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Communal Harmony triumphs, Imam Inaugurates Kali temple

Sabrangindia 05 Dec 2019

In a heartwarming incident of love and empathy, the residents of Basapara, in Birbhum district of West Bengal, have proved that harmony always triumphs over hate and disinformation.

A Kali temple that was demolished two years ago for a road-widening project, was inaugurated on October 27th by the Imam of the local mosque, who not only came forward to help but also raised 7 lakh rupees to redevelop the temple.

Speaking exclusively to SabrangIndia, the Imam, Hafez Nasiruddin Mondal said that though he never imagined the Muslim community to be inaugurating the Kali temple but the thought of both Hindu and Muslim communities coming so close for an event made him extremely proud and happy.

Kashinath Kundu, the Chairman of the Temple Committee said, "They came to us first, offering help. When we told that we don't have any money apart from the land they said that they will help out in every possible way if we come forward and partake in the redevelopment."

The Deputy chief of Basapara Panchayat said, " though the media is creating propaganda to distract the public, we haven't fallen in that trap. Our only focus should be on the administration and development."

Communal Harmony triumphs, Imam Inaugurates Kali temple

In a heartwarming incident of love and empathy, the residents of Basapara, in Birbhum district of West Bengal, have proved that harmony always triumphs over hate and disinformation.

A Kali temple that was demolished two years ago for a road-widening project, was inaugurated on October 27th by the Imam of the local mosque, who not only came forward to help but also raised 7 lakh rupees to redevelop the temple.

Speaking exclusively to SabrangIndia, the Imam, Hafez Nasiruddin Mondal said that though he never imagined the Muslim community to be inaugurating the Kali temple but the thought of both Hindu and Muslim communities coming so close for an event made him extremely proud and happy.

Kashinath Kundu, the Chairman of the Temple Committee said, "They came to us first, offering help. When we told that we don't have any money apart from the land they said that they will help out in every possible way if we come forward and partake in the redevelopment."

The Deputy chief of Basapara Panchayat said, " though the media is creating propaganda to distract the public, we haven't fallen in that trap. Our only focus should be on the administration and development."

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The Language of Hate - BHU students protest Muslim Sanskrit teacher

As we watch yet another pointless controversy unfold with a handful of BHU students protesting the appointment of a Muslim teacher in the Sanskrit department, we have to question the big picture.The brighter side is the larger number of students who came out in Prof Khan’s support

22 Nov 2019

Sanskrit teachers

On November 22, 2019, the BHU students who had been protesting for 2 weeks against the appointment of Muslim teacher Firoz Khan in the Sanskrit Department of the University, have decided to end the protest after assurances from the Vice Chancellor that “corrective” measures will be taken within 10 days. It is not the first time we have seen religion and caste-based ‘protests’ by Savarna Hindus hold administrations and governments ransom. Yet, a lot of aspects of this latest controversy are surprising. For example, Muslims teaching or excelling in Sanskrit is not something that is happening for the first time.

Ashab Ali, who retired in 2010 from the post of Head of the Department- Sanskrit at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University, Gorakhpur, had a 33 years long career as a much-loved teacher despite the Department being dominated by Brahmins and Thakurs. Ashab Ali had topped both his BA and MA exams in Sanskrit in 1969 and 1971 . He then completed a PhD on a comparative study of Vedic and Islamic myths under the then head of department, Atul Chandra Banerjee, who also played a key role in his appointment which led him to hold the highest position of HOD eventually.

The story of another Sanskrit scholar- 85 year old Pandit Ghulam Dastagir Birajdar- is endearing. As former General Secretary of Vishwa Sanskrit Pratishthan in Varanasi, and presently Chairman of the committee to prepare school textbooks for Sanskrit in Maharashtra, he has such mastery over the language that he is often asked by local Hindus to solemnise marriages, preside over pujas or perform last rites. Even though he declines such requests, he has taught many Hindus how to recite and perform Hindu rituals.

Dr. Meraj Ahmed Khan, who is an Associate Professor of Sanskrit at Kashmir University says, “What we teach in universities is modern Sanskrit which has nothing to do with religion”.Adding that he was never discriminated against for being a Muslim scholar of Sanskrit, he said, “If they did, they wouldn’t award me a gold medal in MA”.

Dr. Salma Mahfooz, renowned Sanskrit scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University was the first Muslim woman in the world to be awarded a PhD in Sanskrit. She has taught Geeta, Vedas, Upanishads and guided more than 15 PhD scholars during her career. Commenting on the BHU row she quipped, “Mazhab apni jagah hai, taleem apni jagah” (Religion has its own place, and education and upbringing has its own place).

The examples are endless. The Sanskrit Department’s Chairman at Aligarh Muslim University is Prof Mohammed Shareef; retired associate Professor (Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan Delhi) Dr. Mohammad Haneef Khan Shastri was conferred the title of “Shastri” by former President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma; even the person at the centre of the present controversy, Firoz Khan, is not the first in his family to study Sanskrit. His grandfather Gafur Khan would sing bhajans for Hindu audiences in Rajasthan and his father Ramjan Khan studied Sanskrit would often preach on the need to look after cows in Jaipur's Bagru village.

While it remains to be seen if BHU administration upholds Firoz Khan’s appointment, on the other end of the spectrum, Ramzan Khan and Ganesh Tudu have been appointed as assistant professors of Sanskrit at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira in west Bengal. This is for the first time in Bengal when a Muslim and a Tribal teacher, both of whom are non-Hindus, will be teaching in an autonomous college.

Historically, Sanskrit was studied ardently and was part of the Mughal culture. According to Audrey Truschke’s book- Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court,Mughals sought to integrate the culture of the Sanskrit language and literature in the evolution of the Mughal state system… a worldview that envisioned the Mughal court and by extension the Mughal state as a multi-cultural and multi-lingual cosmos…”

The study of any language is a foray into its beauty and the richness of its literature. Language is not and has never been the domain of any religion. So why is it suddenly an issue now? The current political climate is enhancing a divisive movement on the basis of any differences that seem to not align with the majority- be it religion, caste, language, or even diversity in sexuality and gender identities. These create distraction tactics for the youth who face abysmal future prospects in a crumbling economy. The nation seems to be coming apart at the seams and yet the so called ‘Nationalist’ agendas are only hampering nation building. It has been said time and again that our burgeoning population can be our biggest asset to move up on the path to development. But as long as the population is divided and distracted by meaningless controversies, we conveniently play into the hands of politicians who are looking for their own short-term benefits. How is this any different from the divide and rule tactics of our colonizers?

As we look at the big picture, the logic is clear and simple, and yet logic does not work to counter the divisive sentiments like the ones at play in the BHU case. Margaret Atwood says,

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”

Maybe the human touch is the only solution we have, to reach out to fellow citizens and preach a language of empathy. If we have a universal language of understanding, maybe we wouldn’t resort to the language of hate anymore.

 

The Language of Hate - BHU students protest Muslim Sanskrit teacher

As we watch yet another pointless controversy unfold with a handful of BHU students protesting the appointment of a Muslim teacher in the Sanskrit department, we have to question the big picture.The brighter side is the larger number of students who came out in Prof Khan’s support

Sanskrit teachers

On November 22, 2019, the BHU students who had been protesting for 2 weeks against the appointment of Muslim teacher Firoz Khan in the Sanskrit Department of the University, have decided to end the protest after assurances from the Vice Chancellor that “corrective” measures will be taken within 10 days. It is not the first time we have seen religion and caste-based ‘protests’ by Savarna Hindus hold administrations and governments ransom. Yet, a lot of aspects of this latest controversy are surprising. For example, Muslims teaching or excelling in Sanskrit is not something that is happening for the first time.

Ashab Ali, who retired in 2010 from the post of Head of the Department- Sanskrit at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University, Gorakhpur, had a 33 years long career as a much-loved teacher despite the Department being dominated by Brahmins and Thakurs. Ashab Ali had topped both his BA and MA exams in Sanskrit in 1969 and 1971 . He then completed a PhD on a comparative study of Vedic and Islamic myths under the then head of department, Atul Chandra Banerjee, who also played a key role in his appointment which led him to hold the highest position of HOD eventually.

The story of another Sanskrit scholar- 85 year old Pandit Ghulam Dastagir Birajdar- is endearing. As former General Secretary of Vishwa Sanskrit Pratishthan in Varanasi, and presently Chairman of the committee to prepare school textbooks for Sanskrit in Maharashtra, he has such mastery over the language that he is often asked by local Hindus to solemnise marriages, preside over pujas or perform last rites. Even though he declines such requests, he has taught many Hindus how to recite and perform Hindu rituals.

Dr. Meraj Ahmed Khan, who is an Associate Professor of Sanskrit at Kashmir University says, “What we teach in universities is modern Sanskrit which has nothing to do with religion”.Adding that he was never discriminated against for being a Muslim scholar of Sanskrit, he said, “If they did, they wouldn’t award me a gold medal in MA”.

Dr. Salma Mahfooz, renowned Sanskrit scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University was the first Muslim woman in the world to be awarded a PhD in Sanskrit. She has taught Geeta, Vedas, Upanishads and guided more than 15 PhD scholars during her career. Commenting on the BHU row she quipped, “Mazhab apni jagah hai, taleem apni jagah” (Religion has its own place, and education and upbringing has its own place).

