Hindus of Kashmir observe Shivaratri with utmost zeal and devotion. Here, Shivratri is celebrated for three weeks or 21 days, beginning on the first day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (locally known as hur ukdoh) and end on the 8th day of the bright half of Phalguna. Kashmiri Brahmins perform Shivaratri puja on the 13th day of the dark half of Phalguna Krishna Paksha to mark Lord Shiva’s wedding with Uma, the beautiful daughter of the Himalayas. In keeping with their hospitable nature, Kashimiri Brahmins offer even non-vegetarian food in puja to entertain Bhairavas who are said to form the major part of Shiva’s baaraat.
Shivratri puja in Jammu and Kashmir is performed in a very distinctive way. Two pots (called kalash), depicting Shiva and Parvati are filled with walnuts soaked in water. These walnuts are taken out only on the third day which usually falls on the no moon day or amavasya. On the third day this walnut which is wet is distributed to all friends and neighbours as prasad. On the chaturdashi (14th day after full moon) there is the real feasting when the families invite each other for dinners.
In Kashmir, Shivaratri is also called Hayrath, which is the corrupt form of ‘hairat’, a Persian word meaning ‘utter surprise’. The term was coined during the Pathan occupation of the valley. Besides, Shivaratri puja is better known as Vatuk Puja in Kashimir where Vatuk means, collection or an assemblage of different objects. The name has been given because the main puja on Shivaratri day involves collection of a large number of articles. The name could also be traced to the term Vatuk Dev, Lord Shiva’s celibate form. People in Kashmir also worship Vatuk Bhairav, said to be Shiva’s most trusted dwarpal (gatekeeper). This is done in a bid to seek his favor for an audience with the Lord. On Hayrath day the children are given money as a gift called “herat kharch”. Interestingly it is not only children who receive gifts, for even husbands give gifts to their wife and the elder brother gives to younger brother. On the next day there is also a tradition to play the game of “harr” which is played with the help of sea shells.