Muharram in Lucknow: an unmatched illustration of the martyrdom
Volume: 13, No: 08 ; August-2019
Lucknow is famous for a host of things related to history, heritage, culture and cuisine, and added to the list is the observation of Muharram – the mourning of martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his kin.
Lucknow Azadari (mourning) is famous all around the world for its well-choreographed processions, generous distribution of tabarruk (community sacred food for distribution), and unmatched faith in mourning the martyrs of Karbala. Moreover, the Muharram is observed the longest in Lucknow, which is for the duration of 68 days.
The story of Muharram traces to the battle of Karbala. Karbala, present day in Iraq, is the cornerstone of institutionalized devotion and mourning in the memory of Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. It is the symbol of martyrdom and suffering, which the family of the prophet was subjected to. The martyrs of Karbala and their surviving family members have remained archetypal heroes for Muslims as well as some non-Muslim inhabitants of India and the world.
The prophet’s son-in-law Hazrat Ali is also remembered during this period as having suffered and died for righteous causes.
With the onset of Muharram, Lucknow particularly the Shia community of Lucknow get into a very generous and sorrowful mood, especially during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram – which are the most sacred days of the month. Every day after putting on black attire, they engage themselves in various charitable activities during the day and in Majlis (traditional congregations) during the evenings.
Muharram, or the sacred month, marks the beginning of the new Islamic year however for the Shias they begin the year by mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
The word ‘muharram’ also means respect. The first ten days of the month are observed as a period of daily mourning. The killing of Hussain happened on the tenth day of the month of Muharram and the event is being called Ashura. Shia Muslims observe it every year as a public expression of grief.
The event of mourning varies among different branches of Shias and ethnic groups. Many Sunnis also observe this event but to a lesser extent, however during the times of Nawabs the sunnis observed the occasion with equal enthusiasm and faith. Vast difference can be seen in how Muharram is being observed in different regions of the world and here in Lucknow. It is said, if you wish to experience the best of Muharram in India, Lucknow is the place to be.
Imambaras have a prominent place specially during Muharram and in the lives of Shia Muslims. Imambaras are considered to be homes to the martyrs of Karbala. And even the poorest Shias in Lucknow have a place set aside for an Imambara in their homes, just like small temples in Hindu homes.
The much anticipated occasion goes on for two months and eight days. The first ten days of this sacred month resonate with the cries of Ya Husain! Ya Abbas! in every household of Shia Muslim.
The Imambaras are thronged by believers, mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his kin including women and children in the battle of Karbala.
The art of Tazia making unfolds in Lucknow..
A night before the 1st Muharram, Imambaras are bedecked with some religious paraphernalia and the main among them is the famous ‘tazias’ – the miniature mausoleums modeled on the mausoleums in Karbala that are generally made of bamboo and colorful paper. The makers of these intricately-designed and elaborate tazias, the Tazia makers, majorly reside in the Kazmain an area of Old Lucknow. The tazia makers in this region have mastered in the art of tazia making.
The work of tazia making begins at least 6 months before Muharram arrives as from here these tazias are supplied to other cities and nearby villages as well. Originally, the word Tazia is a derivative of the word Taziyat, meaning condolences. So Tazia here refers to giving condolences to Imam Hussain and his kin and other martyrs in the battle of Karbala as one would give to his/her relatives.
The history of Taziadari of housing Tazia in Imambaras dates back to the era of Timur who invaded India in 1398 AD. The need for Tazia arose when Taimur who was involved in consolidating hold on the territory could not take his army out on the annual trip to Karbala so he got a replica of the shrine built and that’s how the making of Tazias began. The first-ever Tazia was made from Khaak-e-Shifa, the sand from Karbala, which Taimur got transported to India.
Later, it became popular with Mughal and travelled to other regional dynasties. The Nawabs of Awadh brought it to such perfection that they made Tazia of Lucknow a unique symbol of martyrdom. The Nawabs elevated and amplified the art of Tazia making to a degree that the Tazias of Lucknow gained nationwide respect and were are looked at as works of art and living tradition.
The craft of Tazia making has been running through the cultural fabric of Lucknow since ages and requires much focus and artistic flair in the hands of craftsmen. Hence, there is a whole generation of Tazia makers in Lucknow who have excelled in this craft. The tazias not only have a sacred value, but also add to the earnings of these Tazia makers who eagerly await Muharram every year to earn a living.
