Two faiths, one festival: Communities bond over Durga Puja celebrations

1cd16340-6c0c-11e5-a58e-91ae482642d7_06durgaBHUBANESWARh: Community bonhomie is best seen during the four days of the great autumn festival when Durga is worshipped.

The Muslim community is an essential component of the festivities. They not only celebrate the puja along with the Hindus, but they also perform some of the rituals. Gadabanikilo village near Ranpur in Nayagarh district and Manikagada in Khurda’s Bolagarh block are witness to this unity when the two Dalbehera families, both Muslims, celebrate the puja.

“At Gadabanikilo, the eldest son of the Dalbehera family is brought in a procession to the ‘Khandaghara padia’ where he is entrusted with the task of invoking the goddess on the day of Saptami,” said historian Satyabadi Baliarsingh, who has carried out extensive research on Nayagarh.

“Dalbehera (Dalpati) or leader of the group is a title given to the Muslim family after the king of Ranpur won a war against Nayagarh under the leadership of one of their forefathers, Sher Khan,” said Hapizur Ali Khan, a descendant, who describes the tradition with pride.

“I belong to the sixth generation. My elder brother executes the tradition. He wears a red ‘pata pagdi’ and carries the sword which our forefather Sher Khan used in the war. He worships the sword till Dasami and then we get it back,” said Khan.

“My forefathers, all war horse sellers, requested the king during Rath Yatra celebrations in Puri 300 years ago to allow us to settle here,” he added.

The community participation is not confined to Durga Puja alone. “A day before Dola Purnima, Hindu gods are taken in a procession around the village and they first partake the ‘prasad’ at the Dalbehera house and then at the ‘Bhagawat Tungi’ (a place for Bhagawat discourse). No other Muslim family in the village has this privilege,” said Baliarsingh.

 Manikagada also exudes the harmony of the two faiths. On Dussehra, a procession is taken out that winds it way through the tri-section at Manikagada, Tangi Sahi and Kalanga near the Somnath temple for a ‘havan’.
The idol of goddess Kanak Durga from Dibyasinghpur, the head of the Dalbehera family and his sword from Dalei Sahi, the ‘lekhani’ (pen) and palm leaf inscriptions, are the principle attractions of the procession.
The main ‘karta’ of this havan is the Dalbehera, who wears the ‘doob’ grass ring made by a Brahmin priest. On his left sits a member of the Karana family with a palm leaf manuscript and on his right sits a Hindu holding the sword of the Dalbehera. “The participation of the Dalbeheras in the ‘havan’ or Aparajita puja probably dates back to the 18th Century when the king of Bolagarh handed over his kingdom to a Muslim,” said researcher and former teacher Balmika Baliarsingh.
 The friendship continues even today. “About 15 years ago, Muslims and Hindus had prasad sitting on the premises of the Shiva-Vishnu Temple at Gadabanikilo after the inauguration of the Hanuman shrine,” said Satyabadi Baliarsingh.