LUCKNOW: Manish Kumar, an 8-year-old Hindu boy, walks on a carpet of red hot embers with a smile lighting his cherubic face. As he steps off the fire, cheers go up. A crowd of Muslims gathered around lift him up as chants of Ya Hussain rent the air. Manish just performed the aag ka maatam, a unique way of mourning during Moharram in this city of nawabs.
Moharram, the period of mourning by Muslims over the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Prophet Muhammad’s beloved grandson, presents an unparalleled example of Hindu-Muslim unity in Lucknow as a large number of Hindus participate in the ‘azadari’ processions of the Shia Muslims. The Hindus even participate in the ‘aag ka maatam’ in large numbers. Tuesday marked the 10th of Moharram, the day of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom.
“Imam Hussain had a special affinity for India. He wanted to spend his life here,” says Harish Chandra Dhanuk whose family has been performing azadari (the mourning rites) for five generations. There are several ‘anjumans’ (religious organisations) in Lucknow run by Hindus which take out ‘azadari’ processions and organise ‘majlis’ (mourning sessions where heart-rending tales of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom are narrated) throughout Moharram.
“As a child, I used to perform ‘aag ka maatam’ and now my children also do it every year as a tradition without any fear or hesitation,” says Pradeep Kumar whose family has a history of observing Moharram over the last 82 years. His family leads a Moharram procession to the ‘Karbala’ ground followed by shia muslims.
Lucknow also boasts of several Hindu ‘imambaras’ (mausoleums). One such is the ‘Kishnu Khalifa ka Imambara’ in Bashiratganj locality in the old city area. The Imambara, established in 1880, is famous for its Hindu ‘azadars’ (devotees) who observe Muharram with all the religosity of the Shias. A large number of Hindus, including their children, perform ‘aag ka maatam’ here. ‘Anjuman-e-Hind-e-Abbasia’ and ‘Anjuman Haaye Sakeena’ are the other organisations known for Hindus observing all the mourning rites associated with Moharram in large numbers.
Renowned Lucknow historian Yogesh Praveen says the participation of Hindus in Moharram is indeed unique to Lucknow. He says the Moharram here is also different from the way it is observed elsewhere in India because Shia Muslims here mourn for a period of two months and eight days while at other places it is either 10 days (‘daswaan’) or 40 days (‘chaleeswaan’ day after death). Lucknow has a huge Shia population, second only to Iran.