Building places of worship has been a thorny issue in many places in India, attracting political meddling and fomenting communal tension.
Not a single temple was built in Bharathipuram, a hamlet in Dindigul district, for over 16 years after clashes between two communities. However, religious devotion helped transform the locality into a symbol for amity as local youth joined hands to build an inter-religious place of worship.
The Kumbabishekam (consecration) of the newly-built shrine with Sri Sai Baba as the main deity was held on Tuesday and attended by more than 4,000 people.
The new temple’s entrance has symbols of the three major faiths-Hinduism, Islam and Christianity- and is a testament to the persistence of local youth, who faced significant opposition from their respective communities. In 1997, a Ganesha temple in Bharathipuram was destroyed after a communal clash.
While the violence subsided, the incident led to a period of tension. Attempts to erect temples were abandoned due to fears.
It was in this atmosphere of distrust and fear that a group of youth- Veeramanikandan, Baatsha, Abullah Rehman, Arunagiri Appan, Kumar, Mani, Shankar, Ayyappan, Boopathy and Asif Khan-joined hands to build a interreligious shrine.
Veeramanikandan said that they had initially broached plans for a interreligious shrine with village elders, but were told to abandon it.
“However, we convinced them after a long time,” Veeramanikandan explained. “We did not want communal unrest to recur in future, so we agreed to the plan,” revealed Rafique Ahmed (70).
After having won popular ‘approval’ for the proposed shrine in February, Veeramanikandan and his friends embarked on a fund-raising drive for the shrine, targeting people from all religious groups.
“We collected nearly `4 lakh from locals, priests from both major religions, businessmen, and politicians across Dindigul,” said one of the youth. Fittingly, the idol of Sai Baba, worth almost `45,000, was sponsored by a Christian. The shrine is about 10 feet long, 15 feet wide and 15 feet high.
Residents lauded the initiative to build the temple and said that they contributed to the shrine fund.
The shrine to Sri Sai Baba at Bharathipuram may not stand out in terms of dimensions, building material and cost but it has achieved something great-showing that one does not need to compromise on religious devotion to ensure harmony.