bangalore: At a time when growing religious intolerance in Karnataka – whether in the form of backlash against protests against the hijab ban or calls for a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses at temple fairs – is attracting Attention, a handful of state religious institutions ensure that they cling to their syncretic traditions.
These include the Chennakeshava Temple in the state’s town of Belur, as well as organizers of Karaga – a 300-year-old temple fair – in Bengaluru. In both cases, Hindu and Muslim communities have defied the tensions of recent months to come together to celebrate centuries-old traditions.
On Wednesday, as hundreds of devout Hindus gathered to pray to Lord Vishnu at the Chennakeshava temple, dozens of priests performed rituals according to the Agama (traditional Hindu scriptures) and the decorated chariot of Chennakeshava (a form of Vishnu ) left. , marking the start of the Rathotsava (tank festival).
All the while, Maulvi Syed Sajjad Khaji, a cleric from Doddamedur Masjid in Hassan district, stood on a small platform beside the wheels of the chariot. A green cloth wrapped around his head, Khaji read verses from the Quran.
A similar sight was seen earlier this month as Karaga stood in full fervor after two years of Covid-related restrictions.
The Karaga – an earthen pot filled with water, adorned with conical-shaped flowers and balanced on the head of a carrier, who is believed to be a divine incarnation of Draupadi as Adi Shakti – stopped at dargah by Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Baba.
On the eve of the Karaga festivities, which began on April 8, a team of priests from the Dharmaraya Swamy temple — which is at the heart of the Karaga celebrations — visited the Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Dargah, at the invitation of the Muslim clerics of the dargah.
The celebration also saw worshipers from both communities exchange greetings and prayers, raising hopes for unity amid ongoing incidents of religious differences in the state.
The decision of the organizers to maintain the syncretic tradition of the fair came despite alleged calls from Hindutva workers to skip the dargah stop. Similar claims were made by S. Krishnaswamy Bhattar, the chief priest of the Chennakeshava temple.
But both described traditions of interfaith unity as crucial.
Bhattar described the Chennakeshava temple tradition as “Sarva Dharma Samabhava” or equal respect for all religions and peaceful coexistence of all faiths.
The temple is believed to be 900 years old and its syncretic tradition also dates back centuries.
“It’s an age-old tradition. One that has its roots in Vishishtadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya (a school of Vedanta philosophy), which preaches equality for all on the path of spirituality, belief and salvation,” Bhattar told The Print.
“It is on the path he set out that we continue, allowing Muslims to participate in the festival as part of this inclusive tradition,” he added.
Congress MLC PR Ramesh, a leader of the Tigala community, which organizes Karaga, was cited as saying in the media that “the Sufi (Hazrat Tawakkal Mastan Baba) was a great devotee of our family Goddess Draupadi Devi”.
“He had wished that after her passing, he would wish to see her every year. As a result, the procession remains at the dargah for some time on the closing day of the ceremony,” he added.
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“An attempt to unite all peoples”
Bhattar said members of “a few (Hindu) organizations approached us a few weeks ago asking us not to allow the reading of Quranic verses.”
“We had to seek advice from the (government) staffing department on this. After reading the temple manual, the department allowed us to continue the tradition,” he added.
Like many ancient temples in the state, Chennakeshava Temple is also under the administrative control of the Government of Karnataka, under the Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Institutions and Endowments (or Muzrai).
The Temple Handbook is a handbook dating from 1932, codifying all the practices, rituals, traditions intrinsic to the Chennakeshava Temple, as recognized and approved by the former Mysore State administration.
“The manual details all the traditional and historical practices that have been followed in the temple. The tradition of reading verses from the Quran is also codified in the manual,” K. Vidyulatha, chief executive of Chennakeshava Temple, told The Print.
She added, “It is said that Sri Ramanujacharya, with the aim of uniting everyone, gave opportunity to people from all sects and communities to offer prayers to the deity. This has continued to this day.
Vidyulatha claimed his office had received requests from Hindutva groups that non-Hindu vendors should not be allowed at the temple fair.
“The rule prohibiting non-Hindus from setting up businesses only applies to temple-owned properties. We have asked non-Hindu sellers to stay away but this does not extend to non-temple properties and as a result non-Hindus have been allowed to open shops outside of the temple,” she added.
Another example of religious syncretism in Karnataka is the cave shrines of Baba Budangiri – often referred to as “Southern Ayodhya” by Hindutva rulers – which are a revered place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Muslims alike.
Also known as ‘Shri Guru Dattatreya Swamy Baba Budan Dargah’, the name of the shrine itself indicates its syncretic identity.
Guru Dattatreya, a Hindu deity believed to be an embodiment of the Trimurti – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma as one being – is worshiped here, alongside Baba Budan, a 16th century Sufi saint who is said to have introduced the coffee tree to India and Dada Hayat, an 11th century Sufi saint.
(Editing by Poulomi Banerjee)
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