The examples are endless. The Sanskrit Department’s Chairman at Aligarh Muslim University is Prof Mohammed Shareef; retired associate Professor (Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan Delhi) Dr. Mohammad Haneef Khan Shastri was conferred the title of “Shastri” by former President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma; even the person at the centre of the present controversy, Firoz Khan, is not the first in his family to study Sanskrit. His grandfather Gafur Khan would sing bhajans for Hindu audiences in Rajasthan and his father Ramjan Khan studied Sanskrit would often preach on the need to look after cows in Jaipur's Bagru village.

While it remains to be seen if BHU administration upholds Firoz Khan’s appointment, on the other end of the spectrum, Ramzan Khan and Ganesh Tudu have been appointed as assistant professors of Sanskrit at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira in west Bengal. This is for the first time in Bengal when a Muslim and a Tribal teacher, both of whom are non-Hindus, will be teaching in an autonomous college.

Historically, Sanskrit was studied ardently and was part of the Mughal culture. According to Audrey Truschke’s book- Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court,Mughals sought to integrate the culture of the Sanskrit language and literature in the evolution of the Mughal state system… a worldview that envisioned the Mughal court and by extension the Mughal state as a multi-cultural and multi-lingual cosmos…”

The study of any language is a foray into its beauty and the richness of its literature. Language is not and has never been the domain of any religion. So why is it suddenly an issue now? The current political climate is enhancing a divisive movement on the basis of any differences that seem to not align with the majority- be it religion, caste, language, or even diversity in sexuality and gender identities. These create distraction tactics for the youth who face abysmal future prospects in a crumbling economy. The nation seems to be coming apart at the seams and yet the so called ‘Nationalist’ agendas are only hampering nation building. It has been said time and again that our burgeoning population can be our biggest asset to move up on the path to development. But as long as the population is divided and distracted by meaningless controversies, we conveniently play into the hands of politicians who are looking for their own short-term benefits. How is this any different from the divide and rule tactics of our colonizers?

As we look at the big picture, the logic is clear and simple, and yet logic does not work to counter the divisive sentiments like the ones at play in the BHU case. Margaret Atwood says,

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”

Maybe the human touch is the only solution we have, to reach out to fellow citizens and preach a language of empathy. If we have a universal language of understanding, maybe we wouldn’t resort to the language of hate anymore.

 

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Build Peace and Friendship on the Foundation of Kartarpur

22 Nov 2019

Kartarpur

It was heartening to hear NarendraModi praise Imran Khan, for facilitating the opening of the 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the GurudwaraDarbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, after a mostly anti-Pakistan narrative first during the general elections and then, after the decision related to Jammu and Kashmir was taken by his government. Full credit must go to Imran Khan for taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision in spite of a relentlesslybelligerent Indian posture during his tenure. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this, and Sidhu too, like Imran, has stood by the decision, in spite of adverse criticism at home for having embraced Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony. In the history of India-Pakistan relationship, most of the times Pakistan has been the aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making moves for peace and India is not reciprocating. Otherwise, in the usual tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, NarendraModi should have used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar arrangement for Pakistani citizens, who desire to visit Ajmer Sharif dargah through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.

It is also an irony that on the day when India was taking away the right of its minority Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which, as the recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case describes, was removed as a result of ‘unlawful destruction,’ Pakistan was offering another Indian minority, Sikhs, an opportunity to worship at a shrine, without the requirement of visa and with a warm welcome.

Going by the reactions of Sikh pilgrims, who have had a chance to go across the corridor to Kartarpur, it appears Pakistan has left no stone unturned to make it a pleasant experience for them. By this one gesture, Imran Khan has won the goodwill of Indians. However, it will be better if he also removes the requirement of Passport as an identity document because a vast number of poor Indian citizens do not possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on the Indian side suggested, they should allow Aadhar Card instead. From our experience during theDelhi to Multan peace march in 2005,onfoot in India and by vehicles in Pakistan, we can remember a number of common Indians, especially from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border whowere disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do so. The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan must make it free so that it does not hinder any Sikh citizen from fulfilling her dream of visiting the resting place of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.

The 2005 Delhi-Multan peace march was undertaken with three objectives: (1) India and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the issue of J&K, which should be resolved  according to wishes of the people belonging there, (2) India and Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their defence budgets so that resources could be freed up for developmental activities on both sides in the interest of the common people, and (3) the two countries should remove the requirement of passport-visa and allow free travel across the border. It was the third demand which attracted the most applause in the rural areas and concern among the urban educated. One TadiKirtan singer in a Gurudwara, as we were approaching Jallandhar, came to us and suggested that the above-mentioned third demand should be made the demand number One. His logic, and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across the border is allowed, it would be much easier to resolve the first two issues. We must admit, we felt humbled being educated by a common man on the street. He has left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.

The 2005 peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who also happens to be the SajjadaNashin of the mazar of a Sufi saint,BahauddinZakariya in Multan, where the march terminated. That day, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers, which is easier said in India than in Pakistan, ‘One day, Pakistan and India will reunite like the two Germanys.’ Such was the congeniality created due to the peace march.

Even if you look at the mood on the day when NarendraModi was flagging off 562 pilgrims from the Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side, all the acrimony between the leaderships of two countries had disappeared like magic. Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official enmitybetween the two governments, maintained artificially but easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the atmosphere is more conducive, doesn’t percolate down to the level of common people. After all, it is the same people who speak the same language.

If the two governments exhibited more benevolence and allowed citizens to meet freely, the animosity between the establishments would melt away. Indian side looks at the present initiative of the Pakistani government with suspicion. They think that the Pakistani Army or the Inter Services Intelligence might have some ulterior motives in encouragingKhalistani protagonists to create disturbances in India. That is something that the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur. If we are to be always suspicious of the other, then no relationship, based on trust, can take off. For peace between the twe countries, the stakes are so high, and it will make life of so many so much easier, that it is worth taking the risk.Punjab Chief Minister,Amarinder Singh, has said that he will talk to the Indian Prime Minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historical Gurudwaras there. Hence, in spite of the nature of official relationship of the two governments, easier travel across the border remains a popular demand, at least in the border areas on both the sides.

The Indian position - that unless Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem of homegrown terrorism, it will not dialogue with it - is slightly untenable. It is like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all criminals and rapists in the BhartiyaJanata Party’s state unit, it will not deal with the Uttar Pradesh government. With the recent demonstrations against the Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment are very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most friendly leaders that India can expect Pakistan to have and to deal with it. It should not fritter away the opportunity.

NarendraModi should also realize that his RashtriyaSwayamsewakSangh training has taught him only one way of mobilizing public opinion - by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies. If he were to change his nature of politics, by appealing to the better sense of people, to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could mobilise public opinion in his favour equally successfully. The mood of the people and politicians, on both sides of the border, on Novermber 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

  1. Ganga-Jamunitehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
  2. Promoting inter-faith harmony: Pakistan to reopen, restore 400 Hindu temples
  3. Opinion: Chest thumping and war mongering must give way to trust, peace and friendship

Build Peace and Friendship on the Foundation of Kartarpur

Kartarpur

It was heartening to hear NarendraModi praise Imran Khan, for facilitating the opening of the 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the GurudwaraDarbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, after a mostly anti-Pakistan narrative first during the general elections and then, after the decision related to Jammu and Kashmir was taken by his government. Full credit must go to Imran Khan for taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision in spite of a relentlesslybelligerent Indian posture during his tenure. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this, and Sidhu too, like Imran, has stood by the decision, in spite of adverse criticism at home for having embraced Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony. In the history of India-Pakistan relationship, most of the times Pakistan has been the aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making moves for peace and India is not reciprocating. Otherwise, in the usual tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, NarendraModi should have used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar arrangement for Pakistani citizens, who desire to visit Ajmer Sharif dargah through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.

It is also an irony that on the day when India was taking away the right of its minority Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which, as the recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case describes, was removed as a result of ‘unlawful destruction,’ Pakistan was offering another Indian minority, Sikhs, an opportunity to worship at a shrine, without the requirement of visa and with a warm welcome.

Going by the reactions of Sikh pilgrims, who have had a chance to go across the corridor to Kartarpur, it appears Pakistan has left no stone unturned to make it a pleasant experience for them. By this one gesture, Imran Khan has won the goodwill of Indians. However, it will be better if he also removes the requirement of Passport as an identity document because a vast number of poor Indian citizens do not possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on the Indian side suggested, they should allow Aadhar Card instead. From our experience during theDelhi to Multan peace march in 2005,onfoot in India and by vehicles in Pakistan, we can remember a number of common Indians, especially from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border whowere disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do so. The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan must make it free so that it does not hinder any Sikh citizen from fulfilling her dream of visiting the resting place of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.

The 2005 Delhi-Multan peace march was undertaken with three objectives: (1) India and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the issue of J&K, which should be resolved  according to wishes of the people belonging there, (2) India and Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their defence budgets so that resources could be freed up for developmental activities on both sides in the interest of the common people, and (3) the two countries should remove the requirement of passport-visa and allow free travel across the border. It was the third demand which attracted the most applause in the rural areas and concern among the urban educated. One TadiKirtan singer in a Gurudwara, as we were approaching Jallandhar, came to us and suggested that the above-mentioned third demand should be made the demand number One. His logic, and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across the border is allowed, it would be much easier to resolve the first two issues. We must admit, we felt humbled being educated by a common man on the street. He has left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.

