Hindu Muslim Unity: Ganesh celebrations that take place in mosques

Ganesh Chaturthi festival, immersion in ocean
Ganesh Chaturthi festival, immersion in ocean

KOLHAPUR: Setting a unique example of communal amity, Hindus and Muslims gathered at mosques in Kolhapur region on the occasion of Ganesha festival on Friday. Ganesha statues are placed inside mosques and devotees from both the communities participate in the festivity with great fervour. On Friday, Muslim devotees said the Ganesh deity was installed in at least half-a-dozen mosques in the region during the 10-day-long festival. Later, members of the both the communities take part in the immersion of the idol. ”

In Siro Taluka village in Kolhapur we have the idol of lord Ganesha placed inside the mosque. For the past 50-60 years we have been performing this ritual here. We have such idols in six to seven mosques. Hindu and Muslims take part in the immersion of the idol together. This way we are trying to spread this message of amity among the people of the whole country to live together in peace,” said Mansoor Sheikh, a Muslim devotee.

“See, for the past 40-50 years we have been celebrating the festivals of Hindu and Muslims like Muharram (a Muslim festival), Ganpati, Navratri ( Hindu festivals) together with religious amity. We celebrate all these festivals together with brotherhood and love. No violence occurs here and we celebrate every festival with great fervor and zeal,” said Mahesh Janvekar, a Hindu devotee. At the end of the 10-day-long festival, the idols of Lord Ganesha are taken in grand processions and immersed in water bodies such as wells, ponds, rivers and the sea. Ganesha Chaturthi is the most important festival in Maharashtra, and it is also celebrated with devotion in other states of southern India like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Read more at: Communal Harmony

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu devotees deliver Muslim mother’s baby in temple

baby son of Noor Jahan and Ilyaz Shaikh

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.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims make space for Ganpati parade, Hindus silent for Muslim prayers

Hindus hold Ganpati parade on left, Muslims perform namaz on right
Hindus hold Ganpati parade on left, Muslims perform namaz on right

MUMBAI: Unlike usual Ganpati processions, this Ganpati procession in Mumbai maintained silence until the Friday afternoon Namaaz concluded, while the Muslims reading Namaaz made way for the procession to pass conveniently.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu festival successful because of Muslim artisans

INDORE:  Six Muslim artisans of Malwa Mill locality of Indore have fashioned two memorable tableaux depicting Hindu tales for the Anant Chaturdashi festival. Presenting a unique secular bond which has been the hallmark of the city’s pluralistic culture, Anwar Ali and his group, including Mohd Ejaz, 33, Haidar Ali, 22, Mohd Ateeq, 40, Mohd Naseer, 40, and Mohd Jaffer, 40, have spent one full month, meticulously crafting two tableaux of Shiv Tandav and Mahabharat.

“The Hindu priests like Shyam Dwivedi helped me and my brother-in-law Mohd Jaffer in studying the two Hindu scriptures and then taking out the necessary excerpts from them to draw paper prototype of the tableaux,” Anwar told TOI on Wednesday.

Importantly, Mohd Jaffer hails from Chandan Nagar area which was plagued by communal violence last month.

“It’s Allah (alimighty) who brought us to this world, but it’s solely the Hindu deities, who for generations have rendered livelihood to our families. Forget about communal violence in Chandan Nagar or even West UP’s Muzaffarnagar, for us both our religion and Hinduism are equally important,” Jaffar and Anwar said.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims host Qawwali competition at Ganesh festival they helped organize

flags
Hindu and Muslim flags hoisted side by side

PUNE: As the rituals of Shri Ganesh Festival mandal in Hadapsar, Badshah Dalwai, trustee of a local mosque, is busy overseeing the preparations at the pandal. For the organizers of the festival, the event is inconceivable without Muslims in the area. “For us Ganeshotsav is not a Hindu festival, but a community event that we all participate in,” said Mohammad Ansari, a resident of the area.

Ansari and Dalwai have been participating in the festivities of Ganeshotsav since their childhood. Emphasizing the need for communal harmony, the residents of the area have taken to jointly celebrating several festivals of both faiths. They have even come up with their own traditions such as hoisting two massive flags – one in saffron and the other green – on Shiv Jayanti and Eid.

