Majlis-e-ittehadul protests changes to the Bhagyalakshmi temple
Rachel Min and Sabrina Reyes
There has always been an ongoing struggle for power between Muslim and Hindu communities within India. This struggle for power between the two communities is present within the city of Charminar in India, a predominantly Muslim area. Tension arose when the Bhagyalakshmi, a Hindu temple, claimed to have been built in 1959, was constructed on the perimeters of the Charmina, a Muslim temple built in 1591, within Charminar, India.
The Bhagyalakshmi temple, built within 100 metres of the Charminar, is seen as a violation of the AMASR, Archaeological Monuments and Ancient Sites and Remains, Act in 2010, which bans all construction near the Charminar (Kumar). The Muslim community was further angered when some construction took place, expanding the Bhagyalakshmi temple, around May and June of this year, without receiving approval of the ASI, Archaeological Survey of India (NDTV Update).
As a result, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul, a Muslim political party whose central headquarters are located in Hyderabad, India, protested such changes to the Bhagyalakshmi temple. As a result, violence has sparked near the Hyderabad areas. There were at least seven people injured due to baton charges by police, unruly mob, and teargas shells fired by police (IANS). The violence erupting near the Charminar has disrupted the peace that the monumental Chaminar symbolizes.
Those who are in disagreement with the MIM and support the expansion of the Bhagyalakshmi temple, believe that the temple was built before 1959, around the time the Charminar was built, 16th century. Asgharali Engineer’s, “Communal Riots in Post-Independence India,” discusses that the Bhagyalakshmi temple has always existed, but was destroyed and rebuilt in 1970 after a Muslim bus driver drove a bus at the temple. If the Bhagyalakshmi temple was built as early as the Charminar, during the 16th century, the temple then would not violate the Archaeological Monuments and Ancient Sites and Remains Act. And so, the reason that originally sparked the Hindu-Muslim tension within Charminar is questionable.
The Charminar, an example of Islamic architecture, very structured and symmetrical from a distance, “emerges as an elegant and romantic edifice proclaiming its architectural eminence in all its detail and dignity” as you move closer. The Charminar, built by Sultan Muhammed Quli, was constructed to celebrate the elimination of a plague epidemic from this city in India. It holds about 15,000 shops, selling exquisite, traditional Islamic jewelry, clothes, and food (Charminar). Many fear that the Bhagyalakshmi temple, constructed within 100 metres of the Charminar, may distract from the symbolic Charminar monument. The MIM protest the expansion of the Bhagyalakshmi temple in efforts to preserve the Islamic culture the Charminar represents. This strenuous effort to preserve a monumental structure that symbolizes the culture of a religious institution is seen during the construction of Park 51. The construction of Park 51 raises similar issues to that of the building of the Bhagyalakshmi temple near the Charminar. Plans for Park 51 have been made, however, no construction has taken place yet. Park 51, a 13-story building, is an Islamic community center, promoting interdialogue faith, which is positive interaction between peoples of different faith as a way of accepting and understanding others (Barnard). The design for Park 51 includes a Muslim prayer space for about 1,000-2,000 people, a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, food court, fitness center, art and culinary school, and a memorial commemorating the victims of the September 11 attack. Sharif El-Galal, planned that Park 51 be built in Lower east side in Manhattan, two blocks away from the World Trade Center site, which triggered much controversy. Some believe that Park 51 would act as a “victory mosque” to Islam, while others believe that Muslim centers for prayer were already present near the World Trade Center before the attack and that the developers should proceed with the project (Baranrd). Like the controversy regarding the construction of the Bhagyalakshmi temple near the Charminar temple, the plans to build Park 51 near the Word Trade Center memorial brings to light how the location of buildings for religious practice is an important architectural question. Similarly, both the Bhagyalakshmi temple and Park 51 have caused much controversy, causing many to fear that such structures may disrupt the preservation of the symbolic monuments, which they are built by. Does the Bhagyalakshmi temple take attention away from the Charminar and the Islamic culture and history it embodies? If Park 51 were to be built two blocks away from the World Trade Center memorial, would Park 51 draw focus away from the memorial, lessening the symbolic value the monument represents?
