Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh): Have ears to the ground and listen to the folk communication among the people on the streets of Bareilly—you will come across a soothing oasis of the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb (syncretic culture) in the city in contrast to the hot desert of hate-mongering many other parts of Uttar Pradesh have become of late.
During the month of Ramzan and Ramnavami gone by recently, Bareilly which also has Asha Bhosle’s number –“jhumka gira re Bareilly ke bazaar mein”—going into the folklore turned out to be a perfect spectacle of love, camaraderie, brotherhood and amity among the Hindus and Muslims on its full play.
In fact, the setting of Bareilly—the headquarters of the Rohilkhand—has sustained the syncretic culture. The city finds mention in the Mahabharata as Panchal, the birthplace of the Pandava queen Draupadi also known as Panchali. At the same time it has the shrine of Aziz Niazia, descendent of Shah Ayatullah Indizani of Bukhara (Afghanistan) who had relinquished his empire to adopt Sufism and spread the message of love and devotion over 300 years ago.
Another notable shrine is the Chunna Mian ka Mandir, also known as the Lakshmi-Narayan temple in the heart the city. This temple has a picture of Fazalur Rahman alias Chunna Mian with a container on his head – a testimony to his kar seva to build this temple in 1960. It was inaugurated by then President Rajendra Prasad. Fazalur Rahman’s picture finds place among the same of the Hindu gods and goddesses adorning the walls of the temple. Chunna Mian had donated his land and Rs 1,00,001 at that time to build this temple.
Besides, Bareilly has seven Shiva temples and as such it is also called Nathnagri.
Be it the Shiva temples, the Khaneqah-e-Niazia or Chunna Mian ka Mandir—the places of worship drew the city dwellers in hordes during the Ramzan and Ramnavami. The devotees and faithful crossed their paths while buying the flowers at Maliyon ki Pulia – a common spot to buy flowers and aromatic sticks—exchanging pleasantries and sharing love and bonhomie.
My colleague at the Invertis University and the local of Bareilly, Nasreen Javed took us on a trip to these holy places. Grown and brought up on the streets of Bareilly, Nasreen is a repository of the tales and communications in folk that are the hallmark of Bareilly.
“My ancestors who were landlords had got malis (gardeners) settled on their land, which came to be known as a Malion ki Pulia. The devotees buy roses to offer to Khanqah-e Niazia and other Sufi shrines, and hibiscus, oleander and marigold flowers to offer to Shiva, Lakshmi and Narayanji in the temples,” Nasreen said, breaking into the folktales that she know about in abundance. She added, “The population of the malis here has dwindled over the years with the malls, restaurants and garment shops coming up, but it still continues to be a favoured spot for buying flowers”.
While guiding me through the streets and shrines during the festive season, Nasreen shared her her own story which was equally charming. “When I was in my teens I had a friend, Asha Upadhyay, studying at a coaching centre and living in a town lodge. One day in the late 1980s, she was fear-stricken and felt insecure. I brought Asha (a Brahmin) home and my parents spared a separate room for her to live in. Asha set up a puja corner in her room. We celebrated Diwali and Holi to keep Asha happy, and Asha celebrate Eid with us with equal enthusiasm. Growing up together, we used to play and visit dargahs and temples.”
“When she was older, Asha married a man named Deepak Lotha. The couple visited our home after their marriage. They refer my abbu (father), Javed Hasan Khan, as ‘abbu’ and my mother as ‘ammi’. They are now settled in Haldwani but they are our family members. They visit us often and I, too, call on them,” Nasreen continued, promising, “I will make you meet Asha and Deepak one day.”
Mohammad Sibtain Niazi alias Shabbu Mian, a Sufi cleric and descendent of saint Aziz Niazia, greeted us at Khankah-e-Niazia. “Chhodo mujh-e bekhud mera aaram yahi hai; Nam-o-nishan rahn-e do bas naam yahi hai (Leave me to myself with the name, I am at peace here. I don’t hanker for fame, let me live with my name in seclusion),” Shabbu Mian chanted this couplet by Qibla Shah Niazi.
“We don’t ask for the caste or religion of anyone visiting us. We make dua (prayers) for all, and people visit us with love. We are bound by the Almighty’s farman (order) to ensure peace, harmony and brotherhood,” he said, smiling. Asked about the rise of an atmosphere of hate, Shabbu Mian said, “We will keep on spreading love and amity, without seeing what others are doing. We are here to give peace to the distressed. Love is the panacea to all ills afflicting human society.”
The frequent visitors to Khaneqah-e Niazia include the mayor of Bareilly, Umesh Gautam – who is also the chancellor of the Invertis University. “He (Gautam) is a mureed (devotee) of this dargah and is very nice to all of us. He specifically visits during the Urs mela (fair) and oversees the arrangements,” Shabbu Mian said, while asking us to keep vising the shrine regularly.
The pujari at the Lakshami Narayan temple or Chunna Mian ka Mandir, Sandip Tiwary, says, “We revere the name of Fazlur Rahman alias Chunna Mian – the builder of this temple – as much as we do with the builders of the temples in the country. We offer Prasad to the family members of Chunnu Mian ji wheneve45r they come at this place”.
“I was not destined to see Chunna Mian ji. But I learnt a lot by hearing from Bhup Ram and other caretakers of the temple, who had seen Chunna Mian ji. Though he was a landlord, he carried containers with bricks and other materials on his head to build this temple. He devoted his entire life to the service of this temple. He was the true son of the God,” Tiwary said.
Tiwary said that previously, many Muslims too used to visit this temple. “The number of Muslim visitors has relatively dwindled of late. But we treat them with care and love when they visit us, offer prasad to them and make prayers for them. I am always conscious of the fact that Chunna Mian ji had built the temple,” he said.
Headquartered in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has made many objectionable comments on the Taj Mahal – the monument of love built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and located 221 km from Bareilly – and is on a spree to fiddle with the names of many ancient and medieval cities and towns in UP to pursue his politics of polarisation. Though located between Delhi and Lucknow – 250 km from Delhi and 252 km from Lucknow, to be exact – Bareilly is far removed from the “wave” of hate and conflict in Lucknow and Delhi.