The evening entertainment organized during the ten-day festival is the main attraction for the residents. The same stage where spiritual discourses, Marathi theatre, music and dance competitions are held also witness a qawwali contest. “This has also become a tradition of sorts. For the past five years, a couple of days after the immersion, we organize a qawwali competition…it has become an annual feature of the festival”

Read more: Communal Harmony

Is Hinduism polytheistic?

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Hinduism and Multiplicity in the Divine
by Ravi

Often a point of contention in religious debates, the idea of God manifesting in various forms is greatly misunderstood. There are some who believe that Hindus worship “330 million different gods” with Hindu verses taken out of context and misconstrued. It needs to be emphasized that the main point of this piece is not whether religions are polytheistic (belief in more than one god) or monotheistic (belief in one god). This is irrelevant – the objective is to show that multiple forms of the Creator are written about in the sacred texts of ALL major religions, not just in Hinduism. The essence is the same. The conflict is merely an issue of language/semantics. Before detailing what exactly Hinduism says on this subject it’s important to first examine the three religions which are usually labeled monotheistic.

What Abrahamic faiths say

Genesis 1:26 of the Torah narrates “”Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” The words “us” and “our” imply that more than one creator constructed humanity. In Genesis, one Supreme Force assigns the task of creating Adam to

prophets such as Moses received divine revelations from angels – representations of the Creator

a team of divine servants. The Old Testament calls this team “angels”; Hindu scriptures use the Sanskrit term devas (demigods) instead to describe those who serve Brahman. The Hebrew word El-ohim which is used numerous times in the Torah can be translated to mean one single God or multiple entities. At the end of every angel’s name is “el” (Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Immanu-el, etc.), each representing a different aspect or characteristic of the larger Creator El.

Catholicism references not one but three divinities – God the Father, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit. Catholics are also known to pray to various saints who handle specific issues. Protestant faiths revolve around the worship of two distinct beings, God the Father and his son Jesus. The New Testament 23:33 even contains a conversation where Jesus says “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  In monotheism would this be considered a monologue or a dialogue?

Islam continues in the lineage of the Hebrew prophet Abraham. Just as in the Torah, the Quran also uses the plural “we”: “And We did certainly create the heavens and earth ” (50:38) and “O people, we created you from the same male and female.” (49:13)

What Hinduism says

It’s clear that there’s an inconsistency when defining religions as polytheistic or monotheistic. When a person worships Ganesh the son and his Father Shiva they’re said to believe in more than one God. The same thing isn’t said about someone who worships Jesus the son and his Father Jehovah. The Catholic Trinity is considered monotheist, but the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva is not. When the Vedas say that Brahman manifested as various entities then the conclusion is that Hindus believe in many gods. But when the book of Genesis and Surat Qaf describe a legion of creators that designed Man this is somehow not the same thing.

And what do religions say about how their sacred texts were delivered to prophets? Exodus 3:3 states “The angel of the Lord appeared to him as flames in the fire from a bush.” Here, commentators refer to this fire as “the presence of God.” But when this story is presented to the public, Moses is  instead talking directly with God, not an angel as the scriptures specify. Muslims also believe that the angel Gabriel revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Yet the Quran is referred to as  “the word of God.” Even though God did not directly transmit the Quran to Muhammad, it’s accepted that Gabriel is a representation of God delivering the word.

Yet critics of Hinduism will not allow this same logic to be applied to its scriptures. The Mahabharata was penned by sage Vyasa and dictated by Ganesh, yet it’s not considered a divine text because it wasn’t revealed by directly by Bhagavan.  The Bhagavad Gita was sung by Krishna, but since he’s an avatar (manifestation) of Vishnu in the form of an Earthly being, it’s not considered the word of God. And even though it was not heavenly beings but men who penned the New Testament the  same way the Vedas where were revealed to rishis, the Vedas cannot be considered divinely inspired.

The common argument is Biblical and Quranic verses do not promote polytheism, but that God merely materialized as separate representations at the same time. This is exactly what Hindu scriptures having been saying all along – that the Creator can manifest, act, and reveal on this plane in an infinite number of ways.

