When AS Dileep Kumar decided to shed the faith he was born into and adopt a new one, the reasons were several.
“Sometime before we started on our journey on the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to show him my younger sister’s horoscope because my mother wanted to get her married. This was around the same time when I was keen to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and said, ‘This chap is very interesting.” He suggested the names: “Abdul Rahman” and “Abdul Rahim” and said that either name would be good for me. I instantly loved the name “Rahman.” It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name.”
Every year, my grandparents used to take us to Uncle Devraj’s house in Karachi where together we celebrated the annual full moon sighting, known as Diwali. Devraj was Hindu, and my grandfather was Muslim, but they both spoke Sindhi and shared familial roots. Theirs was not a unique story. Unlike in Punjab, where partition brought bloodshed on an unprecedented scale, the Sindh province to the south saw little or no communal violence. The Hindus of Sindh largely stayed behind. Muslim and Hindu families shared bonds that reached back generations; a sense of respect for community prevailed. My grandfather even had his own collection of Hindu icons in his study. Perhaps I’d taken the Durga from Devraj’s house thinking it would be equally at home with him.
Those memories, long forgotten, came flooding back when I decided to make a trip to the Hinglaj—a Hindu holy site located half a day’s journey from Karachi. The Hinglaj temple is located in a cave in the Hingol mountains. It is where the goddess Sati’s head (one of the forms of Durga) is said to have fallen from the sky after her body was cut into 51 pieces by Vishnu. “The Hinglaj is to us as the Ka’abah is to you,” said my local Hindu guide, Danesh Kumar, referring to the shrine in Mecca toward which all Muslims direct their daily prayers.
The tomb of the Sufi saint Daud Bandagi Kirmani is a typical Mughal construction with an octagonal base and a round bulbous white dome. The shrine is covered by a protective wall and there are several other graves in this courtyard, some of his descendants and others of rich people from the city who paid or vied to be buried close to the saint, hoping to achieve salvation through their proximity.
The shrine is located in the centre of this city of Shergarh, a historical city located about 100 kilometers south of Lahore. The city as well is protected by a fort like wall. Whereas such walls of larger cities in India were razed down by the British after 1857, they remained untouched in smaller cities. The entire city was celebrating the annual 3 day celebration of the urs of the saint. All streets and roads in here had been converted into a makeshift bazaar. Smell of freshly prepared samosa lingered in the air. Some were selling eatables to those who did not want to partake in the langaar at the shrine. Most of the shops were selling religious paraphernalia – sacred threads, bangles, rings with special stones, items one is likely to encounter outside major Hindu temples. In fact to an unacquainted visitor this might as well be the threshold of a Hindu temple. The only difference would be the posters. All the posters here represented iconic Muslim saints like Daud Bandagi, Baba Farid, and Shahbaz Qalandar, while posters outside Hindu temples sell Hindu images. Women, men, children, old and young, all throng to the shrine for these festivities.
I was intrigued by the mention of Jhulelal, a quintessential Sindhi Ishta Devta in this Sufi Dhammal. But that is what Sufism, especially Sindh’s Sufism, is all about: synergy and secularism. I have heard of Sufi shrines in Sindh which are frequented, nay crowded, by Muslims, Hindus and even Nanakpathis, during Urs.
An innocent riddle about a local fish, and I was about to find out that Jhulelal, that benign old man with a white flowing beard, has a lot to do with it. Jhulelal is found far and wide in Pakistan, as Azhar Lashri tells me: “The thing that fascinates me about Jhulelal is the inscription of his name on buses, trucks, vans and taxis, He is everywhere. This is a very ubiquitous phenomenon in Pakistan.”
Jhulelal is not a regular Hindu/Sindhi/Sufi/Islamic deity. For one, Jhulelal or Daryalal is known and worshipped in many forms, across religious sects. Although there are several tales of Jhulelal known across Sindh and the global Sindhi diaspora, there is a complex synergy between Jhulelal, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Shehwan, Shaikh Tahir of Uderolal and Khwaja Khijr, worshipped at different times by different groups. The link that connects these deities and saints is singular: The Indus River. Jhulelal is a part of the Daryapanthi or Daryahi sect which worships the Indus, a form of river or water worship which may have its origins dating back to the ancient Mohenjo-daro civilisation.
