Cemetery of communal harmony


On November 2, Murugesh and his family members performed the religious rituals of a puja in a graveyard at the Championpet Mines of  Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), to pray for the souls of their ancestors. They formed part of a larger congregation who were present for a massive function known as Kallarai Thirunal which in Tamil which means Cemetery Day.

He said, “It is an emotional moment for all of us, and reminds us of our roots. My grandfather, also named Murugesh, came here along with many others as casual labourers 120 years ago from Poonamallee, near Chennai.” More than 100 members of their family who are now settled in and around South India participated in the Kallarai Thirunal.  Surprisingly this is not the only Hindu family which celebrates ‘Kallarai Thirunal’,  which is an indigenous version of the All Souls Day, that Roman Catholics (RC) observe the world over. Quite contrarily the Muslim cemetery is adjacent to the Hindus where this Day is observed during the month of Ramzan.  
 Interestingly even though the people voted the BJP MLA here, back to power, the Hindu fundamentalist organisations have never been able to interfere with the secular outlook of the KGF community. This is evident from the fact that over 25,000 Hindus assembled here this year, along with 10,000 RCs, says Soundaryajan the RC Treasurer who has five Churches in the different erstwhile mines of  KGF, so also Protestants .The Championpet Mines which is over a century old is 3200 metres deep and the second deepest mine in the world. Otherwise KGF is almost a   graveyard township which transforms into festivity during this Day especially after five pm when erstwhile miners and others get together from far and near to celebrate. 

 Vanacia an RC and her mother from Gouthamnagar also paid obeisance to her father Arun a miner, who passed away here few years ago. While she is married and has moved to Bangalore, her mother continues to reside here. Their rituals are no different from the Hindus, where they offered some food to their ancestors and later ate the same. 

A veteran journalist Gita Arvamudan, who spent her childhood adjacent to the Cemetery, recalls that “religion did not seem to matter here. I studied in a girl’s school run by Christian missionaries for the children of miners. My classmates were Anglo-Indian, British and from all other religions and colours. We have kept track of them over the years.”

Recalling the grand funerals which were part of the KGF community, majority of whom belonged to Dalit communities from Tamil Nadu, originating from Arcot district. Gita added that” the dividing line of religion and community was very thin. For instance, Yesunath ( as Jesus is known in Tamil) was as important as Parvatiamman in the temple for the Christians. A Buddhist friend of her’s also follows Hinduism.” Since Dalits bury their dead, the Cemetery Day did not seem to bother them.
 Inter-religious marriages are a common practice at KGF. Anglo-Indians who have their roots in the community, have largely migrated to Australia and South Africa after the mines shut down, come here regularly to pay obeisance to their ancestors.
Oz cricketer Stuart Clark recently paid obeisance to his mother Brigit Kumar has written six cookery books on Anglo-Indian cooking.  Though the Cemetery has bodies from different religions which lie buried here, interestingly each faith has maintained its exclusivity. For instance, Italians, Licuina Ciuseppe died in 1917,Griti Irorgio in 1919 etc have their graves in the RC Cemetry that face the west,  like British Matilda Mati wife of Frank who died on September 1904 like all RCs face the east.

The Hindus bring their corpses and keep them on Harish Chandra’s (Satyavadi Raja Harichandra) head…. symbolising  the virtue of speaking the truth.
Their graves face the north. Interestingly with over a lakh buried here they merely pay Rs 300 for burial and Rs 600 to build monuments which are all looked after by trusts and committees of different religious faiths.

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