For 67-year-old Shaukat Ali, it has become customary to catch a glimpse of the triad of deities- Jagannath, Balabhadra and sister Subhadra- as they emerge out of their temple abode every year. Ali says he is an ardent participant in the annual festivities because of tradition and mutual respect.
“I along with family members celebrated Eid festival on Saturday. Later in the day, I went to the grand road to watch the car festival. Every year, we never miss the car festival,” quipped Ali.
“When I was a teenager, I first witnessed the event. Since then, it has become an annual ritual for my family. Hindus appreciate our participation in the festival. The trend has passed on to the next generation. Now my grand children watch the pulling of chariot every year,” remarked Ali.
Like him, many from the Muslim community play a part in chariot festival with melting of religious barrier. As the chariot slowly makes its way through the streets, the grand event continues to evoke enthusiasm among Muslims.
And this spirit of amity is not restricted to the rath yatra alone. Hindus also participate in festivals observed by Muslims. “Hindus join in our Eid and other festivals. The two communities also attend each other’s marriages and other ceremonies,” said Mir Obeda, a local resident.
“Kendrapara is enriched with legacy of communal amity and brotherhood,” said Mohammad Akbar Ali, former chairman, Kendrapara municipality, Odisha.
Muslims comprise around one/third of population in urban areas here. Leaving aside stray cases of disharmony, both the ommunities respect each other’s religious practice, he said.
Though there is a strict restriction on non-Hindus from entering the world famous temple in Puri, there is no bar on them from participating in the car festival,” said Nrusingha Patri, a servitor.
“I actively participate in rath yatra. I have pulled the chariot. I derive immense pleasure in doing so,” said Shabir Khan from Jayipura locality Kendrapara.