Poa Mecca in Assam’s Hajo is a pilgrimage shrine for people of all faiths
Hajo, about 20 kms from Guwahati, lies on the banks of the Brahmaputra River and is a pilgrimage sight for Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Hayagriva Madhava Temple on Monikut hill is a 16th century temple sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, who believe that the Buddha attained Nirvana here. *Bas-reliefs of scenes from the Ramayana adorn its walls. Interestingly, since ancient times, all the brass and bell metal utensils used in the Hayagriva Temple is made by the Moria Muslim community. Below the hill is a large pond known as Madhav Pukhuri, home to the endangered soft-shell turtle. On another adjoining hill is the Poa Mecca, established by an Iranian prince called Pir Ghiyasuddin Auliya in the 12th century.
As I walked up the Garudachal Hill, the red earth beneath my feet felt cool and wet in the July heat. Except for the rustling of leaves and the occasional car passing by, all is quiet. Halfway through the trek, I look down on the valley below: green rice fields and tin roofs meet my gaze. At the entrance to the shrine, shops selling religious objects alongside toys and everyday items such as hand-painted tin utensils dot both sides of the road. The first time I set my eyes on the shrine, I am frankly a little disappointed. The green and gold vine and flower carving and the domes look familiar, a lot like my neighbourhood Masjid. But, as I learnt later, Poa Mecca is a lot more than the physical structure, its spirit lies in the syncretism of the people who live there.
Juhur Ali, who owns a small shop near the shrine, has lived all his life in Hajo, as has his neighbor, Syed Ali. Never has the town been disturbed by any incidents of communal violence, they inform me. As we were talking, a Baba clad in orange robes stops by to chat with the two shopkeepers. Juhur Ali introduces him as ‘Rana Baba’, his intimate friend and a much loved man in Hajo. When I in my ignorance ask him if he is as warmly welcomed at a dargah as he is at a temple, he shakes his head and says, ‘I am not a Hindu, I was born a Muslim but I chose to revere all religions. I travel to religious places all over India and welcomed with open arms wherever I go’. In times such as ours where people have been neatly boxed into their religious identities, this was an eye-opening experience.
The mosque was built during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who was well-known for his love of architecture. During the reign of Ahom rulers, the dargah was known as Bar Maqam (big religious place). Ahom ruler Lakshmi Singha allocated one fourth (poa) share of the total revenue of the land for the shrine. Because of this one-fourth share, it was later called Poa Maqam, the present name is in fact the corrupt form of Poa Maqam. However, popular lore lore says Poa Mecca, literally means quarter of Mecca, and is believed to be equivalent to a quarter of the piety gained from a pilgrimage to Haj.
Every year, during Urs in January-February, Poa Mecca sees more than 25 lakh footfall every day. Khadeja of Barpeta Road who is here with her family is deep in meditation when I spot her. ‘I have heard all your prayers are answered here. Now, that I am here, I can sense that if God could ever be in one place, it would be Hajo,’ she says. I couldn’t agree more.
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