Muharram: The Traditional Observance

There would be no smile on her face, and she would not comb her hair, or use mirror
Painting depicting a woman distributing Kashmiri Taehar (cooked rice) at some Sufi site
(COURTESY KASHMIR SHADE)
Painting depicting a woman distributing Kashmiri Taehar (cooked rice) at some Sufi site (COURTESY KASHMIR SHADE)

I have not seen my mother, as she left for heavenly abode before I would open my eyes. I knew better my grandmother who in severe poverty brought me up.

I clearly remember she would earn her livelihood by spinning yarn on a hand driven spinning wheel (Yender) while in the morning she would voluntarily run her Darasgha (Maddrassa) for her village women and make them learn the teachings of Islam. The village women would also respect her and would call her Hajra Sahiba.

Originally she belonged to Syed family of Bugam (Kulgam) and was married to Peer family of Parigam (Kulgam), only at a distance of two kilometers.

She had no schooling but had learnt the basics of Islam from her well read parents. She would every morning sit against a lattice worked window and recite the verses of holy Quran.

She was also fond of Persian and Kashmiri literature, and during spinning of yarn till late night, would sing the lyrics of the Persian literary compositions from Kareema Namahaq, Gulstan Bustan, and Masnavi Moulana Roomi in her melodious voice.

Since I was a little boy, she would hold my little legs under her lap and put my head on the base of the spinning wheel on a low cushion. I would slowly fall asleep while listening to her melodious voice and the sound of the spinning wheel.

I remember, she was a devoted Sufi, would observe the Muslim festivity days with all love. She would welcome Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar with honor and dignity. She would make us understand the sanctity of this month and revive the sacrifices offered by Ahalibayeet (the holy family of Prophet Muhammad SAW).

Since she served as the head woman of our family, she would not encourage any social or cultural or any marriage related functions to be held during this sacred month. She would also advice us to respect the observance of this month.

I observed, soon with sighting of the Muharram moon, she would change her life style. Instead of enjoying the festivity of the new year of the Muslim calendar, she would look just in mourning and as if somebody in our family had left for heavenly abode.

There would be no smile on her face, she would not comb her hair, neither would she apply surma to her eyes. She would never see her face into mirror and would never wear fast color garments.

She would rise in the wee hours of morning and would herself prepare Mayeer (Cured rice) and would carry it in a pot on her head, to our native Sufi shrine where she would distribute it among the little village children.

In the evening she would continue her spinning work and would not stop singing; but there would be change in her lyrics and tune. She would now sing the emotional compositions from karbala nama (the battle of Karbala) in Kashmiri as well as in Persian.

In fact, this practice was not only followed in my house, but in my neighborhood as well. Usually almost all people in my village would honor this month as it was the month when highest sacrifice was offered by Imam Hussian (AS), the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in the battle field of Karbala.

I was a little boy and had not yet learned about such horrific battle events and it was first time when I heard and learned about the horrific Karbala episode. It was with deep emotional feelings that my grandmother would tell me the tragic story of Karbala.

I could understand this incident, which had a strong bearing on the minds and souls of intellectuals of my land as well.

Since decades had passed when this ugly episod took place in the one sided battle of Karbala, in between the troops of Yazid and the holy family of Prophet Muhammad SAW, but the legacy of Husain’s martyrdom has been so fresh in the minds of Kashmiri people that it looked like it happened today.

In fact it was the tradition of the majority of Kashmir society, that irrespective of their caste, creed and beliefs, they would still feel the pain and agony of Karbala.

They would all honor the month of Muharram. Some will observe it with holding of mourning processions, many would prepare delicious cured rice locally called mayeer and distribute among little children while number of others would distribute sharbat or drinking water on this occasion to commemorate this event.

In fact, although there is no such religious dictate for its observance, nor any prohibition for holding any marriage ceremony or marriage party in the month of Muharram, or Safar, in any of the religious scripts, but still people have been observing it and avoiding holding of domestic functions during these months.

The lovers of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and His Ahlibayet (family members) would not hold any such function in the month of Muharram and Safar.

The question arises, when there is no such binding in Muslim scripts then why people follow this tradition. Several Muslim clerics will call it (bidaa’h), an unwarranted addition. But to me it is not any addition.

It is basically the faith, devotion and deep association of devotees with their Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and with his holy family, that they have not forgotten the tragedy of Karbala. On the one hand they are mourning the martyrdom while on the hand they are paying rich tributes to the martyrs of Karbala and hailing their great sacrifice.

They think it is their moral responsibility to observe Ashura and show solidarity with martyrs of Karbala and as such refrain from holding party functions in the month of Muharram.

One more reason behind the observance of Ashura, is that Islam in Kashmir did not spread with aggression. No Islamic ruler came to Kashmir to spread Islam and rule this land.

In fact it were the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), a mystic group comprising Syed missionaries headed by Amir Kabeer Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, who founded Islam in Kashmir with all love and devotion.

It was because of this fact that Kashmiris had great faith and attachment with the family of the Holy Prophet and would always respect the Syed saints and their tombs as well.

In fact the things have changed to certain extent and with the increase in Muslim sects and introduction of modern thoughts of Islam; the traditional and conservative Islamic thought has got affected.

It has also weakened the faith and love of Muslims towards their religious icons. The traditional observance of Ashura has generally also declined, but my grandmother who is in her very advanced age still observes the month of Muharram in her own traditional style; she would not stop reciting the emotional lyrics from Karbalanama. Indeed she has kept alive its spiritual legacy.

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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