Friday, October 23, 2009

Muslims make 'chulhas' for Chhath devotees

Courtsey :

PATNA: Soon after Durga Puja, Mohd Muslim and his family get busy in procuring clay and other materials to make clay and mud chulhas' exclusively

for Chhath festival. The devotees purchase these chulhas' and cook Chhath prasad on them using firewood.

Mohd Alauddin, Imtiaz, Maimoona Khatoon, Sarwari, Nasso, Shamila Khatoon and others spend days making these chulhas. These are sold in the market a few days prior to the Lord Bhaskar's festival of devotion.

"We have been doing this for years and now it is like a devotion for us to prepare these chulhas," said 55-year old Mohd Muslim.

Mohd Makkan, who has been doing this for over 25 years, said the Chhath devotees prefer to purchase the chulhas from them.

"We do it with full devotion and take care that no dirt touches the chulhas," said Umaida Khatoon.

These families live at Adalatgunj, the locality besides the posh Beer Chand Patel Path here. The chulhas are sold in the markets on Serpentine Road, Meethapur, Bailey Road and other places. The cost of the chulhas range between Rs 25 and Rs 35.

At Adalatganj there are over 100 huts along the hyacinth-filled nullah and people living in almost all of them do this work in the run-up to Chhath. At other times of the year they sell stainless steel utensils.

"During this (Chhath) period, we simply engage ourselves in making chulhas and do no other work," said 30-year-old Imtiaz, whose wife and mother also help in the job.

Belonging to the extremely backward Bakkho caste, they have faith in Hindu gods and goddesses, besides their own religion -- Islam.

Said Nisa Khatoon (55): "We observe all festivals and we have faith in Hindu devi-devtas."

This besides, there are about two dozen families in this slum where the women members observe Chhath puja. "I, too, observe it every year. Though this time I cannot do it because of some problem," she said.

Alauddin said it is a matter of faith. "Sometimes ours desires are fulfilled with the grace of the Goddess and we perform puja," he said.

And what about their own festivals?

"Yes, we also observe Eid, Bakrid and Muharram," Muslim retorted.

Sarwari Khatoon was a little irritated, though.

She said cost of materials has increased and the buyers were not paying more. "They want it for Rs 10-15. We cannot afford to sell so cheap," she said while loading the chulhas on a thela to be taken to the market for sale.

Poverty is acute and litereacy rate is almost nil among these people. The police and people living in nearby apartments regard them as Bangladeshi refugees and anti-social elements. A petition has also been filed in the Patna High Court accusing them of encroaching the vacant land and erecting over a hundred huts.

Muslim said during the past 20 years, they had been driven out from half-a-dozen places in the state capital.

"If we are driven out, who will make chulhas for Chhath?" asks Alauddin.