2016年2月5日星期五

Contested Sites of History in Delhi and Hyderabad


Sometimes you find famous historical sites from a tourist guide and other times you realize how historically significant a site you visited was by doing reading. The latter often comes as surprises and it recently happened to me twice. I am currently researching on urban spaces and Muslim identity in India for a term paper.

Two separate articles mentioned a shrine near Mandi House, Delhi, and a Hindu temple under Charminar in Hyderabad. The shrine of Baba Sayyid Nanhe Mian Chishti was very famous for thwarting government attempts of demolition. (See article here: Jinnealogy Everyday life and Islamic theology in post-Partition Delhi by Anand Vivek Taneja) Anwar Sabri, the old caretaker of this mazar, took care of the place since the 1970s. He claims that

there have been no accidents at the Mandi House circle, where seven roads come together. The municipal authorities often gave him trouble, not wanting him or the grave here, and he has spent at least one night in jail. But the baba appeared in a dream to an engineer with the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, who was planning a “beautification” of the area that would led to the demolition of the grave to make way for a fountain. After the baba appeared to him in a dream, the engineer begged his forgiveness, moved the fountain in his plans to accommodate the grave, and even presented the baba with bags of cement to make the grave pakka, permanent... Many of the devotees, including many actors and staff from the nearby National School of Drama, have been coming here for the past thirty years, Anwar Sabri says. The baba has granted the wishes of many.
 Photo credits: Anand Vivek Taneja

When I was reading about the shrine, I kept on thinking whether or not I had seen it. Finally, I saw the picture on the next page and had the a-ha! moment. It was indeed the one I saw. Suspense was cleared. At that time, Deepak and I bought some snacks to eat before the main theater event. I asked whether or not we should sit on the ledge (where the yellow and black stripes are painted). I didn’t notice the shrine behind us, I just wanted to grab the nearest clean place I could sit. He noticed and said we could not because it was a holy site for Muslims. After reading the amazing story, I wondered if Deepak knew about it.
Picture I took at Mandi House while waiting for the play to start. The circle connects six big roads and one small road; it understandably attracts a lot of traffic and it is said that ever since the shrine was taken care by Mr. Sabri there have been no accidents. 
I also noticed the Hindu temple after visiting Charminar in December, 2015. This architecture is known for its Islamic legacy from the times of the Nawabs. I was a bit surprised to find a Hindu temple near it. Aesthetically, the two did not mesh together. But many visitors of Charminar were Hindu and paid their respects at the site. I thought this was probably an example of secular India, in which people of different religions want their religion represented everywhere. I read about this temple later in Dr. Zehra Fareen Parvez’s thesis: “the makeshift Hindu temple that was illegally constructed at the floor of the Charminar.” She explains that this construction was exchanged for Muslims’ unwritten right to use amplifiers for call of prayers or other announcements in Hyderabad. “Although amplification is banned in the city, there is a mutual understanding between the police and Muslim neighborhoods that the law will not be enforced.” I chuckled at this peculiar but quintessentially Indian arrangement. There are also people who falsely claimed that this temple existed before 1960s and clashes occurred in 2012 over this issue.
Bhagyalakshmi Temple which started as a shrine. Photo taken by Ayush Nadimpalli
To quote an anonymous Quora answer,
The Archeological Survey of India, in a [Right to Information] reply, finally conceded that the controversial Bhagya Laxmi Mandir, adjacent to historical Charminar is a recently constructed ‘unauthorized’ structure. Claims of this temple existing before 1960's is also rubbished by the following picture taken from The Hindu archives of 1957.
 I have much more respect for the Archeological Survey of India after reading about this dispute. The scholar in the article about the Delhi shrine lamented the lack of care for Muslim shrines and restricted access to the ASI files. But given that in India history is everywhere, involving lively debates (and sometimes physical fights), it is indeed a very tough task to treat all of them with due discretion.