Allahabad: Worn by Hindus, made by Muslims. Dipped in vibrant reds and yellows, `kalawas` made in this corner of the country are more than just the sacred Hindu thread tied around the wrist; they are the strands that interweave religions, stringing together generations in a syncretic bond.
About 500 Muslims in the twin villages of Aalhadganj and Khanjenpur on the outskirts of Allahabad, about 200 km from the state capital Lucknow, earn their livelihood making the kalawas, worn during auspicious occasions, rituals and religious ceremonies.
"It`s true that a kalawa represents a religion, but more than a thread it`s also a means of binding Hindus and Muslims and spreading the message of communal harmony," Israr Ahmad, whose family has been making kalawas for 50 years, said.
"Our work may not promise high returns or instant gains, but the best part of our job is that with the help of our Hindu brothers it gets blessed with the almighty every time kalawas made by us are offered to a deity," added Ahmad, 45, who lives Khanjenpur.
According to locals, Muslim families in Aalhadganj and Khanjenpur have been making kalawas for 100 years.
"Our profession has given us a distinct identity. And it`s great that this identity is not confined to any religion... Our religion does not come in the way of our profession, which despite having the business aspect gives us a chance to serve our Hindu brothers," said Anaru, 47, who belongs to Aalhadganj.
He says his family has been making kalawas since 1930.
It`s a job that involves starting the day at 3 a.m. and painstakingly following each step of the procedure - from raw material segregation to dyeing and drying and finally dispatching to wholesalers.
The raw material mainly comprises waste from power looms of Maharashtra`s city Bhiwandi, also known as the jungle of power looms.
"In our local dialect, we call the raw material `naara`. We start our job with segregation of the naara. The job is primarily done by women, who have to form different bundles out of the naara," said Rehana Khatoon, whose grandchildren are also involved in the trade.
"Once the bundles are formed, they are dipped in hot drums containing red and yellow colours. After the threads get coated in colours, they are left on ropes in the fields for drying, and thereafter, they are dispatched to wholesalers," she added.
The trade fetches an average profit of around Rs.5,000-7,000 per month.
"However, whenever there are auspicious seasons like Navratri (the nine-day festival dedicated to goddess Durga) or important Hindu festivals, our trade grows manifold with the increase in demand of the sacred threads," said Ashfaq Ahmad, another artisan involved in making kalawas.
Kalawas made here are sent not just to various corners of Uttar Pradesh, India`s most populous and often volatile state, but also to various temples in Maharashtra and Jammu.
The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has also taken note of the contribution made by the Muslim artisans creating the kalawa.
"More than a trade, kalawa-making is fostering relations between Hindus and Muslims," said BSP legislator Guru Prasad Maurya.
"It is really a matter of pride...We all should feel privileged that we have people among us who have been spreading a message of communal harmony in their own way," Maurya said.