Muslim pujari in Durga's abode

[ 29 Jan, 2007 0205hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

VISAKHAPATNAM (29 Jan, 2007): This is the essence of secular India. Respect and tolerance for all faiths. In a shining example of this, Payakaraopeta, a village in this district has a Muslim pujari at its Durga temple. He, like any other pujari , chants prayers in Sanskrit, helps visitors with their prayers and also carries out all the rituals.

What sets him apart is his name — Sheikh Mira Sahib. Payakaraopeta is located close to Tuni, a small town known for its betel leaf production. Every Monday, over a hundred people from several nearby villages climb the unpaved steps of Seethamma hill to pray to the goddess. Mira Sahib guides them all in performing various rites and the worshipers acknowledge him as their pujari.

With a shaven head, bare-chested and wearing a dhoti, Mira Sahib begins his day at the temple at 7 am and spends his time till late afternoon in saying prayers and helping the pilgrims.

He then returns home and attends to his chores. His earning is the dakshina that is given to him by devotees.”I used to herd buffalos about 25 years ago. I also used to help in weeding the path on this hill for archaeologists who were looking for some old relics and hidden caves," Mira reminisces.

"One day my gunapam (spearlike tool) hit something irregular. It was an idol of Goddess Durga. There were a few idols lying about uncared for, so I tossed this one also downhill. I came home and forgot about what I did. That night in my sleep the goddess appeared before me as my daughter. She demanded that I perform puja to her daily. Then she vanished. I was nonplussed and didn't know what to do for sometime. Then I made up my mind to follow her instructions," says he.

Next day Mira went back to the hill and installed the idol at the place he had found it. A few weeks later he began performing the puja to her.

"I learned a few mantras by listening to other worshipers. Later, I learned them properly from my guru, Subramanya Sastry. He taught me in spite of opposition from some people," he recollects.

Muslim pujari in Durga's abode
SOURCE: The Times of India

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