Shimla: As the priest begins to chant the sacred mantras for the daily religious ritual, a group of Muslim musicians quietly joins in, playing the traditional drums, shehnai and trumpets.
This scene from a Himachal Pradesh temple, and common in many of the state`s prominent temples, is an effortless syncretic way of existence that has become part of the social fabric for generations.
Be it the Chintpurni temple in Una district, Naina Devi in Bilaspur district or Jawalaji and Chamunda in Kangra district, it is the Muslims who religiously help the priests in performing rituals by playing the shehnais, trumpets and drums, as Hindu devotees line up to offer prayers.
"In most of the temples in the state, Muslims are prominently helping in carrying out the rituals. They play the musical instruments during daily prayer sessions. Most of them have been doing the job for generations," Prem Parshad Pandit, an officer on special duty, said.
Pandit said that some of the Muslims are good artisans. "For wood carving and miniature painting works for the temples, we employ Muslim craftsmen," he said.
Rafiq Mohammed, a traditional drum-beater of Khaniara village near Dharamsala, said: "We regularly visit various Hindu temples in and around Dharamsala every morning and evening for playing the drums and other percussion instruments. Even our forefathers did this job."
He said the temple authorities give them a share from the offerings.
"Hindus even invite us for religious functions and other rituals at their homes," Mohammed added.
Even during the annual Minjar fair - a popular Hindu fair of Chamba town that symbolises the blossoms of the maize - Muslims play an important role.
Local men, women and children adorn themselves with the sacred gold `minjars` (silk tassel) on their colourful costumes during the fair and pray to the rain god for timely rain and a bumper crop. The embroidery on the `minjars` is done mostly by Muslims.
Hashmi, a craftsman, said: "Our forefathers migrated to Chamba from Lahore (now in Pakistan) more than a century ago and since then we are in the job of weaving a social fabric of brotherhood."
Another display of Hindu-Muslim unity is evident in a tiny village in Kangra district.
In Khlet village near Palampur town, some 45 km from Dharamsala, the locals daily participate in rituals at a temple, a mosque and a church.
"We have been regularly participating in all the rituals in the places of worship for decades," Amar Singh Thakur, a villager, said.