HOLEH HAEJ: The Disease, Rituals and Kashmir

Tumultuous would remain the scene when Tahaer was arranged in the measles hit victim’s courtyard
"But, all I want to shed light on in the below mentioned paragraphs is on measles (popularly known as Holej in Kashmir) and Kashmir’s culture, tradition and rituals associated with it."
"But, all I want to shed light on in the below mentioned paragraphs is on measles (popularly known as Holej in Kashmir) and Kashmir’s culture, tradition and rituals associated with it." Special arrangement

Holeh Haej (measles) which is also called Rubeola, is a viral infection that starts in the respiratory system.

Despite the availability of the vaccine, it is a notable cause of death worldwide.

The disease kills more than 1 lakh people a year, mostly those who are under the age of 5.

Here in this column, I don’t want to bore my readers by giving them a detailed description about this disease. I leave that for medical science experts.

But, all I want to shed light on in the below mentioned paragraphs is on measles (popularly known as Holej in Kashmir) and Kashmir’s culture, tradition and rituals associated with it.

Majority among us today do not even know that measles is called Holeh Haej or Holej or Holej Baed in our mother-tongue. And they don’t possess any knowledge about the rituals that were performed by people in Kashmir when measles would bother them.

It is important to tell you that when people taunted others, they would say, ‘Paye Holej Budh’ (may measles attack you) - a remark made in order to anger, wound or provoke someone. Our elderly are the only people in Kashmir who still have sound knowledge about the rituals that would go with this disease.

But unfortunately, they, either due to old age weakness or due to the forgetfulness, are not in a position to pass the knowledge on to the modern generation. Therefore, it becomes mandatory for a culture and heritage preservationist, like me, to pen down some information about it vis-à-vis culture and rituals of Kashmir.

The modern healthcare came to Kashmir only after 1947. Before it, the entire valley quite often had to bear the brunt of different diseases whose victims were mostly the innocent children, both in rural and urban areas.

Though nowadays, a separate drops card is issued to the babies by the health department for different doses of vaccination against several diseases, yet those days, measles would remain a challenging task before the masses.

Today, doctors suggest us to get the children vaccinated for this disease when the child is between 12 to 15 months of age and then the 2nd dose between 4 to 5 years. Means the disease is under complete surveillance these days. But then, in the by gone era, it was a factor of worry and desperation among Kashmiris.

Those days the only treatment for this disease was Unani Elajj (the Ayurvedic method) not the present allopathic one. People, by and large, would first go for the home remedies to cure the rashes on the bodies of their kids.

The rashes (small red spots) would appear first on the face due to high fever among children and then move on to other parts of the body. The contagious and infectious disease had other symptoms as well like persistent cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, etc besides blotchy skin of clusters of spots and bumps.

Both in villages and towns, this disease hit children were kept isolated for 10-14 days which experts believe as its incubation period. I recall, when those days in my village any child was hit by measles, he would become the talk of entire village for days together. Other parents would not at all allow their kids even to pass on by the side of the measles victim’s house fearing that the disease might spread.

The victim’s parents would bring Peer (a person devoted to religion) home to cure their child by chanting some mantras or religious hymns. The last treatment for Holej in that time was to distribute Tahri (rice mixed with milk) among the village children in the courtyard as a mark of gratitude to the Divine.

In my village, people would mostly distribute Dodh Mayer (rice mixed with milk) among children. It was a ritual. All the village children were gathered in the lawn after a couple of days of Holej to eat this Tahri in big steel or copper plates called Traem in local parlance.

And when after performing all the rituals, this disease would not get controlled then Kalhir Bate or Pacheh Kalhir was arranged. Kalhir Bate or Pacheh Kalhir was actually rice with head and hooves of either cattle or sheep to be shared out among the village children. In that time, it was called Tchetche Tahaer (rice mixed with head and hooves of sheep).

Tumultuous would remain the scene when Tchetche Tahaer was arranged in the measles hit victim’s courtyard because not only village children would come to eat it but elders would also join to relish the same.

In order to involve maximum children, Tchetche Tahaer was arranged in a Tathul (a big wooden plate) to eat. Tathul, which was once a famous artefact of Kashmir’s culture, is now hardly seen anywhere. Though Tchetche Tahaer was mostly arranged during Shutehl (small-pox) disease, yet, in certain serious cases of measles, it was used as well.

I vividly remember, elders while eating Tchetche Tahaer would advise children to chant loudly Khaer Qabool, Balai Door (Oh! Allah accept our offering and take away this measles monster) which they chanted themselves as well.

Earlier, the ritual of giving out Tahri, fetching Peer home and organizing Tchetche Tahaer was common among people, but nowadays it seems to have been ignored only because the social position of people across Kashmir has considerably improved in recent years as a result of education. My grandma, Zoon Ded (Zooni Begum) at my Nanihaal (maternal grandma’s home) would get her share of Tchetche Tahaer whenever any child was hit by Holej disease.

Manzoor Akash is teaches English, hails from zone Dangiwacha, Rafiabad.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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