In Good Faith
Rs. 395 Pp 191
A shrine can be the focus of dispute or a symbol of happy co-existence. The importance of places of worship should never be underestimated, given the fact that the Ayodhya movement became one of the pivots of political mobilization in recent Indian history. As the self-styled custodians of faith periodically mesmerize the nation by keeping the spotlight focused on such disputes, the many places of worship sacred to both Hindus and Muslims remain in the shadows. For, not only have temples and mosques existed side by side for centuries, there are some shrines that exist as both a mandir and a mazhaar. The Tinthani Mouneshwar in Karnataka’s Gulbarga district is one such shrine which Hindus consider a temple and Muslims, a dargah. And no, they are not fighting over it. Tinthani is a remote and tiny village in the Shorapur taluka of Gulbarga district, over 130 kilometres from the district headquarters. There was no pukkah road to the village when I first visited in 1993. It lay five kilometres off the national highway.
But having to walk this distance did not deter thousands of devotees from making their way to Tinthani every year to visit the shrine of Saint Mouneshwar on the banks of the river Krishna. Hindus called the shrine Mouneshwarji ka mandir, while Muslims called it Monappiah’s dargah. It was effectively both: while puja took place before an image of the saint, just above the image was a tiny room that housed the grave or mazhaar. Shiv Shamkar, a regular devotee, told us: ‘I come here every month from a village about 30 kilometres away. Though most of the devotees are Hindus, there are many Muslims as well. We have no problem worshipping side by side. Why should there be any difference between me and a Muslim worshipper when we have both come to pay our respects to Mouneshwar baba?’ The building itself was a fascinating blend of Islamic and Hindu styles and motifs… From outside, the shrine looked like a typical masjid. But as you walk up to the entrance, four huge temple bells greet you. After crossing the courtyard, a short flight of steps leads to the sanctum sanctorum. A picture of Mouneshwar baba hangs there; he is dressed like a sadhu and sits with his legs crossed in a yogic posture. All the paraphernalia necessary for puja is kept before the image. Just above the image is a small wooden door… Open the door and you will see a grave covered with a chaddar and a picture of Mecca-Medina on the wall. This two-tier shrine functions as a temple on one level and as a dargah on another…
The cult of Mouneshwar… is one of the best examples of a popular composite culture existing at the grassroots level in upper Karnataka…. Those who worship here say they have a significant message to share with the country. As Yaqub, a trader in Tinthani, put it: ‘Look how they fought over whether the Babri Masjid was a temple or a mosque. Here, in Tinthani, one building houses both a mandir and a dargah, and Hindus and Muslims worship together without any dispute.’ But the potential for a communal spark and a Hindu takeover is there with the BJP now a powerful force in Karnataka and the RSS active in the belt. This is just the sort of shrine that Hindus begin to claim as their own and Muslims slowly abandon for reasons as varied as succumbing to the dominant community and also propagating the conservative Islamic models that have no space for such beliefs.