Another instance that is an example of how the preservation of a monument’s symbolic nature might be distracted from, is the Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox patriarchial basilica church, was then converted to a mosque, after Constantinople, present-day Instanbul, was taken over by the Ottoman Empire. The Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, made orders for the construction of this church in 537, during the flourish of the Byzantine Empire. The church, which its full name in Greek translates to “the Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God,” was built as dedication to the Wisdom of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity (Hayes). Hagia Sophia exemplifies Byzantine architecture; interior decorated with mosaics and marble pillars and consisting of holy relics and a 15 metre iconostasis, a wall of religious paintings (Hayes). When the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople and converted the church to a mosque, the Ottoman Turks added many Islamic features, such as the mihrab, a semicircular niche in the wall that hints the direction of prayer, minbar, where the Islamic leader delivers sermons, and four minarets. In 1616, a larger mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was constructed (Hayes). As a result, the Hagia Sophia, was no longer the central Islamic area of prayer in Instanbul, causing the mosque to close down and reopen as a museum in 1935. Having both, Byzantine and Islamic architectural features, many during religious practice may have had a different religious experience, as a result of not resembling a traditional mosque and originally built to symbolize Orthodox faith. Hagia Sophia is an example of how the structure’s change of use may have distracted from what the monument was originally built to symbolize and how the preservation of the structure’s greatness was lessened as a result of the construction of another monumental structure nearby.
The historical background of the Hagia Sophia, relating to the Bhagyalakshmi temple and Park 51, raise larger architectural questions. Like the Hagia Sophia, if the MIM did not protest changes to the Bhagyalakshmi temple and allowed construction to take place, would the Charminar lose its magnificence and its symbolic value like the Hagia Sophia did, as it was closed down for four years and is no longer the central area for Islamic practice in Istanbul? Likewise, If Park 51 was built two blocks from the World Trade Center memorial, would the focus stray away from the memorial, as a result of another monumental structure being built nearby? Thus, how close can two monumental structures be built near one another in order to preserve its symbolic value?
Agarwal, Ajay. “Bhagyalakshmi temple was built post 1959, says ASI, ” Times of India, April 4, 2013. Accessed September 7, 2013. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-04-04/hyderabad/38277101_1_temple-construction-charminar-and-golconda-fort-greater-hyderabad-municipal-corporation
Agarwal, in this article, illustrates the claims made by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) regarding the Bhagyalakshmi temple. He goes on to explain that according to the ASI
and the evidence that they gathered, the Bhagyalakshmi temple was only a later addition that was built sometime in between 1959 and 1980, the contention being that thus the temple does not prove to be as monumental as argued by Hindu groups. While the reconstruction and expansion of the temple had raised various conflict between the Hindu and the Muslim in early June of this year, one can see through this article that the controversies began taking place beginning from earlier this year regarding the monumentality of the temple building.
Barnard, Anne. “Developers of Islamic Center Try a New Strategy.” The New York Times, August 1, 2011. Accessed September 11, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/nyregion/new-quiet-effort-for-big-islamic-center-near-ground-zero.html?ref=park51
Barnard discusses the controversial issue that Park 51 causes. Barnard highlights the negative response Park 51 received once the plans were released to the public. 9/ll victim, politicians, and others believed that building Park 51, a Muslim institution, so close to the site of the World Trade center attack by Islamic radicals would be “insensitive,” further calling the project a “victory mosque” to Islam. Sharif El-Galal, the lead developer, of this project feels like he can’t move forward with this project, but rather only backwards. With money being another issue, about $100 million to carry out the construction, El-Galal hoped that one day this edifice will build support so that his dreams for a religious and interfaith center, consisting of a pool, theater, culinary and art school, performing arts center, would be open to all.
