When festivals unite | Deccan Herald

Many examples of cultural and religious syncretism are woven into Karnataka’s rich mosaic of festive traditions. One such tradition that lives on even in today’s busy community atmosphere is the Urs or Jaathre Mahotsav celebrated in Ashtur, Bidar district.

Held for five days in March or April each year, the festivities mark the anniversary of the death of Sultan Ahmad Shah Bahmani, who reigned from 1422 to 1436. “Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists attend the celebration which is organized on his grave”, says Basavaraj Swamy Hiremath, the secretary of the jaathre mahotsav.

Hindus believe that Saint Allama Prabhu, a contemporary social reformer from Basavanna, visited the area, declaring it holy. To pay homage to him, they perform a naivete ceremony where they offer Mouladi, a candy made from rotti like prasada. Simultaneously, Muslims observe ‘Urs Sandal’, celebrating the death of Wali (a respected individual) as the culmination of a yearning to meet God. They are preparing kandria meat feast.

In and around the tombs, crowds watch devotees sing bhajans, kirtans and khawallis. At the end of it all, there is a khushti, organized for the entertainment of the people. Shashidar Patil, a history teacher and resident of Ashtur, says the area has a long history of friendliness. “The Jaathre or Urs also only begins when Shivaraya Odeyar (an ascetic from Madiyal village of Kalaburagi) arrives after a padayatra.”

But how has this tradition survived for so long?

The legend behind Ahmed Shah Bahamani might hold some clues. Locals believe that after a long period of drought, he opened storehouses of granaries for all his subjects and prayed for the rains to come. It is said that after years of drought, the clouds parted and it rained.

The people of Ashtur kept this tradition alive through the benevolence of the king, according to Mohammed Khaleel Shah, a resident of Ashtur.

Hundreds of miles away is another tradition that has survived hundreds of years. Before the annual jaathre at the Channakeshwara temple in Belur, a Muslim cleric is invited to read a few lines from the Koran before the ratha takes off. According to Vidyalatha, general manager of the temple, this tradition “was first recorded in 1932, but many believe that it started in the time of Ramanujacharya, who believed in the doctrine: Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava”.

Historically, jaathres or we are not religious congregations but community events that fuel seasonal employment in the villages.

Rehmat Tarikere, a cultural critic and professor at the University of Hampi, believes that shared occupations in agriculture, metalwork and artisanal work, which have a certain level of dependence, have helped to facilitate these inclusive spaces.

“At Kaup, in a temple, the shehnai is played by Muslims. In many dargahs, leather instruments are played only by Hindus. Huli Nruthya is performed both during Muharram and Navarathri. Even the lining of the inside of vessels used in temples is often done by Muslim families,” he says.

The Bengaluru Karaga also starts after a visit to the local dargah. A team of priests come to the dargah to offer their greetings.

In many parts of North Karnataka, Muharram is a celebration that often warrants the participation of entire villages. As most Muslim traders keep their shops closed for the day, their Hindu neighbors provide essential goods for the event. Mixed singing groups also sing localized versions of songs that celebrate Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

These songs include a range of contemporary issues, including the government’s failure to address common issues.

Basavantarao Rompalli, an artist who has sung in Muharram processions since 1973, is proud to sing with such a diverse group. “I sing with people of all religions, we sing about corruption, government, female infanticide and embrace it with devotion,” he says.

Here, Imam Husayn Ibn Ali becomes Husayn Sharanara, a title granted to the great according to the Vachana tradition of Karnataka. “In many places in North Karnataka, Muharram cannot be observed until poop is done at the village chief,” says Arun Joladakudligi, a folkloric researcher.

The threat

What began as a temple banning Muslim traders from selling their wares at temple premises and fairs had a ripple effect. The temples of Kaup, Shivamogga, Chikkamagaluru and even Belur, with their rich history of inclusivity, have restricted access for Muslim traders either to temple premises or to annual fairs based on a rule passed in 2002 by Hindu religious institutions in Karnataka and charitable foundations. Law of 1997.

For scholars who study Karnataka’s folk culture and art, this is an alarming turn of events. “In the temple jaathres in the villages, everyone in the village pooled money and was involved in one way or another. There were issues with that, of course, but there was an effort to include everyone,” says Joladakudligi,

So far, this polarization has worked in the larger villages, and the smaller villages have retained their local traditions and resisted attempts to homogenize culture.

Khaleel Shah thinks there is a lot to learn from syncretic traditions like the Ashturr Fair. “When we are there, we pray for the same things, for our families. We have a sun, we get water and food from the same source. We are not that different,” he says. These traditions, he says, build empathy.

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