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Shiva's Muslim priest

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By MUZAFFAR RAINA in Srinagar
  • Published 16.02.07
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Srinagar, Feb. 16: It was Shivratri in Kashmir tonight and the bells at the Maharani temple were ringing as they always did.

The priest left long ago but a Muslim youth has kept the flame of Shiv bhakti burning at the temple.

“I have been performing the pujas regularly in the temple and the bells never stopped ringing here,’’ said Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, the 39-year-old Muslim priest of Mohineshwari Shivalaya, a Shiv temple at Gulmarg that is also known as Maharani temple.

When most of the Kashmiri Pandits fled the Valley, the decades-old temple was left without a caretaker.

“It was my uncle who took over as its priest. After his death a few years later, I took over the job,’’ said Sheikh, who makes a living through an honorarium and the gifts from devotees.

“I recite the verses from the holy Gita and do all the things that any Hindu priest does. Most of the people who come to the temple these days are tourists and I perform aarti for them.”

Sheikh, however, says he continues to be a devout Muslim. “After performing the puja, I offer namaz regularly.”

The temple was built by Mohini Bai Sisodhia, wife of the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, in 1915.

Like other temples, it was frequented by many Kashmiri Pandits, particularly on Shivratri, before the militancy.

With most Pandits having migrated, a minuscule population and tourists have kept the tradition of celebrating Shivratri alive.

Hundreds of devotees, mostly outsiders, today thronged the historic Shankar Acharia temple in Srinagar to pay their obeisance.

“We are celebrating the festival with great fervour even now. There is a tradition among Kashmiri Pandits to celebrate this festival in our homes. We do not go to any particular temple on this occasion except the one in our locality,’’ said M.L. Bhat, president, Hindu Welfare Society.

The only thing missing, he rued, was the presence of his loved ones. “It was our tradition that every family member would be present on this occasion, but that isn’t the case now. But we will be sending prasad to them.”