The lady asked her to wait, as she was about to perform the Mātrika Devi pooja. She couldn’t take anything, not even a piece of coal from the kitchen, until the ritual was complete and prasad in the form of Roth, offered to the Mother Goddess.

The girl decided to wait and joined in the pooja until it was complete. She came back home with the kindling and some Roth. She asked her mother about the significance of the ritual and why was it that they didn’t perform it.
Her mother said as they were too poor to afford the sugar, the ghee and the flour for Roth, there was no way she could do the pooja in a manner that she was used to.

The girl went away but kept thinking about the ritual. She used to clean horse-stables to earn a few pennies to help her mother out. While doing her job, an idea struck her. She asked the groomsman if she could collect the horse dung from the stables. They had no use for it and let her take as much as she could, in exchange for a clean floor.

She collected the horse dung in a wicker basket and took it to the river where she washed it. The horses were fed grain along with hay and there was undigested grain in the dung. She took the grain and washed it again, ground it and turned it into some flour. Even after all that, even after her hands were sore and red from the cold, there wasn’t enough flour. She took it back to her mother excitedly. The mother was overwhelmed at her daughter’s innocence and determination, so she decided to use some clay to supplement the meagre amount of flour and made three pieces of Roth for the first time since misfortune had befallen their family. They had cleaned their tiny hut, and offered this Roth to the Mother Goddess alongwith a few flowers and some cotton wool that was floating around; it was all they could find.

As is custom, Roth is distributed amongst friends and family after the pooja flowers have been taken for a visarjan (immersion, usually in a water body) in the evening. The mother covered up her Roth and went to the temple where other women were distributing Roth amongst themselves. She was embarrassed at what she had, how could she share Roth prepared from grains picked out of horse dung and clay! As it seemed strange that she wasn’t willing to share, another woman who noticed her covered thali, removed the cloth curiously.

They both stared at what lay beneath! Three pieces of gold Roth lay sparkling on her thali. The Mother Goddess had finally smiled on the former queen and forgiven her. The news of this miracle spread far and wide until it reached the King. The mother and daughter duo were summoned to the court and asked to explain. The former queen was forced to reveal her identity and told the King of her misfortune. She explained how she had the gold and how she was certain that she had been blessed by the Mother Goddess again.

The king couldn’t argue with this, after all, he had the proof right in front of his eyes. He knew that there was indeed something unexplainable. In that moment he realised that if he imprisoned the queen who clearly had been blessed by the Divine Mother, he may also suffer from the same fate as her husband! He decreed that the former king be released from prison. He also asked the mother to give her daughters’ hand in marriage to him to which the mother agreed. The King, who was now her son- in- law gave their kingdom back to them.

And they lived happily ever after.

Thus concludes the story of Pann.
May Beeb Garabh Meaj, our Earth Mother Goddess bless us all, as She blessed the queen.
May She remove obstacles in our way and bestow Her grace on all of us.
May She fulfill all our wishes.
May She accept our meagre offering made with love and devotion.

*Kalash, a pot representing Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic golden egg in a womb, which contains the known and unknown universe, the manifested and the unmanifested Cosmos, with water of creation inside it. Kashmiri Hindus perform two festivals where the Kalash is venerated, these festivals are usually six months apart. One is Shivaratri, one of our biggest festivals, the other is Pann.



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