Despite several instances of communal tension being reported in the country every day, a few festivals still continue to reflect the spirit of communal harmony. One such festival is the age-old minjar mela (Minjar fair) that symbolises not just the blossoming of maize, but also the close relationship between Hindus and Muslims. The festival, which is the oldest in the region, is celebrated with great fervour by Hindus in the millennium town of Chamba, starts after a Muslim family offers the holy minjar (silk tassles that glow like maize blossoms in the sunlight) at Laxmi Narayan temple in Chamba.
"My forefathers use to prepare the first minjar for the royal family of Chamba, which was offered to the temple by the King himself," said Ijaz Mirza, whose family has been carrying forward the legacy of its ancestors. Though Mirza was not sure when the age-old tradition began, he said he had seen his parents weaving the minjars.
With the arrival of the monsoon, his family keeps itself busy by weaving the silk threads into minjars. Mirza's family continues to offer the first minjar to Lord Raghuvir and Laxmi Nath.
The fair is as special to the Mirza family as it is to the Hindu community. "This is the beauty of our culture. We have been living in harmony for centuries. Instead of fighting on petty issues, Hindus and Muslims should realise how the society was closely-knit earlier," said Hem Raj, a resident of Chamba town.
The mela (fair) is held during the monsoons where farmers pray for heavy rains to reap a good harvest. The fair is believed to have first started in the 10th century to mark the victory of King Sahila Varma over the King of Kangra. The defeated King had presented blossoms of maize and paddy to King Varma. According to another legend, in the 10th century, River Ravi changed its course after a saint performed a week-long penance in the Champavati temple, with a cord of seven colours resembling the maize blossoms that he named minjar, so that the Hari Rai temple across the river could be accessible to pilgrims.
During the fair, people adorn themselves with minjars on their colourful costumes and pray for timely showers and a bumper crop. The fair concludes with the immersion of holy minjars in the River Ravi. The fair is currently underway in the Chaugan grounds at Chamba.