SRINAGAR: Under the majestic chinar in a cremation ground, Mohammad Yasin Dar, 55, has lit a bonfire to stay warm on a nippy February morning. He has spent a larger part of his days at the place for 10 years. A devout Muslim, he has embarked on an unusual mission—to perform last rites of the dead of Kashmir’s minuscule Hindu population.
“Earlier, it was a pathetic situation here. There was no one to cremate bodies of Hindus as everyone was afraid. Cops would ferry the dead in dingy vans and lit the pyre in a callous manner,” said Dar. “I had a dream in which a Hindu goddess commanded me to restore her temple in the cremation ground. As I had no means, I told the management to do it else I would not stay here,” quipped Dar.
“They are tirelessly helping people from far and near to take on this arduous journey comfortably and then they deserve blessings. While we find it difficult to climb on our own back they take people in palanquins on their shoulder and with great ease. Commendable indeed and a matter of great happiness”
– Hindu devotee on Muslims assisting pilgrims
For the Hindus, better known as Kashmiri Pandits, Shivratri is the biggest festival on the calendar. And a scene that played out repeatedly this year in areas dominated by them was Muslims embracing and wishing their Hindu friends a happy holiday. For Kashmiri Hindus, nightlong prayers at home are followed by a visit to the temple on Shivratri. They also host a feast for friends the next day, known as Salam. Until militancy broke out in 1989, it was common for Kashmiri Pandits to host lunches for their Muslim friends and neighbors.
Mushtaq Ahmad waited for a Kashmiri Pandit family outside Ranishewar temple, housing an icon of Lord Shiva, in the rain, just to hug his friends and congratulate them. Mushtaq, who is a government employee, went to the home of his friend Sushil Kaul in Janipur, but was told by neighbors that the family had gone to the temple. He headed straight for the shrine. When Sushil and Mushtaq sighted each other, they couldn’t stop embracing. Tears rolled down their cheeks, retelling the story of two friends being back together.
WORCHESTER: Clark University’s South Asian Student Alliance (SASA) hosted a joint dinner celebrating the end of Ramadan for Muslims and Diwali for Hindus. The event celebrating communal harmony between college students of different faiths also served as a fundraiser for earthquake victims in India.
The charitable dinner was organized by three student organization with proceeds going to help victims in Kashmir. One student commented that they were overwhelmed by the “unprecedented” turnout.”
Trehgam Muslims pose on the steps of Shiv Temple. They are among those who helped protect the temple during two decades of violence in Kashmir
TREHGAM: Azaan (the call to prayer) in Jamia Masjid Trehgam and the chiming of bells in Shiv Temple often sound concurrently in north Kashmir’s Trehgam village, 115km northwest of Srinagar. And the two shrines share something else in common. They’re neighbours, both situated on the banks of a pond known as “Shiv Nag”. Followers of both faiths — Hindus and Muslims – view the pond as sacred for its curative waters.
Though the village witnessed numerous violent incidents over two decades – caused mostly by stone-throwing protestors – Muslims protected the temple as much as they did the mosque. “We are able to worship in the temple after two decades only because of Muslims, who protected it from miscreants all these years,” Sunil Kumar, a teacher and member of the Pandit community, told Khabar. “Muslims never differentiated between the temple and the mosque.”
SRINIGAR: Hindus paid obeisance at the holiest Hindu shrine of Mata Khirbhawani in Tullamulla village, 24 km from summer capital Srinagar in Ganderbal district. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also paid obeisance at the shrine and interacted with the devotees who gathered around to speak to him.
Rare scenes of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood were witnessed as locals in Tullamulla village served milk in earthen pots to the Pandits, keeping up the centuries old local tradition.
“It is precisely due to the devotion to Mata and love for our Muslim brothers that I have been coming here regularly all these years,” said Ashok Koul, 42, who came from Jammu with his family.
Muhammad Shafi Baht, 52, a local Muslim, said: “The scene at the Mela has remained unchanged despite the political upheavals. Muslims in Tullamulla have always eagerly waited for the festival each year to be of some help to the Pandit brothers.
elderly Hindu pilgrims being carried over glacier by Muslim friends
Every year half a million Hindu pilgrims make a harsh and dangerous trek up mountainous terrain to the 5000 year old Amarnath caves shrine in Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims are often seen helping out their Hindu brothers and sisters on this pilgrimage.
Having to leave Kashmir a Hindu Pandit gave the charge of a 900 year old temple to his friend Abdul Bhat, a Muslim, and asked him to keep the gates of the temple open. Keeping the promise, Bhat took care of the temple till his transfer from the area in 2004. After that Mohammad Abdullah and Ghulam Hassan were entrusted with the task of maintaining the temple.
Built by Raja Jai Suria, the temple was once a must stop over for pilgrims going to the Amarnath cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas. “We have fulfilled our task of guarding this shrine for Kashmiri Pandits. It is theirs. We wish they return and take back the control of the temple,” they said.
SRINIGAR: In Chinkral Mohalla, Bashir Ahmed Dar is getting ready to go out after weeks of curfew. The city is still tense. But on Wednesday, Bashir can simply not stay in; he has to say a final good bye to friend and neighbour Kishan Lal Puri. Practically every resident of Chinkral came out to accompany Lal on his final journey.
“It is our tradition, it is our brotherhood. Muslims and Pandits live together, we have grown up together,” Bashir said. “Our Prophet Mohammad has taught us that guarding minorities is your sacred duty. We can risk our lives for their protection. We have protected them and we will protect them. Their daughters are our daughters,” said Mohammad Shafi, a Muslim neighbour.
It’s not just symbolic. While a few Pandits were called by the family to perform religious rites, all other rituals were done by the Muslims. “You can see, they are Muslims and we are just 5-6 Pandits. They have done everything. We only performed religious rites. They organised vehicles, informed police and carried the body from home,” said Cham Lal Matoo, Kashmiri Pandit living in the area.
Muslims have always lined up with earthen bowls of milk for their Hindu brothers on the annual festival at Khir Bhawani shrine.
“We have been making this small gesture of goodwill for our Pandit brothers annually. There is nothing unusual about this. It is part of our culture,” said Noor Mohammad Bhat, 54, a resident of Tullamulla town.
Devotee Chaman Lal is deeply touched by the kindness and love of the local Muslims.