When religious intolerance hogs the headlines in the country, Odisha has set an example of communal harmony with hundreds of Muslims helping Hindus to celebrate Durga Puja.
Muslim workers are decorating the pandals of the deities with their zari medhas (tableaux), some are even office-bearers of the managing committees which conduct Durga Puja in Cuttack.
“There is nothing wrong if a Muslim joins a Hindu festival. We celebrate the Puja as Muslims and Hindus are like brothers and sisters,” S.M. Ansari said, adding that he oversees Durga Puja preparations every year at Tinikonia Bagicha in Cuttack city.
For Nizamuddin Ahmed, secretary of the Malgodown Durga Puja Committee in Cuttack, Dussehra is not less than Eid.
“We celebrate the festival with gaiety and fervour. Dussehra is in no way less than Eid,” said 65-year old Ahmed, who has been associated with the committee since 1970 and is now serving as secretary.
“It’s all about love and brotherhood between us,” he said.
In Cuttack, Muslim artisans also lend their skills in constructing marquees during Durga Puja. They design the backdrop of the Durga Puja Pandal every year.
“There is no difference between Hindus and Muslims. We have been working to design tableaux for Durga Puja. My family members have been involved in this business for years,” said Zaheer Khan, a Muslim artisan.
In Bhubaneswar, people are spreading a message of communal harmony and brotherhood in their unique style. The dazzling gate of Chandrasekharpur Puja pandal of Bhubaneswar bears the symbols of all religions including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism.
“God is one and we all are the sons of god. There are no differences between us. There should be no religious differences,” Saroj Mallick, secretary of a puja pandal, said.
He said Durga Puja was first started in the house of a Muslim, S.K. Sahajahan, in 2008, and the Brahmins who perform the rituals stayed at his house.
Over 300 major puja pandals in the twin cities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar have come alive with marvellous decorations and sparkling lights.
This year’s Durga Puja assumes significance as the 2013 and 2014 pujas were washed away by consecutive cyclonic storms Phailin and Hudhud.
Meanwhile, the Commissionerate Police have made elaborate security arrangements in the twin cities for traffic management and to prevent any untoward incident.
While 90 police platoons would be deployed, including 60 in Cuttack, close circuit television cameras have been installed at different places.