Charminar, once an icon of Hyderabadi pride, now a combat ground of religious dominance




By Mohd. Ismail Khan, TwoCircles.net,

It’s Saturday afternoon and its business as usual at the circle around Historic Charimnar it is bustling with traffic and hundreds of petty vendors doing their trade. Seeing the current scene tourists who are visiting the nearly 500 year old monument will hardly have any idea that since past two weeks this area is deep in neck with communal boil and both Muslim and Hindu communal elements have decided to made this cultural icon of Hyderabad a battle ground to challenge each other’s supremacy over the city.

Bhagya Lakshmi Mandir resembles a fort now, shielded 100 meters from left to right by police barricades and from Inspectors to ACP’s, and DCP’s every one keeping an eye on every movement near the temple. Bhagya Lakshmi Mandir goes a long way with controversies; the recent one is just another corner stone to a list of disputes. It was normal thing during Friday prayers at Mecca Masjid to see that security was beefed up at the Mandir, but now it has become an everyday affair.



Charminar

The mid night of October 31st witnessed a new round of controversy, when temple authorities under the protection of police were erecting tin shed over the temple roof. Locals along with Majlis-e-Itehadul-Muslimeen leaders gathered there and protested till the early hours of morning, alleging that expansion is illegal and it will harm the monumental structure of Charminar, thus kick started a new round of dispute with right wing Hindu groups like VHP, Bajrang Dal and even BJP which has announced extension of Mandir at any cost.

Interestingly the controversy broke out just when International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) team was in the city to inspect the efforts made by the state government to remove the encroachments around Charminar which is suggested for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Bhagya Lakshmi Mandir has a vague history; temple authority contends that temple is as old as Charminar. But the old timers, historians, heritage activists and even Archeological Survey of India have refuted this claim.

According to the locals, during Qutub Shahi period a stone was erected as a milestone announcing the ending of Plague in Hyderabad. After some centuries that stone was regarded auspicious by some locals and was decorated with ‘Haldi’ and ‘Kumkum’. Soon years after the annexation of Hyderabad state by Indian army, mass prayers began and temporary shed was put in place. Soon the ‘auspicious’ stone was replaced by idol of Lakshmi Goddesses of wealth as new symbol of prosperity of a new Hyderabad. Now days one can even spot the big frame picture of RSS protégé Gowalkar welcoming devotees in the Mandir.

In many communal riots in 80’s and 90’s temple was damaged, but it recovered soon, it grew, and expanded in every passing festival. The temporary sheets and decorations put in for the festivals were later converted into a property of temple. Slowly a stone idol became a one floor high concrete structure, right under the nose of ASI which was conserving Charminar since 1951.

In 1992 finally an amendment was made in Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 restricting any constructions within the 100meters of the site. But even by then, as claimed by some heritage activists ASI was blind to the illegal constructions around Charminar.

Vasant.K.Bawa was the first director of newly formed Archeology and Museum department in the erstwhile Hyderabad State, he has done an extensive work in the field of cultural heritage of Hyderabad Deccan. Reacting to the recent controversy of Bhagya Lakshmi temple Mr. Bawa said it is down low to give a religious color to a cultural and heritage monument. Speaking to TwoCircles.net he said, “Heritage should be neutral of all religions, art and culture of our past is more valuable than present communal politics. Politics with cultural monuments is a bad precedent to be laid.”

“When I heard about this news, first thoughts came in my mind was about Spanish mosques converted into cathedral and churches converted into mosques in Turkey, we should not jump to such religious bigotry of that 14th century,” Mr. Bawa said.

But ASI who is being believed by many as an important player in the whole issue, is totally absent from the scene. The Superintendent Archeologist when contacted was always on inspection tours, Dy. S A refused to talk on the issue. And even when we tried to contact Conservative Officer of Charminar he was also not reachable.

What we can get is only anonymous quotes of ASI officials in the newspapers, a sensitive matter on which no officer is willing to put their name to. According to some anonymous sources quoted in the newspapers, ASI denied that temple officials took permission for any construction and even ASI expressed their surprise on the midnight renovation work.

