Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Muharram in India: Mourning for Imam Husain's martyrdom, Ashura traditions in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh


India is a vast country and Muharram is observed across the length and breadth of the nation.

Not just Muslims, Hindus too take part in Muharram. In fact, Muharram reflects local culture in each state and region of the country.

From district to district, the shapes and forms of Tazias, the rituals differ. However, the passion remains same among Muslims and Hindus.

Muharram in small cities, towns

Generally, photographs from major cities like Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Hyderabad are seen in newspapers and media. In major cities in Central India like Jabalpur, Bhopal, Raipur, Indore, Bilaspur and Gwalior, Muharram is observed on a big scale.

Khargone, MP
In Bhopal alone, nearly 700 Tazias are taken out on Yaum-e-Ashura--the 10th of Islamic month of Muharram.

But this post deals with Muharram observances in smaller towns in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The reason is that from these places photographs don't generally reach the people, as media ignores small towns.

On the left is the photograph of Tazias in Panna, a small town in Madhya Pradesh.

The Tazias are quite high and the shape is also unique. The second photo shows a Tazia in Khargone, a tribal dominated region in South Eastern MP.

Imam Husain's horse, Zul-Jinah, is often seen on tazias. Here, its size is quite big.

Sarkari Tazia, Indore
Sarkari Tazia

The next photograph shows the 'Sarkari Tazia' in Indore. It is brought out from the era when Holkar was a princely state.

The person accompanying the Tazia is seen wearing the traditional Maratha dress and the headgear.

Sarkari Tazias are brought out in dozens of cities in MP and Chhattisgarh, It is an old tradition.

It dates backs to the era of princely states, when Muharram was observed under state patronage.

Though the Rajas and Nawabs are no more, these Tazias continue to be brought out with the same enthuiasm.

Mostly Sunnis, Hindus take out Taziyas

For many, who aren't aware, it needs to be clarified that Shias take out 'Alams' and perform the 'maatam' viz. beating their chests to express their grief over the martyrdom of Imam Husain.

Begamganj, MP
Sunnis and Hindus take out Tazias. In MP, 'sawaris' or persons who are possessed, are also a distinct feature of the Ashura.

Hindus, especially, women go to the 'sawari' and make their wishes. Also, they seek the 'sawari's blessings.

Irrespective of religion, the kids are made to bow their head and walk under the Tazia.

It is considered auspicious by the devotees.The mourners chant 'Ya Husain'. Urdu verses are played on loud speakers.

Those addressing the gatherings during the procession, rue that they weren't there during the battle, to fight along side the Imam.

Many people walk barefoot towards the local Karbala. Shias whiplash themselves and show their devotion.

Kunkuri, Chhattisgarh

Sherbet is also distributed on the way to the local Karbala [at the water body] in each town.

In the procession, there are also Akhadas where youth show their acrobatics.Also, traditional Indian martial arts are displayed. Those in procession recite elegiac verses.

On the right is the photograph of fireworks at Begamganj town in Raisen district in central MP.

On the eve of 10th of Islamic month of Muharram, there is a display of such fireworks at many places.

People also walk on fire or burning coal, to show their devotion. The fifth photograph shows a tazia being taken away on a cycle-rickshaw.

Chhindwara, MP

This is the photo from Kunkuri in remote Chhattisgarh. The children also accompany the tazia.

Interestingly, most of the people who build tazia, and work for days to complete it, belong to lower-middle class or poor section of the society.

They save hard earned money to build the tazia, because of their devotion and the sense of tradition.

A tazia is a replica of Imam Husain's 'rauza' or tomb.  Muharram is observed to commemorate Imam Husain, his family and companion's martyrdom.


On the right is a boy dressed as tiger in Chhindwara in MP. This is also an aspect of Muharram observance in central India and Maharashtra. Many families praying for child, take a vow that if the kid is born, they would turn him into 'Husain's sher (tiger)'.

Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh

The practice continues till date. Similarly, there are many other associated traditions that vary from regions to region.

First, the treachery and later the brutality with which Husain, his family and companions including children, were killed, shocked the Islamic world.

Husain was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. The battle of Karbala took place nearly fourteen centuries ago in Iraq.

Bhilai, Chhattisgarh
Husain stood for principles. He refused to swear allegiance to the tyrant Yazid who was turning Caliphate into a hereditary rule.

Centuries have passed but the tragedy continues to inspire people and gives them the courage to stand for truth.

On the left is the photograph of a procession of Tazias in Bhilai in Chhattisgarh. There is a long line of brightly lit Tazias, which move around in the town before immersion.

The big photograph shows Guru Nanak Jayanti procession passing on the same street, where a Tazia procession is also moving.

This photo is from Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh. Read posts on Muharram traditions published on this blog in the past.


1. Muharram observed in India: Photos from Western, Southern and Eastern India.

2. Most famous Urdu, Persian verses, poetry on the message behind Husain's sacrifice. SEE THE LINK