The 2005 peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who also happens to be the SajjadaNashin of the mazar of a Sufi saint,BahauddinZakariya in Multan, where the march terminated. That day, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers, which is easier said in India than in Pakistan, ‘One day, Pakistan and India will reunite like the two Germanys.’ Such was the congeniality created due to the peace march.

Even if you look at the mood on the day when NarendraModi was flagging off 562 pilgrims from the Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side, all the acrimony between the leaderships of two countries had disappeared like magic. Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official enmitybetween the two governments, maintained artificially but easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the atmosphere is more conducive, doesn’t percolate down to the level of common people. After all, it is the same people who speak the same language.

If the two governments exhibited more benevolence and allowed citizens to meet freely, the animosity between the establishments would melt away. Indian side looks at the present initiative of the Pakistani government with suspicion. They think that the Pakistani Army or the Inter Services Intelligence might have some ulterior motives in encouragingKhalistani protagonists to create disturbances in India. That is something that the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur. If we are to be always suspicious of the other, then no relationship, based on trust, can take off. For peace between the twe countries, the stakes are so high, and it will make life of so many so much easier, that it is worth taking the risk.Punjab Chief Minister,Amarinder Singh, has said that he will talk to the Indian Prime Minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historical Gurudwaras there. Hence, in spite of the nature of official relationship of the two governments, easier travel across the border remains a popular demand, at least in the border areas on both the sides.

The Indian position - that unless Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem of homegrown terrorism, it will not dialogue with it - is slightly untenable. It is like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all criminals and rapists in the BhartiyaJanata Party’s state unit, it will not deal with the Uttar Pradesh government. With the recent demonstrations against the Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment are very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most friendly leaders that India can expect Pakistan to have and to deal with it. It should not fritter away the opportunity.

NarendraModi should also realize that his RashtriyaSwayamsewakSangh training has taught him only one way of mobilizing public opinion - by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies. If he were to change his nature of politics, by appealing to the better sense of people, to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could mobilise public opinion in his favour equally successfully. The mood of the people and politicians, on both sides of the border, on Novermber 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

  1. Ganga-Jamunitehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
  2. Promoting inter-faith harmony: Pakistan to reopen, restore 400 Hindu temples
  3. Opinion: Chest thumping and war mongering must give way to trust, peace and friendship

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Assamese Gamosa gets international recognition, granted GI Tag

The traditional Assamese scarf known as ‘Gamosa’ has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

21 Nov 2019

Assam

Different objects and artifacts have deep cultural significance with myriad beliefs, pride, and identity attached to them. One such Assamese symbol, the Gamosa, has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

In noting the addition of the traditional scarf to the GI Registry, the 124th Geographical Indications Journal states, “The Gamosa is a traditional textile and a symbol of Assamese culture.”

The word “Gamosa” means a woven towel. It comes from the Sanskrit word “Gatro Marjoni,” meaning the piece of fabric used to absorb water / to wipe body after taking bath. It is essential a hand-woven piece of white cloth with a beautifully woven red motif on two borders. It is four-feet long and two-feet wide.

As a symbol of respect, it is gifted to elders with a betel nut or used to welcome guests. It also has a special place in the Bihu dance—dancers wear it around their head and waist, while the musical instruments used in the dance are also wrapped in it.

Historian Dr. Leela Gogoi said that the Gamosa has been around since the Ahom days. The GI application for the traditional scarf states that temple altars and Satras are decorated with the Gamosa that has floral motifs along with words “Krishna”, “Ram”, “Hari” as butties all over the fabric.

A GI tag is a sign that indicates that a given product has a specific geographical origin and possesses the standard of quality usually attributed to products of that origin. The GI tags are granted to special products with identifiable features. A GI tag ensures that only quality products from authorised users of the identified region get to use the product name.

The application for Gamosa was made by the Institute of Handicraft Craft Development in Golaghat. The grant of the tag is likely to boost the market economy.

Along with the Gamosa, the Chokuwa rice of Assam has also received the GI tag. This rice is used in social and religious ceremonies. Other Assamese products like the Boka Chaul, Muga Silk, Joha rice and Tezpur litchi have also earned the GI tag.

Related:

Swimming against the fascist tide: What writers, artists and intellectuals can do

How the Indian Economy should be revived

Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

In Her own image: Re-imagining great art with Pakhi Sen and Samira Bose

 

Assamese Gamosa gets international recognition, granted GI Tag

The traditional Assamese scarf known as ‘Gamosa’ has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

Assam

Different objects and artifacts have deep cultural significance with myriad beliefs, pride, and identity attached to them. One such Assamese symbol, the Gamosa, has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

In noting the addition of the traditional scarf to the GI Registry, the 124th Geographical Indications Journal states, “The Gamosa is a traditional textile and a symbol of Assamese culture.”

The word “Gamosa” means a woven towel. It comes from the Sanskrit word “Gatro Marjoni,” meaning the piece of fabric used to absorb water / to wipe body after taking bath. It is essential a hand-woven piece of white cloth with a beautifully woven red motif on two borders. It is four-feet long and two-feet wide.

As a symbol of respect, it is gifted to elders with a betel nut or used to welcome guests. It also has a special place in the Bihu dance—dancers wear it around their head and waist, while the musical instruments used in the dance are also wrapped in it.

Historian Dr. Leela Gogoi said that the Gamosa has been around since the Ahom days. The GI application for the traditional scarf states that temple altars and Satras are decorated with the Gamosa that has floral motifs along with words “Krishna”, “Ram”, “Hari” as butties all over the fabric.

A GI tag is a sign that indicates that a given product has a specific geographical origin and possesses the standard of quality usually attributed to products of that origin. The GI tags are granted to special products with identifiable features. A GI tag ensures that only quality products from authorised users of the identified region get to use the product name.

The application for Gamosa was made by the Institute of Handicraft Craft Development in Golaghat. The grant of the tag is likely to boost the market economy.

Along with the Gamosa, the Chokuwa rice of Assam has also received the GI tag. This rice is used in social and religious ceremonies. Other Assamese products like the Boka Chaul, Muga Silk, Joha rice and Tezpur litchi have also earned the GI tag.

Related:

Swimming against the fascist tide: What writers, artists and intellectuals can do

How the Indian Economy should be revived

Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

In Her own image: Re-imagining great art with Pakhi Sen and Samira Bose

 

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Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

Sabrangindia 19 Nov 2019

On 13th November, Molded and Minority Development Council organised a meeting to oppose the nationwide implementation of NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill. The meeting was attended by progressive politicians and Activists.

Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

On 13th November, Molded and Minority Development Council organised a meeting to oppose the nationwide implementation of NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill. The meeting was attended by progressive politicians and Activists.

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‘Indians Less Charitable Than Asian Counterparts’

12 Nov 2019

 

Charitable

Mumbai: India ranked 82nd among 128 countries for generosity over the last 10 years, as per the 10th World Giving Index (WGI). 

Up to a third of Indians helped a stranger, one in four donated money, and one in five gave their time volunteering, the report said, attributing India’s low ranking to its strong culture of unorganised and informal giving to family, community and religion. It recommended more formal mechanisms of donating to charity.

The report, published online in October 2019, was based on surveys of 1.3 million people in 128 countries over the last 9 years (2009-2018). It asked interviewees if they had helped a stranger, donated money to charity or volunteered their time in the past month. The surveys used Gallup World Poll data and were commissioned by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a UK charity that provides services and assistance to international charities and their donors.

India’s rank on the Index has yo-yoed vastly, the lowest being 134th in 2010 and the highest being 81st last year. This year’s report aggregated data for each country for the last 10 years. India’s overall WGI score this year was 26%.

Source: World Giving Index 2019 report

India and the World

Of the top 10 countries, seven are among the wealthiest in the world. Yet, global generosity is on the decline, stated the report, highlighting that individual giving is now lower in countries with long histories of philanthropy such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

“The top ranking countries will usually have a strong culture of giving, or are more developed,” said Meenakshi Batra, who leads CAF India, a non-profit organisation that works to enable effective giving. “Individuals have more resources to give and there is infrastructure for them to give to formal organisations.”

Source: World Giving Index 2019 report

India’s 26% WGI score was less than half of 58% scored by the United States in the top spot. China, with a score of 16%, was at the fag end of the index. The Asian giant also had the lowest score for all three measures considered--helping a stranger, donating money and volunteering.

New Zealand, on the other hand, was the only country to appear in the top 10 on all three counts.

India fails to match Asia’s pace

Five of the 10 countries to have improved their rankings the most on the giving index were in Asia. Indonesia, the country that improved its ranking the most, moved into the top 10 for donating money and volunteering. Sri Lanka achieved the highest score for volunteering in the world; at 46%, its volunteering score was more than double of India’s 19%.

The report attributed this rise in rankings to cultural factors. For example, a majority of people in Myanmar are practising Buddhists, 99% of whom are followers of the Theravada branch that mandates giving. Sri Lanka too has a high population of Theravada Buddhists.

