Striking a note of harmony, amidst the recent flare-up of communal issues in Karnataka, the historic Chennakeshava temple at Belur in Hassan district kick-started the annual rathotsava (chariot festival) celebrations this year after verses of the Quran were recited in keeping with the syncretic tradition followed there for years.
Following the tradition, which according to locals have been practised for centuries, Syed Sajjad Basha, Khaji of Dodda Meduru, chanted verses from the Quran on Day 1 of the two-day rathotsava festival on April 13, after which the chariot was pulled.
According to authorities there, it is not clearly known as to when the tradition of reciting Quranic verses began at the fair in the temple, which was built by Hoysala rulers.
However, the temple manual, which dates back to 1932, has a mention about the tradition, which is being followed to this day, they said.
Belur was the erstwhile capital of the Hoysalas and referred to as Velapur, Velur and Belahur at different points in history.
The temple, which is known for its sculptural extravaganza, was consecrated by the famous Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana to mark his victories in 1116 AD against the Cholas.
Thousands of people had gathered at the rathotsava that saw Lord Chennakeshava, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, being carried out in a chariot after Basha read out the verses from the Islamic scripture.
Basha recited the verses in the presence of temple authorities, with local leaders and a large gathering of people, standing at the foot of the chariot.
He said the practice has been followed for generations by his ancestors and that his son and grandson too would follow the same.
“I have been chanting Quranic verses at the festival for the last 50 years now. It is done to pray that Chennakeshava Swami does good for all. All of us, whether Hindu or Christian or Muslim, should live peacefully together and there should be no differences among us.”
Former minister and JD(S) MLA H.D. Revanna, who participated in the event, said the tradition has been followed for ages and has to be continued.
“People of all communities—Hindus, Muslims, Christians—all should live together peacefully. This might be the intention with which the tradition was started. Let’s not allow any forces to divide us,” he said.
A local resident said there was no rathotsava for the last two years due to the coronavirus pandemic but stated that the festival was celebrated in a grand fashion this time, by following all traditions, including chanting of the verses.
There was confusion about following the practice, as authorities had initially issued a notice barring non-Hindu traders from setting up stalls, following the controversy regarding a call for ban on non-Hindu traders from Hindu religious fairs that had rocked the state.
However, the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Muzrai) Department subsequently took suggestions from stakeholders and priests, and decided to go ahead with the tradition, an official said.
Non-Hindu traders were also allowed to set up stalls and participate in the festivities, he said, adding that about 15 Muslim traders had set up their shops this year, amid the controversy.
There have been a series of communal issues that have rocked the state in the past few months. It started with the hijab row, followed by calls to ban non-Hindu traders from Hindu religious fairs, and then a campaign to boycott halal meat and shutting down of loudspeakers at mosques.