NEPALGUNJ: In the spirit of “communal harmony” and interreligious dialogue, hundreds of Muslims have joined Hindu believers to celebrate the feast of Dashain. The feast is underway now in Nepal, and is one of the most important observances for local Hindu tradition, connected to the worship of the goddess Durga. In Nepalgunj, a town in the western part of the country, the occasion has special significance thanks to the presence of Muslim leaders and faithful who have exchanged gifts, embraces, and good wishes with the Hindus.
LUCKNOW: Sahaduddin (Sameer) Ahmed and his friend Abdul Kalim observed fast on the first day of Navratri.
“If Hindus and Muslims start celebrating festivals together, there will never be a Dadri. If I keep rozas, I also observe fast on Navratri. In my village, Hindu festivals Holi and Diwali begins from our house. On every Bada Mangal, I organize bhandharas,” said Sameer, whose grandfather Bashir Ahmed and PVC Hamid were brothers. The two families live next door in Ghazipur.
“Dadi always says that no religion talks ill of other religion. Until and unless we start respecting each other (Hindu and Muslims), outsiders will draw advantage. It’s high time that we get united,” says Sameer.
Kalim, a second year BA (Hons) student at LU, said: “Hindu-Muslim unity in our country was exemplary to the West. Unfortunately, religion is being used to divide communities and societies. We will continue to spread communal harmony in our own ways,” said Kalim
For Diwali, Sameer is already read. “I will visit people who cannot afford to light a ‘diya’ in their house because of any reason. If I make few Hindu families smile, I will feel live in peace,” said Sameer.
KOLKATA: Shahid Ali is a Muslim priest who will perform the rituals at a Durga Puja this year. But that’s not the only reason we’re writing about him. Like the deity he will worship, Shahid and the humble locality he stays in, are a symbol of the victory of good over evil, of humanity over divisive faith and of the secular mind over zealous theocrats.
Balwant Singh, a member of the puja committee, says: “Shahid fasts for all four days and performs puja according to Hindu shastras“
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.”
Hindus and Muslims practice their faiths side by side
Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh has been the house of communal harmony right from its existence. Here everyone believes in the age old ethos which has led to upsurge the traditional root of the country. One such instance is of Shah Alam Zaidi. Muslim by religion, Zaidi and his family donated a land for building a Hindu temple and a mosque adjacent to each other. Zaidi is famous among the people of the region, as he serves to the temple with utmost devotion and faith. During the occasion of Navratari he takes part in all the rituals performed in the temple. Built two hundred years ago this temple and mosque in its side clearly reflects the fact that the culture of communal harmony still prevails in the country.
TRIPURA: Muslims in two villages bordering Bangladesh in Tripura are jointly celebrating the Durga Puja with Hindus. Dominated by Muslims, the Kulubari and Durgapur villages in western Tripura’s Sepahijala district, attract people of all religions across the northeastern state. Over 90 per cent of the total population of both Kulubari and Durgapur villages are Muslims, who comprise around nine per cent of Tripura’s total of 3.7 million
“The festival is for all. Why should we not organise this with everyone else? This is Tripura. We would like to live here together, die together and also like to share everything amongst us,” said Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury, an elderly Muslim leader in Kulubari village.
“We are really happy that Durga Puja is celebrated in our village with the active help of the majority Muslims. This is incomparable in many parts of our country,” said, Swapan Saha, a Hindu villager and a government school teacher. “Without the sincere support of Muslims, we can’t dream of celebrating the festival in such a big way as the Hindu population is very few.”
KANPUR: City based artisans are busy giving final touches to the effigies of Ravana a day before the festival of Dussehra. These effigies will be set on fire to commemorate the end of Navratri fasting and the victory of avatar Ram over Ravana in war. The craftsmen, all of whom were Muslims said that they have been making the effigies of the Ravana for several years now. They said that they have inherited this work from their parents who used to make these effigies earlier.
“We have applied vermillion on the forehead of Ravana with the help of paint. Also we have pasted a crown over his heads. The task, which still remains to be done is to attach all the three body parts but this job would be done on the day of Dusshera”, said Zahid who was busy completing the effigy of Ravana along with his colleagues.Similarly, the group of craftsmen were witnessed making the effigy of Ravana at Saket Nagar ground.
“Apart from making these effigies we also attach firecrackers inside it. We place lights in eyes of effigies to to attract crowd. This will last for around half and hour after which the effigies will be set on fire”, said Mehraz, a craftsmen.
DHAKA: She gave Dhaka her name (from Dhakeshwari which means Goddess). And though she has been attacked several times she remains an inspiring example of communal integration in Bangladesh. The best time to witness this is during Durga puja. The 800-year-old Dhakeshwari temple is like no other Hindu temple in the world. It is a must-visit for not only the country’s estimated 14 lakh Hindus, but also for the vast majority of Muslims here.
