Indian Festivals Celebrate Communal Harmony
Indian dancers from the Rang Rasia Group on Sept. 18 before performing the Garba dance as part of the Navarati festival in Ahmedabad. (Photo: Sam Panthaky/ AFP-Getty Images)
Mumbai, India's financial capital has become more united against terrorism since 26/11 (the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai), in which 183 people lost their lives and hundreds more were critically wounded. Such terror attacks have also occurred in the past during festival season, and though the main objective of these acts of terror is to disturb peace during the festivals, the festivities of different religions continue in full swing.
Recently, Hindus organized their religious festival Ganesh Pooja with full devotion, while Muslims were busy in their pious month of Ramadan. Preparations are being made to celebrate the famous festivals of Dusshehra, the Durga Pooja and the Eid-Ul-Fitr. While the festivals of different communities in India—the nation of unity in diversity—are associated with their religious importance, these festivals at the same time present an example of communal harmony and equality for which the world has perhaps no match. The festivals thrive despite the terrorists' best efforts to disturb the social fabric.
Barara town, in Haryana state in India, which set a world record by building and burning the tallest effigy of Ravana last year, is once again ready to break its own record. Rana Tejinder Singh Chauhan, president and founder of the Ramleela Club, has been busy for four months with hundreds of companions creating the tallest effigy of Ravana. To help, a group of Muslim artisans led by Mohammad Usman has come from the city of Agra. The entire group is staying in Barara as special guests. Muhammad Usman too has a deep desire to help Tejinder Singh Chauhan in this highly ambitious project.
During the preparation of the effigy, the month of Ramadan passed. Mohammad Usman and his family kept with their fasting. All their religious needs were taken care of by Tejinder Singh Chauhan and his colleagues. They performed their religious rituals at the very place where Ravana's effigy was being built. Usman is of the view that the religious freedom he got in Barara is perhaps not available even among people of his own community. This is why Usman and his group come every year for Dusshehra preparations. On fulfilling the religious requirements of Usman and his family, Chauhan said that he simply does his duty by the tradition of "Atithi Devo Bhav" (guest is God).
Chauhan said that he is trying to get the Ravana in the Guinness Book of World Records. If that happens, the effigy will set a great example of communal harmony. The festival of Ganesh Pooja presents a similar example each year. The Ganesh Pooja festival this year was organized by the Muslim community in many parts of India. In many cases, the Ganesh statue was installed by Muslims in their houses and worshipped. People from the Muslim community participated in large numbers in the ritual of Ganpati Visarjan. Popular film actor Salman Khan was seen celebrating Ganesh Pooja with full devotion. Superstar Shahrukh Khan also celebrated the festivals of Holi, Deepawali, Eid, and Baqrid.
The poor and helpless people in India also engage in this religious and communal harmony, celebrating these festivals with great zeal. For example, 19 districts of Bihar state were badly affected by severe floods last year from the Kosi River dam breakage. The victims, without religious discrimination, cooperated with each other in relief work. Collective functions and prayers were organized in many places, often under one roof, to recover from the disaster. At the time of the flood, which was during the month of Ramadan, Hindus also helped their Muslim brethren in their religious needs. In some places there was even news that the Hindus too were fasting.
Amidst the spread of terrorism, and news of involvement by Muslim youth in terror incidents, attempts to spoil communal harmony cannot succeed. Attempts at communal polarization by anti-national forces also do not succeed. In this holy land—with its mix of Ramanand, Kabir, Nanak, Chishti, Khusro, Nizam, Sai Baba, Sheikh Farid and Bulle Shah—no terrorist organization can uproot communal harmony. Indian festivals will continue to be models of religious brotherhood and keep alive the country's unity in diversity.
Tanveer Jafri is a columnist based in India who has been published in dozens of newspapers and portals in India and abroad. Jafri is also a devoted social activist for world peace, unity, integrity and global brotherhood. He is a member of Haryana Sahitya Academy and Haryana Urdu Academy.