First let’s address the misconception that Hindus worship “330 million gods” (or some similar outlandish number) by looking directly into their scriptures. Rig Veda 1:164:46 says “the One Being is called by many names.” This point is elaborated in the Upanisads, a sub-text which is presented as conversations between a teacher and his pupils. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:9:1 contains one such dialogue:

Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Three hundred and three and three thousand and three.
Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Thirty three.
Student: How many gods are there?
Guru: Six.

divine energy inhabits the entire Universe from the smallest atom to the largest astral body

This dialogue goes on until finally the Guru reaches the answer One. He continues by saying that there is one Being who pervades the entire universe and manifests in infinite forms. There is no Hindu text that lists a million names, let alone thirty three million. In a daily Vedic ceremony priests/brahmins are required to chant the many titles of God. If priests had to speak such  high a number in one ritual they’d probably be chanting their whole lives without a break. And imagine the overwhelming task if each Hindu had to individually worship 330 million gods every time they prayed or visited a temple!

The Katha Upanishad expands on the idea of infinite manifestations: There is one Ruler, the Spirit that is in all things, who transforms his own form into many.

Indian saint Namdev of the Sikh tradition also wrote in agreement with Hinduism:
He is the One in many, countless are His shapes and forms. He pervades all that exists; wherever I look, He is there.

The Bhagavad Gita also details the idea of devas and One Supreme Deity. Avatar narrator Krishna explains that devotees

infinite manifestations of the Divine
infinite manifestations of the Divine, benevolent and terrifying

have permission to devote their heart to the  form of God they desire:
I am in everyone’s heart. As soon as one desires to worship a deva, I make their faith steady so that he/she can devote himself to that particular deity. Endowed with such a faith, they execute worship of a particular deity and obtains their desires. But in reality these benefits are given by Me. (7:21-23)

This verse also gives a glimpse as to why there are no Hindu missionaries around the world working to convert people. The Gita states that whichever form of the Creator a person is attracted to whether it be Brahman, Allah, Raba, Yahweh, or anything else, they are encouraged to worship that form so long as the devotion is sincere and they obey God’s basic tenets. The viewpoint that the Supreme has created the Earth to be a battleground for religious fighting or competition is rejected.

Gita 17:23 says that the chanting of priests in Vedic ceremonies performed specifically for God’s agents are directly pleasing to Brahman:
From the beginning of creation, the three words OM TAT SAT were used to symbolize God. These three representations were used by brahmins chanting Vedic hymns for the satisfaction of the Supreme.

In Chapter 11 of the Gita, Krishna reveals his infinite forms to Arjun, showing that the Divine is able to manifest in an infinite number of ways, both beautiful and terrible. Arjun is so terrified of the sight that he asks Krishna to revert back to the comforting single, personal form understood by him. This is something mirrored by religious devotees, as most people attach themselves to the religion that makes them feel comfortable in their form of worship.

In all religions various attributes and qualities are assigned to the Creator. But the reality is most people choose to worship a form of the Creator they feel mirrors their personal viewpoints. Some view God as vengeful and angry, while others see a loving and merciful God. Some see God as encompassing of all these qualities, while others say God is incapable of having attributes since attributes are human-like. We see these differences in the various sects of religions, some causing rifts within communities that supposedly worship the same Supreme Being. Likewise in Hinduism, Hindus are attracted to the form of deity which is pleasing to their outlook on religion. Which form of God or deva appeals to a Hindu devotee’s heart and mind is the one they will choose to worship. Instead of being hung up on terms like “polytheism” or “monotheism” Hindus instead must focus on steadying their devotion, purifying their heart, and focusing their intellect on loving worship of the Infinite.

Sri Sarada Devi
Sri Sarada Devi

Brahman exists everywhere. Prophets and Incarnations are born to show benighted humanity their way. They give different instructions to suit different temperaments. There are many ways to realize truth. So all these instructions have their relative value. For instance, many birds are perched on the branches of a tree. They are of different colors: white, black, red, yellow, and so on. Their sounds, too, are different. But when they sing we say that the sounds are made by the birds. We do not designate one particular sound only as the sound of the birds, and refuse to acknowledge the other sounds as such.
Mother Sarada Devi

Happy Diwali!

Fall marks one of the largest Hindu high holidays – the Festival of Lights.
Diwali is a celebration of light over darkness and good triumphing over evil. The holiday is also celebrated by Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhist communities as well.

Read more about the importance of Diwali here

The significance of Dipavali is a re-enacting of this banishing darkness from within yourself, of shaking yourself free from the sleep of ignorance, and waking up into the light of a new dawn of full awareness…And to remind you of this, each year the festival of lights is held during the darkest night. It comes as an annual reminder of what you have to do—banish darkness, bring in light, be full of light and revel in the Illumination. Fill yourself with the Light. Fill the whole world with light by your own being in it.

– Sri Swami Chidananda