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Research Beyond Religion: Muslim Professor Traces Hindu Gods in Research Paper By: Dipanjana Dey

Kolkata: Dr Sk Makbul Islam, a professor of comparartive folklore at St Paul´s Cathedral Mission College in Kolkata conducted an extensive research work on Lord Jagannath of Puri. Dr. Makbul conducted devotional tours of 280 temples in the last five years to complete his research work.


The 47 year old Muslim Academic visited 240 temples in Bengal, 28 in Bangladesh and 12 in Nepal to unravel the mystique of Lord Jagannath in the Bengali consciousness. Sk Makbul Islam´s post doctoral research earned him a DLitt from Utkal University this April.


Makbul says, “My love for Lord Jagannath led him to the this research work”. Makbul was teaching Bengali at St Paul´s Cathedral Mission College in Kolkata where some of his colleagues happened to be Oriyas. Thus he became familiar with Oriya language and learnt to talk and read. He finished his PhD thesis on the comparative folklore of Bengal and Odisa in 1997. In 2006, he was invited by Utkal University for a special lecture, where he interacted with academics and local people.


“An idea struck me then. It was may be for the Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and ISKON founder Swami Prabhupada who propagated Lord Jagannath beyond Odisa, but there was little research and documentation of it. That became the basis of my post doctoral work” Makbul says. In 2008, he registered for post doctoral research in Utkal University. UGC too accepted his proposal. ““UGC´s project helped me with funds. The research involved exhaustive travel particularly to Nepal. That was a challenge due to the terrain. Without UGC´s grant it would not have been possible” he adds.


Makbul says the entire experience had been very different. “There was little restrictions at Jagannath temple. Sometimes it is over hyped. The sanctum, like other temples, is off bounds for all. So is the kitchen, where Lord Jagannath´s food is prepared. There is no restriction on the premises,” he says. “Frankly, I too was unsure of what was in store since I came from a different community. Though I speak their language, I was sceptical if they would open up to me. But my experience was wornderful,” he said.


The Puri Jagannath temple is known to have restrictions for people from other communties. Particularly for the Muslims better known to have non vegetaranian food. Police are deployed around in the vicinity identifying miscreants who might disturb the peace and tranquility of the exquisite temple built in the 12th century.


But for this Bengali speaking Muslim professor who wanted to study about a Hindu God and history was welcomed by the people with open arms. He said every where he went devotees of Lord Jagannath helped him retrace the Lord’s path.


This proves that education has no bounds.


Makbul wrote five books all on Lord Jagannath and his influence on the Bengali mind. “I felt there was a huge gap in documenting Lord Jagannath´s influence in the Bengali mentality. I guess I have been able to bridge it to some extent.”


Islam is probably the first Muslim in the country who has been awarded a DLitt for doing research on a Hindu God. On April 13, the Utkal univarsity gave him the award. the title of doctoral thesis “Comparative Folklore : Appreciating Bengal Orissa Cultural Relation” Registered Number – 02-DLit-Odia 2008-2009. He was guided by Professor Surendranath Das for his doctoral thesis. Dr. Maqbul born in a Bengali Muslim family who are the Sufi order followers of Howrah, Bagnun area of Gadi village. Apart from Jagannath he is the humble follower of Ganesh. Dr. Maqbul not only read Koran but he completed reading the Holy Gita and Bible.

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