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.
MUMBAI: Mohammed Tahir and his wife Zubeida, main organisers of a local Navratri festival, have been celebrating since 1983.
Tahir said that his wife had dreamt of the Goddess and the couple has since been setting up a makeshift temple every year dedicated to Goddess Durga. “Every year, the temple has a different setting. We have made replica of the Balaji, Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu, Kedarnath and Badrinath,” said Tahir.
Zubeida said the temple was for everyone who believed that all religions taught different paths to reach the same God. “It is for everyone who believes in the unity of religions. We all celebrate it together, be it Hindu or Muslim. In fact people from various religions and regions come here,” said Zubeida.
Mohammad Tahir, 61, is a labour contractor and has been to Vaishnodevi temple 15 times. “I wanted to keep a Bhandara like that temple and asked the goddess for strength to replicate it in my area. People have been very helpful and have donated a lot of groceries. Over 700 people are fed here daily, after the evening Aarti. Till date, I’ve never had to ask for funds. They just come.”
“I keep fast during the puja because I have faith in Devi. Though I am a Muslim, I strongly believe God is one.”
BALAGORE: Every year as Durga puja approaches, three Muslim leaders – Shaikh Jannat Hossain of Nurpur Road, Sk Kamruz Zuma and Naimuddin Hoda of Arad Bazaar – get ready to play their roles for a grand puja. While Hossain is the secretary of Nurpur Road Master Mill puja committee, Zuma is the president of Arad Bazar puja committee. Going one step ahead, Hoda organises the puja at Odean Talkies square and is the president of Kalinga Durga puja committee.
“I keep fast during the puja because I have faith in Devi. Though I am a Muslim, I strongly believe God is one. I also lead an ‘Akhada’ team that performs at Mahavir temple in Makalpur on the Astami day,” Hossain said.
I bow again and again to the Devi, who lives in all creatures in the form of Mother. In this creation, I am one, and I am many as well, in various forms
– Srimad Devi Bhagavatam 6:11
Tonight marks the start of Navratri, a celebration worshiping Mother Durga in her various forms. Many Hindu devotees embark on a nine night (nav meaning nine, rat meaning night) fast. They conclude the festival with a grand feast on the 10th day of Dassera. The 10th day celebrates the anniversary of Durga slaying Mahishasura, a demon that terrorized both Earth and the heavens.
This narrative is also a metaphor with a deeper spiritual meaning. During these nine nights Hindus appeal for spiritual wealth, knowledge, and strength in slaying their own mental Mahishasuras such as pride, ignorance, or attachment to trivial matters of the world. These internal demons battle to steer the mind and soul away from its Higher purpose.
Learn more about the feminine concept of God in Hinduism and Islam here: Shakti and Sakina