Wednesday, 1 October 2014 – 5:45am IST | Agency: DNA
Preksha Malu



Mohammad and Zubeda Tahir have been organising the Mandal at Vakola, Santa Cruz, since 1983 ­ Swapnil Sakhare DNA


Jai Mata Di Sarvajanik Mandal feeds more than 700 people each day after the evening Aarti

The Tahir family has been holding the Jai Mata Di Navratra Utsav Mandal in Siddhartha Nagar, Vakola since 1983. Started by Mohammad and Zubeda Tahir, their initiative to celebrate Navratri is going strong in its 36th year. With a Kailash Parvat theme this time, the area has been transformed into caves where a 12 ft idol of Goddess Durga is playing with Lord Ganesh.

It all began in 1982 when Zubeda Tahir had a dream where Goddess Durga appeared in front of her. “A woman came to me saying that she had gone to the temple to seek blessings from the Goddess but failed. She asked me to accompany her with a child as only then would the Goddess appear. I went with my child to the temple and saw Devi with open hair in all her finery and my dream faded,” said Zubeda who told this to her husband the next day and who advised her to go Ambe Ma temple in Chembur to offer a coconut and a garland.

They were asked for donations from a nearby Mandal, but decided to donate an idol instead. From that day, the idol has only become grander. Art director A Abdul has created the caves with real sand and the idol has been created by famed artist Vijay Khatu from Lalbaug.

Mohammad Tahir, 61, is a labour contractor and has already been to Vaishnodevi temple 15 times. “I wanted to keep a Bhandara like that temple and asked the goddess for strength to replicate it in my area. People have been very helpful and have donated a lot of groceries. Over 700 people are fed here daily, after the evening Aarti. Till date, I’ve never had to ask for funds. They just come,” said Mohammad, who was also attacked and almost murdered for organising the festival.

Pointing to scars on his back and his head, Mohammad Tahir said that he has had 250 stitches on his body. Zubeda Tahir lost three of her fingers when a mob attacked them. “There was a huge crowd that wanted to jump the line to get Darshan, but we didn’t let them. That angered them and charged to hit me. When my wife came over me to protect me, she lost her fingers, but we were saved by Devi’s and Allah’s grace,” said Mohammad.

Let alone outsiders, the two received a lot of flak from within their community as well. Mohammad’s uncle is a maulana in the Vakola Masjid and told him that he should stop what he was doing, because it was wrong. His mother has ex-communicated him. Mohammad lamented, “It is my destiny. Devi Ma has chosen me. What can I do? I can’t help but say Jai Mata Di to everyone.”

The couple has two sons and two daughters who also observe a fast on these days. “We have Devi in our house too. I don’t know how to pray but I do what I can. I see many Burqa-clad women during Aarti and I don’t believe in preaching religion to anyone. My grandson dances during Ganpati festival, celebrates Gokulashtami, Navratri and Holi too. This generation doesn’t listen to anyone and I let them do what they feel is right. If the kids want to dance, why stop them?” said Zubeda simply.

Videsh Pujari, 17, a frequent visitor of this mandal, is all praise for the duo. He said, “My father told me how much they suffered to keep this festival. They don’t stop anyone from coming and are doing a great job by feeding so many people each day.”

Heerabai Kamble has been singing Bhajans at this mandal ever since it began. “When God doesn’t discriminate among his devotees, who are we to do so? If you cut us, we have the same blood. Devi loves all her children and we love coming here,” she said.

Both Mohammad and Zubeda Tahir believe that Love Jihad is a propoganda which is brainless. “God did not make religion, humans made religion. Humans created Hindu-Muslim factions, If I have been chosen to do this, I will keep doing it no matter what,” said Mohammad.