Thursday, February 09, 2006

Muharram in India: Government's Tazias, Tigers, Sawaris, Eunuchs [Communal Harmony Project-1]

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
1. Kasturi Bai, 58, an old Hindu woman, has not applied oil to her hair for the last several days. She will not during the entire period of ten days. 

The family is in a state of mourning as the 120-year-old tazia is taken out from her house.

The house is kept especially clean, the paan is not chewed, nothing new is worn and everybody walks barefoot.

When asked if someone in her family has objected to these rituals and this practice she says, "How dare anyone? There is Tazia in the house, right now. It's a period of mourning". Recalling the sacrifice of Prophet PBUH's grandson Imam Husain in Karbala, they have been following this tradition for ages.

Amongst those designing the Tazia is a government employee who is on leave these days to oversee the preparations here. A youth is busy in woodwork while an elderly man sits silently, nearby. Children come and sit with respect.

2. A Muslim police officer, who considers tazia and 'maatam' as absolutely un-Islamic and is dead against them, stops a 'sawaari'.

[The sawaari is a term used for a 'youths', who gets 'possessed' during Muharram, may reply to questions and is heavily garlanded in the procession.]

The policeman scolds him. "Don't you have an iota of shame, doing such bid'at despite being a Muslim'. The 'sawari' [youth] sheepishly says...'Sahab, main Hindu hoon' [Sir, I am a Hindu] leaving the cop astonished.

3. Throughout India, eunuchs [the hijdas] take out the most opulent tazias.

4. Amaria Bai, a Hindu, came 150 km from her native village to the state capital to her son just to watch Muharram. As a child she would come with her father to take part in the procession and now as a grandmother too, she arrives annually.

Soon after partition when Delhi was witnessing a shaam-e-ghariban as lakhs of Muslims had left for Pakistan that the Government decided to take out the sarkaari tazias in keeping with the tradition. The aim was also to show that Muslims still stayed and survived here.

Similar sarkari tazias that were taken out by former Hindu states like Holkar, Scindia in Central Indian region, continue to this day. At several places district collectors or other government officials are guardians of the tazias.

For several years these tazias were taken out as hardly a few thousands of Muslims were left in Delhi. Muharram regained its fervour in Delhi by eighties. From Muharram in Delhi and Lucknow, where for 17 years ban remained on processions, to the tribal belt of Bastar and in the South, Muharram bears the shades of local culture.

I never saw savaris in UP. So are the 'sher', children painted as tigers wander on the streets in Eastern Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh during the entire ten days. This makes Muharram procession or Yaum-e-Ashura, an all encompassing tradition.

Many friends do not like these practices. But since my childhood I have been fascinated with the way Moharram brings people  together. I never feel that I have any right to make any such pronouncements or judgments.

Artisans across all fields were in form or the other associated with tazia-making. I remember the carpenter who left all work to return to his hometown to make tazia in the mohalla, though he was otherwise a staunch Hindu.

The blacksmith makes knives and arms for the 'akhada'. Similarly the intricate handwork on the tazias required artisans from all classes and linked them economically to the Muslims. Lately we heard that old tradition of Muharram was dying in India.

I have also seen conflicts within families where a brother insisted on keeping tradition while the other under influence of other sect or jamaat trying to stop the practice. [The photo is of Moharram procession in Sangli, a district in Maharashtra that has a large tribal populace.]

Read a post on this blog about a Hindu family taking out tazia for 130 years in Central India

See photos of the unique Muharram processions in India that show tigers and other interesting facets. See posts here and here.

[Harmony exists all around us but is often ignored. Instead, stories of hate, discord and communalism get spread easily.

There are a million examples in our daily lives across India but they don't get promoted, hence, news of hate and discord gets heard more. Let's change it, now. This is a small attempt to change it through Communal Harmony Project]

For reading similar reports on this blog, Click the link HERE and also find out more about Communal Harmony Project

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