Communal polarization in Trimbak City over Shri Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple is harmful to the social fabric

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By Irfan Engineer

The city of Trimbak, which is also taluka or block headquarters, has recently courted media-manufactured and politically patronised controversy where there was none. Media is gaining TRPs, and a certain political party is gaining an advantage from political polarization at the cost of the Muslim community. The community is once again being demonized, and there is a threat of arrest of some Muslim youth for no plausible offence committed by them. They merely followed an age-old tradition on 13th May 2023 of fanning dhoop (fumes from incense in a container) in the direction of the Shri Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple from its northern gate temple and carrying chadar cloth sheets (a cloth sheet that is normally offered at sufi dargahs to the pir buried) on their heads on the day of annual urs (death anniversary of a sufi saint). The Shri Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in the country. There is a notice on the gate that non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple.

A section of the Media proclaimed that Muslim youth residents of the town tried to enter the temple.

The youth are seen in the videos, repeatedly played by the electronic media, near the northern gate of the temple with the chadar on their heads and later returning. That act was declared by the media as an attempt to forcibly enter the temple and desecrate it. The hyperactive section of the media also extracted a statement from one of the priests of the temple demanding that the motives of the Muslim youth on “attempting to enter” (not forcibly enter) the temple should be investigated.

Where is Trimbak?

Trimbak, is about 28 km from Nashik. Nashik City is the district headquarters, and it is itself a temple town and one of the 4 cities which holds the Kumbha Mela once every 12 years. The origin of the sacred Godavari River is near Trimbak.

Who built the Kusavarta Kunda?

Shrimant Sardar Raosaheb Parnerkar, Fadnavis of Indore State, built the Kusavarta kunda (sacred pond) in the temple premises, which is the source of the Godavari River, the second longest river in peninsular India. The current temple was built by Peshwa Nanasaheb. The temple is located between three hills namely Brahmagiri, Nilagiri and Kalagiri, and has three lingas (an iconic form of Shiva) representing Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The entire black stone temple is known for its appealing architecture and sculpture.

Where is the dargah of Hazrat Pir Syed Gulab Shah Wali Baba located?

Trimbak city also has a dargah of Hazrat Pir Sayyad Gulab Shahwali Baba just behind the temple in the premises of Sayyad family – a couple of hundred metres from the northern gate of the Trimbakeshwar temple. The dargah and temple have co-existed for centuries – neither the Mughals nor the Peshwas disturbed these structures.

Demography of Trimbak City

The total population of the city is 12,056 according to the 2011 census, out of which there are 405 Muslims (3.36%). The STs constitute 2,158 and the SCs are 713. The city survives on the pilgrims who come to worship from all over the country, including South India. There are shops selling worship accessories like flowers and other offerings to the deity, and other local goods. Then there are guest houses and muths to cater to all classes of pilgrims.

The secret of the peaceful co-existence of the Hindus and the Muslim residents of the city for ages must be the syncretic religious traditions that they have evolved together and participate in each other’s religious rituals and festivals. Dinesh Patil, one of the flower vendors for the puja, near the northern gate of the temple confirmed to us that there was an age-old tradition of offering dhoop on the day of the annual urs from the first step of the temple.

Another flower vendor, who has his shop just adjacent to the northern gate of the Temple, and did not want to be named, told us that he was present on 13th May, on the day of the urs, when the local Muslim processions offered the dhoop towards the temple. According to him, they were neither attempting nor forcing themselves to enter inside the temple. The local residents are well aware that their entry is prohibited. We do not think that a Hindu flower vendor whose livelihood depends on the deity and the pilgrims had any reason to make false statements. Armaan Sayyad a young resident of Trimbak was one of the processionists of the urs and who resides in the bungalow on whose premises the Dargah is situated. He told us that they merely followed the traditions that they have been following for the number of years and had no intention of entering the temple. His uncle, who was ill was among the persons who are likely to be arrested. It is not clear under what charge they would be arrested.

It is also not clear how the offering of dhoop became controversial.

There are many priests who help the pilgrims with their worship rituals at the temple for a fee. The website lists authorised priests to do various types of pujas. One of the priests questions the motives behind the Muslim youth “attempting to enter” the temple and that too, according to him, during the evening as the pujas were being wrapped up for the day. The entire street near the northern gate of the temple is too crowded with the pilgrims busy buying their worship accessories and shopping other goods, smearing their foreheads with beautiful-looking symbols for the puja. Our sedan was literally crawling towards the gate within the crowded street. Should the Muslims have taken out their urs procession in a crowded street? One of the trustees of the Temple is seen in videos played over the media denying that there was any tradition of offering dhoop towards the entrance of the temple during the annual urs of the pir. 