A series of processions remembering the Karbala
Karbala was a battle of humanity against tyranny, oppression, and injustice. The battle where gruesome killings happened, where not even a six-month old baby was spared and was killed by shooting an arrow in his throat. Since then, Muharram is being observed to mourn the sacrifices made by Imam Hussain and his family.
In Lucknow, number of procession are taken out throughout Muharram on significant days to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain – Prophet Mohammad’s grandson and his 72 companions who sacrificed their lives in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. This series of processions are a tradition in Lucknow taking place since the times of the Nawabs, who came from Persia and were Shias themselves. The processions begin from 1st day of Muharram and later processions happen on some significant days, which are, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 50th and 60th days of Muharram.
Shahi Zari Ka Juloos (1st Muharram)
The ‘Shahi Zari Ka Juloos’ marks the onset of Muharram and the first day of the mourning month. The grand Zari (tazia) is taken out from the Asafi or Bara Imambara during the evening, where Shia Muslims gather in abundance from every corner of the region, even from other parts of India to join in the procession which ends at the Husainabad or the Chhota Imambara.
Aag Ka matam (6th Muharram)
Maatam or the beating of the chest is a ritual associated with the mourning and Aag Ka Maatam is another ritual to express the intense grief of the heart-wrenching Karbala tragedy that happened many hundreds of years ago. Aag ka matam is held at Asafi Imambara where believers tread over burning coal chanting ‘Ya Hussain’. Through Aag Ka Maatam, believers re-enact a glimpse of what the survivors of Karbala went through – having to walk barefoot over hot (almost burning) sand in the desert across Karbala to Kufa and then Kufa to Shaam.
Mehndi ka juloos (7th Muharram)
A newly-wed groom asks his uncle Imam Hussain: “Will I also be among the martyrs?” To which Hussain replied: “How do you see death?” Qasim said: “O uncle, death to me is sweeter than honey.” Such was the valour and desire to sacrifice their lives in the path of righteousness that even a 3-days old groom didn’t think twice before offering his life in order to save humanity. On the day of Ashura, Hazrat Qasim went to his uncle to let him go to the battlefield. Hussain would not permit him because he was so young. Qasim tried many times to convince his uncle but all went in vain until Qasim went to the tent his mother was in and was handed over a letter by his mother. This letter was written for him by his father Imam Hassan and the letter said –“oh my son Qasim, a day will come when my brother Hussain will be facing extreme tyranny and will have to face an enemy troop of thousands and that day the Islam can only be saved by sacrificing in the path of Allah. And that day, you must represent your father like a true son.”
Qasim read the letter and gave it to his uncle. After reading the letter Hussain gave up and allowed him to go to the battlefield of Karbala, saying, “O my Qasim, how can I stop you from doing what your father wanted you to do? May Allah be with you!
He went to the battle field and killed a lot of men from the enemy forces until a man from behind struck him with a sword, to which he fell from his horse and was run over by horses and that’s how he was martyred.
The 7th day of Muharram is the day dedicated to Hazrat Qasim and to honour the grievous death of newly-wed Hazrat Qasim, a Mehndi procession is taken out signifying the mehndi (henna) applied in the hands of his bride Fatima Kubra (Imam Hussain’s elder daughter). It occurs during the late evening on 7th day of Muharram at the Bara Imambara in a much choreographed manner where Shia Muslims arrive in large numbers lamenting the young martyr and his wife.
Alam-e-Fateh-e-Furat (8th Muharram)
Hazrat Abbas is highly revered by Shia Muslims for his loyalty to his half-brother Hussain and his courage, bravery, strength and ferocity as a warrior. Abbas considered Hussain as his master and the zenith of his love and dedication for Imam Hussain was seen at the battle of Karbala. On the day of Ashura when Bibi Sakina (4 year old daughter of Hussain). and other thirsty children were wailing due to thirst, Abbas took permission from his master and went out from his camp to collect water from the nearby river. He managed to cut through Yazid’s troops and rushed to the river bank, filled the water and was returning when the enemy army encircled him. However, Abbas didn’t care about his life and his only motivation at that moment was to quench the thirst of the children back in the camp. He fought with one hand, holding the bag of water in another. Then his other hand too was cut, yet he held on the bag of water in his teeth until a severe blow by a mace on his head made him fall off his horse. As he fell down, he called out to Imam Hussain and when Hussain arrived he kept his head in his lap. Hazrat Abbas then breathed last
8th Muharram is the day when Shia Muslims dedicate to Hazrat Abbas and this is the day when the procession of Alam-e-Fateh-e-Furat is taken out.
