HYDERABAD: Muslims offering Friday prayers at the Mecca Masjid have never had a problem with the sounds of temple bells from the nearby Bhagyalakshmi temple at Charminar in the Old City of Hyderabad. Likewise, Hindus too have never complained of any disturbance when the Muslim community offers Namaaz at the historic mosque which is within a stone’s throw. Both communities appeared to be living in communal harmony until Friday when the overzealous policemen from the Hyderabad city police suddenly descended on the temple and ordered devotees not to ring the temple bell during Namaz time. The result: Devotees gathered outside the temple in large numbers leading to tension in the otherwise peaceful Charminar area.
Tension gripped Charminar in the morning with a section of people offering prayers at a place of worship defying police orders not to ring the temple bells in the afternoon. While the police prohibiting devotees from ringing the customary temple bells at a time when people of other section offer prayers at a nearby place of worship, devotees defied the police and offered prayers as it has been the practice for centuries.
Additional forces were deployed in the sensitive area to prevent any untoward incident ahead of the Milad-un-Nabi festival. TDP corporator from Mangalhat Raja Singh was taken into preventive custody suspecting that he was behind the ‘agitation.’
The trouble began with the city police reportedly ordering the management of the Bhagyalakshmi temple abutting the Charminar not to ring temple bells on Friday afternoon as people of the other community would also be offering prayers in their place of worship a few feet away around the same time.
Tension had been mounting for the past few days with devotees being up in arms against the police `diktat’ and planned to organise a `Maha Aarti’ at the temple coinciding with the Friday afternoon prayers at Mecca Masjid.
By noon on Friday, hundreds of devotees gathered at the temple and offered prayers amid tight security. Additional commissioner of police (law & order) Amit Garg and other senior officers supervised the security arrangements. The devotees offered prayers at noon and rang the temple bells and tried to take out `aarti’ around the Charminar but were prevented by the police. The devotees relented after police persuaded them not to go around the monument.
Even as the prayers were on, people belonging to the other community started gathering at Mecca Masjid for prayers. Police erected barricades to prevent vehicles from going towards the masjid and traffic was diverted via alternative routes. Police heaved a sigh of relief after the namazis completed their prayers and left the place. As a preventive measure, Raja Singh had been taken into custody the previous night and was detained at the South Zone Task Force office.
While the police said that the ringing of temple bells was a new thing, the temple management claimed that it is an age-old practice. ``Every Friday we offer `aarti’ six times _ at 7 am, 9 am, noon, 7 pm, 9 pm and 11 pm. We take out `aarti’ around the Charminar as the temple abuts it. This time we have been prevented by the police,’’ Shashikala, a member of the family of the founder of Bhagyalakshmi Temple Trust, said.
She alleged that the police are harassing them by issuing notices to close the temple by 9 pm and also to stop the Annadanam programme which is held on every Amavasya. ``The Muslims of the locality never objected to ringing of bells or any other programme. Only the police are harassing us and are threatening us on some pretext or the other,’’ she said.
City police commissioner AK Khan, who was present in the old city, refused to comment. ‘’I will not comment on the issue,’’ he said. Sources, however, said that the police were turning paranoid due to the Milad-un-Nabi on February 5.
Police said the issued flared up following publication in a vernacular daily a few days ago of a photograph showing a police constable holding the bell in a bid to prevent devotees from ringing it.
“Some people tried to complicate the issue by sending SMSes to gather at the temple today and also gathered students from a couple of colleges situated at Malakpet and Chikkadpally,’’ a senior officer said, adding that the practice of ringing temple bells at that time started just a couple of years ago. ‘’The matter has to be sorted out’’ DCP (south zone) Manish Kumar Sinha said.
The temple was built under the south-eastern minaret of Charminar which was built in 1591 by Quli Qutub Shah who shifted the capital from Golkonda to Hyderabad. The temple was built in memory of Bhagmati or Bhagyavati, his mistress.