Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Imam Husain, the grandson of prophet Muhammad on Muharram. In India, the tradition is to bury tazia — the replica of Imam Husain’s mausoleum at Iraq — on the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of Islamic calender.
For the Hindus observing Muharram, tazias have a different significance. To them the tazia is a votive offering to the Gods after the fulfilment of their wishes and prayers. Generations of Hindu families have been following the tradition not knowing the story behind the mourning.
For Basti district’s Rakesh Kumar alias Laddoo Lal, a carpenter working in Mumbai, Muharram is the most important time of the year. Kumar is reknown in Basti and nearby areas for making 50 feet tazia with bamboo sticks. “It takesh me about three months and around Rs 15,000 to complete the tazia,” he says.
“My maternal uncle’s family has been observing Muharram for over a hundred years. My great grandfathers prayed for the health of their children and vowed that if their children survived, they would observe the day till the family lived,” Laddoo Lal says.
Laddoo Lal has been making tazias for past one decade. However, ask him the story and significance of Muharram, he says: “I do not know the story, my Muslim brethren do. I don’t celebrate any other festival with such veneration as I observe Muharram,” he says.
Similar stories unfold in villages of Gorakhpur. Even with a history of communal disturbance in the district, several Hindu families observe Muharram with faith and devotion. “As a child, I remember holding small five-feet tazia on my head and participating in the procession of Muharram in my village, to bury it at the Karbala,” recounts Mahendra Pratap Singh - of Hariharpur village in Khajni, Gorakhpur - whose family has been keeping and burying tazia for several decades.
Indu Tiwari, a sexagenarian from Siddharthanagar’s Ramuapur Jagatram village, believes that after the Babri Masjid Demolition and rise in communal politics several Hindus who participated in the procession, now abstain from it.
“Though I don’t take out tazia now, I still contribute money to those families who make tazias and observe Muharram,” she says.
“The culture of Hindus participating in Muharram and mourning the death of Imam Hussain is centuries old in Uttar Pradesh,” says Maulana Yasoob Abbas, spokesperson of the All India Shia Personal Law Board.
“Imam Hussain’s martyrdom was for humanity. To mourn someone’s death does not convert a person’s religion. The Hindus of Uttar Pradesh have lived together with Muslims in harmony for centuries and it is the feeling of this brotherhood that reflects in their gesture of observing Muharram along with the Muslims in the state,” the Maulana says.