Roots in Kashmir Tug Hindus Home

June 5, 2010

Author: Lydia Polgreen

Source: The New York Times

The ceremony is simple and common. A Hindu priest lights a fire, places some herbs, clarified butter and other offerings atop it and through its peculiar alchemy the smoke purifies everything it touches.

But nothing about this Maha Y aghya ritual performed in the once-abandoned Vichar Nag shrine here on a recent Saturday night was simple. A week of downpours left the shrine’s grounds waterlogged and putrid. The wood was wet and the fire would not start.

But most peculiar was the ceremony’s location, astride one of the world’s most fractious religious fault lines, between two nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought three wars, two of them over the land on which the shrine sits.

Twenty years ago, nearly 400,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir Valley, fearful of a separatist insurgency by the area’s Muslim majority. Now they are trickling back, a sign to many here that the Kashmir Valley, after years of violence and turmoil, is settling in to an uneasy but hopeful peace.