Hindu, Muslims bond over Durga puja celebrations in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: Durga puja has always been an occasion for Hindus and Muslims to unite in Manikagada village of Odisha’s Khurda district, where people of the two faiths actively take part in the rituals during the five-day gala.

For centuries, the members of the two faiths have celebrated the occasion with equal enthusiasm and fervour, said Abdul J Khan, a resident of the village.

“The Hindus and Muslims here join their hands before Goddess Durga, transcending all communal barriers. Such has been the custom for over 300 years,” Khan asserted.

The Dalabehera or Dalapati (community head of Muslims) also take part in the “aparajita puja” (aparajita is a form of goddess Durga), he said.

“There was a time when the Dalapati would provide his family’s sword (used to fight battles) for worship at the Durga mandap (marquee),” Khan added.

Balmika Baliarsingh, a researcher and resident of the village, said Muslims in Manikagada “mainly served as soldiers in the ancient times”.

“As the worship of arms is a part of the Durga Puja rituals, they (Muslim) were invited by the Hindus during the annual festival,” he said.

Sk Majboor Rehaman, another resident of the village, said he has seen his father and grandfather taking part in the Dusshera festival.

“We live in harmony. There is no ill-feeling among the communities here,” he maintained.

The syncretism is also evident at another village, around 60km away, where a prominent Muslim family is invited to take part in a procession during the five-day festival.

On Maha Saptami, the eldest son of the Dalabehera family visits ‘Khandaghar padia’ (a field where swords were earlier kept) in the village in a procession and invokes the Goddess, as has been the ritual for centuries, a resident of Gadabanikili village in Nayagarh district said.

“Our ancestors always upheld the values of peace and religious tolerance. We do not discriminate against people on the basis of caste or religion. Durga puja is an occasion to unite people,” he added.