Muharram - I have faint memories of the days since my childhood. I still remember the painful cries of "Hussain, Hussain" of the people in the procession wearing black clothes. My parents told me that they were mourning for Hussain, who was killed in a war.
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Hijrah calendar and one of the four sacred months in the whole year. The 10th day of the month is named "Youm-e-Ashoora" or Ashurah (Ashura). It was on this day that Imam Hussein Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad was killed in the battle of Karbala along with 72 family and followers in 1680AD in Iraq.
The followers of Shiaism mourn for 68 days in remembrance of the tragedy. The mourning culminates on the Ashura day.
This year, I got an opportunity to shoot the event and understand it better.
I was fortunate to be invited by my friend Ali Razvi to witness the mourning of his family, a tradition that was being followed since the last 500 years.
People donned in black attire started gathering and the ritual of 'matam' (mourning) started. An elderly gentleman, the head of the family started reciting 'marsiye' (elegies) and 'nauhay' (poems expressing sorrow). The poems described how Hussain and his follows were killed. It was a very emotional moment. Many people started crying loudly listening to the heart-aching recitals.
After some time everyone stood up in a circle and started punching their chest and blood oozed out profusely.
Alams are symbolic representations of the martyrs who died on Ashoora day. Each alam is in memory of each of the 72 persons who died with Imam Hussain - his brothers, sons, nephew, friends, and followers.
You will find these in ashoorkhanas or ashurkhanas.
We then went to Bibi ka Alawa at Dabirpura. This is the place from where the Bibi-ka-alam or Alam-e-Mubarak procession starts on a elephant on Ashoora day. It is believed to contain a piece of wood plank on which Bibi Fatima Zehra, daughter of Prophet Mohammed, was given the final ablution. The 'alam' was installed over 430 years ago during Qutub Shahi period. The 'alam' also contains six diamonds and other jewellery donated by Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and last Nizam of Hyderabad.
Waiting for their turn
This place is equally revered by Hindus as well.
In the courtyard, there is a fireplace where people come and offer incense powder. The residual ash is considered sacred.
People with a bunch of peacock feathers touch it on the head of devotees as blessings.
We saw a lot of these red balls hanging outside in shops. These are called goad. Made of coconut and sugar inside, these are offered to Alams.
The Ashoora Day
We went early to Deewan Devdi to capture the event there The day started early with devotees offering prayers.
The tools were ready
Alam Bardaris are the persons who hold the Alams. They wear special attire to equip themselves carry them. Some of the Alams weigh upto 100kgs.
The ‘matam’ starts…
The female onlookers were watching from the terrace.
The kids don't get scared away; many were actively participating in the event.
The bloodbath starts remembering the pains of Hussain and his followers. It seemed like the self-inflictions were driven from inside – from deep within the heart.
Rose-water is sprinkled on the people to remove the smell of blood.
There were volunteers providing water to clean.
And to feed...
This kid was just standing in between the queue of people with blood sprinkling on his back.
This kid was adjusting his blade to get more hurt.
The pensive lady kept observing.
Then the Alam emerges and the procession starts. The mourners keep chanting Ibn-az-Zehra Wa Waila, which means Goodbye Son Of Zehra. This is a very old tradition.
We follow the procession...
There were many volunteers outside to pierce knives on kids and ladies who wanted to pay their obeisance.
After the ritual proper medication was applied.
A fearful face before piercing
The devotees have devised all sorts of instruments to inflict pain on themselves.
The Alam proceeds…
The streets of Mir Alam Mandi is full of mourners...
There are many who donate food during this holy month. There are several road-side stalls where you can get food. We had khichdi (a mix of rice and lentils) and waiting for the procession to come.
Thousands of men, women and children line up along the streets with many standing on balconies and roof-tops in Bibi Ka Alawa, Dabeerpura, Etebar Chowk, Moghalpura, Gulzar Houz, Madia and other areas to catch a glimpse of the procession.
It was great to see how people have devised ways to have uninterrupted view of the procession – three-tier galleries!
Not travelling but waiting for the procession…
Some ministers come to witness the event.
Here comes the elephant… and the procession.
And camels along…
I was fortunate to shoot from the top of a water tanker. While my co-passenger was throwing water packets around, I was shooting…
As a photographer, it was big challenge to shoot in such an intense situation. I remembered Raghu Rai's words on his visit to Bhopal during the gas-tragedy - "As a photographer, you need to rise beyond your emotions in order to do your job in the best possible way".
Tips for photographers
RESPECT the culture. Don't try to invade the privacy - they are mourning not celebrating.
Try to shoot from a distance.
Wear black, to be a part of the event.
Be light, with minimum lenses. Changing lenses might be a big problem.
This post would not have been possible without help of my friend Ali Razvi. He took utmost care to help me get to the places and also help me with the information. Thanks a lot Ali bhai! I owe this post to you.
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