One of the main triggers of religious conflict in India, particularly between Hindus and the Muslims, has been over places of worship. The demolition in 1992 of the ancient Babri Mosque at Ayodhya by the Hindu religious right, who claimed it was the birthplace of Lord Ram, is just one example.
The Hindu temple, Muslim mosque and Sikh gurudwara in Farrukhnagar, 30 kilometres from new Delhi, offer dramatic proof that different faiths can coexist.
Many religious sites in India including those at Kashi and Mathura still remain disputed, with adherents of Hinduism and Islam ready to cross swords with each other over them. Such attitudes not only underline the sectarian division of the country but also affect the economy, be it investment inflows or the influx of tourists into the country.
But India also has heartening examples where places of worship are shared amicably by different faiths. They are not points of clashes but melting pots of mutual respect, tolerance and regard.
There is one such unique structure in Farrukhnagar — a dusty town barely 30 kilometres from New Delhi, which is a mosque, a temple and a gurudwara, all at once. It was a mosque built along with other Mughal structures in Farrukhnagar in the 18th century by the Mughal Nawab Faujdar Khan.
After Partition in 1947, the majority of Muslims migrated to Pakistan and the town was occupied by Hindu settlers.
One would have thought, a mosque with its distinctive three-domed roof in the heart of the town would be a sore point for Hindus and would be razed down immediately. But the migrants adopted it and it remains until today a major place of worship for the residents.
The Hindu priest who lives with his family in the compound here told me that few Muslims who remain in Farrukhnagar also come to offer their namaz here.
But this site is not just a place of piety for Hindus and the Muslims — it’s also a place of worship for the Sikhs. A Guru Granth Sahib — the Holy book of the Sikhs — is given its pride of place in one of the main chambers of the structure and a Sikh granthi comes regularly to conduct the Sikh prayer the akhand path.
A few years ago on an aimless walk in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, I discovered a Muslim household that had a Hindu shrine of sorts in his front yard. Hindus would come at all times of the day and worship in front of the small sacred stone there.
The Ansaris who live there would greet the Hindus and exchange the day’s gossip as the latter went about their rituals.
Despite India’s violent history of sectarian strife, the country has many such reassuring examples of communal harmony. The Hindu pilgrims to Vaishno Devi Shrine and the Amarnath Yatra cave are virtually carried on the backs of the Muslim palanquin bearers who cry out “Jai Mata Di” along with the Hindus.
“She is also our Goddess. She provides us employment. So why should we not worship her? We also go for her darshan,” says Abdul Majid a palanquin bearer at Vaishno Devi.
But unfortunately, religion has also been the most effective way of dividing people. The clergy and the politicians know this very well and have been manipulating the believers for millennia.
About the author
Writer: Sanjay Austa