Frustrated Muslim leaders over the failure of ASI on stopping, as what they term ‘illegal prayers’ in the Charminar, they has asked permission from ASI to offer prayers at the historic mosque situated at the terrace of the monument. The mosque build along with Charminar has the capacity of 250 people and it has also being mentioned in the ASI website’s catalogue of brief description about Charminar.

When ASI officials rejected the request by reportedly saying that when ASI took over the monument prayers was not going on at the mosque at terrace, whereas Mandir was concerned prayers were on at one of the pillars of Charminar. The blatant response of ASI officials on Muslims assumed right to perform prayer in Charminar, didn’t stop Muslims to counter Hindus, who were assembling in large numbers especially during Friday prayers to perform’ Aarti’.

Last Friday Muslims finally found a way to counter Hindu ‘presence’ in the Charminar. A 2/3 small room in Charminar which was ones use to keep ‘Alawa’ black flag of Shia’s is now home for a Ghous-e-Azam Flag which is situated under the fourth tower of Charminar adjacent to the Mandir, after Friday prayers at Mecca Masjid thousands of Muslims crowded the tiny room to offer ‘Salam’ at the flag, as oblivious to counter the Bhajans from the Mandir. Now the new strategy of Muslims and their leaders has got police on tenterhooks, fearing the same communal volatile situation every Friday.

Heritage activist from Old city of Hyderabad S.Q. Masood said ASI is directly responsible for the chaos created by the communal elements, “ASI has not fulfilled its duties, the reactions in Charminar and around the old city streets regarding temple issue, is the result of decades of negligence and ignorance ASI has put in to the crucial issues.”

Mr. Masood believes that only way to solve the current problem is, by shifting all the religious structures from in and around Charminar to different locations
.

Dr. N. Mandal of Forum for Better Hyderabad speaking to TwoCircles.net said the act of expansion and further construction of temple or any other religious place at in and around Charminar is illegitimate. “The construction of Bhagya Lakshmi temple is wrong, Charminar is a protected heritage monument, it should not be converted into a prayer hall of religions.”

“Even in ancient temples which are now under ASI prayers are not allowed in them, so it is out of question to entertain religious prayers in the cultural and heritage monuments,” said Dr. Mandal.

On the other hand another heritage activist Jaswin Jairaj believes that political parties which are least bothered about protecting monuments are hijacking the issue of charminar to gain political mileage for 2014. “All of them minority community, majority community, and even the Govt. is playing dirty politics over the protection of a monument. Political parties from both the communities have decided to test their power on this sensitive issue, while Govt. which is politically dependent on M.I.M and can’t offend majority community is turning a blind eye over a delicate issue.”

On ASI, Mrs. Jairaj said, “ASI is a spineless body; they don’t have guts to implement their own rules. If ASI would have intervened in this matter in the first period, this communal politics wouldn’t have arrived. They should confront the situation and should shift all the religious objects in around Charminar including the Mandir to some other place.”

Majlis-e-Itehadul Muslimeen got their biggest boost in the Mandir-Monument cold war when A.P. High court granted a stay order on any further construction on the Mandir structure, M.I.M’s local Counselor Mohsin bin Ahmed Balala was one of the petitioner. The division bench comprising acting chief justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and justice Vilas Afzalpurkar directed the state government and its police and archaeology departments to maintain status quo as of on October 30, 2012.

Senior Advocate Bhuja Tarakam who appeared for one of the petitioner in the case told TwoCircles.net, that Temple authorities indeed damaged the structure of Charminar by putting holes under the wall. He said, “Any construction within 100 meters of the Charimnar is illegal let alone creating holes in its walls to erect bamboos.”

Mr. Tarakam took exception and didn’t blame ASI for the mess; he said it is local police which is responsible for encouraging illegal construction at midnight under their protection.”

But interpreting the High court order, Mr. Tarakam said there is no barrier for temple administration in decorating the Mandir in approaching Diwali as it is their norm to do it annually.

Now with Deepavali approaching and right wing Hindu groups at valor to decorate the Bhagya Lakshmi temple as ostentation of their power, fireworks and crackers of other way is expected to be high around Charminar.

It once stood tall as an icon of Hyderabad’s rich culture, heritage and communally harmony. Now it is nothing less than a battle ground for religious supremacy.

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