Kesava, “Bhagyalakshmi Temple Issue – Facts Revealed,” Centre Right India (2012). Accessed September 6, 2013. http://centreright.in/2012/11/bhagyalakshmi-temple-issue-facts-revealed/#.UjcO2znU7zI
Discussing the existence of the Bhagya Lakshmi Temple, this article argues that the Bhagya Lakshmi temple has been around since when Charminar was built. Asgharali Engineer’s book, “Communal Riots in Post-Independence India” states that the temple has always existed, but was destroyed and rebuilt in 1970 after a Muslim bus driver drove a bus at the temple. This is relevant to the MIM protesting changes to the Bhagya Lakshmi temple because, although the temple is located in a Muslim majority location, the temple was not built there to intentionally cause tension between the Hindu and Muslim. If the argument is true that the temple has existed ever since Charminar, the reconstruction of the temple is not to disrupt the Muslim religion, but simply to preserve the structure.
Kumar, Ajay. “Charminar Violations.” Times of India, April 17, 2013. Accessed September 6, 2013. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-04-17/hyderabad/38614595_1_400-year-old-monument-charminar-bhagyalakshmi-temple
Kumar discusses the regulations of the Archaeological Monuments and Ancient Sites and Remains Act of 2010, banning all construction near the monumental Charminar. As a result, the MIM legislators protested the expansion of the Bhagyalakshmi temple. The Mahadev Mandir, also another temple, was constructed within the 100 metre protected zone of the Charminar and hidden by tarpaulin sheets. It was not only the construction of the Bhagyalakshmi temple that caused tension between the Muslim and Hindu communities, but also the construction of the Mahadev Mandir, which are both viewed as a violation to the AMASR Act. The ASI, Archaeological Survey of India, are serious in taking action against anyone who violates the AMASR act, which they think is the “the only way that further deterioration of the Charminar, the symbol of the city, can be stopped.”
Hayes, Holly. “Hagia Sophia, Instanbul.” Sacred Destinations, September 9, 2009. Accessed September 12, 2013. <a href=”http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/istanbul-hagia-sophia”>Hagia Sophia, Istanbul</a>.
Hayes describes the historical background behind “one of the great[est] buildings of the world.” Hayes explains how the Hagia Sophia, built in Constantinople, in 537, by Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, greatly portrays Byzantine architecture, consisting of mosaics and marble pillars, with detailed relics and an iconostasis on the interior. The Church, known as “the Church of the Holy Wisdom” in Greek, built in order to symbolize the second person in the Holy Trinity, was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and hosted imperial ceremonies for 900 years until Constantinople was under attack by the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror, seized the Hagia Sophia and converted it into an imperial mosque. He added many Islamic architectural features, such as a mihrab, minbar, and a wooden minaret. This is an compelling monument, as it houses both Islamic and Christian architectural features. Did having both features impact one differently during prayer? Did the structure have less religious symbolic meaning, since the structure was not an architecturally traditional mosque, when the Hagia Sophia was used for Islamic practice?
IANS. “Seven injured as violence hits old Hyderabad areas.” DNA, November 16, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2013. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1765436/report-violence-breaks-out-in-old-hyderabad-again.
This article depicts the severity of the violence that the Muslim- Hindu controversy had brought to Hyderabad areas. The article begins by stating that “violence broke out once again” over a temple row. There were at least seven people injured due to baton charge by police, unruly mob, and teargas shells fired by police. When people coming out of the mosque in attempts to proceed to Charminar, they were stopped by barricades set up by policemen. As the article says, “ the communally sensitive old city” experienced variety of violent situations and protests as Muslim groups opposed the illegal expansion of the temple as the expansion had marred the 400-year-old symbolic monument of the historic city Charminar.
