Garlands of harmony from Ayodhya's Muslim flower artisans

Around 15 Muslim families in the Asharfi Bhawan area of Ayodhya, some 150 km from Lucknow, have been involved in making floral garlands and decorative offerings for Hindu devotees for the last several decades.

"We have been doing this for several generations. Muslims making garlands for Hindu gods and goddesses may be a strange thing for an outsider but not for residents of Ayodhya," Arshad, 38, a Muslim artisan, told IANS.

"Hindu devotees either approach us directly for buying garlands and floral offerings, or purchase them from makeshift shops in the city where we supply the items daily. Priests of temples too contact us when they want to place large orders during Hindu festivals and religious functions," he added.

While some Muslims have their own small gardens where they grow flowers, others purchase the flowers to make the garlands.

"Our Hindu brothers are dependent on us...We have been supplying them garlands for the last several years. As the matter is related to faith and sentiments, we don't hesitate in buying flowers from outside to help our Hindu brothers," said Saleem, 40, another Muslim artisan.

Despite the fact that garland-making is a low profit business, the Muslim artisans have continued with it as they believe supplying garlands to Hindus has now become more of a responsibility for them.

"It's true, it is a source of livelihood for us, but you just can't ignore the responsibility that comes along with it. We consider ourselves lucky as the almighty has assigned us the job of helping the devotees," said Sartaj, 39, another Muslim artisan.

Muslim families involved in the garland-making business earn around Rs.200-250 daily, but their income increases during festive seasons due to higher demand."Normally we have a fixed number of clients to whom we supply garlands and floral decorations. But whenever there is a Hindu festival, our daily income increases to around two times the average," added Sartaj.

Asked what they think about the much-awaited verdict in the long-pending title suit Friday, Muslim artisans said irrespective of the outcome of the judgement they would continue with their business to help Hindus.

"We just pray for peace and believe the judgement will not affect Hindu-Muslim brotherhood and unity," Sartaj told a visiting IANS correspondent.

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