Yesterday, 25th November was Muharram. Muharram is actually the name of the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and yesterday the 10th day of this month is called Ashura; however it is more commonly referred as the day of Muharram. It is a very sad occasion, the last day of 10 days of mourning for Shia Muslims and it is observed with great reverence at Hyderabad. This is the day in the year 680 AD when Hazrat Imam Hussain was martyred along with 72 of his companions in the battle of Karbala, in Iraq. The war was waged by Hazrat Hussain for upholding truth while his opponents led by Yazid wanted to usurp the kingdom. Hazrat Imam Hussain is an important person; he is the grandson of Prophet Mohammed. He is the son of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, ruler of the Islamic caliphate and Fatima Zahra who is the daughter of Prophet Mohammed.
With the commencement of the month of Muharram an atmosphere of grief envelops parts of Hyderabad City, specially the Old City as loudspeakers from various Ashurkhanas recite sermons in verse and poetry called Marsiye and Nohay expressing sorrow over the sacrifices and tragedy at Karbala. As the sermons describing the events of Karbala are given by Shia clerics called Zakirs there is mass crying and beating of chests by the mourners creating a pall of gloom. Such atmosphere can be seen at various Ashurkhanas and to name a few they are at Purani Haveli, Darulshifa, Noor Khan Bazar and in many other localities. Ashurkhanas are places where Alams are kept and Alams are religious Islamic flags and signs, which you can see in the above pictures. Ashurkhanas derive their name from Ashura which as I explained above is the 10th day of Muharram when the mourning reaches its final phase. Muharram rituals are all aimed at commemorating the great sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his companions who refused to surrender to the despotic and tyrannical evil rulers.
On the day of Muharram that is the 10th day of the month several Alam processions can be seen all over the Twin Cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. At Secunderabad all Alams are brought to an area called Karbala Maidan, about 2 kms. from our house. In Hyderabad a massive and historic Bibi Ka Alam procession is taken out with the Alam on an elephant. Bibi Ka Alam is installed in the name of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter Fatima at Darulshifa Ashurkhana. There is an ancient relic, a very significant wooden plank from Karbala, enclosed in this Alam. Bibi Ka Alam procession passes through various parts of the old city and people in very large numbers irrespective of religion and caste stand along the road side to pay their respects. You can see a few pictures of the procession at the top of this article. Hindus refer to the Alams as Pheerlu and strongly believe that by sincerely offering prayers to Pheerlu their wishes would be fulfilled.
Muharram is a holiday not only in Hyderabad but all over India. This year however it coincided with a Sunday. As a child I took a lot of interest in watching Pheerlu but now I mostly see the live Television coverage.