Muslims Join Orissa's Chariot Festival



India's syncretic traditions came into play last week as hundreds of Muslims in Orissa joined in the nine-day Jagannath chariot festival celebrated in several villages and towns across the state. While the main rath yatra began at the temple city of Puri, 56 km from here, which houses the 12th century Jagannath temple, the festival was also celebrated by Jagannath devotees elsewhere.

Reports spoke of some 800 Muslims joining the celebrations in the village of Deulasahi in Kendrapada district, for instance, like in previous years. The Muslims of the village, which has a population of 2,500, also contributed funds for the event, said Sameshar Khan, a villager.

"The village collectively forms a committee to organise the festival every year and our community are also members," he said. This year, one of the villagers, Naeem Ali, donated a tree for constructing the chariots. Some Muslim carpenters also pitched in on building the chariots.

"Hindu residents join us in our festivals too," said Sahid Khan, another villager, adding that the communities attended each other's marriages and other cultural ceremonies. So, it was only fitting that all the Muslim residents of Deulasahi gave a helping hand as the chariots rolled out -- on roads that were liberally layered with sand by all the villagers so that the wheels move smoothly despite the rain of the past few days.

The story was repeated in other villages like Narayanpur in Subarnapur district where Muslims contributed funds, helped in building and then pulling the chariots, former local body chief Ananda Satapathy said. Similarly, in Motu in Malkangiri district, all 50 Muslim families wear white clothes and help out - just like their compatriots in other parts of the state.


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