It has been for Hyderabad what India Gate is for Delhi and the Howrah Bridge is for Calcutta, a symbol of the city’s rich heritage. The 56-metre-tall Charminar, built in the late 16th century, graces almost every brochure about Hyderabad; the area around it is described as a bargain-seeker’s paradise. Now, it has become ground zero for the city’s latest communal conflict. The bone of contention is the small temple constructed beside the Charminar, and abutting on one of its four minars.
Even in 2010, the temple was much smaller, the police presence minimal. The structure, with its surrounding bamboo poles and canopy, is difficult to miss now, and a police checkpost tells of the simmering tension in the area. Large trees that flanked the Charminar police station and kept it out of view have been cut down, as if to afford a better field of view and deter trouble-mongers. Small traders like Sheikh Abdul Ghani say the Bhagyalakshmi temple’s size has increased over the last one-and-half years: “Woh grill aur canopy, lakdi, poore dedh saal mein aaye.”
An 8-by-10-feet structure flanked by bamboo frames with a tarpaulin-covered roof almost stuck in front of the Charminar’s south-eastern minar, the controversial Bhagyalakshmi temple is protected by a 24-hour police checkpost, and is open from 5 am to 10 pm. A company of 85 RAF men, 20 APSP officers, and mobile police vans patrol the area.
On the night of October 31, the lime screen (or jaali) on the roshan daan of the minar was broken to accommodate the fixing of a tin roof for the temple. Trouble brewed soon afterwards. In the violence that followed over the next two weeks, vehicles were burnt, people assaulted and shops closed down.
A well-known ASI stipulation prohibits the building of any kind of structure within 100 metres of a protected monument. But the Bhagyalakshmi temple seems to have slipped through such a stricture, helped, no doubt, by the apathy and negligence of authorities.
Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi, who recently withdrew his support to the Congress government over the issue, moved the Andhra Pradesh High Court and on November 4 obtained a stay order on any construction on the site. While the issue gets a communal colour, most political parties like the Congress Telugu Desam, TRS and YSR Congress are steering clear of the controversy. It appears to be a straight-out battle between the MIM and the BJP.
Meanwhile, heritage experts and historians wonder how the ASI and the government allowed a protected heritage structure to be vandalised this way.
State INTACH convener Anuradha Reddy was the first to raise a voice, with photographs from her collection showing the Charminar without a temple by its side. Reddy, 64, has since then been frequently questioned about her political leanings. “I am telling everyone that I belong to the Monument Party,” she says, laughing. “I have been visiting the Charminar from the late ’50s, and there was no temple there then. The photos I took when young and later prove the same. In the late ’60s, a small shrine came up with a photo and a diya. After a truck ran over a milestone around 1969 near the Charminar, it was replaced with a new one. A fencing came up then, and so did a small structure,” Reddy recollects.
Reddy explains that the concept of village goddesses and small shrines is common in Telangana, as elsewhere in India, and it’s not uncommon to see such shrines spring up by the roadside or under a tree. The Bhagyalakshmi temple appears to have a similar origin. Captain Panduranga Reddy, a researcher on Telangana and its customs, says he will soon be filing a PIL in the high court to seek relocation of the temple. “Even if one were to go by Agama shastras, there is no goddess by the name of Bhagyalakshmi. It is non-existent in Hindu iconography. Some people have simply named it after Hyderabad’s historic name, Bhagyanagar,” he claims.
Capt Reddy, who sought information under the RTI Act from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal
Corporation, says according to GHMC records, there are 900 temples in the twin cities. “I sought the information last month and there is no mention of the Bhagyalakshmi temple in records,” he asserts. However, according to State Endowment Department records, the temple is classified as a C(II) (6C) category institution that comes under the jurisdiction of the Hyderabad I Inspector Division of the Endowments Department. It bears the code no. 1722.
Historian and author Narendra Luther, who came to Hyderabad as a young IAS officer in the ’60s, says there was no temple near the Charminar then. “Later on, I noticed that there was a small idol where people placed coins. People who say Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, who built the Charminar, also built a small temple next to it are being plain ridiculous,” Luther says.