Similarly, in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, giving is closely tied to the religious obligation of giving, zakaat

The improved rankings are also an outcome of countries’ economic development. “It is not a surprise that these Asian countries have been increasing [their ranking] due to their rising economic prosperity,” said Ingrid Srinath of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University in Sonipat, Haryana.

India was the least generous of the seven South Asian countries in the Index, behind neighbours Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India’s economic growth in recent decades has been felt by fewer and fewer people, which may explain why its philanthropy is not increasing at a rate similar to that of its Asian counterparts, Srinath said.

Lower-income families are less likely to have donated or sponsored in the last 12 months (69%), than those with a household income of more than Rs 1.7 lakh (~$2,400) per month (82%), the report stated. “The study does not account for the degree of giving from an individual, only whether they are giving or not,” said Batra of CAF India.

“India also has more cleavages than other countries around it in terms of religion, class and caste,” said Srinath. “It is possible that these divides make people less inclined to commit to national philanthropic efforts.”

Under-reported giving

“In India, there is a strong culture of regularly helping and assisting each other,” said Batra. More Indians (64%) said they give money directly to people and families in need or to a church or religious organisation (64%) than to a non-profit or charitable organisation (58%), as per the India Giving Report, a country-specific report by the CAF Global Alliance, a network of organisations working in philanthropy and civil society.

Besides, India has over over 500 forms of traditional religious giving, such as Hindu daan and utsarg, Islamic zakaat, kums and sadaqa. “This form of giving may not show up on the Index because Indians consider this a family or a religious obligation,” said Batra. “For instance, it is commonplace for Indians to feed poor people outside places of worship, or serve a meal to pious and holy men. Those responding to the survey would not have counted this as giving, because they consider this to be their duty.”

Incidentally, upto 38% Indians said they would donate more if they knew how their money would be spent, and 32% would donate more if there was more transparency. “There is potential for organised non-profit organisations to provide more formal options of giving,” said Ben Russel of CAF.

Billionaires show little giving spirit

In 2017, the wealth held by India’s wealthiest 1% increased by Rs 20,913 billion ($303 billion). This was equivalent to the central government’s total budget that year, as per this report by Oxfam India.

The contribution of India’s richest to philanthropic activities has grown at a slower pace than the increase in their wealth, as reported by IndiaSpend earlier this year. Large contributions (more than Rs 10 crore) by ultra-high net worth individuals (individuals who have a net worth of more than Rs 25 crore) have decreased 4% since 2014.

India’s lowest WGI score in the last six years (22% in 2018) coincided with its reporting a record number of 121 billionaires--the third highest number of ultra-rich individuals in any country, behind China and the United States.

(Habershon, a graduate from the University of Manchester, is an intern with IndiaSpend.)

Courtesy: India Spend

‘Indians Less Charitable Than Asian Counterparts’

 

Charitable

Mumbai: India ranked 82nd among 128 countries for generosity over the last 10 years, as per the 10th World Giving Index (WGI). 

Up to a third of Indians helped a stranger, one in four donated money, and one in five gave their time volunteering, the report said, attributing India’s low ranking to its strong culture of unorganised and informal giving to family, community and religion. It recommended more formal mechanisms of donating to charity.

The report, published online in October 2019, was based on surveys of 1.3 million people in 128 countries over the last 9 years (2009-2018). It asked interviewees if they had helped a stranger, donated money to charity or volunteered their time in the past month. The surveys used Gallup World Poll data and were commissioned by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a UK charity that provides services and assistance to international charities and their donors.

India’s rank on the Index has yo-yoed vastly, the lowest being 134th in 2010 and the highest being 81st last year. This year’s report aggregated data for each country for the last 10 years. India’s overall WGI score this year was 26%.

Source: World Giving Index 2019 report

India and the World

Of the top 10 countries, seven are among the wealthiest in the world. Yet, global generosity is on the decline, stated the report, highlighting that individual giving is now lower in countries with long histories of philanthropy such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

“The top ranking countries will usually have a strong culture of giving, or are more developed,” said Meenakshi Batra, who leads CAF India, a non-profit organisation that works to enable effective giving. “Individuals have more resources to give and there is infrastructure for them to give to formal organisations.”

Source: World Giving Index 2019 report

India’s 26% WGI score was less than half of 58% scored by the United States in the top spot. China, with a score of 16%, was at the fag end of the index. The Asian giant also had the lowest score for all three measures considered--helping a stranger, donating money and volunteering.

New Zealand, on the other hand, was the only country to appear in the top 10 on all three counts.

India fails to match Asia’s pace

Five of the 10 countries to have improved their rankings the most on the giving index were in Asia. Indonesia, the country that improved its ranking the most, moved into the top 10 for donating money and volunteering. Sri Lanka achieved the highest score for volunteering in the world; at 46%, its volunteering score was more than double of India’s 19%.

The report attributed this rise in rankings to cultural factors. For example, a majority of people in Myanmar are practising Buddhists, 99% of whom are followers of the Theravada branch that mandates giving. Sri Lanka too has a high population of Theravada Buddhists.

Similarly, in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, giving is closely tied to the religious obligation of giving, zakaat

The improved rankings are also an outcome of countries’ economic development. “It is not a surprise that these Asian countries have been increasing [their ranking] due to their rising economic prosperity,” said Ingrid Srinath of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University in Sonipat, Haryana.

India was the least generous of the seven South Asian countries in the Index, behind neighbours Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India’s economic growth in recent decades has been felt by fewer and fewer people, which may explain why its philanthropy is not increasing at a rate similar to that of its Asian counterparts, Srinath said.

Lower-income families are less likely to have donated or sponsored in the last 12 months (69%), than those with a household income of more than Rs 1.7 lakh (~$2,400) per month (82%), the report stated. “The study does not account for the degree of giving from an individual, only whether they are giving or not,” said Batra of CAF India.

“India also has more cleavages than other countries around it in terms of religion, class and caste,” said Srinath. “It is possible that these divides make people less inclined to commit to national philanthropic efforts.”

Under-reported giving

“In India, there is a strong culture of regularly helping and assisting each other,” said Batra. More Indians (64%) said they give money directly to people and families in need or to a church or religious organisation (64%) than to a non-profit or charitable organisation (58%), as per the India Giving Report, a country-specific report by the CAF Global Alliance, a network of organisations working in philanthropy and civil society.

Besides, India has over over 500 forms of traditional religious giving, such as Hindu daan and utsarg, Islamic zakaat, kums and sadaqa. “This form of giving may not show up on the Index because Indians consider this a family or a religious obligation,” said Batra. “For instance, it is commonplace for Indians to feed poor people outside places of worship, or serve a meal to pious and holy men. Those responding to the survey would not have counted this as giving, because they consider this to be their duty.”

Incidentally, upto 38% Indians said they would donate more if they knew how their money would be spent, and 32% would donate more if there was more transparency. “There is potential for organised non-profit organisations to provide more formal options of giving,” said Ben Russel of CAF.

Billionaires show little giving spirit

In 2017, the wealth held by India’s wealthiest 1% increased by Rs 20,913 billion ($303 billion). This was equivalent to the central government’s total budget that year, as per this report by Oxfam India.

The contribution of India’s richest to philanthropic activities has grown at a slower pace than the increase in their wealth, as reported by IndiaSpend earlier this year. Large contributions (more than Rs 10 crore) by ultra-high net worth individuals (individuals who have a net worth of more than Rs 25 crore) have decreased 4% since 2014.

India’s lowest WGI score in the last six years (22% in 2018) coincided with its reporting a record number of 121 billionaires--the third highest number of ultra-rich individuals in any country, behind China and the United States.

(Habershon, a graduate from the University of Manchester, is an intern with IndiaSpend.)

Courtesy: India Spend

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On 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji- Hope, Faith live on

With the opening of the Kartarpur corridor on this auspicious occasion, many Sikhs’ prayers have been answered.

11 Nov 2019

kartarpur

As a child, I was very curious about my religion. My grandparents would recite the prayers (paath) with us children in the evenings and take us to the Gurudwara for morning prayers. The daily Ardas (prayer) always included a clause,

Script

which translates toO Immortal Being, eternal helper of the Panth, benevolent God, bestow on the Khalsa the beneficence of unobstructed visits to and freedom to take care of Sri Nankana Sahib and other Gurdwaras and places of the Gurus from which the Panth has been separated.”

For an 8 year old, this seemed like a strange addendum in a spiritual prayer so I would ask questions relentlessly. My grandparents being survivors of Partition violence themselves, were a little hesitant to open up. It took many years for me to fully grasp what Partition meant, how the uprooting of families affected Sikhs and what it felt like to be unable to visit the birthplace of their Guru, or the first settlement where Sikhism was established. The pathos of lakhs of Sikhs in India who felt overpowered by the international politics of India-Pakistan is evident in this line of the daily Ardas. Everyone prays to someday be able to visit the Gurudwaras that have been separated from them by the border.

