Sunday, April 2, 2023

Defiant Harmony

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December 6 was the 22nd anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. Today, this holy town is a peaceful place where various religions co-exist

By Farzand Ahmed

On December 6, 1992, the 16th-century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama, was demolished by a frenzied and trained mob of kar sevaks. As the world watched horrified, thousands of Hindu fanatics clambered on the domes with pickaxes and spades and brought it down. The resulting communal violence led to months of rioting in many parts of the country, leaving many dead and devastated.

Today, 22 years later, it is business as usual in the town. There is no tension, only talk of harmony. Some 10,000 Hindus from across the country throng the disputed site for a darshan of Ram-Lalla every day. Muslim vendors and artisans sell garlands, bhagwa dhwaj (Lord Hanuman’s saffron flag), drums, brass bells, shell conches and puja material. And as is common in pluralistic India, after darshan and puja, most of the devotees visit dargahs and mazaars (mausoleums of Sufi saints), seeking blessings there too.
In fact, so interlinked are Hinduism and Islam in this holy city, often described as the Vatican of Hindus, that there are 32 mosques here, where the azaan (call for prayer) often intermingles with bhajans and recitations of the Hanuman Chalisa, leaving one with a sense of peace and well-being.


The lanes and bylanes of Ayodhya hum with activity from sunrise to sunset, with monkeys running amok, chasing and snatching fruits and eatables from visitors. Ayodhya has been described in the Atharva Veda as “a city built by gods and being as prosperous and calm as paradise itself”. In Sanskrit, Ayodhya means “not to be warred against”. According to the Ramayana, Ayodhya was founded by Manu, the law-giver. During Gautam Buddha’s time, the city was called Ayojjhā. Under Muslim rule, it was the seat of the governor of Awadh, and later, during the British Raj, it was known as Ajodhya or Ajodhia.


A busy market in Ayodhya, where people carry on a normal life, prefering to forget the tumultuous years that the town witnessed


Ayodhya was a symbol of harmony and is sacred for all faiths—Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. However, with politics taking on a religious hue in the 1980s due to the VHP-BJP combine, things changed.

But it still is a place awash in religious symbols. For example, one can visit the famous dargah of Hazrat Sheesh, the son of Prophet Adam, the first messenger of God. It is part of a larger site which houses the graves of his mother, five brothers and father, Prophet Adam. Then, there is Dargah Naugazi, an impressive grave that is 16.2 meters long and attracts both Hindu and Muslim devotees.

Another interesting architectural structure is a decaying minaret that stands tall amidst temples. People say this minar was erected by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb over an akund (spring) which was covered with a huge iron tawa (plate) as a symbol of oneness with God.


There are 32 mosques in this holy city, and the azaan intermingles with bhajans and recitations of the Hanuman Chalisa, leaving one with a sense of peace.


A few furlongs away is the famous cave temple, Hanuman Garhi, from where Lord Hanuman is said to have kept a watch over Ram Janmbhoomi or Ramkot, which Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula, the impulsive ruler of Avadh with its capital at Faizabad, got constructed. The temple, built like a fort, houses a golden idol of Lord Hanuman in the lap of his mother Anjani. There is also an all-faith Satyar Temple which has the idols of Lord Ram, Gautam Buddha, Lord Mahavir, an image of Mecca and Madina and a picture of Prophet Zarathustra.


Typifying the serenity of Ayodhya, a sadhu is immersed in rituals on the ghats of the Sarayu


A young Muslim fruit-seller, Rizwan Ahmad, says he remembers being told in his childhood that there were more than 80 mazaars and dargahs here, which were also visited by those who had gone to temples. But now, only some 20 remain. A list of these Sufi shrines can be seen on a signboard in the premises of Dargah Naugazi. No wonder local Mus-lims believe that Ayodhya is a small Mecca.


So how have Hinduism and Islam sprouted in the same town? Scholars say that from 12th century, Sufi saints used Ayodhya as a center for spiritual teaching. Among these mystics were Qazi Qidwattuddin Awadhi, who came from Central Asia, and Sheikh Jamal Gujjari of the Firdausiya School in pre-Mughal era.

Till a few years back, informs Manzar Mehdi, editor of the Urdu-Hindi weekly, Aap Ki Taquat, the Mahant of Hanuman Garhi, used to organize Iftar parties during Ramzan. Sadly, it was abandoned under VHP’s pressure. Mehdi says: “I don’t understand why some people are fighting. Hindus and Mus-lims in Ayodhya say that outsiders are creating disturbances and defaming the holy land.”
The events of 1992 led to a high court decree on September 30, 2010, which said that the disputed land in Ayodhya, measuring 2.77 acres, be divided among Hindus, Muslims and Nirmohi Akhara (which sought construction of a temple to Ram there). But the Supreme Court stayed the high court order and imposed status quo.

This order created confidence among Mus-lims. All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali says that the Board had always maintained that the Muslim community should wait for the Supreme Court verdict. He says Muslims do not want to get trapped in this controversy again.

After all, peace in this holy city has been won after much bloodshed.

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