For The Cause Of Truth And Justice
Mahbubar Rahman :
Muharram is the first month of Hijri Calendar. This month bears special significance in Muslims' life. As per Islamic faith and belief, Allah graced this month with many significant occurrences ever since this world came into being. Day 10 of Muharram which is known as Ashura is believed to be one of the few glorious nights of the year upon which countless blessings and benediction are showered on mankind from Allah. It is believed that Hazrat Aadam (Am) was created by Allah's mercy in heaven on Ashura night. On the same night Allah salvaged Prophet Ibrahim (Am) from the blazing inferno. There the prophet was thrown into, set by Namrud. Prophet Ayub (Am) was given cure from prolonged deadly disease, while Prophet Yakub (Am) --- who had lost his vision by wailing tears continuously after he was separated from his son Prophet Yousuf (Am) --- was bestowed with Allah's profound mercy to be reunited with his lost son and regained his vision of eyes on Ashura night. Equally, on Ashura night, Prophet Younus (Am), who was devoured by a giant fish in high sea, was released from the belly of the fish by Allah's unfettered mercy. Prophet Noah's (Am) ark reached the shore with believers on board after a great flood on the glorious night of Ashura. There are lot more such events of Allah's mercy and providence that graced the Ashura night with special significance and glory. Devoted Muslims all over the world offer special prayer and seek divine blessing on this glorious night.
The month of Muharram is equally significant because of heart wrenching great Karbala tragedy. In the Karbala battle, on 10th day of Muharram Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) loving grandson and members of his family including child Ashgar embraced martyrdom by the evil forces of Yazid who usurped the state power of khilafat by all illegal means and conspiracy. Muharram.....a month which bears the testimony of Allah's all mercy and providence is equally a month of great tragedy giving rise to wailing of tears with bemoans and requiems in the heart of all true Muslims. Apart from observing Muharram with all religious fervours which obviously demands all true Muslims to realise the true spirit and significance of Muharram by heart with historical background, some local and native cultures are attributed and added over the ages in observing the first ten days of Muharram which, to some extent, paint apparently a picture not fully in conformity with the true spirit of Muharram. With a view to portraying some age old rituals and social practices in observing Muharram, at this point, I wish to take a brief journey to the days dating back 1950s and 1960s and fall back with the reminiscences how Muharram was observed in those days in Bangladesh particularly in Chattogram.
Beginning from the day one of Muharram, the entire neighbourhood of the city of Chattogram used to be filled and ringed with the sound of Jaarigaan, Morshia and Poothipaat day and night revealing the pathos of Karbala and martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) by the vile and cruel hands of Shimar by the order of Yazid. Jaarigaan manifesting how cruelly the Imam and members of his family including child Ashgar were denied of a drop of water to drink from the river Euphrates and finally murdered, was much heart-breaking.
With a band of high sounding drums, locally known as doam baja (fishermen's band), depicting a picture of the battle ground, local enthusiasts visit every houses of Mohalla to demonstrate their skills of Banati Khela (Lathi Khela), Kirich Khela (Sword fight) with the beats and rhythms of drums, clarinets and trumpets to give a vivid picture on open stage show replicating the battle ground of Karbala. While the above activities were going on continuously, on day five of Muharram, Bibir Biya signifying the marriage ceremony of Bibi Sakina with Hazrat Abul Kashem (RA), daughter of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) and son of Hazrat Imam Hasan (RA) respectively used to be observed in every houses in due solemnity with Fatehapaat and Doa with improved food. On day eight of Muharram, Hajrat Abul Kashem (RA) was martyred in the noon time at the battle field with Bibi Sakina widowed only after three days of marriage. Jaarigaan and Morshia singers accompanied by Puthipaath reciters used to give their best in describing the episode with bemoan and requiem known as doopurer maatam (mid-day requiem) recollecting the time of occurrence when Hazrat Abul Kashem (RA) was martyred in the battle field of Karbala. On maatam day of 8th Muharram, the city of Chattogram used to take a grim and saddened look with people hanging around without direction with bemoan and requiem. On the night of day nine of Muharram, having been re-invigorated with the renewed spirit and zeal, mass rallies from each Mahalla (locality) with torches of flames in hands used to march the streets and land at the ultimate destination at parade maidan (now Chattogram College play ground) to exhibit their skills and chivalry in playing with Bena (flames stuck in robust bamboo stick) mahalla wise replicating Karbala battlefield in flames and fury. That was a great show-down of flames in deed in those by-gone days. Finally on day ten, in remembrance of the day of martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) and his co-fighters in the battle of Karbala, a huge tazia michhil (rallies) used to march the street with carrying a huge tower named gora built in bamboo frame, wrapped in multi-coloured aluminum foils; holding inside the cabin a symbolic tomb, in fond memory of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) and all Karbala martyrs; used to go around its destination with ear-deafening beating of drums, clarinets and trumpets at Dewanhat and its adjacent areas where a big fair known as manjil used to be in place.
In observing the tenth day of Muharram, which is also a day of Ashura as, an austerity measure, every household used to cook khichuri with a blend of plain rice and pulses to eat and distribute some portions to the poor people with offering a Fateha seeking divine peace for all departed souls who were martyred in the Karbala battle for the cause of establishing truth and justice.
Observance of Muharram with age old native culture in the above fashion as was in practice in 1950s and 1960s in Chattogram is, to some extent, alike the observances of Muharram by the Shi'te Muslim community these days in Dhaka and other places in Bangladesh in small scale. Observance of Muharram in Chattogram in the above manner in the by-gone days was nothing to do with the religious rituals of Shi'te Muslims as because mainstream population of Chattogram belonged to Sunni Muslim community strictly adhering to the rituals of Islam based on Islamic Sufism.
The month in which fold there lies most blissful and glorious night of Ashura on the 10th day; on which Allah showers unmitigated mercy and blessings is a great boon for mankind. In the month of Muharram particularly on Ashura night, let us all try to reap the best harvest of Allah's inexhaustible mercy by serving the cause of mankind to the greater satisfaction of Allah. Let us also pray for Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA), members of his family and his co-fighters who embraced martyrdom in the battle of Karbala for the cause of truth and justice.
(Mahbubar Rahman is a former Civil Servant).