While the ASI and the state’s archaeology department are being blamed for napping as the temple grew, and it is being asked how the whole affair was not brought before the Heritage Conservation Committee (that regulates any modification of, and construction near, heritage structures), conservation activist and HCC member Sajjad Shahid says the damage is obvious. “There are serious violations and alterations to monuments all over Hyderabad. The state government is not even ashamed of admitting it can’t protect its monuments,” says an angry Sajjad. The magnificent facade of the Charminar, already fading because of poor conservation, now seems to be battling to hold on to its own space.
The true story of the Bhagyalakshmi temple (Mushroom Minarette, Dec 3) is that there was a silakaram (stone idol) from time immemorial at the site of the present temple. Bhagawati, a wife of Quli Qutub Shah, used to offer prayers here. After an outburst of plague, the Shah built the Charminar. Government endowment records are evidence of the temple’s existence for 200 years. The mim is playing dirty politics.
When so-called photographic evidence from the past is presented, do people realise that photographs of the Charminar can be taken in such a way that the Bhagyalakshmi temple does not show?
Photographic records of the Bhagyalakshmi temple do not exist because by the time photography was invented (early in the 19th century) the temple had been obscured by the construction of the Charminar over it.
Vineet Reddy, Hyderabad
The recent violence in Hyderabad was neither spontaneous nor sudden. It was the work of parties tapping into communal tension to generate a following. Also, the Bhagyalakshmi temple is a recent construction, and not an ancient shrine as claimed by the Hindu right wing.
K.S. Padmanabha, Secunderabad
I remember a temple in existence at the site of the present Bhagyalakshmi temple at least as far back as 1974.
Bowenpalle Venuraja Gopal Rao, Warangal
When shops encroached upon the Charminar, no one protested. People, and the authorities, have a problem only when temples—which many thousands believe sacred—come up again on sites where they stood hundreds of years ago before invading conquerors razed them and built mosques or memorial domes over them.
Paramvir Sawhney, Gurgaon
Sometime soon the BJP and the Sangh parivar will declare the site of the Charminar as the birthplace of some Hindu god/goddess or the other.
A new temple has no business coming up at an ancient monument like the Charminar. It’s a failure on the part of the authorities that the temple was allowed to come up there.
Sriram N., Bangalore
Once upon a time, the Charminar did not exist. Why not, in the name of antiquity, revert things to that state?
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
But secular people are well educated and affluent, so..
But secular people are well educated and affluent, so..
I do not want to sound like a politically correct romantic, but I have found the poor and lower classes more "broad minded". In Bombay slums you will find far more inter-religious( and intercaste) marriages than among educated middle class. The hold of bigotry is decreasing as this middle class is being open to influences from all over and is getting enlightened. But secularism among middle class has more effect than secularism among the poor, I agree.
Saroja, I agree with your four points. Thank you.
Responding to an earlier post of yours - I do expect more from seculars than I expect from religious people. Religion is based on faith so I don't expect logic or reason from Hindutva or Islamic fanatics. But secular people are well educated and affluent, so we have an obligation to behave in a better way. Sometimes facts and logic will lead us to agree with the "Hindutva" position, sometimes with the "Islamic" position. So be it.
>> hindutva term was coined by certain people to describe themselves
But these days, it is used almost exclusively by self-styled seculars to describe others.
In my opinion, a secular movement will say something like (I have amended your list a bit)
i) 59 persons, including 12 children, were burnt alive in Godhra by the horrific actions of a Muslim mob. It was no accident and nothing that is alleged to have happened on the platform justifies this mass murder. We want the criminals behind this to be caught and punished.
ii) Roughly 1,500 Muslims were killed by Hindu mob violence in the post-Godhra attacks. These people had nothing to do with the Godhra incident, and nothing that happened in Godhra can justify this pogrom. The people involved in these attacks must be caught and punished.
iii) There are allegations of prior conspiracies behind these attacks. We want a speedy and transparent investigations into these allegations and if found true, we want the masterminds to be caught and given exemplary punishment
iv) Whenever there is a gathering of a large number of people in an emotionally surcharged atmosphere, violence often erupts. We want a study of crowd management and riot control in other countries and implement their successful strategies here also. The government must study and implement measures to prevent such incidents from ever happening again.
>> R.Saroja - "I have some comments to make but am saturated today"
FedUP - And I am FedUP
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