By:Dr Sanobar Haider
“Do not think of those who are slain in God’s way as dead.
Nay’ they are alive & receive their sustenance from their Lord.
Holy Quran, 3:169”
Karbala, is the cornerstone of institutionalized devotion and mourning (Azadari) in the memory of Imam Husain(AS), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad(SAW). 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-muslims inhabitants of India and the world.
The Islamic new year begins with the sighting of the moon and the Shias begin the new year with mourning, chanting-
“Ibtida-e-aza hai va vaila,
Mah -e-gham runuma hai va vaila.”
The much anticipated event continues for two months and eight days. The first ten days of this holy month resonate with the cries of YaHusain! Ya Abbas! in every Shia household.
The Imambadas are packed with believers listening to the sermons and mourning the martyrdom of the Prophet’s family including women and children. Imambada Sibtainabad, located in the heart of the city of Lucknow ,is one such confluence where a majlis is held every evening in the memory of the martyrs of Karbala till the Ninth day which concludes with the annual Aag ka Maatam
Maatam or the beating of the chest is a ritual associated with the mounings of Muharram and Aag ka maatam is another form of expressing the lament and grief of the tragedy that struck humanity at large hundreds of years ago.
Reliving the tragedy by way of chest beating, i.e Maatam using one’s hands only, known as sineh-zani or breast-beating and Maatam with implements like chains, knives, swords and blades, that is, zanjeer-zani, qama-zani, organizing majlis or congregations and walking across flaming coal or fire are the different forms of mourning, the calamity that befell the flag bearers of Islam. This ritual of aag ka Maatam, which is observed by many cultures across the globe is not a new concept, It has foothold in Lucknow and is a regular feature during the month of Muharram. Aag Ka Maatam is believed to be a re enactment of Imam Zainul Abideen (AS) and other survivors of Karbala having to walk barefoot over the burning sands of the desert for 1600 miles between Karbala to Kufa, Kufa to Shaam.
Imambada Sibtainabad , Lucknow
At the majestic Sibtainabad Imambada, constructed 170 years ago in 1847, the ritual of Aag ka Maatam today, the ninth of muharram began with the beating of the chest accompanied by resounding chants of Ya Husain! while the volunteers prepared the fiery path by fanning the bright red coal. The crowds swayed with the slogans of Labbaik Ya Husain! Dressed in green and carrying the Alam, the group of Alamdars walked across the burning charcoal bare foot with heat below not lessening their spirits. While the first group retired, several other groups followed suit with the most striking feature being young children crossing the hot pathway un dettered.
One such battalion of young boys was led by Akhtar and Hasan who mesmerizingly walked across the heated pathway unfeared and unscathed. The most amazing and incredible was the sight of infants being carried over the fire with sometimes even one of their feet lowered in to the coal. The young children were either Mannati i.e. out of a wish granted or they were offered in the way of islam to be blessed.
The sight was remarkable and speaks volumes of the belief in a catastrophe which occurred more than 1400 years ago. It is aptly said by Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar:
“Qatl e Husain(AS)asl mein marg e yazeed hai,
Islam zinda hota hai har karbala ke baad.”
Karbala was in fact the last breath of the age of faith which is a benchmark in Islamic history where Imam Husain(AS) and his family stood firm for Faith and Principles in the face of tyranny and extreme oppression.
The message for humanity ,being that human kind must strive with patience and constancy in the face of extreme adversity.
* The Author is Assistant Professor (History) , MBP Government PG College, Lucknow.