A moving photograph of a Hindu and Muslim soldier praying side by side under the same roof has gone viral in India, highlighting the diversity and harmony in the nation’s military at a time of grave religious tension in much of civil society.
The image, shared on Instagram by a user identified as “power_beard,” shows two young, uniformed soldiers from an Indian Army unit—one Hindu, the other Muslim—worshipping in a tiny room separated into a temple and a mosque by a makeshift wall.
“Absolute secularism is the forte of the Indian Army, wherein equal respect is ascribed to all religions,” says an August 12 article in The Sentinel, an online newspaper in Northeast India which reported the remarkable story. “Everyone in the Indian Army, be it a Hindu, a Christian or a Muslim, attends all auspicious functions … as one unit.”
According to the Instagram user, both the Hindu and Islamic houses of worship in the photograph are known as “Sarv Dharma Sthal”—a Hindi-language phrase that, loosely translated, means “site of equal respect” according to the ED Times.
An Indian Defence Review article defines the term as “a common prayer hall” and states, “The commanding officer of a unit is responsible for the religious and the spiritual well-being of his jawans [soldiers]. Depending on the class composition, a unit can have a mandir, gurudwara, church or a mosque, or all of these together. In mixed units, rather than having separate religious places, a sarva dharma sthal (a common prayer hall) may be provided, where all troops meet for various religious functions. Army life is totally secular. Army jawans are taught to respect all religions and there is nothing unusual to find a Muslim or Christian visiting the unit temple or gurudwara.”
The term may derive from “Sarva Dharma Sambhava,” a well-known phrase in Indian tradition popularized by Mahatma Gandhi which means “equal respect for all religions.” It is also similar to the concept of “Sarva Dharma Sammelan”("Meeting of all faiths"), an assembly generally organized by the Jain community.
“For those who don’t know, my unit has around 15 percent Muslims,” states the Instagram user. “All auspicious functions are started by a Pooja [Hindu prayers] in the Mandir [temple] and a Namaz [Islamic prayers] in the Masjid [mosque].”
“Though we are in an undisclosed location [classified for security reasons], I couldn’t resist sharing this great view of my two boys who are responsible for the respective temporary places of worship separated by a wall.” (By “responsible,” the Instagram user appears to be suggesting that the two soldiers created the makeshift houses of worship.)
The Instagram post is titled, “Separated by Religion; United by Faith.”
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