One can observe the richness and beauty of the diversity of Indian Culture at the occasion of Muharram. Since the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Muharram ceremonies are observed all over the world including India. Hindus take part in them with great reverence and devotion. The tragedy of Karbala has become the harbinger for interfaith understanding in the Indian sub-continent. Participation of Hindus in the mourning rituals of Imam Hussain has been a feature of Hinduism for centuries in large parts of India. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and even Christians observe Muharram. In the city of Varanasi which is the holiest city for Hindus many Hindu families participate in Muharram processions.
A Hindu poet had once said:
“Baad marne ke bhee matam ki sada aati rahi,
Log harat se meri jalti chita dekha kiye”.
Translation: The sound of lamentation (at the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) continued even after my death. The people watched my burning pyre with adoration and admiration.
One can notice the same spirit of love, respect and sadness for Imam Hussain in Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Chennai, Amroha, Indore, Nagpur, Jaipur, Bhopal and other major cities and towns. In several cities Hindus also take part with enthusiasm in making the taziyas (replicas of the Imam Husain’s mausoleum in Karbala). Varanasi’s Shivala Mohalla boasts of the most artistic taziya, and a replica of Zuljinah, Imam Hussain’s brave horse which is given milk in a traditional ritual in many cities.
Readers of this blog would find it interesting to learn that the Hindu rulers of Vijayanagar in Deccan (southern India) built wonderful Imambaras during the 16th and 17th centuries. They even wore the black garments of mourning during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram. Muharram processions during the 18th and 19th centuries were taken out by the Hindus in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra with rath-shaped (Hindu chariots) tazias. The Maratha kingdoms like the Scindias of Gwalior, the Holkars of Indore, the Gaekwads of Baroda and the Bhonsle of Kolhapur and Pune till now observe Muharram rituals with great devotion.
Let us forgive and forget the recent conflagrations caused by those who are not even aware of the meaning and message of Hinduism and Islam and recollect that during the dynastic Hindu rules they strived to create interfaith understanding between Muslims and Hindus by observing Muharram ceremonies. The most famous of them all was the Rajah of Gwalior, a state in central India. The Rajah used to go barefoot with the procession every year on the day of Ashura, holding a replica of Imam Hussain’s mausoleum.. Many Hindus in Lucknow fast with Muslims on this day, while others distribute sherbet (sweet juices) and iced milk to those participating in the Muharram processions. Lucknow also boasts of several Hindu ‘imambaras’ (mausoleums). One such is the ‘Kishnu Khalifa ka Imambara’ in Bashiratganj locality in the old city area. The Imambara, established in 1880, is famous for its Hindu ‘azadars’ (devotees) who observe Muharram with all the religiosity of the Muslims. In Lucknow, seat of the Shia nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, the standards representing the Karbala event.
Muharram is an unique occasion in the socio-cultural fabric of Indian history which presents an unparalleled example of Hindu-Muslim unity. Let us go to South India and you will find the non-Muslim tribal Lambadi community in Andhra Pradesh has their own genre of Muharram lamentation songs in Telugu. Among certain Hindu castes in Rajasthan, the Karbala battle is recounted by staging plays in which the death of Imam Hussain is enacted, after which the women of the village come out in a procession, crying and cursing Yazid for his cruelty.
Let me talk about Madhya Pradesh. The Sharma Hindu families have been taking out the Tazia procession on Muharram for more than 120 years in some districts of Madhya Pradesh. The ritual began in 1882 when the Raikwar family of the Vidisha town began preparing and taking out Tazias on the ninth day of Muharram. Since then, the Raikwar’s Tazia leads the procession of mourners on Muharram, and moves ahead of the long line of replicas of Imam Hussain’s tomb and flags along the streets. Like several Muslim families across the globe, the Raikwar family members, too, set aside their daily chores to grieve for the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. He is one of the greatest personality of Islam and he is loved, respected and admired for his courage and fortitude against the inhuman, corrupt, delinquent and tyrant ruler Yazid, the son of Muawiah. According to historical references Yazid was not properly educated with the teachings of Islam. He used to drink alcohol, gamble, and commit all other cardinal sins. This despot transformed the face of the Islam of Prophet and made it subservient to his whims, fancies and debauchery. He was the real terrorist and he had brought back the old unprincipled life-style that Prophet and his companions had banished and destroyed from ordinary life. Truth, Justice, Equality, Freedom and Liberty were all at stake during his rule. All precious values were disappearing from the life as the ruler was flouting the tenets of Islam. The restoration of those values demanded rebellion against the tyrant ruler and it meant the sacrifice of life of Imam. He chose the path of danger and hardships and never swerved from it, giving up his life. Imam Hussain was martyred in the Karbala along with 72 members of his family and companions. For three days the supply of water and food was completely cut off by the rulers. However, that didn’t weaken the reslove and determination of Imam and he refused to surrender.
Imam Hussain is everybody’s hero. He was the embodiment of virtues of piety, courage and self-sacrifice. He did not seek power. His message was for everyone.
“The Hindu”, one of the largest selling English daily in India reported in its 31 January, 2007 issue that a large number of Hindus participated in the `Tazia’ procession along with Muslims at Pulimankulam in Tamil Nadu state. The procession was led by V. Nayaz Ahmed Bijili and H. Habeebur Rahman Bijili, hereditary trustees of the Athangarai Pallivasal Dargah. Hindus from Sokkalingapuram, Urumankulam, Tiruvamabalapuram and Avudayalpuram, marched towards the `chavadi’, where the `Panjas’ were installed, and offered prayers.