The police inspector of Trimbak told us that he could not say anything about the urs tradition as he was posted to the police station only two months ago. When asked what was the opinion of the locals, he told us that some said there was a tradition of offering dhoop during urs while others denied such a tradition existed.

Dinesh Patil opined that if the entire controversy is left to the locals, they would solve it in no time as there was no ill-feeling among them on the basis of religion. The entire controversy, according to him was created by outsiders and politicians. One of the locals, who did not want to be named, told us that one local leader by the name of Shukla, who had access to the Dy CM and Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis had mis-briefed him. The media with access to the CCTV footage also started flashing the allegations of Muslims “forcing their entry into the temple with the chadar on their head.” It made good TRP sense for the media as it was a hotly controversial issue targeting the community which had been much weakened and whose voice has been marginalized in the media. The controversy suited the BJP’s politics, which is facing an adverse outcome of the Supreme Court judgment that illegitimate their government and the Governor’s decision to ask the then CM Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority in the Assembly. This hot TRP-winning controversy would marginalise the space to the Supreme Court judgment in the media. The demonization of Muslims and polarization along communal lines also very well suits the BJP’s politics and the game plan to win the next elections – be it of municipal corporations in the state or the impending Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

The Dy CM promptly constituted a Special Investigation Team of high-ranking police officials, as if the offering of dhoop or, even if a few Muslim youths were trying to enter the temple, was such a grave and serious offence which warranted an entire team to work on the investigation of “the offence”. Even if true, and in the unlikely event of the “offence” tried in a court and the charge of “attempt to enter” the temple is proved, the offence amounts to criminal trespass for which, a court normally awards a sentence of fine. SITs are constituted to investigate a grave and serious offence that requires unearthing of a crime and investigation and arrest of a large number of people involved in the crime that may of complex nature, and gathering of technical evidence that stands in a court of law. The nature of the alleged offence in this case may not require more than CCTV footage and statements of witnesses, something that every police station routinely handles. The promptness with which the SIT was announced without the courts directing it, or police demanding it, or even the aggrieved complainant demanding it, points to the non-application of mind and political objectives behind such an appointment.

The image that this Govt. wants to build up is that they are very prompt in protecting the Hindus from the communally aggressive Muslims. Much graver offences have been committed in Maharashtra, including the ones when more than 50 processions were taken out in all the districts of Maharashtra by the “Sakal Hindu Samaj”, importing speakers from neighbouring Telangana and other places known for making communally inflammatory hate speeches targeting the Muslim community for non-existing alleged “love-jihad” and “land jihad” and calling for the social and economic boycott of the community”. Calling for a boycott of any person or class of persons is an offence according to the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, a legislation passed by the BJP government when Fadnavis was the CM. The Govt. is dragging its feet on taking action against those committing the offences, even though the Supreme Court has ordered to register cases for hate speeches made and take appropriate legal action. There are many grave law and order challenges, including cybercrimes in which citizens, including Hindus, are losing lakhs of rupees, hundreds of missing women, sexual offences against women, domestic violence, cases of atrocities against the Dalits and Adivasis, etc. These crimes are tearing the social fabric of the state.

A section of those calling themselves saints belonging to Akharas outside Trimbak city is also exploiting the issue to claim the land belonging to the dargah. Out of the blue and without giving an iota of evidence, they are claiming that the dargah was built on an existing temple, and therefore it should be handed over to the Hindus.

The BJP-Shiv Sena (led by Eknath Shinde) Govt. which has come to power after engineering a split in the Shiv Sena in its political desperation is harming the social fabric of the state and hurting the minorities – creating conflicts where there is none. The conflict should be best left to the local residents of Trimbak city. The FIR must be withdrawn in the interest of peace. The local Muslims of Trimbak city must revisit the age-old tradition of offering dhoop while taking out urs of Hazrat pir Gulab Shahwali Baba towards the Shri Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple if a substantial number of Hindus do not appreciate the well-intentioned gesture. Social peace is the objective of the age-old tradition of offering dhoop, however, if that disturbs the harmony of the city, it should be re-visited. A section of media and politically motivated leaders has been spreading ill will against the Muslims of the city, which is an offence under S. 153-A of the Indian Penal Code. Police should file cases against all such persons suo-moto in the interest of the maintenance of peace in the city and in the interest of the rule of the law. The Muslims of the city have shown remarkable restraint and haven’t reacted to any provocative act.

About the Author

Irfan Engineer
Irfan Engineer Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

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