Varanasi, March 15: Varanasi’s tradition of communal peace had held through the initial shock of the blasts, with Muslims joining Hindus at the peace marches and blood camps, sharing their sense of tragedy.
Today, that spirit of solidarity took on a new colour as Muslims came out to share the Hindus’ festive mood as well, by celebrating Holi together.
The BJP and other Sangh parivar groups had called on people to boycott the festival in protest against “Islamic terror in Varanasi”. But the markets were bustling last evening, and it was quite early in the morning today when groups of young men and women hit the streets with sprinklers.
Men dressed as women danced on the roads as crowds cheered delightedly and foreign tourists watched fascinated. The narrow lanes were bustling with people buying gulal, paint, sweets and gifts.
The Sankat Mochan temple organised special prayers with the priests and mahants greeting devotees with gulal.
“By the grace of the Almighty, Varanasi has decided to call its soul its own,” said a relieved Mohammad Abdul Wateen Numani, a Muslim community leader who offered symbolic prayers at the temple with Hindu worshippers.
“During my childhood, I played Holi with my Hindu friends here and I am thrilled to see the same tradition prevail over nafrat ki fiza (climate of hate) today as the Muslims also participated in the festival of colour,” said shehnai legend Bismillah Khan, who has been at the forefront of the solidarity drive since the March 7 blasts.
Last evening, the Sankat Mochan temple was decorated with rows of earthen candles in memory of the blast victims.
“We thank God that the people of Varanasi have refused to take the blasts as the beginning of a potentially long cycle of terror,” senior temple mahant Biswambharnath Mishra said. “The Varanasi spirit is as alive as ever.”
The police and railway authorities had stepped up security in and around the Sankat Mochan temple and the Cantonment station — the sites of the blasts — but this failed to dampen the revellers’ mood.
As part of a new security plan at the temple, devotees had to pass through door-frame metal detectors and were frisked by the police armed with hand-held detectors. A permanent picket, manned by 30 policemen including two inspectors, has been set up outside the temple.
At the Cantonment station, which teemed with railway police personnel, video cameras watched the passengers.
Japanese Kei Noguchi, a third-time visitor to Varanasi, was dancing to drumbeats in a crowd at Asi ghat, his face smeared with colour.
“I had been scared a lot before coming here as I had heard about the blasts,” the man from Kyoto said. “But after I reached yesterday, I was relieved to see that the town was exactly like I had seen it 10 years ago.”