This procession originates from the Daryawali Mosque in late evening. The major sacred attraction of the procession is the Alam – symbol of Hazrat Abbas (cousin of Imam Hussain who was martyred on 8th Muharram). This procession ends at the Imambara Ghufran Ma’ab at around midnight. Thousands of Shias from Lucknow and the neighbouring areas take part in this procession.
Alam-e-Shab-e-Ashur (9th Muharram)
9th Muharram is the night when no Shia sleeps and rather wails and mourns the tragedy of Karbala the whole night. Alam-e-Shab-e-Ashur is the procession in Lucknow which happens in the night of 9th Muharram. It originates from Imambada Nazim Saheb in late evening. This procession was started by Late Qaiser Husain Rizvi in the year 1926 and is popularly known as Alam-e-Shab-e-Ashur (the night before Ashura). This procession starts from Imambada Nazim Sahab and ends at Dargah Hazrat Abbas close to early morning. Several thousands of Shias from Lucknow and nearby areas come to pay homage.
Juloos-e-Ashura (10th Muharram)
The day of Ashura is the most significant day of the month of Muharram as it was 10th day of Muharram when Imam Hussain – the leader of the Hussaini tribe who had not eaten or drank anything since 3 days was brutally martyred. This was the day when a family lost their head, their protector and their leader. This was the day when only female members in the family were left to lament over the death of every male member of the family.
This procession begins in the morning at around 10 or 11 and lasts till late afternoon. Several thousands of mourners including Shias and Sunni Muslims as well as Hindus, mourning the tragedy of Karbala, the sacrifice of Imam Husain, his family and companions commemorate Ashura amidst the reverberating chants of Ya Husain filling the air. The series of Alams are taken out in a procession from the Nazim Sahab ka Imambara and culminating at the Karbala, Lucknow.
72 Taboot Ka Juloos
A procession of 72 coffins is taken out on the 30th day after the day of Ashura in the campus of Bara Imambara campus in a melancholic atmosphere. In memory of the martyrs of Karbala, a large amount of offerings are made in this procession and the devotees pay homage by raising chants of Ya Hussain with teary eyes.
Chehlum (50th Muharram)
Chehlum falls on the 40th day after Ashura and 50th of Muharram. It is another significant day when the sacrifice of Imam Hussain and his 72 companions is remembered and special Majlis and procession are held in Lucknow. An Alam (symbol of Hazrat Abbas) is taken out from every Imambara in Lucknow. Taboots (coffins symbolic of martyrs) are also taken out as a part of a large procession.
Chup Tazia (68th Muharram)
This day marks the end of the Muharram. Thousands of Shia muslims take out the traditional ‘chup tazia’ procession in old city area of Lucknow. The procession originates early in the morning at around 5 am from Imambara Nazim Saheb and culminates at Roza-e-Kazmain. This juloos or procession was started by Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan Sahukat Yar Jung a descendent of Bahu Begum. Since then, this procession is taken out with much fervour and Shia Muslims gather in great numbers despite the timing of the procession being early morning. This is a silent procession as the name suggests ‘Chup Tazia’, meaning, silent mourning.
The tragedy of Karbala and the way Imam Hussain sacrificed everything he had in the path of righteousness is not something confined to a single faith but humanity at large. Through the story of Imam Hussain, one can learn to never bow down before wrong, never letting injustice prevail and putting our duty above everything. Indeed Imam Hussain sacrificed his life but he is alive in the hearts through his teachings which justify the saying – “Live like Ali, die like Hussain”.
And if you want to know more about Imam Hussain and the tragedy which inflicted upon him – be a part of Lucknow’s Muharram. During the Muharram, the Old Lucknow can truly transcend one to the times of Imam Hussain. Tornos offers an exclusive Muharram experience: Weeping Lucknow