With a Sikha (sacred ponytail) and tilak — a mark worn on the forehead by Hindus on religious occasions — Ram Babu Rai, a Brahmin by caste, bows down and kisses the mazaar (tomb) of Kulhari Baba in Ranchi with utmost reverence to seek the divine blessings.
Ten feet of the mazaar precincts, is the Anandamoyee Durga Temple, where Rai, a restaurant employee, offers his prayers with the same devotion. It’s a daily routine. He gets utmost peace and happiness in following it, he claims.
Mohammad Parvez, a small-time businessman, spends most of his evenings praying at the mazaar but doesn’t leave until he gets the prasad from the adjacent Durga temple.
At a time when religious leaders and right groups in the country are fighting a one-upmanship battle, a temple and mazaar sharing common confines on Ranchi’s Mahatma Gandhi road stand as an epitome of communal bonhomie and challenge the growing communal hatred.
The two shrines, hardly separated by 10 feet, with an incense stick shop in between, attract scores of Ram Babu Rais and Mohammad Parvezs every day. They rub shoulders, pray and eat together and walk home hand in hand with bliss writ large on their faces.
While Jharkhand, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), saw the maximum communal flare-ups in 2013, this campus housing the two shrines has not witnessed a single incident of communal disharmony since the pre-independence era.
According to the NCRB 2014 report, with 349 incidents of communal violence, Jharkhand recorded the maximum number of such incidents. It was followed by Haryana with 207 incidents and Tamil Nadu with 120 incidents.
“People coming out of the temple and entering the mazaar might be an unusual scene for outsiders, but for Ranchiites, it’s so common. We eat prasad from the temple and they offer prayer here,” said Parvez.
As the temple authorities get ready for the forthcoming Durga Puja, like every year, mazaar workers and Khadims have volunteered to take up the responsibility of managing the crowd and ensuring a peaceful puja.
“Volunteering during puja gives us happiness,” said Khadim Mohammad Zahir.
Durga Puja at the ashram is one of the oldest Bengali festivals in the city.
Hari Pada Rai, the chief priest at the temple, said devotees often come to the campus to seek blessings of Ma Anandamoyee as well as Kulhari Baba.
“This campus has sacred vibes. Forget communal tension, I have not even seen a quarrel here,” he said.
His co-priest, PS Ghoshal, who joined the temple about three months ago, said, “I was initially surprised to see Muslims entering the temple. Later I realised the mazaar and the temple do not believe in any communal divide.”
While nobody knows when the Mazaar was established, the temple has been functioning for over 150 years, say priests.
“I don’t think either of the two shrines strictly belongs to any particular community. We all have faith in the mazaar as well as the ashram,” said Somesh Ray, a devotee at the ashram, who claims to have offered at least three chaadars at the mazaar.