Whether we are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh or none of these ― we are all one; those who try to divide us should be shown the door, says OSWALD PEREIRA
I have a proud legacy. It’s not a legacy of riches or power. It’s a legacy of living in harmony with my brothers and sisters from different religions and communities. In fact, almost all of us Indians have this legacy. It’s a legacy that, I firmly believe, cannot be destroyed by divisive, vote bank politics.
I hail from Kolbad in Thane. During my childhood, Kolbad was a small village, where Hindus, Christians and Muslims lived together harmoniously. Christians (Catholics to be precise) then were larger in numbers than other communities. But then I hadn’t heard of the terms, majority and minority communities.
Now Kolbad is no more a village, but an urban conglomerate of high-rise society buildings. The demographics, too, have changed and Catholics have been outnumbered. But religious and communal harmony that has prevailed for centuries, continues to reign like before. There has never ever been a communal clash in Kolbad. And, I bet on my life, there never will be.
As a boy in Kolbad, I recall that our favourite meeting place during the day after school was an ancient banyan tree, which blessed us with its shade and was big enough to accommodate the whole gang of youngsters. The centuries-old tree still stands tall today.
Facing the banyan tree, a mere 30 metres away, right in the centre of the road, was the cross, venerated by the Christian community living there. The cross, painted white, still stands ― a testimony to religious and communal harmony.
As children, the only day when we didn’t sit under the banyan tree was on the annual ‘Wad Puja’. On puja day, elegant women, in their best finery would go around the banyan tree, wrapping it with thread, offering aarti to the sacred tree, praying that their husbands would have a long and healthy life like the strong and sturdy tree.
Behind the tree was a Shiva temple. When devotees rang its bells, it seemed like music to our ears. But we continued with our childish talk, even as worshippers walked in and out of the temple.
Barely thirty feet away from the banyan tree was the village well. Both children and adults swam in the village well. Labourers working in mills and factories, who were not residents of Kolbad and lived in hutments some distance away, without access to a public tap or any other source of water, used to bathe at the well and carry home water in the same buckets that they used for bathing.
When Catholics in the village got married, a day before the wedding ceremony, water would be drawn from the well as it was an age-old custom called ‘Umbracha Pani’. The bride-to-be and other women in the family would wear traditional pink sarees. They would go dancing to the well to draw water. Relatives and friends danced along behind the bride with a pink umbrella.
The village well would be adorned with white strips of paint to mark the occasion. The next day, before going to Church, the marriage party would first visit the Shiv Mandir to pay obeisance and make offerings. The ancestors of the Catholics in the village were Hindus some centuries ago. And they had not forgotten their roots. Only after they paid their respect to Shiv in the temple, did they go to the cross to pray to Jesus Christ.
The fact that Hindus, Muslims and Christians were like brothers became more evident every evening, when boys of all faiths would meet at the cross. We would sit on the steps of the cross. But unlike the banyan tree, the cross was not big enough to host the whole gang; so late comers, had to stand.
The gatherings continue, although lifestyles have changed and no one now has the time to hang around the cross or banyan tree in large groups as in the ’50s and ’60s. Still, the boys and sometimes men of the different communities meet for intercommunity sports events like cricket and football matches.
And so, to this day, the cross continues to be a witness to communal harmony and inter-faith communion. During the Govinda celebrations, the names of the winners of the Dahi Handi contest are displayed on the cross. Krishna and Christ must surely be smiling at the mingling and unity of their people.
I have relocated to Noida now. But I continue to maintain ties with my folks back home in Kolbad. My ancestral home, Green Villa, faces the cross. My younger brother lives there with his wife and two children, enjoying communal harmony.
Says an old Kolbad resident, Clive Reynolds, who is my cousin from my mother’s side of the family, “Religion is an integral part of Kolbad village celebrations and any festival begins with due adoration of God, the Almighty who is at the centre of our lives; with this in mind, the villagers decorate the temple, the cross and the grotto of Saint Sebastian and celebrate in unity.”
Clive says: “Villagers of Kolbad have realised that to have peace of mind, they must respect each other’s religions and it’s this belief that binds all together. Differences in religious beliefs and practices should not hinder the progress of people coming together in cooperation in the true spirit of service.”
“Both Hindus and Catholics participate in festivals of the village and this harmony has built a special bond among generations, who have come together to live like one family,” adds Clive, who is also part of the committee for Saint Sebastian feast celebrations.
Incidentally, Sebastian is the patron saint of Kolbad. The feast of Saint Sebastian is 126 years old. It goes back to a plague that hit Kolbad, and which brought all to pray together to Saint Sebastian. The villagers were saved from the plague. Every year, a nine-day novena is still held when the faithful pray at the village shrine or grotto of Saint Sebastian, culminating in a grand celebration on January 26, to commemorate the victory over the plague.
The Cross Feast is held on the last Sunday of the month of May. A month-long rosary service is held in May at the cross and is attended by the villagers. As a boy, I vividly recall the temple turning down their sound system without even being asked to if they happened to be having a celebration at the same time ― to allow their Catholic folk to recite their rosary.
The Shiv Mandir, better known as Jagmata Shankar Temple, was built around the same time as the Saint Sebastian Shrine, though some villagers say that it dates back to 150 years. It was first renovated in 1982. Then this year there were more enhancements. Both the temple and the shrine are heritage sites.
“The temple was recently renovated again and the young enthusiastic generation has made it look lovelier,” adds Clive.
All the pictures and the video for this article were arranged by Clive. He is a living testimony to a Catholic who loves his Hindu brothers like his own and lives in harmony with them, like a part of their community.
The message of this article is clear: whether we are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh or none of these ― we are all one. Those who try to divide us should be shown the door.
Below is a video welcoming Jagmata Devi into the temple
(Featured Image: The Cross and the Temple facing each other, coexist harmoniously in Kolbad. All pictures and video Courtesy: Clive Reynolds)