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Om meets Islam

Muslims run three growing markets dedicated to creating marble shrines for Hindu homes. Om symbols and swastikas on their creations are embedded in Islamic floral patterns and inlay work.

mumbai Updated: Sep 02, 2012 00:33 IST
Riddhi Doshi

Every morning, 52-year-old homemaker Kiran Sachdev lays fresh flowers atop the marble shrine in her four-bedroom Juhu home, lights some incense and starts her day with a prayer to the four Hindu deities housed within.

"For 20 years, I dreamed of a large marble shrine, peaceful and beautiful," says the mother of two.

"But there was no space in our two-bedroom home."

In April this year, when her building was redeveloped and her flat enlarged, she finally went shopping for her dream shrine and found it at Mahek Marble Kraft, a new shop in a relatively new row of shops dealing exclusively in hand-carved marble shrines, near Milan Subway in Santacruz.

"With its intricate carving and beautiful design, I fell in love with it the minute I saw it," says Sachdev, who bought the shrine for Rs. 26,000.

While Sachdev is a Kashmiri Pandit who moved to Mumbai after her wedding 28 years ago, Mohammed Shakeel, the craftsman who created her shrine, is a Muslim from Bihar.

The 26-year-old migrated to Mumbai in 1992, spending his first four years in the city training under a master craftsman from Makrana, Rajasthan.

"I am proud of the work I do, making sacred shrines for Hindus to pray at in their homes," says Shakeel. "It gives me immense joy when people compliment me on my work."

The marble markets in Mumbai date back to the mid-1980s, when Muslims from Makrana, famed for its marble, began opening shops in the growing suburbs, where there was a massive demand for marble slabs to be used as flooring in the new residential buildings.

As competition grew and business shares shrank, some of the traders began to diversify and found that there was growing demand from the new residents for another marble item — shrines for their new homes.

Most of the shrines sold in these special markets are made of Makrana marble from Rajasthan, the same marble used to build the Taj Mahal in Agra.

With the shrines usually designed by the shop owners and Muslim craftsmen, each little structure marries elements of Islamic and indigenous Indian architecture, with swastikas and Om symbols embedded in inlay work and delicate petal-and-leaf patterns adorning the arches.

"The faith of the shrine makers is irrelevant to our buyers," says Mahek Marble Kraft owner Imtiyaz Sisodia, a marble trader from Makrana. "In fact, many have been so happy with our hard work and craftsmanship that they have gifted us gold chains and as much as Rs. 11,000 in bonuses."

Lately, demand has seen a steep increase. Of the total of 40 marble shrine shops in the three markets, 11 have come up over the past three years. Sisodia alone owns four such shops on the same strip of road in Santa-cruz. His newest — the one where Sachdev bought her shrine — was opened in April.

"When people buy new homes, they also buy new temples," says Ghanshaym Soni, among the few Hindus in the business. He opened his first shop a decade ago and his second shop in Santacruz last month.

Now, Hindus from Makrana are following in their Muslim brethren’s footsteps and opening up marble shrine shops in these areas, but they too employ mainly Muslim artisans.

"This is a business that does well even in a downturn," says Soni.