The ancient grief.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Wearing black clothes, the men were beating their chests on the middle of the road. Mothers, sisters and wives, robed in black, stood on the pavement. They too were doing the same. Soon everyone burst out crying for Hussain, Zainub and other martyrs.
One morning, The Delhi Walla attended the Muharram procession in north Delhi’s Kashmere Gate, one of the principal events in the city’s cultural calendar.
The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic new year. Its historical and religious significance is defined by the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain who was killed in a battle at Karbala, in modern-day Iraq. This morning was the anniversary of the day when he and his 72 companions died. The procession is a remembrance of this sacrifice and the moral victory of Hussain. In Kashmere Gate it starts outside the Shia Jama Masjid.
Feeling the loss that they suffered more than a thousand years ago in the Arabian desert, the mourners walked slowly through the narrow Hamilton Road. The ancient grief seemed to be still fresh. The all-encompassing wailing of mourners gave a sense of togetherness. The rhythmic chants of ‘Ya Hussain Ya Hussain’ appeared to comfort the grieving crowd. The roadside stalls were offering rose sherbet.
In this dignified gathering of the defeated, mourners recited lamentations in Arabic, Urdu, and Punjabi to recall a defeat that revived the true spirit of their religion. Ahead walked a procession of Ladakhi Muslims, dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and black bandanas. A few men took off their shirts to lash themselves with knives, chains and shaving razors. Blood trickled out from their bodies.
The moist-eyed maulana who was exhorting the crowd to weep for Hussain had his crisp white kurta stained with the drop of a mourner’s blood.
The procession walked on for hours. It ended at the Shah-e-Mardan Imambara in central Delhi’s Jor Bagh.
(This piece was first featured in 2010)