Badrinath Aarti controversy: A systematic destruction of syncretic a heritage?

The renowned Badrinath temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, situated in the town of Badrinath, Uttarakhand, has recently witnessed a controversy over the author of the 150-years old ‘aarti’ (invocation). While there is a strong, locally held, age-old belief that the aarti was written by a Muslim devotee named Badruddin, a systematic effort to change the narrative has been underway. No points for guessing that this is under the government led by the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) who’s ideological fountainhead, the RashtriyaSwayamsevaksangh (RSS) has been committed to a re-writing of Indian history.  In 2018, a ‘government official’, laid claims to have found the original manuscript of the invocation, reportedly written by a local (Hindu) Dhan Singh Barthwal. Can this then be another strategy by the Hindu suprmeaciststo wipe out our centuries-old heritage and strong evidence of communal harmony and peaceful co-existence?

badri nath
Image Courtesy: Vishwanath_Negi

Badruddin- a Rudraksh-wearing Muslim:
It is historicallybelieved that the aarti, ‘PawanMandSugandhSheetal’, was written by FakhruddinSiddiqui, a postmaster at Nandprayag in Chamoli district in 1865 when he was only 18 years old. Fakhruddin, who later changed his name to Badruddin, after the Badrinath temple, was a devotee of Lord Badri.

According to folklore, Badruddin was so mesmerised with the beauty of the shrine that he immediately wrote the invocation, in which he described the religious importance as well as the beauty of Badrinath, which is sung till date. Later, he even became a member of the BadriKedar Temple Committee (BKTC), apart from being a member of the then Muslim community. He reportedly died at the age of 104 years in 1951.

Priests from the BKTC, which manages the shrine, said that there is a general consensus over the years that Badruddin is the author of theaarti. A priest, PanditVinay Krishna Rawat, says that his grandfather knew Badruddin. He says, “In fact, Badruddin told my grandfather that he’d written the aarti. My grandfather would often talk of how the rudraksha-wearing Muslim man could be seen at the steps of the temple lost in bhakti.”

Badruddin’s descendants, who now live in Dehradun, visit their hometown Nandprayag every year and participate in the Ramleela. Badruddin’s great-grandson, Ayazuddin, said, “He was devoted to Lord Badrinath, which is why the family has continued to keep his faith alive.” However, they are disheartened with the recent controversy and say that they have been “robbed of the family legacy.”

Claims by the Uttarakhand government and the Barthwal family:
Reportedly, a doctoral student under the guidance of Dr. MPS Bisht, director of Uttarakhand Space Application Centre, “discovered the original manuscript” during his research in Rudraprayag last year.

“I asked him to provide me with the details and he promptly sent me a copy of the manuscript. I later realised that there may be truth in his contention. I will now take the manuscript to the secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, and officials in the Culture department and the state archives department so that they can scrutinise the manuscript and bring the facts to light,” Bisht said. He also alleged that the locals in Rudraprayag believe that Badruddin could have merely been the singer and not the real author.

Dhan Singh was a village revenue collector. The manuscript was claimed to have been discovered in 2018 in a container kept at the basement of the Barthwal family. Speaking to the Times of India, Mahendra Singh Barthwal, the great-grandson of the alleged author Dhan Singh Barthwal, said, “It was kept along with some other manuscripts. I showed it to a few friends who suggested I take it to the government.” Adding further, he said, “I am glad that my great grandfather has finally got due credit. He was a well-travelled man. It is possible that Badruddin heard him recite the aarti somewhere and started singing it.”
“We had always heard from our ancestors that he (Dhan Singh) had written the aarti of Badrinath temple that is sung to this day. The manuscript was kept in our family home for centuries and it mentions the year (1881) when it was written,” said 87-year-old Avtar Singh Barthwal, who is the fifth generation after Dhan Singh Barthwal.

Dr.Bisht conducted a carbon-dating test on the manuscript and claimed that the manuscript was from 1881. Consequently, last month, the BJP-led Uttarakhand government announced that Dhan Singh Barthwal had penned the hymn. Carbon-testing however is disputed as a technique to prove exact historical date ot accuracy.

What do the experts say?
While the government as well as the Barthwal family have claimed that the aarti was written by Dhan Singh Barthwal, experts, locals as well as the priests have refuted the claims.

The BKTC does not have any manuscript of the aarti sung at the temple, although a book reportedly written by Badruddin in 1867 and kept at a museum managed by writer Jugal Kishore Petshali near Almora, contains the lyrics of the invocation.

