A concerted and sinister bid by Bangladesh’s powerful Islamists to take over a famous shakti peeth — the Chandranath mandir atop a hill in the country’s southwestern Chattogram district — has left the much-persecuted minority Hindu community in the Islamic nation feeling helpless.
The hill, which takes its name from the mandir that crowns it, is a tourist attraction of sorts. Apart from Hindu pilgrims, many Muslims had also started visiting the 1,020 feet high hill over the last couple of years for trekking.
A number of Muslim-owned eateries that cater to Muslim visitors have also come up on the hill. Radical Islamists, many of them with strong affiliations to the ruling Awami League, saw in this as an opportunity to assert their claim on Chandranath Hill.
At the behest of these radicals, the Muslim-owned eateries on the hill, considered to be holy by Hindus, started cooking and serving beef in late 2022. And many clerics and radical Muslims started visiting the hill, which has two waterfalls and a few fountains and streams, for merry-making.
A senior functionary of the Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad told Swarajya from Dhaka that Islamist slogans like Allahu Akbar and La Ilaha Illallah are deliberately and provocatively raised by Muslims who visit the hill nowadays.
“Since April 2023, a few clerics started organising namaz near the mandir every Friday and we have heard there are plans to build a masjid on the hill. A false narrative is also being spread that there was a mosque atop the hill and that it was demolished by Hindus to build a mandir,” the parishad functionary told Swarajya.
The Islamists who are trying to take over Chandranath Hill and construct a masjid there belong to both the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh that is officially aligned with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and also the Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh which has strong links with the ruling Awami League (AL).
Clashes between Islamist visitors to Chandranath Hill and Hindu pilgrims have occurred a few times, the latest being in the third week of December.
“Visiting the shrine is now fraught with risks. Muslims raise provocative religious slogans and abuse us. They behave very menacingly towards all Hindu pilgrims and we are often abused as malauns (a pejorative term for Hindus in Bangladesh) (see video embedded in this post on X). It appears to us that it is only a matter of time before the radical Muslims take over Chandranath Hill,” Dhananjoy Das, a big trader at Chattogram town, told Swarajya.
The Chandranath mandir is a shakti peeth where the right hand of Sati Mata is said to have fallen. The mandir atop the hill finds mention in ancient texts. One of the earliest mentions of the mandir is in the ‘Rajmala’, the chronicle of the Manikya dynasty of Tripura kingdom.
An account in the ‘Rajmala’ dating back to 800 years ago speaks of the king of Gaur (in present-day Bengal) travelling on a ship to visit Chandranath mandir.
There is, thus, no doubt that the mandir has existed for hundreds of years and, according to many Hindus, may also predate Islam.
“The narrative that a masjid atop the hill was pulled down to construct a mandir many years ago is patently false,” Bishwambhar Banerjee, a priest at Chattogram, told Swarajya.
The attempts by Islamists to take over Chandranath Hill has alarmed and deeply distressed the hapless Hindus of Bangladesh. The parishad, the umbrella organisation of minority bodies in the country, has been appealing to the Awami League government to declare Chandranath Hill a Hindu religious site.
But the appeals have fallen on deaf ears. The parishad and other Hindu bodies have also asked the government to ban the cooking and sale of beef and non-vegetarian food on the hill, and post police pickets to stop harassment of Hindu pilgrims.
But Hindus hold little hope of their demands being met. “The Islamists who plan to lay claim on Chandranath Hill have close links with the Awami League. So we are sceptical of our demands being considered by the government,” a senior functionary of Bangladesh Hindu Parishad, who did not want to be named, told Swarajya from Dhaka.
A lack of response from the Awami League government to desperate cries of help from Hindus has only emboldened the Islamists who, say locals, are turning more aggressive.
‘Beef parties’ and Islamic jamaats (gatherings) where venom is spewed on Hindus are becoming a daily feature at Chandranath Hill which often reverberates with full-throated Allahu Akbar slogans.
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