The Muslim families preparing clothes and bags for the pilgrimage season are offering special discounts to the Kanwariyas as they see some spiritual connection between the pilgrims and their activity.
Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India
THERE are numerous examples of communal harmony emanating from India’s backyard. In the torrid times when Hindu-Muslim polarisation is constructed on the Indo-Gangetic plains to erect the edifice of the Hindu Rashtra such instances of communal harmony are heartwarming. One such story comes from Gorakhpur, UP.
Here in this town of UP, many Muslim families are engaged in preparing clothes and bags for the ‘Kanwariyas’ who go on a pilgrimage to worship Lord Shiva during the monsoon to Sultanganj in Bihar. The Kanwariyas travel hundreds of miles to fetch holy water from the Ganga before resuming their journey back to make offerings at different local shrines of Lord Shiva.
The annual pilgrimage is made in July which coincides with the “Saawan” (rainy season) of the Hindu calendar. The Kanwariyas on their pilgrimage wear saffron-colour attire throughout their long devotional journey.
There are many Muslim families in Gorakhpur that start preparing the accessories the Kanwariyas need during their pilgrimage months before the start of the season. They first soak white cloth into orange colour that has Shiva in ocher and then go on to sew these clothes. The cloth bags are also decorated with printed images of Lord Shiva on them.
These Muslim families make the clothing ready in their homes for the middlemen to pick them up and sell in the market. These are sold in the adjoining districts of Gorakhpur and are even sent to Bihar.
The Muslim families living in Gorakhpur’s Piprapur, Rasulpur, Zafar Colony, and Elahibagh locality earn three to four lakh rupees every season stitching the Kanwariyas’ clothing. This is a major source of their income and covers the daily expenses of their livelihood for the entire year.
The Covid 19 had a serious setback on the business of those families that survive on stitching saffron garments. There were restrictions on the Kanwariyas’ movement since 2020, and as a result, the Muslim families of Gorakhpur suffered due to the loss of orders. However, thanks to the changed situation in 2022, the Kanwariyas’ pilgrimage commenced once again. So, the demand for orange clothes and bags has once again increased, providing an opportunity to the Muslim families of Gorakhpur to work.
This year, the Muslim tailoring communities are happy that their business is revived after a long hiatus. They feel this has happened due to divine intervention. They are offering special discounts to the Kanwariyas as they see some spiritual connection between the pilgrims and their activity. The Muslim cloth makers feel that if they can do something good for the devotees of Shiva, they may be rewarded with more opportunities to earn their livelihood.
There is a reason for such belief. Some 13 years ago when a poor Kanwariya approached Mohammad Kaleem, a tailor at Zafar Colony in Tiwaripur locality of Gorakhpur, to make a dress and a bag for him to go for the ‘Bol Bum’ pilgrimage. Kaleem made for him but when he asked for money he got none. Kaleem gave the stitched cloth to this poor Kanwariya for free. To his surprise, the next day this man came with a dozen Kanwariyas for their dresses and they all paid Kaleem the due amount. Since then, Kaleem and his entire community remain busy making dresses for Kanwariyas every monsoon season.
Every year, thousands of Kanwariyas travel from Gorakhpur to Sultanganj in Bihar to collect water from the holy Ganges in vessels placed in decorated ‘Kanwar’. They wear special saffron apparel and also carry saffron cloth bags stitched by the Muslim tailors of Gorakhpur.
This example of communal harmony has created an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood in Gorakhpur. The Muslim tailoring community is expecting Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath who belongs to Gorakhpur to provide them subsidies to procure the clothing required for the Kanwariyas’ dress and buy their sewing machines in order to give a boost to their cottage industry.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Chennai-based journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com