Over 40,000 Kashmir Pandits thronged the ancient Kheer Bhawani temple on Friday on the outskirts of Srinagar, making it the biggest congregration of community in the valley since their exodus 21 years ago.
Pandits, including women and children, converged at the temple, some 20 kms from Srinagar, from various far-off places including Delhi and Jammu, to offer special prayers on the occasion of Zyeshth Ashtami.
The scenic most revered shrine of Pandits reverberated with hymns chanted by the pilgrims who were joined by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his family, along with several ministers of the state. Emotional scenes were witnessed as local Muslims greeted the Pandits by embracing them and appealing the displaced brethren to return to the valley.
The state government had made special arrangements for the occasion and student volunteers along with local Muslims were offering assistance to the pilgrims. Utilising the occasion, Abdullah impressed upon the displaced Pandits to return to the valley and help create the 'New Kashmir'.
The chief minister, dressed in pathani suit, interacted with the pilgrims and told them that the security environment in the valley had improved. He asked the displaced Pandits to return, saying the "composite culture of Kashmiriyat is incomplete as it comprises both Hindus and Muslims."
During the interaction, a Kashmiri Pandit girl told Abdullah that the community has high hopes from the young chief minister. He responded by saying that Pandits should join the efforts to create a "New Kashmir". He said the young Pandits particularly should be motivated to return to Kashmir.