A Tale Of Two Temples

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A Tale Of Two Temples

By B.F. Firos

In Utter Pradesh, Mohammed Akhlaq was killed following a call from a temple. Thousands of kilometers away, in a village in Kerala, a temple shut down for two days as a mark of respect over the death of a Muslim youth.

Shabeer was bludgeoned to death in broad daylight by a band of youngsters and the gory scenes were videographed too. His crime? He testified against them over some clashes that erupted during annual festival of this temple last year.

Shabeer, 23, had been an active member of the executive committee of Siva temple near Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram for the past two years, and had been collecting firewoods, and other materials like coconuts and rice for the mass feast (anna dhaanam) that would be held as part of the festival. As a mark of respect to him, the temple suspended pujas for two days and didn’t blow the conch or ring the bell. The temple office-bearers have also decided to do away with the festival procession and the mass feast scheduled for next week.

A Muslim as a festival committee member of a temple could be an unthinkable proposition for any other Indian state. But this cross-pollination is essentially the jaggery that makes the Kerala payasam so tasty. Here the mosque-temple combo easily outnumbers the coconut tree-banana combo. A temple and mosque sharing a single wall, or drawing water from a common well don’t make news in the state.

This writer hails from a nondescript village named Edava, not very far from the temple that closed its sanctum sanctorum for two days in memory of Shabeer. We have this Palakkav Bhagavathy Temple, which is surrounded by Muslim houses for well over a one kilometer-radius. They are the de facto protectors and guardians of the temple, a kudumba Kshethram (family temple), whose majestic annual festival marks an occasion for family gatherings (long-distance relatives arriving, time for girls married off to distant places to rejoin with families) and uninhibited celebration. The vibrant and long procession consisting of several bedecked elephants and innumerable epic-themed floats is enjoyed with the “religious fervor and gaiety,” as journalists put it. In our nostalgic calendars the colorful festival is marked ‘important’ like Eid!

Scratch the surface a little more and you can see many other glorious stories from other parts of the state

Of course, nobody, including the departed Shabeer, knows the exalted definitions or precise origins of ‘secularism’. Nobody told us what it means to be a secularist. We don’t want to. Because we are acclimatized to a profound sense of belonging and camaraderie that goes much beyond the limited European construct of ‘secularism’, an overly used and often misused word these days.

Amid this civilized co-existence sprout communal elements seeking to create a miasma of communal frenzy. On the one end we have the RSS and its political face BJP, and on the other end of the spectrum, though not as threatening and dangerous as the RSS ideology, we have this Salafi Islam for which anything and everything is ‘shirk’. A video that was doing the rounds of late showed Mujahid Balusseri, for example, a prominent speaker of this rigid Salafi ideology, with his anachronistically long beard, exhorting his audience that making donations to temple festivals is a shirk! His demented ideology equates the act to giving money to brothels. With this rigid interpretation of Islam, he unwittingly becomes the other side of the likes of Sasikala, a firebrand Sangh Parivar leader, who has been whining about temple coffers being eaten away by Muslims and Christians. The same RSS ideology seeks to purge temple premises from non-Hindu traders during festivals. Thwarting the communal whims and political fancies of RSS-BJP for ephemeral gains is as crucial as booing away sundry shirk sellers of bigot Islam that threaten to disturb Kerala’s peaceful co-existence.

We need more Shabeers. We need temples and festivals. We don’t need a monochromic society which the loonies from both the communities seek to create. Just when we picked our pens to write a non-nostalgic elegy to Indian secularism after Akhlaq murder, the Kerala temple, on the other, that bowed before Shabeer by shutting its doors for two days, is prompting us to take a deep breath so that we can write our Letter of Faith in Humanity. (The writer is a Dubai-based journalist. firosbf@gmail.com)

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