The Charminar, a four-arched gateway with four towering minarets, stands in the heart of the old city of Hyderabad in India. It was surrounded by an excessively crowded bazaar the first time that we visited it in August. It was during the last week of Ramadan and everyone was frantically purchasing things in anticipation of the celebration of the end of the season of fasting, Eid. The pressure and crush of the crowds in the baking afternoon sun made us decide not to linger, but to try to return at a quieter time should that exist. In addition, we were hungry, and all the restaurants and cafés were closed because of the fast. However, we did manage to find a milk-bar which was open, and willing to serve us infidels with lassi and rabdhi (sweetened clotted milk).
Just before we managed to get an autorickshaw to take us out of the crowded area, I spotted a street lined by colourfully decorated dental surgeries. I would have liked to have explored these had the crowds been less densely packed. We left the area, pleased that although we did not enter the Charminar we had at least managed to see the magnificent Mecca Masjid near to it. This oasis of peacefulness served both as a place of worship and also as somewhere that people could rest or sleep during the heat of the day.
During the following few days, we explored the rest of Hyderabad, visiting the old British Residency, the Golconda Fortress, and the beautiful Qutub Shahi Tombs nearby.
One of the Qutub Shahi Tombs
On the Friday, which was the last Friday before Eid, we returned to the old city in order to see the Charminar once more. Our driver dropped us as close as he could, which was not so close because all of the roads leading towards the Charminar and its neighbour the Mecca Masjid had been closed to vehicular traffic. The police presence was formidable. Armed policemen and airforce-men in blue camouflage combat gear almost outnumbered civilians. We felt as if we were stepping into a war zone. When we asked an officer whether trouble was expected, he answered that it was not and that his men's presence was merely routine. Uncertain about his response, we asked one or two other men in uniform, and their replies were similar.
With the absence of traffic and also of most of the bazaar stalls, movement within the cordoned-off zone was easy. As we neared the mosque and the Charminar, we noticed two things. Firstly, much of the street was covered with green cloths, looking rather like a huge lawn.
These were patrolled by men in skull-caps, whose job it was to prevent anyone stepping on these enormous prayer mats with covered feet. The second thing that we noticed was that a temporary structure had been attached to one corner of the Charminar.
This construction, which had not been present earlier in the week, was a temporary Hindu temple.
A long queue of worshippers was lining up to worship there. It wound along the gaps between the prayer mats, and there was a heavy presence of Muslim men standing close by to make sure that their prayer mats were not trodden on by the Hindu worshippers, many of whom were wearing sandals.
As the queue of Hindu worshippers moved slowly towards the makeshift temple, we entred the brightly decorated Charminar Dental Hospital.
Notice both Hindu & Moslem names on the sign
Its friendly owner, a dentist who had qualified in Hyderabad, reconfirmed what we had been told by the police; trouble was not expected. This was difficult to believe given the almost continuous line of armed men surrounding the place. He showed us his clinic and got his assistant to pose on the chair for me.
We asked our Moslem host whether he thought that the placing of a temporary Hindu temple on an essentially Islamic monument during one of the most important Islamic festivals was provocative. He told us that he did not think so and they have every right to celebrate their own religion.
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