CHHATTISGARH: Breaking all religious barriers Razzak, despite being a follower of Islam, performed Hindu rites for his deceased friend, Santosh Singh. Singh who belonged to Harda area and was living with his family in Baitul, was suffering from critical health condition to which he succumbed on 20 September. He is survived by his wife Chhaya and their eight-year-old daughter.
Unable to arrange money to perform proper religious rites for her deceased husband, Santosh’s wife was helpless. At this time, Santosh’s friend for years Razzak came forward and took the responsibility of carrying out all the religious rites and to cremate the body of his deceased friend. Razzak, despite being a Muslim, never let religion come in the way of his friendship. He performed all the rites as per Hindu tradition and cremated Santosh’s body.
KARACHI: Pakistani students formed a human shield around the Holi celebrations at the Swami Narayan Temple so that Hindus could celebrate their festival with abandon.
Hindus, who make up almost 2% of Pakistan’s population of around 180 million, are the largest minority in the country. Most of them live in the country’s Sindh and Punjab provinces.
The National Student’s Federation (NSF) carried out this exercise to show their solidarity with Pakistani Hindus, to promote the protection of religious minorities, and advocate interfaith coexistence.
WADALA: Mumbai-based Ilyaz Shaikh, 27, and his 24-year-old wife Noor Jahan were on their way to the Sion Hospital when Noor Jahan went into labor. According to a report in the Mid Day, the taxi driver asked them to get out when he heard Noor Jahan screaming in pain, as he did not want her to have the baby in his vehicle.
“We were so worried. My wife was close to delivering the baby and all we could see was a Ganpati mandir. As soon as we got down outside the temple, some women, who were sitting in the verandah of the mandir, rushed to help us. We didn’t even have to ask,” Ilyaz said.
The women in the Ganpati temple who had gathered to pray early in the morning, prepared a make-shift delivery room with saris and bedsheets borrowed from nearby homes, for Noor Jahan who was in the throws of labor by then.
“I was tense when I was close to delivering in the middle of the road. But when I saw that there was a temple, I realied that God himself is watching over us. What could be better than giving birth in front of Lord Ganpati,” Noor Jahaan said. The couple, happy that their son was born safe and sound, decided to name him Ganesh.
Salat, or prayer, should be performed very consciously and deliberately, both physically and spiritually. There is a lot of discussion on the spiritual significance of Salat. The physical significance, however, is often overlooked.
Once during Sujood (prostration), I couldn’t help but become distracted and wondered, ‘Wait, this is just like a Yoga pose…’ I was never committed to yoga, but I was familiar with its benefits and always said I’d do it more often. Without a doubt, my favorite position was Balasana, or the child’s pose. It’s almost identical to Sujood. I started drawing parallels between yoga and other positions of Salat. To my surprise, all of them were covered in beginner level yoga! Here you’ll find Salat positions along with their most similar yoga positions and their health benefits
DEHRIYAWAN: A village in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad district has one temple and mosque located adjacent to each other. And, the villagers visit them together. Hindu and Muslim villagers participate in each other’s festivals and have never allowed communal strife elsewhere to affect them. The village mosque and temple enable both communities to mingle prior to or after their prayers. Brijesh Yadav, a student, said that most of the residents pray at both the temple and the mosque, and even celebrate each other’s festivals. “As you can see that the temple and the mosque have been constructed side by side. Nobody gets into an argument here. We celebrate their festivals, they celebrate ours. Whenever we want, we worship in our temple as well as mosque. We have been studying since childhood that there is only one God and we all are his children. So as this temple and mosque show that there is no distance between them, likewise there should be no distance between all of us. The biggest example is shown here in Dehriyawan,” said Yadav. “We do not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim. In all festivals, marriages we visit each other. Any conflict between some other temple and mosque does not affect the harmony here in Dehriyawan,” said Mohammad Haji Waseem, a local resident. The mosque was constructed in 1970 and the temple was built soon after. By Amit (ANI)
INDORE: Mohammed Zahir is the caretaker of Lord Shiva temple in Khandwa, Indore. He takes care of the temple with the same enthusiasm as for the Dargah round the year. From dawn to dusk he takes care of the temple, from cleaning the periphery of the temple to the core of it, that is, the ‘Lingam’. Religions have never been an obstacle to his services. He believes that Allah, God, Bhagwan all are one, but our way of thinking makes them different.