The opening of the Kartarpur corridor is thus eliciting a very emotional and nostalgic reaction from Sikhs, with many of them- especially elderly people- either already on their way or in the process of planning their pilgrimage to Kartarpur. Before this corridor, pilgrims from India had to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is a 125 km journey (arduous for most elderly and disabled people) although people on the Indian side of the border could physically see Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. An elevated platform had also been constructed for the same on the Indian side, where people can use binoculars to get a good view of the Gurudwara. Though a substantial fee will be levied, the visits through the corridor will not require a visa, which is a big step.

The corridor inaugurated on November 9th, 2019 had a total of 562 pilgrims as part of the first 'jatha' who visited Gurdwara Darbar Sahib on the first day of the pilgrimage. While the politicians and leaders are expressing their happiness and gratitude, all that matters for the pilgrims is the emotional relief-that there is hope for the fulfilling of each word of their Ardas.

I visited Gurudwara Hemkunt Sahib when I was 9 years old with my family. It is a brutal climb for most people and many pilgrims prefer to go in a kandi (a carrier strapped onto the back of a mountain guide) or by mule. I chose to climb on foot alongside my Father, and as we climbed the winding mountain with extremely sore legs for two days, I could only wonder, “Why are we doing this?”

I have always pondered the question of pilgrimage and visiting places of worship. Our holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) says “God is everywhere”, “God is inside us”, “God is in every living or inanimate thing”, then why must we visit a place to pay obeisance? Maybe it’s not about where we think God is. It’s about more than that. It’s about sharing spirituality with a community- it’s about roots, history, where we come from. It’s about our identity and faith, and tracing our own story back to the generations of wise Gurus who led us here. Maybe it reminds us of countless others who walked that place on a path of righteousness, maybe it reminds us of the kindness and love that brought a community together, a community that still stays true to those values more than 500 years later.

I have never considered myself religious, but I do love visiting Gurudwaras since I was a child. There’s always a story in every historical Gurudwara- maybe a Guru preached a message of love, maybe a wayward sinner found hope there, maybe a fighter found their final resting place after a courageous battle. History is always held in little pockets inside the places we make pilgrimages to. It is important to remember why we’re visiting a holy place, and what it means to us. For many Sikhs like me, Kartarpur represents the home of our ancestors, the place where it all started. Hope and faith live on, and I end this essay in the best way I can, with the final words of the daily Ardas,

“Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, teraa bhane sarbat da bhala”

(Nanak, with your name comes prosperity and with your blessings, peace for everyone)

 

On 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji- Hope, Faith live on

With the opening of the Kartarpur corridor on this auspicious occasion, many Sikhs’ prayers have been answered.

kartarpur

As a child, I was very curious about my religion. My grandparents would recite the prayers (paath) with us children in the evenings and take us to the Gurudwara for morning prayers. The daily Ardas (prayer) always included a clause,

Script

which translates toO Immortal Being, eternal helper of the Panth, benevolent God, bestow on the Khalsa the beneficence of unobstructed visits to and freedom to take care of Sri Nankana Sahib and other Gurdwaras and places of the Gurus from which the Panth has been separated.”

For an 8 year old, this seemed like a strange addendum in a spiritual prayer so I would ask questions relentlessly. My grandparents being survivors of Partition violence themselves, were a little hesitant to open up. It took many years for me to fully grasp what Partition meant, how the uprooting of families affected Sikhs and what it felt like to be unable to visit the birthplace of their Guru, or the first settlement where Sikhism was established. The pathos of lakhs of Sikhs in India who felt overpowered by the international politics of India-Pakistan is evident in this line of the daily Ardas. Everyone prays to someday be able to visit the Gurudwaras that have been separated from them by the border.

The opening of the Kartarpur corridor is thus eliciting a very emotional and nostalgic reaction from Sikhs, with many of them- especially elderly people- either already on their way or in the process of planning their pilgrimage to Kartarpur. Before this corridor, pilgrims from India had to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is a 125 km journey (arduous for most elderly and disabled people) although people on the Indian side of the border could physically see Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. An elevated platform had also been constructed for the same on the Indian side, where people can use binoculars to get a good view of the Gurudwara. Though a substantial fee will be levied, the visits through the corridor will not require a visa, which is a big step.

The corridor inaugurated on November 9th, 2019 had a total of 562 pilgrims as part of the first 'jatha' who visited Gurdwara Darbar Sahib on the first day of the pilgrimage. While the politicians and leaders are expressing their happiness and gratitude, all that matters for the pilgrims is the emotional relief-that there is hope for the fulfilling of each word of their Ardas.

I visited Gurudwara Hemkunt Sahib when I was 9 years old with my family. It is a brutal climb for most people and many pilgrims prefer to go in a kandi (a carrier strapped onto the back of a mountain guide) or by mule. I chose to climb on foot alongside my Father, and as we climbed the winding mountain with extremely sore legs for two days, I could only wonder, “Why are we doing this?”

I have always pondered the question of pilgrimage and visiting places of worship. Our holy book (Guru Granth Sahib) says “God is everywhere”, “God is inside us”, “God is in every living or inanimate thing”, then why must we visit a place to pay obeisance? Maybe it’s not about where we think God is. It’s about more than that. It’s about sharing spirituality with a community- it’s about roots, history, where we come from. It’s about our identity and faith, and tracing our own story back to the generations of wise Gurus who led us here. Maybe it reminds us of countless others who walked that place on a path of righteousness, maybe it reminds us of the kindness and love that brought a community together, a community that still stays true to those values more than 500 years later.

I have never considered myself religious, but I do love visiting Gurudwaras since I was a child. There’s always a story in every historical Gurudwara- maybe a Guru preached a message of love, maybe a wayward sinner found hope there, maybe a fighter found their final resting place after a courageous battle. History is always held in little pockets inside the places we make pilgrimages to. It is important to remember why we’re visiting a holy place, and what it means to us. For many Sikhs like me, Kartarpur represents the home of our ancestors, the place where it all started. Hope and faith live on, and I end this essay in the best way I can, with the final words of the daily Ardas,

“Nanak Naam Chardi Kala, teraa bhane sarbat da bhala”

(Nanak, with your name comes prosperity and with your blessings, peace for everyone)

 

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Bengal’s Syncretism: Hindus & Muslims share worship of Satya Pir

Worshipped by Hindus as Satya Narayana, the legend of Satya Pir is syncretic

10 Nov 2019

Satya Pir

Satya Pir worship is one of the popular religious beliefs and practices originating from Bengal, that symbolizes syncretism of Hindu and Muslim religions. While Satya means Vishnu in Sanskrit, also known as Satya Narayana; Pir means “old man” in Persian which was colloquially similar to the meaning of Faqir (ascetic). The Satya Pir belief in Muslims is synonymous with Satya Narayana reverence in Hindus. Satya Narayana Puja and Katha involve fasting during the day and then offering food like Shirni, which was a typical Muslim household preparation, to Lord Satya Narayana who is represented by a plain wooden plank, used to denote the seat of the Satya-Pir where offerings of edibles like confectioneries, milk, sugar, betel-leaf, betel nuts are made.  It is rare to see any deity or imagery of Satya Narayana in such worship which is also in line with Muslim beliefs. Even the origin stories of the belief among Hindus and Muslims have significant overlap.

According to one story, Lord Vishnu appeared in the guise of a Muslim Faqir before a poor Brahmin and told him he would have bounty if he worshipped Lord Satya Narayana. To assuage the Brahmin’s scepticism of following the words of a Faqir, the Faqir (SatyaPir) told him
“Except one Brahma, no two Brahma exist, the Lord of all is one Niranjan Gosain, in whose name Brahma, Bishnu and Maheswar utter prayers. In one pore whose skin lies the endless universe. Without hands, without legs, he holds the world. He has no mouth to eat, he hears without ears, sees without eyes. None can recognize Him though He is omnipresent. Bismillah is but another name of that very same Niranjan: Vishnu and Bismillah are not at all distinct” (as quoted in Bangla Sahityer Itihas). The Brahmin obeyed and found himself quite well off in a matter of days. According to another story told about Satya Pir, which also finds mention in Satya Narayana Katha, a merchant pledged to worship Satya Pir if he could have a child. He later had a daughter but put off the worship till her marriage. The consequence of forgetting to worship Satya Pir as promised, led to him being engulfed in a storm along with his son-in-law. It was his wife who then completed the worship on mainland and they were able to return safely.

These legends and stories were meant to inspire awe of the Satya Pir and allude to his supernatural powers. In the stories and in real life, the worship of Satya Narayana was done by the women of the house. During the 15th-16th century, Islam was being taken up by more and more people in the Bengal region. The
Muslim women though, had regular interaction with Hindu women who came to visit their households as friends, workers, sellers of knick-knacks, etc. The Hindu women’s beliefs also percolated easily in these interactions and Muslim women would also put their faith in the “brata” (fasting) and ascetic practices popular among the Hindu women to ensure good luck and prosperity of their menfolk who would often be away traveling.

The advent of Bengali Pir literature also helped spread the legend of SatyaPir with
‘Pir-kavya’ (or the eulogical poetic verses on the Pirs). Satya Pir was the symbolic imaginary Pir who acted as a messenger establishing synthesis between the Hindus and the Muslims. Besides SatyaPir, various Gods and Goddesses had arrived in the literature as the Pir-Piranis of the Hindus and the Muslims. Olai Chandi of the Hindus had become Olai bibi in the Pir literature. Similar transformations took place like from Bandevi to Banbibi, Matsyendranath to Masnad Ali and Machchandali, Bastudevi to Bastubibi.

