Of late, the communal forces, both of Hindus and Muslims, have been raising their ugly heads all over the country in an alarming way. These elements, with their divisive words, thoughts and deeds, have striving to vitiate the socio-cultural-political atmosphere of the country for serving their vested interests. One familiar agenda they very often resort to, is to focus on and propagate systematically the incidents of conflict among different communities with their distorted versions. But there are numerous instances in our society that carry the message of genuine understanding, co-operation and harmony among various communities. Highlighting such positive episodes may be an effective way for countering the ill-motivated designs of the communal forces. The Manikut Utsav, celebrated at Hajo, the Temple City of Assam is bright example of Hindu-Muslim unity which the entire country should take note of.
The Manikut Utsav is a religio-cultural procession organized at Hajo on the first day of the Assamese month Magh. The procession starts from the Poa Mecca gate on the Garurachal Hill and ends at the Hayagriva Madhav Temple on the Manikut Hill. The Khadim of Poa Mecca Dargah and the Dolai of Panchatirtha (Haigriv Madhav, Kedar, Ganesh, Kameswar and Kamaleswar) jointly inaugurate and lead the procession. Thousands of people take part in the procession with great zeal and enthusiasm. Distinguished personalities in the fields of literature, art and culture of Assam consider it a privilege to be present on the occasion. Performance of Jikirs, Nam-Prasangas, Bihu-geets and other folkloristic items sounds out the gospel of communal harmony loud and clear and turns the gathering into a vibrant and colourful one.
The Manikut Utsav came into being in the year 1993. On 6 December 1992, the almost five-century old Babri Masjid was demolished by a section of Hindu communal outfits. This triggered a spate of communal violence in various parts of the country. Sporadic incidents of communal conflicts took place in certain areas of Assam also. The age-old tradition of communal harmony and peaceful co-existence of the state seemed to be in jeopardy. In such a situation, the right-minded people and organizations thought in necessary to uphold the message of communal harmony and brotherhood in the form of Manikut Utsav. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) took a bold initiative towards this noble cause.
Taufiq Hussain, the present Khadim of Dargah
Aniruddha Sarma, a priest of Haigriv Madhav mandir says
Ashini Kumar Sarma, secretary of Haigriv Madhav temple
Viewed in the backdrop of Hajo’s religious, cultural and historical heritage, the birth of a festival of communal harmony like Manikut Utsav seems to be quite natural. Hajo has been famous as the “Tribeni Sangam” ( confluence of three streams) of Assam since ancient times. These three streams are–Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Hajo figures prominently in some ancient scriptures like the Kalikapurana of the 11th century AD and is home to five famous Hindu temples known as the Panchatirtha. Of these temples, the Hayagriva Madhav on Manikut Hill is the most famous one. The Poa Mecca on Garurachal Hill is an important Islamic shrine that contains the tomb of Ghiyasuddin Awliya, a Sufi saint of the 13th century AD. The Buddhists of Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh believe that Mahamuni Gautam Buddha attained his Mahaparinibbana under a sal tree at Hajo. They consider the idol of Hayagriva Madhav to be that of Gautam Buddha and visit it in the month of Magh. They would take with them some amount of sacred soil from Hajo in their return journey. The stone-carved elephant symbols on the Hayagriva Madhav temple carry the significance of Buddhist belief.
On the occasion of Ashokastami festival, a religious procession is taken out with the idol of Hayagriva from the Hayagriva Madhav temple upto the bank of the Brahmaputra at Sualkuchi. This procession is mandatory to be escorted by a section of local Muslims known as the “Saukadhara” ( Stick bearers). These local Muslims have the voting rights in the election of the Dolai of the Panchatirtha. Again, on the occasion of the Shivaratri festival in the Kedar temple which is just below the Poa Mecca, a representation from the Poa Mecca Dargah would offer “Sidha” ( materials) to support the festival. Another representation from the Kedar temple would do the same on the day of “final Urus” ( a Muslim religious ceremony) at the Poa Mecca. In the medieval history of Assam, Hajo occupied an important position as the centre of tripartite politics between the Ahoms, the Muslims and the Koch dynasties. At times, they fought against each other and, at times, they enter into treaties with each other. Hajo has been attracting peoples of diverse races, castes, creeds and cultures to its breast since time immemorial. The very name of the city “Hajo” itself derives from a Bodo word “Hajw” meaning uplands or hills and it indicates its ancient association with the Indo-Mongoloid people. It is in this context that the significance of the Manikut Festival could be best understood.
The author is grateful to Dr Nur Islam Saikia, Professor of Cotton University, Angshuman Sarma, Ph.D Scholar of JNU and Siddhartha Dutta for their valuable information and suggestions in preparing this article