Driven apart by three decades of conflict, Jammu and Kashmir’s two separated communities, Muslims and Pandits, on June 11 witnessed a rare union on the annual festival of Zyeshth Ashtami at the Kheer Bhawani temple in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal, as hundreds of Pandits from across the country converged to pay obeisance.Keeping the age-old tradition alive, local Muslim shopkeepers were seen selling earthenware lamps, marigold flowers and other puja paraphernalia at the temple located at Tulmulla area, 30 km away from Srinagar.“It was heartening to see local Muslim music artists playing on the occasion, while Pandits were whirling around,” said Neerja Kaul, 63, a Pandit who had migrated to Delhi after militancy broke out in the 1990s.The festival is fast emerging as a source of healing of relationships between the Pandits and Muslims of Kashmir. Aliya Assad, manager at the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering and a resident of Baramulla, makes it a point every year to visit the temple to meet old friends and get new ones.“I visit the temple to meet my old friends. I met a lovely couple this year. Their sweet daughter, Avishi Pandita, became my friend. We enjoyed ‘kheer’, ‘halwa’, etc. We also clicked selfies,” said Ms. Assad.Brotherhood and harmonyShe urged the Pandit community to pray for brotherhood and harmony. “For centuries, the celebration of the ‘mela’ has been an epitome of harmony and brotherhood. There is a need to strengthen the bond of togetherness between various sections of society,” said Ms. Assad.With the temple and the sacred pond nestled under the shade of the centuries-old mighty Chinar trees, the festival sees the new generation of Pandits also connecting with their roots and the Muslim brethren. “It’s my first visit. I am moved by the warmth showed by the locals,” said Shaina, 17, from Delhi.Special buses were arranged to ferry hundreds of Pandits from Jammu to Srinagar on the occasion.BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav also visited the temple.Separatists also see the occasion as one where they can reach out to the displaced community. Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also greeted the community. “It was heartening to see a large number of Pandits visiting the Valley,” said the Mirwaiz. In the past, JKLF chief Yasin Malik started a tradition to meet the migrant devotees at the temple.Meanwhile, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti also welcomed the devotees.Governor Satya Pal Malik also visited the Kheer Bhawani shrine.“Brotherhood and communal harmony is so evident here. All communities have gathered to facilitate the organisation of this ‘mela’. I appreciate the wholehearted support of locals in making this religious congregation a successful event,” said Mr. Malik.Hundreds of Pandits left the Valley in 1990s following raging militancy. While many settled in Jammu, hundreds left their homes to settle in different parts of the country.