Paradeep (Orissa) : Religious barriers melted between Hindu and Muslim residents in this port town in Orissa where members of both communities joined hands to celebrate the famous Rath Yatra, the annual chariot festival.
There are strict restrictions preventing non-Hindus from entering the world famous temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri, the seaside town in this eastern Indian state that is famous for its Hindu temples.
But in Paradeep, about 70 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, Hindus and Muslims came together Monday to pull the chariots of the triad of Hindu deities – Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi (goddess) Subhadra.
“This communal harmony comes at a time when good news and goodwill have both become rare commodities and violence, hatred and indifference to the dignity of human life have made people cynical,” said religion researcher Prasanta Kumar Padhi.
This was not the first time that people from both communities pulled the chariots here during the Rath Yatra. Since time immemorial, this practice has been followed in the tiny village of Deulisahi, on the outskirts of Paradeep. Out of about 2,500 residents of the village, nearly 800 are Muslims.
“Both Hindus and Muslims are active members of the Ratha Yatra committee. The Muslim members cleaned the village road for the smooth arrival of the chariots and they also dragged the sacred ropes of the chariots from the Jagannath temple,” Mustaq Khan, a village resident, told IANS.
“Some Muslim carpenters were also engaged by the village committee to build the chariots. Members of both communities provided the timber for the construction of the chariots,” said another village resident Dayanidhi Das.
Hindus in the village also participate in festivals observed by Muslims. “Hindus join in our Eid and Bakari Eid festivals. Hindus and Muslims also attend each other’s marriages and other ceremonies,” said Sahid Khan, another resident of Deulasahi.
“Since time immemorial, both the communities have been living peacefully in this village. As per Hindu traditions, Muslims are not entitled to enter temples. But here we allow the entry of any person irrespective of caste, creed and religion,” said Damodar Panda, the chief priest of the Paradeep Jagannath temple.