Monday, March 9, 2015



          ( Zarkaasai at Tsraar Sharif Ziyarat, Kashmir  ...Photo ... Avtar Mota )

                      (ZARA- KASAAI   OR   MUNDAN IN KASHMIRI CULTURE)

Zara-Kasaai ( Mundan) or the first hair cut of the child was another important ceremony performed by Kashmiris across the religious divide.  It was performed up to a maximum period of three years and at times even up to five  years from the birth of the baby.

This ceremony known as Mundan or Chudakarna in rest of the country was an important Samskaara in Kashmiri Pandit families. Kashmiri Pandits would select some auspicious day and proper Muhurrat for this ceremony that was performed in the presence of their family priest. Apart from the relatives, both mother and father of the child had to remain invariably present during the ceremony.  

  In Islam, shaving a newborn baby’s scalp on the seventh day of the birth is a common practice.  This hair is gathered up and weighed, and the family makes a contribution to the poor in the value of an equivalent weight of silver. 

 Kashmiri Pandits would perform this ceremony at temples or shrines of highly venerated saints while Muslims visited Ziyarats and Dargahs for Zara-Kasaai. For Pandits, Kheer Bhawani Shrine , Jwala Ji Temple at Khrew or Haari Parbat remained preferred centres while Muslims would go to Hazratbal, Ziyarat of Said Sahib near Burn Hall school in Srinagar, Tsraar Sharif, Baba Reshi, Baba Shukardin’s Ziyarat overlooking Wular lake and many more shrines and Ziyarats.

About Zara-Kasaai, Kashmiri scholar and poet Moti Lal Saqi told me this:- 

“ This word Zara-Kasaai has come us from two Sanskrit words Jata and Kartan. This ceremony has been with Kashmiris since the Vedic period. It is one of the strongest proofs of our past lineage and identity. Our history says that we also performed this ceremony on the banks of rivers. 

 Kashmiri Pandits consider Gangabal lake below Harmukh peak equivalent to river Ganga. Quite often they would keep the tonsured hair safely inside their house with walnuts and immerse it in some sacred river or lake at the appropriate time. Sometimes they would carry it to Gangbal lake for immersion. And this ceremony is performed across various cultures the world over. A Homa or Hawan was an essential part of this ceremony in the Kashmiri Pandit families.

The Zara-Kasaai used to be a great festive occasion in a Kashmiri Muslim family. A day for charity and visit to Dargah or Ziyarat. The Kashmiri Muslims would keep the hair tufts in a bag and bury it. They would also carry Tahar or yellow rice to the Dargah or Ziyarat for distribution.

Zara-Kasaai is performed in a spirit of sacrifice. How beautiful the child looks with those soft tufts and how religiously we are prepared to sacrifice that lovely look and see his head tonsured? Vanvun or traditional singing by ladies was an important tradition in the  Zara-Kasaai  ceremony performed by Pandits and Muslims. ”

  Anand Kaul in his Book" The Kashmiri Pandit " writes:-

“ On the occasion of Mundan ( Zara-Kasaai ) of the grandchild, Durri Battah is taken by the daughter’s parents to her house. It consists of new clothes to her, her son, her husband and other close relations and also cash of the amount of Tet.”

 Walter Lawrence In his Book ‘The Valley of Kashmir    writes:-

“ In the third ,  year the ceremony of shaving the child’s head ( Zara-Kasaai ) takes place, this being a very joyous occasion. The day before the ceremony, the child’s hands and feet are coloured red with Mehndi ( Henna ) and this is known as Mehndiraat. A great feast is prepared by the paternal aunt. For services on this day, the paternal aunt receives gifts ( Zang )consisting of rice, salt. Guests and relations feast heartily on Wari ( prepared from rice, fat, ginger, caraway seeds,  asafoetida, oil etc. ) prepared by paternal Aunt. The child’s hair is carefully buried under a tree ” 

 I vividly remember how Kashmiris would not allow the barber to touch the hair of a child with scissor or knife unless a Zara-Kasaai ceremony was performed. And Kashmiri Pandits, in particular, would see that the barber does not use shaving knife for the Zara-Kasaai tonsuring. A pair of scissors were used for Zara-Kasaai. A knife was used by Pandits only on the day of the hair cut performed subsequently on Mekhala or Yageopavit ceremony. Muslims straightway went for the Zara-Kasaai tonsuring with a barber’s knife.
 In Kashmiri Pandit families, when a child (who had not performed his Yageopavit ceremony) was taken for a hair cut, the person accompanying would invariably inform the barber not be use knife while carrying out the final finish of the hair cut. The barber was advised to use a pair of scissors only for the hair cut of the child. Mothers would remind children about this aspect whenever they went to Barber’s shop for a hair cut. 

