Its the true confluence of faiths. In a unique endeavour, people of all religions have got together in a remote village in Keralas Kozhikode district to resurrect an ancient shrine that had fallen into ruin.
The centuries-old Chonamkunnu Siva temple at Pantheerankavu near Kozhikode has found new life, as a vibrant symbol of religious harmony. When Vishwanath Swamy, a reputed local herbalist, urged those who had benefited from his treatment to visit the decrepit shrine and light a lamp, little did he realise that his innocent prompting would trigger a spontaneous movement for the temples restoration. An overwhelming response to the restoration drive came from the predominantly Muslim residents of the area.
Members of the temple restoration committee recall that the first bags of cement used for reconstruction, after the site was cleared of wild shrubbery, were donated by Mammu Koya, a local Muslim businessman. "Many Hindus were hesitant when we approached them for contributions," a committee member recalls. "But our Muslim brothers did not ask questions. They readily gave what we asked for." Another Muslim businessman, Khalid Bhai, donated the temples public address system.
Committee president Soman and secretary Radhakrishnan, who had accompanied Swamy on his fund-raising rounds, recall that local Muslims and Christians donated most of the rice collected for the deity. Incidentally, an equal number of Hindus and Muslims constitute the majority in this panchayat. Christians are a small minority.
Though work is still on, the temple has come a long way from the time it lay buried under the wild foliage. "The Sivalingam which you see at the shrine now was buried under the stump of a huge banyan tree," says Rajagopal, a committee member. Extricating it was a cumbersome operation, he recalls. Once the lingam was installed at the sanctum sanctorum, the restoration work on the building began.
In a show of fraternal spirit, the Muslims of Pantheerankavu now eagerly participate in Hindu festivals. During Sivarathri, children from Muslim schools sit alongside their Hindu friends at the Siva temple and share the midday meal. The temple pond, part of a Muslim familys estate, was donated by it to the temple. Cash contributions also came from Muslim families in New Delhi and Gujarat. Ashik, a local Muslim, was drawn to the Siva temple because of his close association with the herbalist. Says he: "This is my message of communal solidarity."
A gratified Swamy thinks all this has happened quite spontaneously. He explains: "I never directed anybody to go to the temple. I merely put out a suggestion which was picked up wholeheartedly by everybody around here. People responded as human beings to my call, not as members of different faiths. I provide free treatment and when I effect a cure, I ask the patient to pay his respects at the temple if he is so inclined."
And so it was that a forgotten shrine slowly regained its sanctity. The first lamp was lit seven years ago, by a man who was treated by Swamy for infertility. When the couple had their first child, the herbalist advised them to take it to the temple.
Subramanium, unwitting initiator of this movement, recounts how he became the first person to light a lamp at Chonamkunnu: "Treated by Vishwanath Swamy for infertility, I became a father. Swamy then suggested I light a lamp at the Siva temple. I went and lit a lamp at another temple close by. Swamy was furious. He ordered me to go to this temple and not to return until I had done his bidding. That is how the first lamp was lit at the temple."
This episode has got woven into the myth surrounding this centuries-old Siva temple. Since then, it has become a practice for couples from far and wide to visit the temple with their infants.
The temples secular halo has caught public attention beyond the boundaries of the panchayat. High-profile devotees like Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer have attended its festivities. For the country folk who inhabit the area, the temple symbolises the triumph of the secular spirit that has turned a remote north Kerala village into an exemplar of communitarian harmony.