Amid the rising communal tensions in the country where rath yatras (religious processions) seem to strike fear in the hearts of minorities, one tiny village in Kerala is turning the tide.
The village of Udyavar at Manjeshwaram is perhaps the only village in India where one is graced with the rare vision of members of the Muslim community marching in rath yatras during the annual festival of the village temple.
Every year on the first Friday after Vishu, the custodians of the Sri Udyavara Arasumanjushnath temple led by three velichappad (priests) visit the 1,000 Jama’ath Mosque, which is 100 metres away from the temple.
With great love and respect, they extend an invitation to the mosque elders to join their festival, wherein the chariot procession is the highlight.
And while the elders at the mosque led by the Imam wholeheartedly accept this invitation, they also reciprocate the invitation by requesting members of the Hindu community to take part in their festival, which takes place once every five years.
Speaking to The Times of India, Sukumar Shetty, the current Manju Bhandari (senior-most person of the family of the custodians of the temple) says, “This has been followed from the times of our great-grandfathers.”
T S Sayyed, who been an active participant of the temple festival for over eight years, reveals how the temple authorities also offer them a truckload of vegetables, ghee and rice during the mosque festival.
The elders of both religious institutions are also said to share a common platform built around a banyan tree in front of the main shrine during the festival days where minor disputes between families are settled.
The legend behind the custom
The beautiful custom followed by both communities stems from a popular legend. It narrates the story of how the deities of the temple first travelled all the way to the land by crossing the sea; they met the custodians of the mosque, who welcomed them wholeheartedly.
And to commemorate this humble gesture by the mosque custodians, it was decided that they would meet every day. And they made it known to the public by ritualistically inviting each other.
Legend also has it that whoever tried to break this indelible bond between the two religious institutions would meet with mysterious ends.
The essence of this heartwarming exchange can be summed up in the words of the District Collector K Jeevan Babu, whose administration apart from lauding its efforts, also extends help in any way it can. “The temple and mosque are examples of not just peaceful religious coexistence, but also of upholding the unity of humankind, beyond parochial religious considerations,” he told TOI.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)