Sultanganj: Tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims are seen slinging these wooden structures, called 'kanwars', across their shoulders at this time of the year in an act of penance and faith.

But unknown to most, these are made by poor Muslim artisans in this small town of Bihar who, with their simple passion for their craft, reinforce a glorious tradition of communal harmony in India.

There are over 24 such Muslim artisans in Sultanganj in Bhagalpur district, about 200 km from state capital Patna. And Hindu Kanwariya pilgrims readily buy their 'kanwars' to fetch holy water from the Ganges river.

Mohammad Kalam is a name to reckon with among all these artisans. He has been doing this for nearly three decades.

“We eagerly wait for the arrival of the month of Shravan (July-August) for making kanwars of different designs and to display them as art pieces to woo Hindu devotees,” Kalam said.

Even as these Muslim artisans are busy observing fasts during the ongoing holy month of Ramzan and are offering prayers, they are very much doing their job.

Hundreds of 'Hindu brothers and sisters' from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, New Delhi and Bangalore visit Kalam's shop for kanwars.

Kanwars are wooden carriers fitted with metal or plastic water pots. The Shiva pilgrims, in their month-long Kanwar Yatra, carry poles across their shoulders hanging the pots in these kanwars.

Kanwariya pilgrims in Bihar collect Ganges water from the river in Sultanganj.

They carry and store this holy water in kanwars and cover 105 km on foot to reach a temple in Deoghar in Jharkhand. They then offer water to the Shivlinga at the ancient temple.

Kalam makes kanwars only during the season of the pilgrimage. On other days, he runs a small shoe shop or works as a labourer for his livelihood.

“I down the shutters of my leather shop during Shravan month for making kanwars. It is a passion to make decorative kanwars for Hindu devotees,” Kalam said.

Kalam's brother Mohammad Salam does odd jobs throughout the year but he too crafts kanwars during the season.

“We are proud of making kanwars. Much more than the money we earn, it fetches us love and respect,” Salam said.

He said that Hindu devotees prefer to use kanwars made by Muslim artisans for its quality and durability. “It is a matter of honour for us that Hindu devotees use kanwars made by Muslim artisans for performing rituals to please Lord Shiva,” he said.

Another Muslim artisan, Shaukat Alam, has the knack for making a wide variety of kanwars. The prices vary according to the quality of the items used.

“Kanwars with new decorative styles and designs and less weight are priced higher,” Alam said.

Ashok Singh, a devotee here, said he has been purchasing his kanwar from Kalam for years. “It is most comfortable to use the kanwar made by Kalam,” he said.

Shankar Yadav, another Hindu devotee from here, loves to purchase his kanwar from Muslim artisans. “Kanwars made by Muslim artisans are more attractive and of good quality. I simply go for their kanwar,'”Yadav said.

“They may be Muslims but it has never stopped me from using kanwars made by them,” Yadav insisted .

Salam said he does not make kanwars for a livelihood. He said, “It is a labour of love.”