The Pir Panchali Kavya or the eulogical poetic verses about Satya Pir are still read out in the Bengali households for Satya Narayana Puja and making offerings to Satya Pir. In the local folk tales, Hindu and Muslim poets alike had imagined the Satya Pir as the Khudah(God) manifesting dressed as a Faqir. Some Muslim poets also describe him as a Pir from Mecca. The character of Satya Pir had been created by describing him as a Muslim Faqir or Pir possessing supernatural powers.

In this way, the Satya-Pir (or Satya-Narayana) literature gained popularity among the people; the main purpose of the literature was to glorify the Satya-Pir. The first book on Satya-Pir called Satya-Pir Kavya is attributed to Shaikh Faizullah and the book is supposed to have been written between 1545 to 1575 AD.

Faizullah’s writing contains clear hints of cultural assimilation. He has saluted the deities of both communities in the beginning of his book, “You are Brahma, you are Vishnu and you are Narayan, Listen, O Ghazi, pay heed to yourself to preaching in the assembly (i.e. instead of fighting)”.


Towards the closing period of the Mughal rule in Bengal the first effort towards bringing the Hindus and Muslims together started through the medium of the ballad of Satya Pir and Satya Narayan. In the book Bangla Sahityer Itihas,
SukumarSen says that the scribes of the Pir ballads were Hindus, the singers were Muslims, but their composers were the poets of both communities. Sen states further that numerous Hindu writers from West Bengal to Assam composed Satya Narayan or Satya Pir Panchalis (poems) by equating Rahim of Mecca and Rama of Ayodhya.

From 16th to 18th centuries various local Pir cults grew in Bengal with traditions and legends around some Muslim saints (Pirs) and mythical heroes of uncertain identity which became very popular among the masses of the both communities, the Hindus and the Muslims. Khawajah Khizir, Pir Badr, Zindah Ghazi, Madar Pir, Panch Pir etc. are very important among them. They were worshipped by the masses irrespective of religion.

Just as the Hindus found a reflection of Guru-Chela relationships in the
Pir-Murid dynamic, to the Muslims who had converted, the Pirs occupied a similar space to Tantriks and learned sages while their dargahs held significance paralleled to the Chaityas and Stupas of the Buddhists. Slowly the people of all three religions in Bengal region developed a shared understanding of reverence that is witnessed even today in parts of Odisha, West Bengal, and Bangladesh. May this centuries-old tradition continue and Satya Pir always protect and bestow his blessings on all his devotees, regardless of who they are or what religion they follow or what name they call him by, for the power of faith is greater than all human differences.

Related articles:

Bengal’s Syncretism: Hindus & Muslims share worship of Satya Pir

Worshipped by Hindus as Satya Narayana, the legend of Satya Pir is syncretic

Satya Pir

Satya Pir worship is one of the popular religious beliefs and practices originating from Bengal, that symbolizes syncretism of Hindu and Muslim religions. While Satya means Vishnu in Sanskrit, also known as Satya Narayana; Pir means “old man” in Persian which was colloquially similar to the meaning of Faqir (ascetic). The Satya Pir belief in Muslims is synonymous with Satya Narayana reverence in Hindus. Satya Narayana Puja and Katha involve fasting during the day and then offering food like Shirni, which was a typical Muslim household preparation, to Lord Satya Narayana who is represented by a plain wooden plank, used to denote the seat of the Satya-Pir where offerings of edibles like confectioneries, milk, sugar, betel-leaf, betel nuts are made.  It is rare to see any deity or imagery of Satya Narayana in such worship which is also in line with Muslim beliefs. Even the origin stories of the belief among Hindus and Muslims have significant overlap.

According to one story, Lord Vishnu appeared in the guise of a Muslim Faqir before a poor Brahmin and told him he would have bounty if he worshipped Lord Satya Narayana. To assuage the Brahmin’s scepticism of following the words of a Faqir, the Faqir (SatyaPir) told him
“Except one Brahma, no two Brahma exist, the Lord of all is one Niranjan Gosain, in whose name Brahma, Bishnu and Maheswar utter prayers. In one pore whose skin lies the endless universe. Without hands, without legs, he holds the world. He has no mouth to eat, he hears without ears, sees without eyes. None can recognize Him though He is omnipresent. Bismillah is but another name of that very same Niranjan: Vishnu and Bismillah are not at all distinct” (as quoted in Bangla Sahityer Itihas). The Brahmin obeyed and found himself quite well off in a matter of days. According to another story told about Satya Pir, which also finds mention in Satya Narayana Katha, a merchant pledged to worship Satya Pir if he could have a child. He later had a daughter but put off the worship till her marriage. The consequence of forgetting to worship Satya Pir as promised, led to him being engulfed in a storm along with his son-in-law. It was his wife who then completed the worship on mainland and they were able to return safely.

These legends and stories were meant to inspire awe of the Satya Pir and allude to his supernatural powers. In the stories and in real life, the worship of Satya Narayana was done by the women of the house. During the 15th-16th century, Islam was being taken up by more and more people in the Bengal region. The
Muslim women though, had regular interaction with Hindu women who came to visit their households as friends, workers, sellers of knick-knacks, etc. The Hindu women’s beliefs also percolated easily in these interactions and Muslim women would also put their faith in the “brata” (fasting) and ascetic practices popular among the Hindu women to ensure good luck and prosperity of their menfolk who would often be away traveling.

The advent of Bengali Pir literature also helped spread the legend of SatyaPir with
‘Pir-kavya’ (or the eulogical poetic verses on the Pirs). Satya Pir was the symbolic imaginary Pir who acted as a messenger establishing synthesis between the Hindus and the Muslims. Besides SatyaPir, various Gods and Goddesses had arrived in the literature as the Pir-Piranis of the Hindus and the Muslims. Olai Chandi of the Hindus had become Olai bibi in the Pir literature. Similar transformations took place like from Bandevi to Banbibi, Matsyendranath to Masnad Ali and Machchandali, Bastudevi to Bastubibi.

The Pir Panchali Kavya or the eulogical poetic verses about Satya Pir are still read out in the Bengali households for Satya Narayana Puja and making offerings to Satya Pir. In the local folk tales, Hindu and Muslim poets alike had imagined the Satya Pir as the Khudah(God) manifesting dressed as a Faqir. Some Muslim poets also describe him as a Pir from Mecca. The character of Satya Pir had been created by describing him as a Muslim Faqir or Pir possessing supernatural powers.

In this way, the Satya-Pir (or Satya-Narayana) literature gained popularity among the people; the main purpose of the literature was to glorify the Satya-Pir. The first book on Satya-Pir called Satya-Pir Kavya is attributed to Shaikh Faizullah and the book is supposed to have been written between 1545 to 1575 AD.

Faizullah’s writing contains clear hints of cultural assimilation. He has saluted the deities of both communities in the beginning of his book, “You are Brahma, you are Vishnu and you are Narayan, Listen, O Ghazi, pay heed to yourself to preaching in the assembly (i.e. instead of fighting)”.


Towards the closing period of the Mughal rule in Bengal the first effort towards bringing the Hindus and Muslims together started through the medium of the ballad of Satya Pir and Satya Narayan. In the book Bangla Sahityer Itihas,
SukumarSen says that the scribes of the Pir ballads were Hindus, the singers were Muslims, but their composers were the poets of both communities. Sen states further that numerous Hindu writers from West Bengal to Assam composed Satya Narayan or Satya Pir Panchalis (poems) by equating Rahim of Mecca and Rama of Ayodhya.

From 16th to 18th centuries various local Pir cults grew in Bengal with traditions and legends around some Muslim saints (Pirs) and mythical heroes of uncertain identity which became very popular among the masses of the both communities, the Hindus and the Muslims. Khawajah Khizir, Pir Badr, Zindah Ghazi, Madar Pir, Panch Pir etc. are very important among them. They were worshipped by the masses irrespective of religion.

Just as the Hindus found a reflection of Guru-Chela relationships in the
Pir-Murid dynamic, to the Muslims who had converted, the Pirs occupied a similar space to Tantriks and learned sages while their dargahs held significance paralleled to the Chaityas and Stupas of the Buddhists. Slowly the people of all three religions in Bengal region developed a shared understanding of reverence that is witnessed even today in parts of Odisha, West Bengal, and Bangladesh. May this centuries-old tradition continue and Satya Pir always protect and bestow his blessings on all his devotees, regardless of who they are or what religion they follow or what name they call him by, for the power of faith is greater than all human differences.

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Movies that make you think: A Regular Woman & Aise Hee

02 Nov 2019

What happens when women break out of the rigid code of conduct set by religion and society? Sometimes they survive, and sometimes, the worst happens.


Aise Hee
Movie still from film Aise Hee

There are a million things that divide religions, but most do have a common thread- a rigid code of conduct and moral righteousness assigned to women. Be it regulations of how they should dress, or how they take their place in society, religion can play a vital role in controlling women.

