Sunday, May 01, 2011

The beauty of Ashtur, a centre of communal harmony

The Hindu
Tuesday, Oct 05, 2010

Where the spirit of a tolerant king brings all faiths together

Rishikesh Bahadur Desai

Promoting amity:A file photo of Shivacharya Swamiji of Madyal in Gulbarga at Ahmed Shah Ali Wali's tomb in Ashtur in Bidar.
Bidar: Ashtur, a village near Bidar, is a place of syncretic worship, a tradition that is widespread in north Karnataka. The tomb of the Bahmani King Ahmed Shah Ali Wali is a place of worship visited by Hindus and Muslims, and a centre of communal harmony. While the Muslims pay respects to the saintly ruler, the Hindus find it the abode of Allama Prabhu, the 12th century saint-poet.

There are two annual celebrations — the birth anniversary in March-April, a week after Holi, and the death anniversary in October-November after Dasara. Hindus and Muslims participate in both the events.

Sri Shivacharya Swamy of Madyal in Aland taluk in Gulbarga walks 80 km to reach Ashtur. He is joined by around 500 devotees. He arrives at the Mutavalli's house from where he is escorted to the tomb. An elaborate ceremony follows. The tomb is washed in rose water and sandalwood paste is applied all over it.

The Muttavali Khaleel Shah Bahmani performs the Chaddar ceremony while the Swamiji breaks the coconut, performs puja with sacred chants and offers “prasad”. A major attraction of the birth anniversary is the wrestling match held in the grounds near the tombs. Wrestlers from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh compete.

The swamiji stays in a tent in front of the temple for five days. He walks back to Madyal with fellow believers after the festivities end.

During the death anniversary ceremony, Hindus share the cost of the mass feeding ceremony. They also participate in an elaborate ceremony where men sing praises of the king and tell tales of how the Bahmani Kingdom faced a drought after his death. Thousands of people attend the Qawwali performance organised in the evening. The crowd is so big that police block the roads leading through Ashtur.

“Ashtur occupies a proud place in Karnataka's history,” says historian B.R. Konda. There are many places that are sacred to people of different faiths. However, it is rare that the same shrine is worshipped by two sects together, he said.

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