Maharashtra: The Muslims who will not offer ‘qurbani’ on Eid al-Adha this year

Ashadi Ekadashi falls on the same day as Bakri Eid, thus cops apprehend attempts to destroy communal harmony in the Solapur district

Representative image; A man walks with goats he bought from a market, before the upcoming Muslim festival Eid al-Adha in 2021 in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.(photo: Getty Images)
Representative image; A man walks with goats he bought from a market, before the upcoming Muslim festival Eid al-Adha in 2021 in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.(photo: Getty Images)

Sujata Anandan

Warkaris, or pilgrims, who walk to the Vithal-Rukmani temple at Pandharpur in the Solapur district of Maharashtra have always been a fertile hunting ground for politicians of all hues, including the atheist Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar.

Lakhs of the pilgrims begin walking from all parts of the state two months ahead of Ashadhi Ekadashi (usually falling in July) in the biggest ever rural gathering of worshippers at any temple in the state, beating even those who undertake the walk to the Saibaba temple at Shirdi, again in the weeks before Guru Purnima, which also falls in July. However, walkers to Shirdi come from all over the country and are mostly urban dwellers, so they have a scattered demographic profile.

The warkaris have organised ‘Dindi’ marches annually, with palkis (palanquins) wherein they carry the padukas (traditional shoes) of the popular saints like Dyaneshwar and Tukaram to mark the journey of these saints to this temple centuries ago – the tradition is said to be at least a seven centuries old. 

The palki tradition is so significant to the warkaris that during the Covid lockdown, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra had flown the padukas to Pandharpur by helicopter so as not to break the tradition. During the British era, the palanquins were drawn by horses, now they are simply carried on their shoulders by pilgrims, men as well as women.

But in all of these years, in known memory, the Pandharpur festival has never clashed with another festival of a different religion. This year, though, Ashadhi Ekadashi, which goes by the lunar calendar, falls on the same day as Eid al-Adha or Bakri-Eid, according to the solar calendar — both falling on June 29, 2023. 

Given the manner in which Hindutva groups affiliated to the Sakal Hindu Samaj patronised by the ruling party, are attempting to cause rifts between Hindus and Muslims on trivial issues like Whatsapp statuses, police authorities in the state, who seem not to be as radicalised as some of their counterparts in other states, were predictably worried at how these groups might take advantage of the qurbani that Muslims offer on Bakri Eid and cause a conflagration with at least 10 lakh warkaris gathered at Pandharpur.

Thus, in and around the district of Solapur, they called a meeting of various Muslim groups exhorting them to restrain themselves in case the Hindutva groups offer provocation on that day. But then the Muslim community members said they would not sacrifice goats on Ashadi Ekadashi at all. According to religious tradition, they are allowed to offer qurbani for three days after Bakri Eid. 

So they will only offer prayers on the day and begin the sacrifices the next day when most of the warkaris would have already dispersed from Pandharpur after worship which usually ends after the chief minister of the state offers puja inside the sanctum sanctorum. 

Despite his atheism, Pawar kept up the tradition during his multiple terms as chief minister. So did the late A.R. Antulay, the only Muslim chief minister of the state so far. Neither the pilgrims nor any members of the Muslim community had had any problem with Antulay who usually launched his election campaign after seeking blessings at the Anjarle Ganesh temple in his Raigad parliamentary constituency. 

That syncretic tradition seems to not have been destroyed yet. This year Muslim pilgrims took out a palki of Sufi Saint Sheikh Mohammad Maharaj said to be the guru of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s grandfather, from Srigonda in Ahmednagar to Pandharpur — and it was a traditional palanquin covered with several chadars (blankets) of flowers in the Islamic style. Those carrying that palanquin chanted ‘Panduranga, Panduranga’ over 21 days — these Muslim pilgrims, like the Hindu warkaris, were also dressed in white, with the traditional rural white caps (not unlike the Gandhi topis) and they too carried the padukas of the Sufi Saint for a darshan (visit) of Vithoba at Pandharpur.

It is not surprising then that the sinister designs of the Hindutva groups are not being allowed to come to fruition. Muslims from nearby areas, including Aurangabad (recently renamed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar) have stepped back on the sacrifice and will undertake their rituals only after the pilgrims have taken a holy dip in the Chandrabhaga River. That was a serious apprehension of the police authorities for there were some reports that the river could be polluted with red (colour or blood) to provoke the pilgrims and that would have set Maharashtra in flames.

Last year, as the Shiv Sena split around July with no clarity on who ruled the state, former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who had presided at the temple over the previous two years, stepped back and gave the right of way to Eknath Shinde to offer the puja. 

This year too Shinde will conduct the puja in a tradition that was broken only once in 2018 when former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis did not step into the temple out of fear that the pilgrims were carrying snakes that they would let loose in the temple to have him bitten and killed in the middle of his puja. That had created much outrage and, predictably, along with a lathi charge on pilgrims this year as they walked to the temple (first time in known history), the BJP seems to have lost much ground among the warkaris. The hypocrisy of the BJP was also obvious when they allowed temples to offer goat sacrifices on Dassehra last year while the right-wing ecosystem tried to vitiate the atmosphere during Bakri Eid.

But knowing the significance of this rural gathering Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao who plans to branch out with his Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) party into Maharashtra has already arrived in Pandharpur with a 60-car convoy. There is one other politician who never misses his date with Vitobha any year since 1992 — former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh who is also camping in Pandharpur.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the state control over the administration of the Pandharpur temple. Several months later, the petition is yet to be heard by the courts.

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