The German film ‘A regular woman’ showcased in MAMI Film Festival 2019, portrays the real-life fate of Hatun Ayhnur Sürücü, a Muslim woman of Turkish descent, and her struggle for a free, self-determined life after escaping an abusive child-marriage. Her conservative family members refused to accept her new lifestyle; insults and threats continued to escalate. Ayhnur, however, still bound by familial emotion wanted to mend fences. Even though she moved out, started training for a job and cared for her child on her own, she kept in touch with her family believing they would someday accept her. Instead, she was ultimately subjected to an honour killing by her brother.

Is that what happens when a woman decides to do something as innocuous as expose her hair, or get a job? In India, most honour killings are linked to notions of caste purity and controlling women’s sexuality. The family honour seems to reside in women’s vaginas, their hair, their clothes, their fraternization with men, in effect- women are treated like a possession that needs to behave in a certain way, “or else”.

Over 200 women are killed in the name of “honour” every year in India. In 2006, a Supreme Court judgement called such incidences "barbaric”. Ironically, no separate law exists to punish those found guilty of such murders, and prosecutions are usually among various sections of the Indian Penal Code for homicide and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

For so many women, it is difficult to imagine that their own family members could want to kill them. Most don’t see it coming. But even if they do, is the system on their side? Ayhnur had reported the threats she received from her brothers to the police. No one intervened, no action was taken. Ayhnur was killed in 2005. Almost 15 years later, the same story would repeat because nothing has changed. Would Ayhnur have escaped to a far-off land and cut all ties with her family if she had known they were capable of killing her? Maybe we’re too emotional where family is concerned. We forget that the so called ‘family honour’ is bigger than women’s lives.

Ayhnur’s story weighed so heavy on me and I was pleasantly surprised by my next watch, an Indian movie called “Aise Hee” which was also about a woman’s self-determination, but had a positive outcome in the end. Aise Hee is also the winner of this year’s Film Critics Guild Award and is a must watch. There are so many amazing moments this movie where the audience couldn’t help but burst into loud applause and cheers. One of these moments comes when the leading woman, a Hindu widow, saves a Muslim tailor she has befriended from a potentially dangerous group of Gaurakshaks. The way she uses her position and privilege to protect her Muslim friend is genius and hilarious at the same time.

As an elderly widow, she’s expected to behave in a certain way- wear ‘sober’ clothes, go to Yoga, visit temples, and also empty out her portion of the house so that her son can lease it out for rent. Through the course of the movie, she defies each and every one of these expectations. She takes midnight walks at the riverbank, goes to a mall alone to eat ice-cream, refuses to hand over her husband’s pension to her son, gets a beauty treatment, and allows herself to breathe freely. Obviously this aggravates not just her family but the entire neighbourhood.How dare an upper caste Hindu woman spend her days with a Muslim man learning embroidery?How dare a ‘husband-less’ woman nearing her 70s enjoy her life?

She refuses to be manipulated by anyone and does what she pleases. Ultimately, she quietly leaves the judgemental people in her life behind. The wonderfully sensitive portrayal of the lead by actor Mohini Sharma has won her the Special Jury Mention for Best Female Actor at MAMI 2019.

The two movies “A Regular Woman” and “Aise Hee” stand in contrast with respect to what happens to the woman defying societal and religious norms, yet they have so much in common. It makes one wonder why society is so concerned with what women do in their lives. It runs deeper than ‘family honour’; moral policing extends to any and all women. Random men feel the need to comment on women’s clothing, as witnessed in the case of the Bengaluru man who stopped a woman on the road to yell at her for wearing shorts because they do not conform to ‘Indian rules’.Social media is overflowing with strange men commenting on women’s characters and issuing rape threats to women for simply existing. The misogyny has been passed down for generations to uphold patriarchy and ‘social order’.

So what happens when women manage shake up the foundations of systematic subjugation with small acts of freedom? They add up and amplify, they inspire and validate, they build something new, something better. The question is, will you build with them?
 

Movies that make you think: A Regular Woman & Aise Hee

What happens when women break out of the rigid code of conduct set by religion and society? Sometimes they survive, and sometimes, the worst happens.


Aise Hee
Movie still from film Aise Hee

There are a million things that divide religions, but most do have a common thread- a rigid code of conduct and moral righteousness assigned to women. Be it regulations of how they should dress, or how they take their place in society, religion can play a vital role in controlling women.

The German film ‘A regular woman’ showcased in MAMI Film Festival 2019, portrays the real-life fate of Hatun Ayhnur Sürücü, a Muslim woman of Turkish descent, and her struggle for a free, self-determined life after escaping an abusive child-marriage. Her conservative family members refused to accept her new lifestyle; insults and threats continued to escalate. Ayhnur, however, still bound by familial emotion wanted to mend fences. Even though she moved out, started training for a job and cared for her child on her own, she kept in touch with her family believing they would someday accept her. Instead, she was ultimately subjected to an honour killing by her brother.

Is that what happens when a woman decides to do something as innocuous as expose her hair, or get a job? In India, most honour killings are linked to notions of caste purity and controlling women’s sexuality. The family honour seems to reside in women’s vaginas, their hair, their clothes, their fraternization with men, in effect- women are treated like a possession that needs to behave in a certain way, “or else”.

Over 200 women are killed in the name of “honour” every year in India. In 2006, a Supreme Court judgement called such incidences "barbaric”. Ironically, no separate law exists to punish those found guilty of such murders, and prosecutions are usually among various sections of the Indian Penal Code for homicide and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

For so many women, it is difficult to imagine that their own family members could want to kill them. Most don’t see it coming. But even if they do, is the system on their side? Ayhnur had reported the threats she received from her brothers to the police. No one intervened, no action was taken. Ayhnur was killed in 2005. Almost 15 years later, the same story would repeat because nothing has changed. Would Ayhnur have escaped to a far-off land and cut all ties with her family if she had known they were capable of killing her? Maybe we’re too emotional where family is concerned. We forget that the so called ‘family honour’ is bigger than women’s lives.

Ayhnur’s story weighed so heavy on me and I was pleasantly surprised by my next watch, an Indian movie called “Aise Hee” which was also about a woman’s self-determination, but had a positive outcome in the end. Aise Hee is also the winner of this year’s Film Critics Guild Award and is a must watch. There are so many amazing moments this movie where the audience couldn’t help but burst into loud applause and cheers. One of these moments comes when the leading woman, a Hindu widow, saves a Muslim tailor she has befriended from a potentially dangerous group of Gaurakshaks. The way she uses her position and privilege to protect her Muslim friend is genius and hilarious at the same time.

As an elderly widow, she’s expected to behave in a certain way- wear ‘sober’ clothes, go to Yoga, visit temples, and also empty out her portion of the house so that her son can lease it out for rent. Through the course of the movie, she defies each and every one of these expectations. She takes midnight walks at the riverbank, goes to a mall alone to eat ice-cream, refuses to hand over her husband’s pension to her son, gets a beauty treatment, and allows herself to breathe freely. Obviously this aggravates not just her family but the entire neighbourhood.How dare an upper caste Hindu woman spend her days with a Muslim man learning embroidery?How dare a ‘husband-less’ woman nearing her 70s enjoy her life?

She refuses to be manipulated by anyone and does what she pleases. Ultimately, she quietly leaves the judgemental people in her life behind. The wonderfully sensitive portrayal of the lead by actor Mohini Sharma has won her the Special Jury Mention for Best Female Actor at MAMI 2019.

The two movies “A Regular Woman” and “Aise Hee” stand in contrast with respect to what happens to the woman defying societal and religious norms, yet they have so much in common. It makes one wonder why society is so concerned with what women do in their lives. It runs deeper than ‘family honour’; moral policing extends to any and all women. Random men feel the need to comment on women’s clothing, as witnessed in the case of the Bengaluru man who stopped a woman on the road to yell at her for wearing shorts because they do not conform to ‘Indian rules’.Social media is overflowing with strange men commenting on women’s characters and issuing rape threats to women for simply existing. The misogyny has been passed down for generations to uphold patriarchy and ‘social order’.

So what happens when women manage shake up the foundations of systematic subjugation with small acts of freedom? They add up and amplify, they inspire and validate, they build something new, something better. The question is, will you build with them?
 

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Chhatt Puja: By the People, For the People

02 Nov 2019
Year after year, people in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and major cities wonder what exactly is Chhatt Puja when they witness so many lakhs and lakhs of men and women from Bihar out on the streets, heading towards the river or the sea. They see them push cartloads of bananas and other fruits or carry them on their heads, but few outsiders understand anything more. The main festival is just six days after Diwali, which explains why it goes by the colloquial name for the ‘sixth’, chhatt, that is also called Surya-shasthi.

Chhatt Puja
Image Courtesy: PTI

Interestingly, it was and remains essentially a very vibrant folk festival, like Bhai Dooj, that has no role for the priest and no compulsion to visit temples. Since it yielded no grants to either, Brahmans usually stayed away from this economically unviable festival. It was thus not linked with some convenient legend taken from the vast repertoire of the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata or Ramayana. Because it was never ‘mainstreamed’ outsiders hardly know much about it.

