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Mainstream, VOL LX No 35 New Delhi, August 20, 2022

How Odisha Celebrated 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence by Playing Gandhi’s Ram Dhun Across Bhubaneswar | S N Sahu

Friday 19 August 2022, by S N Sahu

Odisha celebrated 75th anniversary of India’s independence from 13th August 2022 onwards in a tuneful manner by playing Mahatma Gandhi’s Ram Dhun - Raghu Pati Raghav Raja Ram, Patitapavan Sita Ram, Iswar Allaha Tero Nam, Sab ko Sanmati De Bhagvan - across the city of Bhubaneswar. As the famous hymn of Gandhiji was played in all the traffic points of the capital city of Odisha right from the dawn of 13th August and continued till the day of independence on 15th August, the whole atmosphere of the temple city was reverberating with spiritual vibrations. The soothing and uplifting tune celebrating the diverse ideas of divinity embodied in holy names - Sita, Ram, Iswar and Allah- tuned people to the ethos of freedom struggle and affirmed the enduring values of that epic movement for Swaraj one component of which, Gandhi had said, was music. Reaching out to people through music to tune them to the spirit of Independence and establish their affinity with the values which guided our freedom fighters is the surest way to make them sensitive to that historical phase of our country which constitutes the foundation of our onward march as a nation.

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram

I was in Special Circuit House in Bhubaneswar on 13th August and woke up in the early hours of the morning when Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram was played. It had a therapeutic effect and in the context of a highly polarised atmosphere marked by incessantly divisive narratives spun by the powers that be at the centre, the line “Iswar Allah Tero Nam, Sab ko Sanmati De Bhagvan” made me firmy believe that it is the best anti-dote to the poison constantly injected to the society and body polity in the name of faith by those controlling levers of the State apparatus. That line of the prayer summoned the values of inter-faith harmony and religious pluralism which remains central to the constitutional vision of India.

The country is witnessing a very ugly manifestation of religious hatred on a continuous basis for the last eight years. The disparaging remarks against the Prophet of Islam by a party spokesperson and the huge uproar against it in the Gulf countries have intensified the crisis. These are dangerous signs with serious consequences for our internal and external security. Combined with it is the frightening call for genocide of Muslims by the so-called Sants in events preposterously described as Dharma Sansad. Such deepening of hatred targeting minorities put at stake the shared heritage of all religious groupings of our country which has a tradition of celebrating diverse approaches to divinity. The Prime Minister who should have taken note of the slide of India to the narrow grooves of bigotry and violence remained deafeningly silent in spite of the request of Rajasthan Chief Minister to him to appeal for peace in the aftermath of the beheading of a man by some zealots who were taking revenge against the disparaging remarks on the Prophet. Prayer meetings organised in the open air and recitation of prayers of all faiths would have gone a long way to counter sinister forces out to destroy our pluralistic ethos. But nowhere one could hear of organisation of such multi-faith prayer meetings in response to a rising tide of religious hatred being consciously spread by those with the mandate of the people to rule the country. Rather under their watchful eyes the country witnessed the gory incidents in some States of our country where Muslims were prevented to offer Namaz in places designated by the government itself. That blatant violation of cultural liberty of people constitutes a flagrant violation of the Constitution and the civilisational values of acceptance and tolerance.

When I heard the play of Ram Dhun of Gandhi across Bhubaneswar I was wondering why no other State in India celebrated seventy-fifth anniversary of India’s independence in such a manner. I recalled Ramchandra Guha’s article “A Father Betrayed” published in the London Guardian on 14th August 2007. In that, he stated that after the demolition of Babri Masjid Sushila Nayar, a close associate of Gandhi went to Ayodhya to restore interfaith harmony in that city and organised a prayer meeting. When Iswar Allaha Tero Nam of Ram Dhun was recited there, some leaders of the Hindutva group disrupted it. When they were told that all those who recited Iswar Allaha Tero Nam represented Gandhi, their sharp reply was that they represented Godse who assassinated Gandhi. Such intolerance and hatred towards Gandhi and his vision of India defined by religious pluralism completely go against the very grain of pluralistic ethos which is being devastated by the forces representing majoritarianism. Recently a school in Madhya Pradesh was closed down by authorities on the specious ground that the prayers from all religions including Islam were being recited to teach children the values of inter-faith harmony.

In such a communally vicious atmosphere prevailing in several States of our country ruled by a particular party, the playing of Ram Dhun all across Bhubaneswar and that too without omitting the line “Iswar Allaha Tero Nam, Sabko Sanmati De Bhagvan” is certainly very refreshing, instructive and educative. Credit must go to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi had suggested the incorporation of non-violence in the preamble of the Constitution and took initiative for unanimous adoption of a resolution to that effect in the Odisha Assembly. He had said that by incorporating non-violence in the Preamble, among others, bigotry and hatred in the name of faith can be nipped in the bud.

Ram Dhun was recited in Noakhali which Gandhi visited in 1947 following massive communal violence at the time of the partition of India. The line “Iswar Allaha Tero Nam, Sabko Sanmati De Bhagvan” of the Ram Dhun aimed at restoring Hindu-Muslim unity which suffered severely because of communal conflagration.

Tragically when these days, because of the folly of the ruling leadership of India, the travails of partition days are being revived with a calculated motive to divide people, the spiritual content of Ram Dhun celebrating the religious diversity of our society assumes critical relevance for defending the idea of India. The fact that Odisha provided leadership in playing Ram Dhun on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of our independence generates hope that other States can follow the lead and reaffirm religious harmony and solidarity in face of majoritarianism and bigotry it generates.

It is instructive to note that the Naveen Patnaik regime in Odisha while allocating crores of rupees for the renovation of several of the much revered ancient temples, including the famous Jagannath temple, Puri, has also allocated Rs. 1 crore each for the development of five churches, six mosques, one Gurudwara and one Punjabi mutt in the State. During last week of June 2022, Naveen Patnaik visited Rome and called on Pope in the Vatican. On his return journey, he paid a visit to Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. His actions in respect of shrines of all faiths located in Odisha and his visits to Vatican and a mosque in Abu Dhabi brought out his worldview rooted in equal respect for all faiths.

The celebrations of 75th anniversary of India’s independence in Odisha with the playing of Ram Dhun across Bhubaneswar affirm the idea of India rooted in religious pluralism which needs to be preserved, protected, and defended.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan)

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