As the Urs, the annual festival at the disputed Sufi shrine of Haji Malang near Kalyan began on Wednesday, worries about a revival of communal discord brought the Muslim community’ leaders to the office of the Thane police commissioner.
The festival started with the unfurling of a ceremonial flag, but the main programme of the nine-day festival, a ‘Sandal’ procession (where devotees bring flowers and other perfumed offerings) is on February 24. Members of groups like the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are also expected to offer Aarti or prayers on the night of February 24.
The shrine, situated on the lower slopes of a rocky pinnacle near Kalyan, is visited by thousands of pilgrims during the Urs. The shrine which is believed to be the tomb of a revered Sufi, Baba Abdur Rehman Malang Shahm, has also been claimed by local Hindus as the resting place of Baba Machindranath Malang, a saint revered by the Nath Sampraday sect. The later formed the Malang Seva Samiti to assert their claim over the shrine.
M A Khalid of All India Milli Council, among those who met Thane police commissioner K P Raghuvanshi, said that the police will accompany the Hindu group. “They will come for the Aarti,” said Khalid.
Shyam Patil, a BJP functionary from Kalyan said that the tomb was originally a Hindu shrine. “Documents from the 1930s indicate that the original name of the shrine trust was Malang Society. The word ‘Haji’ was added to the shrine’s name later,” said Patil.
The dispute between the two groups later reached the courts, including the Supreme Court. “We expect more police at the dargah this year,” said Shaukatali Ansari, a resident of Haji Malang village who was part of the group which met the police.