||Muharram means 'respected'. It is the first month
of the Islamic calendar. Muslims, observe the first ten days of this month as
a period of mourning particularly by those belonging to the Shiah sect, in memory
of the tragedy of 680 AD. Hazrat Imam Hussain, the grandson of Muhammad the Prophet
was killed in the battle of Karbala. This event, called Muharram, is named after
the month in which it took place. The tenth day, called Ashura is observed as
the day for a public expression of their grief and is a public holiday in India.
During the pre-Islamic period in the Arabian Peninsula, fighting was prohibited
in four months of the year. These months, of which Muharram was one, were considered
sacred. This period of inactivity was a necessity in the era of warring tribes.
The tradition was maintained even after the advent of Islam, though provisions
to accommodate and accept war in special situations, like a threat to the sovereignty
of an empire, were introduced. The gory battle of Karbala was fought against this
law and tradition of Islam.
|The inhabitants on the banks of rivers Euphrates
and Tigris were traditional rivals. Muhammad contained their animosity to some
extent. But when his son-in-law Hazrat Ali was the Caliph, the old enmity re-surfaced.
Hazrat Ali had two descendants, Hazrat Imam Hussain and Hazrat Imam Hassan. Hussain
was the ruler of the part of the empire known today as Iran. The Umayyad ruled
the other part in modern Iraq.
The Shiahs of Kufa, a small town in the Umayyad kingdom, to accept their allegiance
and claim his place as the leader of the Islamic community, called upon Hussain.
This was against the wishes of the ruler of Kufa, Yazid, who instructed his governor,
Ibn-e-Ziad to take appropriate action. Meanwhile, in response to the call of the
Shiahs, Hussain accompanied by his family members, headed for Kufa. When they
reached Karbala, enroute to Kufa, the forces of the governor surrounded them and
their 70 men. Hussain, his family and his troops were tortured and killed, and
Hussain's head was severed and presented to the king. They received no help from
the Shiahs of Kufa. This happened on the tenth day of Muharram and it was called
To commemorate this tragedy, the 40 days starting from the first day of Muharram
to Chehalum, are observed as a period of mourning by the Shiahs. During this period,
women forsake all adornments, even their bangles. All kinds of celebration like
marriage are disallowed during this period. Shiah Muslims are celibate for these
40 days. The first 10 days however, are the most important and passionately observed
as a period of mourning. During the first nine days of the month, majlish (enacted
grief-stricken scenes from the battle of Karbala) are organized in Shiah mosques.
Huge Shiah crowds wearing black assemble at imambaras, where plaintive verses
in memory of Imam Hussain are recited. These nine days are also spent in making
On Ashura, the most important day, processions with Taziahs are taken out in commemoration
of the sad event. The procession also includes a well-decorated horse, representing
the horse of Imam Hussain. Bare-chested Shiah men perform emotional plays, enacting
scenes from the battle of Karbala. They strike their body with chains while some
walk with bare feet on burning coals. Crying hai Hussain hum na rahe, meaning
'Oh Hussain, we were not there', they express their anguish at their inability
to have prevented him from being tortured. By beating themselves, the Shiahs relive
the pain Hussain suffered.