Friday, August 29, 2014

A tale of 20 years ago…more than some food for thought. COLUMN FOR THE WEEK

A tale of 20 years ago…more than some food for thought.

This a story about Hatihalka, a cluster of villages in the Midnapore district of West Bengal. When you visit there, apart from the villagers and their homes, what is unusual about Hatihalka are the enchanting ruins of terracota temples, 32 of them, which we are told are 250 and 300 years old. These temples stretch over a three square kilometre area, they are the Sheetala, Navaratna and Das Mahavidya temples. Amongst them is also a stone image, built in the ninth century of Vishnu Lokeswar, a combination of the images of Vishnu and Buddha. Experts say that Buddhism once flourished in this area. On the walls of these temples, we can see depiction’s of the battle for Sri Lanka, episodes from the life of Lord Krishna and many hunting scenes.
Mohammad Yasin, a Muslim resident of this cluster of villages ruins. Through his childhood, he was haunted by them “What kind of people lived on the same soil that we tread? What were their thoughts? Their dreams? How did they live?”
Twenty-five years ago before two decades, when the frail Yasin became a school teacher in the same village, consumed with his passion to prevent the further decay of these temples, he began a one-man crusade. He started meeting local political leaders, he wrote to the Indian government alerting  them about the plight of this decaying heritage. Receiving no immediate answers, he travelled to Delhi himself to meet with archaeologists and even spent Rs. 50,000 of his own money to instigate action towards preservation of the forgotten
Even as he fought hard for his dream, he faced difficulties. because thought he passionately loved these temples, he had a Muslim name. Often , in the midst of his crusade, he despaired. part of a precious heritage of the medieval past, the impressive Navartna temple had many of its marble fittings stolen. And once, thanks to the vigilance of Yasin who had set up a committee of local villagers, a criminal spotted attempting to sell a stone image for Rs. 8,000 to a foreigner, was stopped.

Thanks to the singleminded efforts of Yasin, some grants were sanctioned by the government for the protection of the temples but much of it got diverted by the local panchayat away from the temple-restoration work. Still Yasin devotes his time and effort. writing on the subject of his temples, sometimes despairing but never giving up the cause of his beloved temples. through the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee of which Yasin is a member fresh steps are afoot to save the temples that are also threatened by submergence if the Kansabati river changes its course.
But today , despite these efforts, Yasin is a lonely man. Not wanting to divulge their names locals say, “If the temples are standing today, it is because of the labours of our Pathan.” But that is in private. In public, the Muslims call him a kafir and only the other day, the old temple priest took his sandle out and shook it at Yasin in anger asking, “What is your motive in meddling in the temple business?"
A question for you and me….. 
Have we built borders in our minds?

P.S. A recent book I picked up has an interesting title, Historic Temples of Pakistan – A Call to Conscience.Authored by Reema Abbasi through painstaking research and rigourous travels across Pakistan.  The author says in her Preface that this book “concentrates on Pakistan’s fraying social order and the sad prospects of its bringing about its own destruction by documenting Hindu places of worship,  major festivals, prominent orders of priesthood and the idol-crafter Fakira.”  The first five chapters deal with the life and times of antiquated temples in every region of the country that is Pakistan. For the lover of history and icononography, the majestic images of the image of the Varun Dev temple. Set on an island this tribute to the worship of the God of Water, Varuna isdeep inside Sindh and described by Abbasi, “…the ancient, elongated, pyramid-like structure of the Varun Dev Mandir comes into view, like a javelin ready to launch into the sky. As if presiding over the  Arabian Sea, the sandstone structure still courts mystery in majesty. Come to Ranchore Lines known as ‘mini-Mumbai” (a much more benign term that what we use in our cities when we dub an area ‘Mini Pakistan!) we travel, with the author into Ranchore Lines and the Narainpur Basti, that was scarred with the cries of blood and revenger post December 6 1992 as mobs rampaged Hindu areas and signs of Hindu worship and culture, (today’s Karachi’s largest depressed caste and class populations live her; a 5,000 strong grouping of Meghwar, Kolhi, Hindu, Sikh, Marwari, Gujarati, Marathi and Hare Krishna clans) a jewel stands out in the midst of the poverty and squalor. Pristine white, the Shri Naval Mandir Ashram, from 1905 has been built in intricate Jodhpur style. Legend has it that this shrine brought the dead tolife, cleansed hearts of hatred…..Abassi met Kalidas J. Khandara of the All Pakistan Maharshi Naval Samaj who told her that Muslims, Christians, Hindus all come here for the ultimate, blessings for a child (in cases of infertility) or prosperity.  The 200 square yards, pale yellow of the Naval Para that surround this im portant shrine foreground the deities in their niches and alcoves: Santoshi Maa, Kali, Vishnu, Shiva,Ganesha, Hanuman, Guru Nanak and Rama Pir with a white Nandi bull critical to the Shaivite tradition and a large brass bell in the pillar of the sanctum sanctorium.
The age old peepul tree, the red vermillion marks and the sacred orange and coloured threads are familiar, could be rooted anywhere. Oil, sugar and sindoor is kept at its base and the meticulous commitment of the author to a journey and creation of a historical record that is both a testimony and resistance to the present politics at play in Pakistan, is what makes this book special. On a visit to Delhi a few months ago, the author was accorded a few paragraphs in the print media on her recent publication. None of the television channels however thought it fit to showcase the woman, the endeavor, the courage and the commitment. I would have hoped that the Urdu media, limited as it is by resources would have picked up this story and broadcast a detailed conversation of this author’s work.
It was not to be. We have in these dark and troubled times, become victims, ourselves of super-imposed divisions, borders, identities and entities. Not only does this reality do a gross injustice to ourselves and our history, it contributes little to forging unique and unusual resistances in these dark and troubled times.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.