Khaki Mohalla in south Kashmir’s Anantnag is a historical site that houses a mosque and a temple in the same space. In the times of rising fringe and “Mandir wahi banega” rant, the place has become the iconic symbol of syncretic culture and offers lessons on communal harmony.
As a matter of routine now, Hindus and Muslims walk through the same path, greet each other, exchange smiles, before entering their respective holy places to pray.
In Reshi Bazar’s Khaki Mohalla, Baba Dawood Khaki Masjid and Devibal Mandir share the same premise. Standing opposite to each other, they have a common entrance where devotees intermingle and take care of each other’s religious sensibilities.
Behind the temple lies the famous Hazrat Reshi (R.A) shrine. And just 200 meters away, a Gurdwara is located in Sherbagh area, thus making the place’s religious landscape quite unique.
The mosque is located above the shops. When Muslims enter for prayers, they first see the temple. Likewise, when Hindus enter the temple, they first pass through the mosque.
Unity in diversity, many say, can’t have a better definition than this.
“This is the first mosque of this town,” says Bashir Ahmad Khaki, cleric of the Baba Dawood Khaki Mosque. “And the temple is also located here for centuries. They pray to their own God, and we pray to our Allah. Neither they, nor we have any objection. There is no religious conflict here.”
This peaceful coexistence of two different faiths in the time when Mandir-Masjid has once again become an electoral war-cry in mainland India (especially, in run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha Polls) is only exposing the fringe electoral enterprise.
As per the mosque records, its foundation stone was laid by Hazrat Amer-e-Kabir Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (R.A.), a Persian Sufi saint of the Kubrawiya order, who spread teachings of Islam in Kashmir. Later in 990 AH, the second floor of the mosque was built by Sheikh Baba Dawood Khaki (RA) and the third floor was built in the year 1359 AH.
Legend has it that a Hindu saint used to sit under a tree and pray at the same spot. Later, Devibal temple was built on this place. A small spring is situated inside the temple, which is visited by devotees, who throw a coin into it, as a token of faith.
The place where Muslims and Hindus simultaneously read Quran and Geeta and worship their own Gods, without any discrimination or religious conflict, has always remained an example of communal harmony.
Before the mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Vale during early ’90s, scores of faithful would regularly visit the temple, especially on festivals. After their departure, the local Muslims took it on themselves to take care of the temple affairs.
“I still remember,” says Ghulam Hassan Bhat, who runs a shop near the temple, “how both Muslims and Pandits used to enter the mosque and the temple through the same path without any problem. Mostly, after finishing prayers, Muslims and Hindus used to gather in the same premise and talk with each other.”
Even today, on an average, around five Pandits visit the temple. But on the day of Hindu festivals, more faithful visit the temple, Hassan says. “Sometimes even tourists pay their obeisance here.”
As Hassan’s shop is located near the temple, he holds the key of it and has become its default caretaker. Whenever any Hindu wants to go inside the temple, he gives them the key and later they hand it over to him. “Before me, there was another shopkeeper,” he says. “His name was also Hassan. He held the key of the temple for six years.”
Just a few yards away, a general store is run by Shami Kumar. His family is the only KP family who didn’t migrate from their hometown during tumultuous nineties. He lives in Cheeni Chowk.
“Our Muslim brothers took full care of the temple and they still do,” says Shami, who comes across as a humble and receptive man. “Whenever the local Muslims find any problem in the temple, they not only inform me, but also help me to fix it up.”
Recently, when the temple’s spring was blocked, the local Muslims, says Shami, informed him besides bought a water motor to clear it. “Hassan who holds the key of the temple starts the motor every day and closes it when he calls it a day,” Shami says.
Some years back, when the condition of the temple began deteriorating, the local Muslims approached the government for assistance. “But nobody came forward,” says Shami. “Later, the local Muslims themselves renovated the temple.”
Back in the day, when KPs were yet to abandon their homes, Khaki Mohalla’s Devibal temple would spread festivity in the locality, when it would house Atham celebrations, a festival celebrated by KPs, twice in a month.
“During Atham, Pandits used to sing, dance and celebrate with fervour. Everyone was living happily and peacefully,” says Sajad Hussain Khaki, who lives behind the temple. “Today, most of them might not be living with us anymore, but we still miss them. While we will continue to guard this sacred place of our faraway brethren, they have every right to come back and resume their worship here.”
Perhaps, the heartwarming conduct of this Kashmir town amid the rising hatred is the shimmering example of how the ultra-nationalist politics done in the name of Masjid-Mandir issue is just the fringe brainchild, aimed at creating the larger sectarian division in the society.
That faiths can perfectly coexist, and that Muslims can be caretakers of a temple is the biggest lesson that Khaki Mohalla offers to anyone who cares to listen.