There is a weak link, however, that not many are aware of and the story goes that Draupadi was advised by the sage, Dhaumya to perform Chhatt puja to Suryadev, to help the Pandavas. There is another legend that Rama and Sita also offered this puja to the sun god during this period of the year when they returned from exile to Ayodhya. Though most Rama worshippers do not perform this puja, Rama may will have listened to his wife, like all of us do. Sita’s origins were in Janakpur of Mithila, which is really the epicentre of this worship. The tradition is, however observed all over in Bihar-Jharkhand and adjoining regions, the Madhesh tract of Nepal, as well as in far off Fiji, West Indies and Mauritius: wherever Biharis went.

Nowadays, however, hordes of priests have started occupying vantage points in the water and worshippers have, willy nilly, to shell out some dakshina for compulsory mantras and short courses in sanskritisation.

It is my submission that Chhatt is the first celebration of bright light and the sun, after the blackest night of the year, ie, Kartik amavasya when Indians light billions of lamps to dispel the dark. But Bengalis, who just have to be different, however welcome this amavasya to worship their dark goddess Kali and her ghoulish companions of the night. Chhatt Puja was originally a women’s festival to thank the sun god for all the munificence and the bounty conferred, but it is interesting to note how the menfolk joined later on. They also worship a goddess called Chhatti Maiya, who is equally important and invoked for her boons. She is sought to be identified with Usha, the Vedic goddess of dawn — but these are just weak attempts to sanskritise a popular utsav.

The unique character of this festival is that it worships both dawn and dusk, the rising sun as well as setting sun. It is actually a four day festival that starts on the fourth lunar day after the dark amavasya of Kartik, namely, Chaturthi, Panchami, Shasthi or Chhatt and finally Saptami. Chhatt Puja is the occasion for the most colourful dresses to come out and there is a lot of folk songs and dancing as well. Even in distant Mauritius, for instance, Chhatt songs and dances are an integral part of the nation’s culture that was brought in by labourers from Bihar. As fasting is mandatory, people take anticipatory steps by consuming a lot of freshly reaped rice, puris, bananas, coconuts and grapefruits before beginning their rituals.

The first day is actually popular as Nahay Khay and the holy dip in water body is taken on this day, preferably in the river Ganga. Womenfolk, who observe this festival, take only a single meal on this day and among many this consists of just lau or lauki boiled with rice. They get into the water upto their knees or waist and pray in the direction of the sun. This is followed by an ancient custom for married women to smear each other’s forehead with ochre vermillion, right along the line of the nose to the tip. It is likely that the sindoor khela among the married women of Bengal on Vijaya Dashami may have originated from this. After all, our sarbajanin Durga pujas are just a century old. The second day of Chhatt is called Kharna, on which total fasting is observed without a drop of water, from sunrise to the sunset. Devotees have their food only after offering it first to the sun god at sunset. This is a rich repast consisting of ‘payasam’ or ‘kheer’ made rice and milk, ‘puris,’ hard baked wheat flour cakes called thekuas and bananas, which are distributed to one and all. On the third and main Chhatt day, fasting without water is again observed and the evening offerings or sandhya arghya is an elaborate ritual when oblations are made to the setting sun. Bamboo trays are held in its direction containing the much favoured thekuas, coconuts, bananas and other fruits. This is followed by the ‘Kosi’ ritual in homes when lamps are lit to honour the sun, but are kept under cover of five cane sticks. The fourth day of Chhatt is considered the most auspicious and worshippers gather in large numbers on the banks of rivers with their family and friends for the final morning ritual of offering ‘arghyas’ to the rising sun. The fast is then broken with a bite of ginger with sugar, thus marking the end of the rituals. A volcano of joy, feasting and merriment then bursts all over.

What benefits does this puja confer? Many believe in it as a fertility rite for both humans and harvests, while other swear by its curative powers. There is also a theory that ancient yogis and rishis obtained energy directly from the sun’s rays by exposing their bodies to the sun, while on fast. When one observes how when other events and pujas damage or destroy the environment with chemical paints and other poisonous substances, that include firecrackers, Chhatt stands out as a really commendable environment-friendly worship that uses only bio degradable items. I hope we now understand the significance of this wonderful celebration by Biharis a little better.

Author is Chairman of Board of Governors, Centre For Studies In Social Sciences, February 2017 to present · Kolkata
 

Chhatt Puja: By the People, For the People

Year after year, people in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and major cities wonder what exactly is Chhatt Puja when they witness so many lakhs and lakhs of men and women from Bihar out on the streets, heading towards the river or the sea. They see them push cartloads of bananas and other fruits or carry them on their heads, but few outsiders understand anything more. The main festival is just six days after Diwali, which explains why it goes by the colloquial name for the ‘sixth’, chhatt, that is also called Surya-shasthi.

Chhatt Puja
Image Courtesy: PTI

Interestingly, it was and remains essentially a very vibrant folk festival, like Bhai Dooj, that has no role for the priest and no compulsion to visit temples. Since it yielded no grants to either, Brahmans usually stayed away from this economically unviable festival. It was thus not linked with some convenient legend taken from the vast repertoire of the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata or Ramayana. Because it was never ‘mainstreamed’ outsiders hardly know much about it.

There is a weak link, however, that not many are aware of and the story goes that Draupadi was advised by the sage, Dhaumya to perform Chhatt puja to Suryadev, to help the Pandavas. There is another legend that Rama and Sita also offered this puja to the sun god during this period of the year when they returned from exile to Ayodhya. Though most Rama worshippers do not perform this puja, Rama may will have listened to his wife, like all of us do. Sita’s origins were in Janakpur of Mithila, which is really the epicentre of this worship. The tradition is, however observed all over in Bihar-Jharkhand and adjoining regions, the Madhesh tract of Nepal, as well as in far off Fiji, West Indies and Mauritius: wherever Biharis went.

Nowadays, however, hordes of priests have started occupying vantage points in the water and worshippers have, willy nilly, to shell out some dakshina for compulsory mantras and short courses in sanskritisation.

It is my submission that Chhatt is the first celebration of bright light and the sun, after the blackest night of the year, ie, Kartik amavasya when Indians light billions of lamps to dispel the dark. But Bengalis, who just have to be different, however welcome this amavasya to worship their dark goddess Kali and her ghoulish companions of the night. Chhatt Puja was originally a women’s festival to thank the sun god for all the munificence and the bounty conferred, but it is interesting to note how the menfolk joined later on. They also worship a goddess called Chhatti Maiya, who is equally important and invoked for her boons. She is sought to be identified with Usha, the Vedic goddess of dawn — but these are just weak attempts to sanskritise a popular utsav.

The unique character of this festival is that it worships both dawn and dusk, the rising sun as well as setting sun. It is actually a four day festival that starts on the fourth lunar day after the dark amavasya of Kartik, namely, Chaturthi, Panchami, Shasthi or Chhatt and finally Saptami. Chhatt Puja is the occasion for the most colourful dresses to come out and there is a lot of folk songs and dancing as well. Even in distant Mauritius, for instance, Chhatt songs and dances are an integral part of the nation’s culture that was brought in by labourers from Bihar. As fasting is mandatory, people take anticipatory steps by consuming a lot of freshly reaped rice, puris, bananas, coconuts and grapefruits before beginning their rituals.

The first day is actually popular as Nahay Khay and the holy dip in water body is taken on this day, preferably in the river Ganga. Womenfolk, who observe this festival, take only a single meal on this day and among many this consists of just lau or lauki boiled with rice. They get into the water upto their knees or waist and pray in the direction of the sun. This is followed by an ancient custom for married women to smear each other’s forehead with ochre vermillion, right along the line of the nose to the tip. It is likely that the sindoor khela among the married women of Bengal on Vijaya Dashami may have originated from this. After all, our sarbajanin Durga pujas are just a century old. The second day of Chhatt is called Kharna, on which total fasting is observed without a drop of water, from sunrise to the sunset. Devotees have their food only after offering it first to the sun god at sunset. This is a rich repast consisting of ‘payasam’ or ‘kheer’ made rice and milk, ‘puris,’ hard baked wheat flour cakes called thekuas and bananas, which are distributed to one and all. On the third and main Chhatt day, fasting without water is again observed and the evening offerings or sandhya arghya is an elaborate ritual when oblations are made to the setting sun. Bamboo trays are held in its direction containing the much favoured thekuas, coconuts, bananas and other fruits. This is followed by the ‘Kosi’ ritual in homes when lamps are lit to honour the sun, but are kept under cover of five cane sticks. The fourth day of Chhatt is considered the most auspicious and worshippers gather in large numbers on the banks of rivers with their family and friends for the final morning ritual of offering ‘arghyas’ to the rising sun. The fast is then broken with a bite of ginger with sugar, thus marking the end of the rituals. A volcano of joy, feasting and merriment then bursts all over.

What benefits does this puja confer? Many believe in it as a fertility rite for both humans and harvests, while other swear by its curative powers. There is also a theory that ancient yogis and rishis obtained energy directly from the sun’s rays by exposing their bodies to the sun, while on fast. When one observes how when other events and pujas damage or destroy the environment with chemical paints and other poisonous substances, that include firecrackers, Chhatt stands out as a really commendable environment-friendly worship that uses only bio degradable items. I hope we now understand the significance of this wonderful celebration by Biharis a little better.

Author is Chairman of Board of Governors, Centre For Studies In Social Sciences, February 2017 to present · Kolkata
 

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