The leaves from the bel patra (wood apple) tree in the compound of Aqsa Masjid are plucked to decorate the Shivling at Laxmi Narayan Mandir. The azaan is solemnized only after the chimes of temple bells and hymns of aarti end the next door. The mosque head greets temple priest with ‘Ram, Ram’ daily and the panditji ensures that devotees in the mosque do not face any problem during the holy month of Ramzan. Boxes of sweets and fruits are exchanged on Diwali and Eid. There is something more than a nine-inch thick wall that this temple and mosque — located in Somsons Colony of Malerkotla town in Sangrur — share in common. They call it ‘padosiyon ka pyaar’ (love for neighbours), a bond that “no election or politician” can weaken.
“Maamla to kuch Ayodhya wala hi hai, par ye hamari shaanti aur prem bhari Ayodhya hai. Yahaan ki shaanti koi bhang nahi kar sakta. Chunaav aur neta ka kya hai, ye to aate jaate rehte hain, par padosi ke saath to roz rehna hai, roz ek dusrey ki zarurat padti hai (The situation is quite similar to Ayodhya but this here is peaceful Ayodhya filled with love for each other. No one can disturb peace here. Elections and politicians will come and go but you have to live with your neighbours. We need each other),” says the temple priest Chetan Sharma (26).
Sitting next to him inside the temple, masjid maulvi Mohammad Hashim (26), agrees. “We do not talk mandir-masjid here. No one can instigate us. We help and greet each other everyday. From a ladder to water, we share everything”.
In the Muslim-majority Malerkotla town and Hindu-majority Somsons Colony with — it has some Sikh families but not a single Muslim household — Laxmi Narayan Mandir and Aqsa Masjid stand next to each other, as a testimony to the communal harmony fabric of this town and to the fact that this bond survives incidents like that of sacrilege threatening their peace, every time there are elections.
The mosque head, Mohammad Shabbir (37), remembers how in 2016, when Quran sacrilege rocked the town leading to an arson, the Hindus and Sikhs in the colony had stood by them. “Hindu aur Sikh bhai masjid ke saamne khadey they. Hamare saath khadey they (Hindus and Sikhs guarded the mosque. They stood by us). There was no tension here at least,” he says.
And Pandit Sharma cannot agree more. “Netaon ka to kaam hai ladwaana, siyaasi rotiyaan sekte hain. (Politicians function by making communities fight. They just play politics). We do not invite any politicians here. Incidents like sacrileges and curfews take place but we never stop talking to each other. Nor do we discuss elections,” he says.
To ensure that the peace is never compromised, both temple and mosque have got CCTV cameras installed. “People try to create tension and the mosque will be blamed. So we both got cameras installed),” adds Sharma.
While the mosque is said to be at least five decades old, even before Somsons Colony came into existence, the temple was inaugurated on February 11, 2016. It was a memorable sight. “Muslim brothers from mosque served snacks and tea to welcome us and devotees. We invite them on all occasions like Diwali, Dussehra and other pujas,” says Sharma.
“We had also arranged water and power supply when temple was under construction. Whenever there is murti sthapna (idol installation) or any other occasion, we arrange snacks. Both are God’s abode,” says Shabbir. “Vote for whomsoever you want, but don’t bring your politics here,” adds Shabbir
He greets Sharma with “Panditji Ram Ram” everyday, as they sit either in the temple or the mosque for a chit-chat. “Ram is a God and so is Allah,” he says.
So how exactly these two neighbors adjust with each other’s routine? It is all about willingness to stand together, they say.
During ongoing Ramzan, the temple people ensure that there is enough space for mosque goers to offer namaaz. “We help them in parking vehicles to avoid any inconvenience to locals. We have aarti and azaan timings fixed and coordinated. Aarti begins at 6.30 pm and as it ends, azaan begins, likewise in morning. We get bel patra from a tree in mosque. Colony residents here bow in front of both shrines irrespective of their religion,” says Sharma.
“Whenever there is a programme at mosque, we inform pandit ji in advance. For every small need, we go to each other without hesitation. We gift them sweets on Eid and they do likewise on Diwali,” says Shabbir.
“One thing is clear that politics will never enter or affect our relationship. no matter who wins or loses in these elections. One just needs a place to remember God and that is what mandir and masjid is all about,” says Sharma. The priest feels that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a “good leader dedicated towards the country’s welfare” but maulvi Hashim begs to differ. However, a difference of opinion here is much welcomed.
Few kilometers away at Talaab Bazaar, where pataashey (prasad) from Mohammad Yasin’s shop are offered by devotees at Hanuman Mandir located opposite to it, he sums up what elections mean for this town. “Ye log ladwaane ki koshish karte hain par hum phir bhi nahi ladte (Politicians try to divide us, but we remain united). Our Hindu friends hold iftaar for us and we gift them on Diwali.. Apna sheher kyun khraab karna (Why to spoil our own town),” he says.
As per Census 2011, there are around 92,000 Muslims; 28,000 Hindus and 12,800 Sikhs in Malerkotla.