The long queues waiting to be served the rich bhuna khichuri served on Ashtami include Muslims too. “Durga Puja, for us, is an occasion to do some social service and strengthen bonds between members of other communities,” says Bashudeb Dhar, president of the Mahanagar Sarbojonin Puja Committee. Prominent members of all communities, including Buddhists and Christians, are invited to participate in the festivities. But the committee also reaches out to the general public by offering free meals and organizing community initiatives. “There have been attempts to destroy this secular culture. Our participation in Durgotsav is important to defeat these attempts,” says Mohammad ‘Montu’ Naseem, a prominent businessman. Prominent Muslims serve on the organizing committees of most pujas here. “Pujas are an integral part of our cultural and religious heritage and we must fight all attempts to destroy it,” says Awami League leader Abdul Qadir Nissar.
AHMEDABAD: Youths are dancing merrily to the tunes of garba beats, children playing with empty water bottles and people of all ages and walks of life watching the gaiety. One can see nuns taking rounds of the garba venue playing perfect hosts. Yet, few know the man behind this garba event at this Christian college campus.
Naved Siddiqui has been organising the Navratri fest at St Xavier’s College for 20 years now. A Hindu festival, Muslim organiser and a Christian institute as venue. So what is it that keeps Siddiqui organising garbas every year? “I have been brought up in a very culturally accepting environment. My father was a psychology professor at St Xavier’s College. The campus gave me a chance to meet people from all walks of life. I love seeing people dance and their faces light up with smiles once the music starts.”
CUTTACK: The city’s zari pandals (intricately decorated tents) are not only remarkable in their beauty but are also a symbol of communal harmony. 52 year old Salim Khan has been working on Zari Pandalsfor Durga Puja since he was just eight years old. Salim learnt this art from his father and now his 22-year-old daughter, Resham, is carrying forward the family tradition – a tradition where Muslim artisans make the Hindu festival of Durga Puja complete with their hands.
“All festivals are the same be it Eid or Dussehra. We all must celebrate them,” says Salim Khan.
Every Durga Puja, Cuttack city’s Banka Bazar sees more than fifty such Muslim families working in full swing to complete the Zari pandals and each pandal takes at least three months time to make. Incidentally, these Muslim families are also the first ones present at the pandal for the Durga puja ceremony.
JAIPUR: Displaying centuries old ethos of communal harmony through fun and frolic, a group of 15 people – 12 Muslims and 3 Hindus – all hailing from the Walled City are behind the city’s most enchanting Garba nights
Shakeel Khan, one of the organizers recounted, “In my childhood, I actively participated in organizing garbas in my locality. Here I am using all my expertise learnt from organizing the garbas from Mohallas to narrow streets. To maintain the sanctity, they have asked a Brahmin to perform the puja.”
Shakeel believes that taking part in garba is part of the city’s shared culture. “Still in Walled city areas which has a mixed population you cannot differentiate between Hindus and Muslims even after playing garba for the whole night,” Shakeel added. His co-partner, Shashi Soni, came up with the idea of taking it to a different level by organising it at a premier location.
MUMBAI: Terror attacks have occurred in the past during festival season, and though the main objective of these acts of terror is to disturb peace during the festivals, the festivities of different religions continue in full swing.
Recently, Hindus organized their religious festival Ganesh Pooja with full devotion, while Muslims were busy in their pious month of Ramadan. Preparations are being made to celebrate the famous festivals of Dusshehra, the Durga Pooja and the Eid-Ul-Fitr. While the festivals of different communities in India—the nation of unity in diversity—are associated with their religious importance, these festivals at the same time present an example of communal harmony and equality for which the world has perhaps no match. The festivals thrive despite the terrorists’ best efforts to disturb the social fabric.
In this holy land—with its mix of Ramanand, Kabir, Nanak, Chishti, Khusro, Nizam, Sai Baba, Sheikh Farid and Bulle Shah—no terrorist organization can uproot communal harmony. Indian festivals will continue to be models of religious brotherhood and keep alive the country’s unity in diversity.
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
CHANDIGARH: Eid-al-Azha symbolizes the fact that sacrifice of a small group of people can create a new beginning for the entire humankind. Two students of MCM DAV College for Women, are setting an example of such kinship by celebrating the best in each other’s religion.
Motivated by her roommate Nikhat’s enthusiasm in observing all nine fasts during the recent Navratras, Priyanka, a BA-II student of the college, is going to celebrate Eid with her on Wednesday. “When I started reading Namaz with her, Nikhat too began saying prayers according to the Hindu religion,” added Priyanka, who is from Kolkata. With Durga Puja being the most important festival in Bengal, Priyanka also asked the college authorities to hold the celebrations on campus. Priyanka confesses that her Muslim friend’s zeal in keeping all nine fasts left many surprised.