PetshalisaidBadruddin had written the invocation in a book format. “The name written on the book published in 1867 is Al Mustahar, MunsheenNaseeruddin,which was the title of the writer Badruddin, and mentions his address as post office Nandprayag (in Rudraprayag district),” said Petshali.

AS Maurya, associate professor at the earth sciences department at IIT-Roorkee, cautioned that carbon dating results cannot pinpoint a particular year. “It would be very hard to narrow down on a particular year using carbon dating to determine age. The actual age could vary plus or minus 80 years,” he said. “This means that carbon dating cannot be used to conclusively say that Barthwal’s manuscript was written in 1881.” Predictably, Dr.Bisht has denied any inaccuracies in the test.

SS Negi, professor of ancient history at the Garhwal University in Srinagar, said he couldn’t comment on Barthwal’s manuscript till he sees it. “There has been a general perception here that Badruddin wrote the aarti but I cannot comment whether it was original or not,” he said. Adding further, Negi said that it is believed, though not historically verified, that Badruddin wrote the aartiin 1865, two years before the book was published. “He was supposed to have been named Faqruddin but changed it to Badruddin on the name of the Badrinath temple,” said Negi adding that Badruddin was from Nandprayag, which was then a common route for yatra and Muslims were part and parcel of the pilgrimage.

One of the shopkeepers near the temple, Deepak Saini, speaking to the Times of India, said “The government is saying that someone called Dhan Singh had written the Badrinathaarti. But ask anybody here and they will tell you that a Muslim devotee has written it. That’s what our forefathers believed and that’s what we believe.” Many other shopkeepers like Saini have never heard of Barthwal.

Amidst the controversy about who is the real author of the aarti, it is essential to mention the discrepancies in the newly-found Barthwal’s “original manuscript” and Badruddin’s version that has been sung since decades.

While broadly both the versions are similar, there are certain differences in the composition and some words. Barthwal’s manuscript has eleven stanzas while the present aarti has seven. Barthwal’s version starts with ‘Agam pant apaargamita, nirmalmannsarovaram..”while Badruddin’s version starts with “PawanMandSugandhSheetal..,” which is the fifth stanza in Barthwal’s manuscript.However, instead of “PawanMand” the manuscript mentions “Paunmandir.”

Further, in place of “Siddhmunijan”, the manuscript mentions “Shakalmunijan”, Shree shaktigauriganesh” as opposed to “Shakti gauriganesh”, Chandra Indra” as opposed to “Indra Chandra.”

Historical evidence of syncretism:
Although, the Badrinathaarti has become a point of controversy, one cannot ignore the historical evidence of syncretism in India. Many Muslim poets have recited Hindu bhajans and Hindus, Muslim sermons. To give a few references, a 17th century Muslim poet, Salabeg, wrote paeans in praise of Lord Jagannath of the Puri temple in Odisha, one out of the four most important pilgrimates sites of the Hindus. According to local folklore, Salabeg began writing his bhajans in praise of Jagannath after his supplications were answered by the Lord.

UstadBismillah Khan, a Shehnai maestro, is considered the pride of Kashi, the holy city for Hindus. Khan used to playshehnai at the much revered Kashi-Vishwanath Temple after receiving training from his uncle, Ali BuxVilayatu, who was attached to the temple as well. Mohammaed Rafi, a renowned playback singer, sung the song “Man tadpat hari darshan ko” in the movie ‘BaijuBawra’. Notably, the song was written by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by Naushad. Poet Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, better known as Rahim, have written some of the best poems on Lord Krishna. Indian poet SahirLudhianvi wrote the bhajan“Allah tero nam ishwar tero nam” from the movie ‘Hum Dono.’

There are multiple such examples where people have engaged in reverence beyond their religious boundaries. However, such controversies pose a severe threat on our heritage and our foundation itself.

Destruction of heritage:
While for almost 150 years, Badruddin was considered to be the author of the Badrinathaarti, within a period of 2-3 years (since the time Trivendra Singh Rawat-led BJP government has come to power), the credits have been given to the Barthwal family and a Hindu-Muslim controversy created.

A Muslim composing a Hindu aartireflects the Indian culture, the harmony and the fraternity among people cutting across religious lines. However, such strategic moves by the government seem to be a step towards the larger ambition of a ‘Hindu Rashtra.’ This is nothing but a systematic destruction of a synthetic heritage that unites India.

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