Sunday, 25 March 2007

Srirama Navami: Bhadrachalam shrine symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity

March 25, 2007
By Syed Akbar

The famous Bhadrachalam shrine dedicated to Sri Rama stands as the best symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. Perhaps, no other temple in the country has such a long tradition of religious unity and cultural integration as Sri Rama temple in the sleepy town of Bhadrachalam on the banks of the river Godavari in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Right from its construction in the 17th century CE, Bhadrachalam Sri Rama temple has witnessed several unparalleled incidents of communal harmony. After the temple was constructed by Kancharla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhakta Ramdas, then Muslim ruler Abul Hasan Tanesha became an ardent devotee of Sri Rama. He started the tradition of sending pearls as royal offerings to the temple. The tradition continued till the last Muslim ruled over Hyderabad State. After Independence, the State government has taken up the responsibility of sending the offerings.
Even now the temple gates open early in the morning only after a Muslim musician plays the "Nadaswaram" (a musical instrument akin to Shehnai). The temple has three Muslim Nadaswaram artistes and the head artiste Shaik Hussain leads all the special pooja programmes. His presence is a must on important occasions like Mokkoti Ekadasi and Sriramanavami.
Shaik Hussain has the rare honour of participating in "Samrajya Pattabhishekam" which is held once in 60 years. The other two Muslim Nadaswaram artistes Shaik Moula Saheb and Shaik Khasim Babu join Hussain in all the religious ceremonies at the temple.
"Hussain is a great Nadaswaram musician and hails from a traditional family of Nadaswaram artistes. He wakes up the Lord in Bhadrachalam as Ustad Bismillah Khan did in Kasiviswanath temple in Varanasi," says C Raghupathi, joint commissioner of Endowments Department.
Hussain and other Muslim Nadaswaram artistes of Bhadrachalam follow the "Chilakaluripet gharana" or tradition which consists exclusively of Muslim pipers. Like the Shehnai which is popular in the north, the Nadaswaram is a famous classical instrument down the Vindhyas. Playing Nadaswaram needs special expertise. Incidentally, it is the world's loudest non-brass acoustic instrument.
Hussain is the fifth generation Nadaswaram Vidwan. He learnt the nuances of playing the instrument from his father Saida Saheb and guru Lal Saheb. He is the last artiste in his family tradition as his two sons have chosen to be engineers rather than Nadaswaram Vidwans.
None of the Muslim artistes do not find any problem playing Nadaswaram as an offering to Sri Rama even while discharging their religious obligations as Muslims.
"We offer Namaz regularly and fast during the month of Ramadhan. Soon after taking Saher during the holy month we proceed to the temple to play Nadaswaram to wake up the presiding deity. We break the fast and continue our service in the temple," says Hussain.
The State government has honoured Hussain with Ugadi Puraskar on the occasion of Telugu new year on March 19.
Muslim Nadaswaram artistes are also employed at Kodanda Ramalayam and Shivalayam in Guntur district. The Nadaswaram tradition runs primarily among "Dudekula" Muslim community, which is classified as a "backward class" in Andhra Pradesh. A notable feature of this Muslim group is that they speak Telugu, unlike a majority of Muslims in the State whose mother tongue is Urdu.
The Nadaswaram art was taken to its perfection by late Shaik Chinna Moulana, quite popular in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Moulana also hailed from the "Dudekula" Muslim community.
"As dedicated artistes we pay our obeisance to the presiding deity in temples and as devout Muslims we pray to Allah. We believe that there's only one Lord Almighty, though the approach routes to Him are different. No religion teaches hatred," observes Shaik Moula Saheb.

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