Hindus and Muslims in Varanasi Continue to Live, Sometimes Worship, Side by Side

March 17, 2006

Source: The New York Times


On March 17, 2006 The New York Times reported, "They came to banish ghosts, find a cure for eczema, seek succor for a cheating husband or an unruly child. Their feet bare, their heads covered, the believers, both Hindu and Muslim, entered the shrine in droves, stopping only to kiss each stair. That was the scene March 9 at the tomb of Hazarat Syed Baba Bahadur Shahid, a Muslim, two days after homemade bombs tore through a Hindu temple and a railway station here in Hinduism's holiest city, raising the specter of Hindu-Muslim violence. But such violence did not come to pass. Indeed, the scene at the Bahadur Shahid shrine served as a reminder of a fact often obscured by the spasms of ruthless sectarian violence that strike India: that after living cheek by jowl here for so many centuries, Hindus and Muslims often find themselves quietly braided together in worship as in daily life. Like a great many Sufi shrines across India, the Bahadur Shahid shrine is considered holy by Hindus and Muslims alike. The Bahadur Shahid shrine is not nearly as storied as others scattered across this country — from Anantnag on the Indian side of Kashmir to Ajmer in the Rajasthani desert — that draw Hindu, Muslim and Sikh pilgrims by the thousands every year. This is an unsung poor people's temple, in a dirty field where cows loll and the smell of sewage rises up as the day unfolds. Little is known about its origins, except that the man buried in the tomb was probably a soldier from the 11th century who came to conquer Varanasi, also known as Benares, and lost. 'It lies in the imagination of the folk,' said Mohammad Toha, a professor of sociology at Benares Hindu University. 'It is part of folklore of Benares. It symbolizes Hindu-Muslim integration, the syncretic culture of Benares.'"