Abdul Nabi‘s family is among the few surviving families that have been making the Anantana daara for the Hindu festival Ananta Padmanabha vrata, which falls today. We fold our hands before Allah and make the thread for Ananta, it’s one and the same

The bustling City Market in Bangalore is a procession of infinite surprises. Amidst its filth and squalor gleams the hope of life’s promises. Even the trusted little house sparrow that vanished long ago from our window sills and balconies chirrups in between familiar faces of men and women as they go about their everyday business. Huge iron pans brushing shoulders with aluminium tea pots, coal stoves, piles of haldi, kumkum, colourful flowers, a short man, a fair woman, an idle dog, a busy cat – everything here appears as a symbol of faith in human co-existence. Look further – there’s a dark, scrawny man tucked in between piles and piles of thread, white, red, yellow, pink and more. Abdul Nabi’s skilful fingers move with speed, as he looks up to ask “What?”. For over four decades, he has been making the “Anantana daara” for the Hindu festival Ananta Padmanabha Vrata that is observed with an exacting austerity.

Abdul Nabi comes from Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu. His father was a thread merchant, selling all kinds of threads. “I was barely seven when both my parents died,” he says, his fingers continuously engaged in tying various kinds of knots. Nearly 50 years ago, when he came to Bangalore in search of a job, Kasim sahib kept him as a helper in his ‘grandhige angadi’ (a shop that sells puja items). “A lot of Brahmins and Vaishyas used to visit the store. Kasim sahib shared a special bond with many since they were regular visitors to the store. He knew exactly what they wanted for every festival,” he recalls. It was here that Abdul Nabi learnt how to make the “Anantana daara”. “I remember Kasim sahib telling me that it was the Vaishyas who taught him how to make this thread.”

Anantana daara is not simple to make. It comprises a cluster of 14 knots that has to be tied in a particular manner, the thread must be one and a half metres long, at the end of it is a reef knot or what looks like an undocked tail (kuchchu) dressed in golden thread, depending on whether it is to be a worn by a man or a woman. “During the four years that I worked in Kasim sahib’s shop I learnt this,” remembers Abdul Nabi. Soon he was out of the job; he started making Anantana daara on the streets of City Market, and slept the nights on some empty pavement. Today, he has a small ‘grandhige angadi’ of his own, where Hindu families from all over Karnataka come to buy Anantana daara from him.

It’s a surprise that all over Karnataka, Anantana daara has been made by Muslims for ages. Abdul Nabi tells us of a few surviving enterprises in Mysore, Hubli and other places. “It’s perhaps because people of our community were thread merchants…,” he reasons. Abdul Nabi’s cheerful son Yarab Basha who now lends a hand to his father’s enterprise explains how the process of making Anantana daara begins eight months ahead of the festival. From sourcing white thread, to dyeing them, to making its various parts and finally joining them all together – it’s a long process. “Initially, my mother used to help my father. Gradually even I learnt. Now we even outsource it to a few families around our house. It’s very difficult and demands complete concentration,” he explains, as he demonstrates how it is made. The family makes about 10,000 threads per year and not even a single piece remains. “When we start the annual ritual, we do it with great faith. It’s God’s work you see. We pray to Allah to help us sail through smoothly. Thanks to Him and my father’s hard work, people come to us with trust and love.”

Abdul Nabi also makes Gouri daara for Gouri Festival, and Navami daara for Deepavali. While Anantana daara is the most complicated of the lot and comes in a single colour, Gouri daara is available in 20 colours and Navami daara in five to six colours. “I have seen my father’s dedication and have been moved by it,” says Yarab, sending his father to have lunch. “His belief continues in me. Not just in terms of the work we do, but like him, I too believe that all Gods are one. We are devout Muslims, we try to do namaaz five times a day, and then we make Anantana daara.” Yarab remembers his childhood, his friends, how they used to take part in the temple procession – “Nothing mattered then. It doesn’t matter now either. I have friends from all communities, we care for each other. Our religions may be different…,” says the soft spoken Yarab.

Looking up from his plate Abdul Nabi says, “Nimma devaru namma devaru ella onde (Your god and our god are all the same),” insisting that differences are manmade. “Hottepaadige nimma devaru, kai mugiyodu namma devarige – ella onde alwa? (For livelihood it’s your God, we fold our hands before our God, isn’t that one and the same?) Abdul Nabi throws a question. “I’m not sure if our children will want to make Anantana daara. We know of several Muslim families that have more or less given up this tradition because it’s time consuming and the profits are not huge. It may stop…,” says Yarab.

Abdul Nabi looks at Yarab and then at us, “No, it won’t stop,” he says picking up the thread, again.