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Monday, May 19, 2008

All about Vellore, near Chennai, India, with rich heritage of communal harmony

Vellore, the famous town in North Arcot District of Tamil Nadu, has been famous for communal amity. The town carries a considerable section of Muslim and Christian population apart from the majority Hindus who all co-exist peacefully. The town has a historical importance, as it was a happening place during Islamic and British rules notwithstanding the Hindu Kings' tenures before Islamic and British invasions. One of the most vibrant spots of the town is the famous 'Vellore Fort', which witnessed the 'Sepoy Mutiny' in 1806. This fort was built by the Reddy brothers (Bomma Reddy and Thimma Reddy), who were Nayakar Chieftains under the great Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagaram, during the 16th century. The fort comprises Jalakandeswarar Temple, a Church and an Islamic structure apart from a few government offices and a police training post. The fort is surrounded by a beautiful moat ('Agazhi' in Tamil), which never dries due to the presence of a perennial spring inside.

Though the Jalakandeswarar Temple was enhanced by a superior construction during Krishnadeva Raya'a period, the Hindu religious scholars are of the opinion that the deity is a 'Swayambu Lingam' belonging to "Dwapara Yuga". When Tippu Sultan invaded Vellore during the 18th century, he captured the fort and desecrated the Temple, but the Hindus were shrewd enough to save the Deities by removing them beforehand. During his stay there, Tippu Sultan demolished the tower ('Vimaanaa' in Tamil) of another 'Amman' (Nagalamman) Temple and constructed tombs in its place and converted it into a temporary prayer house for his soldiers. It was not a full-fledged Mosque and after Tipu's time it has never been used for conducting prayers. During British period, a Church was also constructed inside and since then prayers have been going on uninterruptedly. In the early twenties (1921), the fort and the entire complex were taken over by the ASI.

The Muslims never used the Tipu's make shift prayer house (desecrated Amman Temple) for their regular 'Namaas' and the Hindus could not conduct poojas in the temple, as the deities were still not replaced. Later on, in the early eighties (1981) after consistent and long drawn efforts, the Hindus brought back the deities from the safe custodial place (Sathuvachari near Vellore) and placed them in their respective places and consecrated the temple with the help of the then District Collector Gangappa and since then the prayers, poojas and festivities have become a regular affair.

With the recent passage of a resolution in the Vellore Municipality for allowing Muslims to conduct prayers inside the so-called prayer house, the TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) had given a call for the community to congregate at Vellore to conduct a massive Friday Namas. The Hindu organizations like Hindu Munnani and Hindu Makkal Kacthi have protested against this plan. The point to note here is that, the TMMK is an ally of the ruling DMK and the Vellore Municipality in dominated by DMK and its allies. The Hindu Makkal Katchi had declared that it would conduct a 'Kaavikkodi Poraattam' (Saffron Flag Demonstration) at the fort. After seeing the resentment from the Hindu organizations, the Chief Minister, while replying to the demand made by Congress MLA Gnanasekaran in the State Assembly, who wanted the Muslims to be permitted, had said that the state government could not do anything and that only the center could decide as the fort is maintained by ASI. Though
the CM has the capacity to convince his trusted ally TMMK to refrain from politicizing the issue, he keeps conspicuous silence after passing the buck to the center.

The State Police acted with alacrity and arrested cadres belonging to both TMMK and HMK as a preventive measure. An unprecedented security was also arranged in and around the fort with more than 2000 security personnel. Riot control vehicles, ambulances and fire engines were deployed and most of the district senior police officers were available on the spot. When thousands of TMMK cadres from rest of Tamil Nadu congregated and when they tried to get near the fort, the police prevented them. As they could not go near the fort, the TMMK cadres did 'namas' on the road from 12.30 pm to 12.45 pm and later dispersed.

Arjun Sampath, President of Hindu Makkal Katchi had said, 'the plan of TMMK is uncalled for and unwarranted. In the early eighties, when the Hindus strived hard to restart worshipping inside the Temple, the Muslims led by the late Abdul Samad have given in writing that they do not intend to conduct prayers inside the so-called Mosque, as they have a full fledged Mosque and a Dharga just out side the fort close to the moat. . Our Temple has been an ancient one and prayers have to be temporarily suspended due to the presence of Tippu's army and after independence, we have regained the worshipping rights through a long drawn battle. Also, the Muslims have never used the prayer house as a place of worship. As the local Jamaath leaders have come out against the TMMK in the interest of communal amity, in appreciation of their welcome gesture, we also wanted to withdraw our protest demo, but as TMMK was unrelenting, we decided to stay put. It has become a habit for TMMK to play politics and create problems for Hindus, with the connivance of the ruling party'.

Jaishankar, another leader of HMK had said, "The local Muslims co-exist with us peacefully and they are not interested in conducting prayers inside the prayer house, which could not be called as a real Mosque. They are satisfied with the Mosque, which already exists outside the fort near the moat. There is another village vilaankulam near Arcot, where ASI maintains a Mosque and a Cave Temple (Pandavar Gugai). Why TMMK is not showing any interests there? Why it always creates problems near Temple locales? We welcome, appreciate and thank the genuine stand of DMMK (Dravida Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) and the local Jamaath, who were against the TMMK'.

Sources said that thirty percent of Vellore's population is Muslims and they hold most of the businesses and the majority Hindus are their customers. Hence the local Muslims have been living with the Hindus in absolute peace and they have never allowed the extremist elements like Al Umma, TMMK and MNP to set up bases there. It seems there is an internal fight between TMMK (DMK ally) and Thowheed Jamath (inclined towards AIADMK) as to who represents the majority of Muslims in the state. As the Thouheed Jamaath has been organising a big event in Thanjavur, the TMMK had tried to utilize this ellore issue to counter it. But, the Communal amity and over all peace have prevailed over the nefarious designs of TMMK, thanks to the DMMK and local clerics.


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