Here is the Vanvun or the traditional folk songs that Kashmiri Pandit women would sing on Zara-Kasaai:-

 "Zarra kaasiyo shalmaar gosha
 Maej tchhei poshan maala karaan ."

(At that elegant Shalimar garden,
I shall perform your first hair cut.
 Here sits your mother 
 preparing flower garlands for you )

Kashmiri Pandit women would also sing Vanvun when the barber entered the house for Zara-Kasaai:-

Muss az kaastuss bihith zoon dabbe 
Sabbe munz az chanda bharyo 
 Maamun onanus keimkhaab pataa 
  Jataa  krishanus kari ho ho"

( O barber, ensure that you cut his hair while he sits at that moonlit attic.
 I shall pay you to your pocket’s fill.
 Look! how his Mama ( maternal uncle ) has brought a piece of 
expensive Kemkhaab cloth,
he shall lull our Krishna with long hair to sleep .)

" Vostaa kaar dapaan Kyaah Karaa vaeri Haeni
Me gatchha laeri haen zooni daebi saan.."

( Here says the barber that the Masala Tikki ( Vaer ) 
is of no use to him,
He wants the building to be given to him
 along with the moonlit attic.)

 "Vostaa kaar dapaan kyaah kara daaneiss
Me hai goss vanni-hom jaageerus…"

(The barber says what for does he need the paddy stock,
he wants entire village Vanihaama as a gift  for the hair cut )

( These lines were heard by me from Kashmiri Pandit ladies at Mattan town in Anantnag, Kashmir in the year 1987 during a Zara-Kasaai ceremony )

I quote some lines from the Vanvun or traditional folk songs that Muslim women would sing on Zara-Kasaai .:-

" Bismillah karithh zaraa kaassiyo
 Issm e aazam parayo" 

( With Bismillah, I hereby start your first hair cut,
Here I recite first that great name of the prophet .)

 " Vostaa kaar oyaa hyathh roff suundh khoora 
Nabi saeb raatchh  chhuyii shuer paanus "

( Here comes the barber with his silver knife,
the dear prophet is there to protect you, my child )

 (These lines were heard by me from an old lady who had come for Zara-Kasaai ceremony of her great-grandson at Tsraar Sharif Ziyarat in 2010. I was privy to the Zara-Kasaai ceremony performed at Tsraar Sharif Ziyarat by the Muslim family from a nearby village. Tahar or yellow rice was lavishly distributed by the family to the devotees at the shrine. )

  Zara-Kasaai was a day of festivities and feasting time for close relations of the family after the tonsuring and religious rituals associated with it were over. Kashmiris would invariably prepare, eat and distribute Tahar ( yellow rice ). Kashmiris believed that the hair of the child could also be used by some enemies or evil-minded persons for sorcery that could harm the child and accordingly,  it was always ensured that the same is kept in a bag before being properly disposed off as per respective religious practices.

 During festive occasions like Mekhala, ( Yageopavit ceremony of the child by Kashmiri Pandits ), Khatanhaal ( circumcision of the child by Kashmiri Muslims ) or marriage, married women would dance and sing in their parental home. It was a sudden demonstration of affection, solidarity and an emotional attachment. They sang:-

" Pomparo shamaahuss karuu gathhaa 
 Rathhaa vandaai maalinyo..
 Me chhum baaijaanin sathhaa 
 Rathhaa  vandaai maalinyo."

(O moth! go away and dance around the burning candle,
here I die with love for my parental home.
 Let my brother be always there for me,
 here I die with love for my parental home .)
 Vanvun is no longer a part of this ceremony now. City dwellers no longer perform the ceremony with the traditional gaiety and festivity. However, the tradition still survives in rural areas of Kashmir. 

 ( Avtar Mota )


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