There is no Hindu Pandit to offer any prayer or to do the rituals, he alone helps tourists offering their prayers and garlands that they bring for the temple. He also offers his services to the Dargah 100 meter away, which also comes under ASI. He takes care of both the places equally and thinks that it will help him teach equality and harmony to his five children.
JAUNPUR: A Muslim youth in Uttar Pradesh has now translated Hindu prayer Hanuman Chalisa into Urdu after noted Urdu poet Anwar Jalalpuri came out with his rendition of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita.
“I have translated Hanuman Chalisa in ‘musaddas’ style which comprises six lines. Like a ‘chuapai’ has four lines, ‘musaddas’ has three ‘shers’ and six lines,” Abid Alvi, who carried out the translation, said.
The youth, who hails from Jaunpur, said he was planning more such works, including translation of Shiv Chalisa prayer, as he felt that it will help people from the two communities to understand each other’s culture and beliefs.
ACCRA: Ghana’s population of 23 million includes 12,500 Hindus, of which 10,000, like their Swami Ghanananda Saraswati, are indigenous Africans. The African Hindu Monastery (AHM) is now Ghana’s largest centre of Hindu worship.
The AHM’s non-exclusionist attitude is apparent from the picture of Jesus alongside the Hindu gods on the main mantelpiece, as well as images of spiritual leaders from other religions. The monastery’s members also believe that the Supreme God is known by other names, such as Yahweh and Allah.
There is even one Muslim among the devotees. Jamer Baroudy says he was born into the Islamic faith but his mother introduced him to Hinduism when he was eight years old. Mr Baroudy says: “I am aware that Islam prohibits idol worshipping but then God doesn’t make any distinction. I visit this temple because I find solace here.”
The AHM is not just accommodating of multiple religious traditions but also open to people of all races, classes and communities. Indian worshippers are not only members of the dominant Sindhi community, but also recent immigrants: managers and contract labour alike. But most worshippers are Africans, again from different professions and backgrounds. When I asked a disciple about the group’s opinion of the caste system, he pointed out that there is no society in the world that does not break its people up into the privileged and the unprivileged, be it through profession, ancestry or race. Ghanaian Hindus like him, however, are clear that people have an equal right to education, the means to a good life and most importantly, religion.
KOZHIKODE: He is not a trained architect. He is not an artist. And he is not even a follower of Islam. Yet he comes up with most beautiful designs for mosques, so beautiful, his name has become synonymous with mosque building across Kerala.
Govindan Gopalakrishnan, 78, a resident of Thiruvananthapuram, has been constructing mosques all his life. But he is no ordinary contractor. He credits his ability to draw sketches for mosques as “bestowed by God.” For almost all mosque functionaries across the state, his name comes to mind when a new mosque is proposed or an old one is to be renovated.
The master designer is now busy with the construction works of Ilippakkulam mosque near Kattanam in Kollam district. But what brought him into limelight was his first work that dates back to 1960s when he was a school going child while he drew sketch for the dome of the famous Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram. Several philanthropic businessman and even government officials decided to renovate the Palayam Juma Masjid as the earlier structure was then almost 200 years old.
Gopalkrishnan’s father was a contractor, whose blueprints of the buildings he constructed, prompted Gopalkrishnan to make a few sketches, which in turn, impressed Kerala’s chief architect. They worked in tandem to complete the mosque as per his designs. When the renovated, re-constructed mosque was inaugurated few years later by the then President Dr Zakir Hussain, Muslims were hooked by his style – domes, minarets, something innovative for the land endowed with natural beauty and where temples, mosques and churches are all built keeping in mind the local architectural traditions, in sync with nature.
BALI: In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. In 2012, it was anointed by the Guinness Book as the most continuously staged performance in the world
“We are not just Muslim,” said Sotya, who was playing Janaka, Sita’s father, that evening. “We are people of Java. Here we learn Hindu and Buddhist stories, too.”
Temples in honour of Vishnu and Shiva are scattered through the islands, words from Sanskrit make appearances in the language, and names from the Mahabharata and Ramayana dot establishments and shops across cities. Still, in modern-day Indonesia, Hindus account for less than 2% of the population.
What is this culture that everyone in Java speaks of? In the nation’s most populous island, syncretism is locked into the DNA. It is bizarre for the Javanese to think of their religion and their cultural history as incompatible; Hindu stories are part of their legacy, even though their religious affiliation might lie elsewhere.