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Muharram - The Indian Adaptations

           NEW DELHI: On Muharram, which fell on March 25 this year, Muslims of India joined other faithfuls in the rest of the world to mourn and pay homage to Hasan and Husain, who became martyrs hundreds of years ago (680 AD) in Karbala desert in Arabia. The story of their tragic martyrdom is well-known throughout the world. The day is calculated in Islamic calendar based on lunar months, starting with Muharram.

           Indian Muslims have been observing the day from the time Islam came to this sub-continent. Certain traditions have taken roots over the years under the influence of indigenous culture. A special feature is the tazia procession taken out on Muharram day in all Muslim-dominated areas.

           Tazia was a fabrication by Timur on the pattern of the Indian chariot called rath; and, thereafter Sufi saints made their own contributions by mixing various rituals of Islam and Hinduism. Ever since, Muharram has advanced the cause of peaceful co-existence.

           A tazia is a replica of the mausoleum dedicated to the two martyrs. These are made of bamboo sticks, coloured paper and fabric. (There is a resemblance of effigies burnt on Dussehra although tazia is buried.) Devoted Muslims take them out in a procession and whip-lash themselves in a symbolic act of self-punishment as they cry out in pain, "Hai Hasan, Hai Husain".

          Dirges (marsia) of their martyrdom are sung by emotionally-charged singers in the evening. Listeners often break down as the whole story of their tragic death is narrated in a soulful manner.

March 29, 2002


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