NDTV Updates. “Charminar Under Police Siege for Third Day.” NDTV- Indo-Asian News Service, November 13, 2012. Accessed September 7 , 2013. http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/charminar-under-police-siege-for-third-day-292004
As the Bhagyalakshmi temple administration began some construction work without getting the approval of Archaeological Survey of India, ASI, the police soon stopped them. This triggered the already tense Hindu-Muslim tension in the city. The temple authorities stated that they were not going to expand and that they were only replacing certain worn-out structures within the temple. However, as conflicts deepened some of the MIM party members began protesting and rallying, claiming that the police was facilitating the illegal construction work. As the MIM members were arrested a few more violent incidents took place. The situation worsened and as this article shows, the city admins blocked any sort of public visits to Charminar and shut down the markets nearby. However, the people living in areas surrounding Charminar and the relatives of patients in Hospital close to Charminar experienced great difficulties and it led to even more conflicts and complaints.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, “Charminar,” accessed September 8, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/107583/Charminar
This Encyclopedia entry provides the general explanation about Charminar, which is the location the MIM protest takes place in. Charminar is a monumental building in Hyderabad, India; it is seen as an icon of the city’s heritage. More specifically, it represents the preservation of Islamic culture and Islamic architecture in the area. Derived from the name of the monumental building, the surrounding area is also called Charminar. There is also a thriving market surrounding the building, mainly filled by Muslims in the area. The Muslim community that takes place on and around Charminar took opposition to the expansion of the Bhagyalakshmi temple, not only because of the religious difference, but also because of the fact that the expansion would mean that the reconstruction would take away from the land the markets take place on.
Ghosh, Sri Kanta. Indian Democracy Derailed: Politics and Politicians, (November 2012), pp.73-74
This article provides in depth description of the overall political conflicts and history in India. For one, Ghosh describes that unlike most of the Muslim League Syndrome, Hyderabad’s Muslim communities had their own political party named MIM, Majlis Itthadul Muslimeen. The Muslims wished to remain independent. According to the article, the MIM called a bandh in order to protest against the Grand Mosque Seizure in 1979 when the temple rose as a subject of controversy because of its location and its potential threat it may pose to the Charminar structure, which is also a monumental Muslim building.
Timur, Kuran and Anantdeep Singh. Economic Development and Cultural Change , Vol. 61, No. 3 (April 2013), pp. 503-538
This article discusses the differences between Muslim and Hindu, regarding economic development and cultural change, within India. The tension between Muslim and Hindu, regarding the construction of the Bhagyalakshmi temple, may have arisen from the early 40s. The Muslim, after British rule, who populated India, had a high unemployment rate and were seen as underrepresentated among owners of large industrial companies as well. W.W. Hunter attacked the Muslim institution within one of his books, expressing Muslim underperformance. Muslims’ economic inferiority to the Hindu community in India may have triggered tension between the two communities because there was always economic struggle for power. The monumental structure of Charminar is one thing that represents the culture and power of the Islamic community within India, and so expanding the Bhagyalakshmi temple, is somewhat of a threat to the Muslim community. The Muslim and MIM would feel that expanding and reconstructing the temple would take away from the greatness of the Charminar monument.
“Charminar.” http://www.aptourism.in/index.php/k2-separator/k2/item/96-charminar#.UivFPjnU 7zI
This source, in great detail, describes the Charminar, the history, structure and surroundings. The Charminar, built in 1591 AD, is an example of Islamic architecture. It is very symmetrical and structured from a distance, but as you move closer, “it emerges as an elegant and romantic edifice proclaiming its architectural eminence in all its detail and dignity.” the Charminar was built by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, to celebrate the elimination of a plague epidemic from this city in India. The Charminar market consists of 15,000 shops, selling exquisite jewelry and clothing, and traditional food. The Charminar holds historical, religious, and spiritual liveliness of the Islamic culture. The MIM protested changes to the Bhagyalakshmi temple to preserve the liveliness of Charminar’s Islamic culture.
Video and Audio
“Faultiness at the Charminar.” January 5, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qq-l4N9pP0
This video acknowledges the tension between Hindu and Muslim communities within Charminar due to a canopy being constructed on the Bhagya Lakshmi temple. However, this video brings to light the truth behind the controversy between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Although the MIM parted from the Congress in Andhra Pradesh due to construction on the temple, Hindu and Muslim families still have a lasting bond. Interviewee Kasin explains how Phrabu, a cousin and Hindu, was stabbed due to communal tensions, even though he never spoke ill of anyone, even his relatives. Kasin expresses that he still ‘stands by him in every way [he] can.’ The lasting bond between Hindu and Muslim families show that the tension due to the reconstruction of the temple does not need to continue. If the tension came to an end, MIM did not protest changes of the temple, and reconstruction actually did occur, would the historic and religious characteristics of Charminar be preserved?