By C T JOSHI, Senior Journalist, Bengaluru

Id Milad, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, in an ancient orthodox Brahmin Mutt! Unbelievable?

It is true, though not widely known.  The Muslims of the town, where the Mutt is situated, had invited its  Swamiji for the Prophet’s birthday celebration. But the Swamiji could not leave the Mutt premises due to a religious injunction. He is tradition-loving, modern-looking and invited them to hold the celebration in his mutt.

Hindu seer and Muslim devotee

The Swamiji himself once told me this. I suggested that he could have continued this wholesome practice. He thought for a moment, agreed with me and explained that he could not, as he traveled much and would be away from his town for long periods frequently.

He also created history by visiting the homes of the Harijans. The first Hindu seer to do so, breaking a new ground in the entire country. As a journalist, I had accompanied him.

Both these momentous events sparked off fierce controversies, but he stood firm.

In fact, caste and communal harmony have become virtually an integral part of our life, despite the not-too-rare battering it has taken,  showing how uplifting and how all-embracing are our culture and traditions. What makes them unique is their eternal and universal message to forget the past and look forward to the future.

***

This harmony goes back to the bygone centuries. Jagannath is a  Sanskrit poet of the Mogul period. A rigid Brahmin he had studied the Persian language too. He wrote “Asaf Vilas” in Sanskrit in honour of Asaf Khan, his close friend and courtier of the Mogul emperor Shahjahan. Akbar’s daughter, Muslim by birth, was well-versed in Sanskrit.
Quiet well-known are Akbar’s efforts to bring the two religions closer.

He promulgated Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic creed derived mainly from Islam and Hinduism as well as some parts of Zoroastrianism and Christianity. It was a simple, monotheistic cult, tolerant in outlook..  Unfortunately, it did not catch up. On the other hand, it drew the ire of the diehard religionists. Had it caught up, our country’s history would perhaps have taken an entirely new and refreshing turn. But no. It was not to be.

***

Panchatantra, the most-widely-read Sanskrit work of fables, has been translated into Persian and Arabic languages.
Well-known poet Ashwaghosha wrote Buddha Charita, a flowing story of Gautama Buddha. Gautama Buddha was India’s first spiritual leader to rebel against Hinduism and break away from it. He rejected Hinduism. But Hinduism did not reject him. It accepted him and revered him as the tenth avatara of God (or Supreme Being, if “God” is an anathema to anyone ), who is believed to descend to the earth to deliver men ( and women) from evil.  Can there be anything nobler than this?

***

Cut to the present and you will find communal harmony still largely prevailing, especially in the vast countryside.

Who used to offer the first prayer of the day at the world-famous Lord Vishwanatha temple in Varanasi? Not any Brahmin. Not any Hindu. But a follower of Islam.

Bismillah Khan is one of the legendary musicians of the country. Quite early every morning he used to go to the orthodoxy-bound temple and make the day’s first offering to the Lord through his soulful and mellifluous  Shehnai recital.

Ustad Bismillah Khan

Legions are Muslim musicians who have ardently, reverentially composed and sung Bandishes (texts to set to different raagas) in praise of the Hindu deities. Hindu singers too have responded positively.

Bhagavadgeeta in Urdu

You know that the sacred Bhagavadgeeta has been translated into Urdu?.The credit for this goes to the well-known Urdu poet Anvar Jalalpuri. He rendered 700 shlokas of the Geeta as his sterling contribution to communal amity.

***

Dasara is celebrated by the Hindus and Muslims jointly even today in an obscure village in  Belagavi District of North Karnataka.

In many rural areas, Muḥarram has ardent devotees from among Hindus. A middle-aged childless woman of an ultra-orthodox Brahmin family had vowed an offering during the Muḥarram if she was blessed with a child. That was when orthodoxy had people in its iron grip. And she did have a child in a year.

The famous Karaga festival of  Bengaluru has a speciality all its own.  An age-old Darga is the very first stop of the procession, which is a part of this nearly 500-year-old festival.

Bengaluru Karaga

Mundgod is a small but beautiful town nestling in the lap of Western Ghats of Uttar Kannada District of Karnataka. It too has a speciality all its own. It is the home for the unique  “Khadar Ling” ,  a Linga brought and installed there by a Muslim fakir.

What more do you need to know the truth of what wise men do — — leave behind the past and live for the future.