Muharram Ceremonies among the non-Muslims in Andhra Pradesh, India

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SHAFAQNA-

By: Prof. Dr. Sadiq Naqvi
Osmania University, Hyderabad, India

The royal patronage and the participation of the Sultans and nobles made Muharram an occasion of great importance to the Muslims. It had the religious sanction and therefore their participation in it with enthusiasm and solemnity could be understood. But it was just not the Muslim population of the empire which celebrated it; the Hindus too participated in it; not only in the cities and towns but also in the villages. We have details of Azadari in a few Qutb Shahi villages and the Marsiyas written by the Telugu poets. But the celebrations were not limited to just these villages. Muharram was celebrated in almost all the villages of the Qutb Shahi Empire, with the same spirit of piety and enthusiasm. According to the accounts that have come down to us as a legacy, the Hindus of Gugodu village observed Muharram every year. It was the only occasion on which the people of all castes were allowed to participate and the caste differences so rigid among them were forgotten. They called it Deen Govind. They even practiced the ceremony of becoming Fakir.
On the fifth night, a procession was taken out which was called Panje ka Pittar in which every one living in the village actively participated. The babies born during this period in the village were named as Faqir Appa, Hussain Rao etc. (46)
Another village called Solapur in Rai Durg Taluq gained prominence as a famous Telugu poet Ramanna of the village wrote number of poems describing and eulogizing Muharram. In one such poem he writes.
Padda la pandu ga rawe
Peer la pandu ga rawe (Come, the festival of the great man; (47) Come the festival of the Peer)
The people of the Solapur village, even abstained from eating meat during the Muharram days.(48)
Surapalli village was yet another village which attracted a number of people during the Muharram days. Balaiah a poet of the village wrote poems during these days and recited them every day to a large audience. One of the poem written by Balaiah starts with these lines
Allah ke namanu anara,
devata la devama vachurao
(Recite in the name of Allah, Devata will bless you) (49)
It is interesting to note that even the women of the villages wrote poems to pay their homage to the Martyrs of Karbala. Three women, who were prominent among them were, Imam Aka, Vanoor Bee, and Gateema. Vanoor Bee in one of her poems gave us the reasons for her devotion. She writes if you speak truth Beebi Fatima will bless (50)
There are even Telugu folk songs written to pay homage to the Martyrs of Karbala. The English translation of one of them sung popularly in the Rayalaseema districts is as follows:
Salutation to thee,
Salutation to God.
Salutation to the Almighty,
In the city of the sky,
There is a beautiful fort,
Inside the fort, there is a glass Palace,
There are high seats,
There are whisks and beautiful thrones.
Who are on those thrones?
They are Hasan and Hussain, two brothers,
Kings in courts, Lords on thrones,
Monarchs ruling over the Seven Isles. (51)
The devotion to any movement or philosophy does need a cultural background, a sort of education, ability to understand the finer values, the Qutb Shahi Kingdom undoubtedly had these qualities in the cities, towns and villages. Therefore devotion to the Martyrs of Karbala became an integral part of their socio-religious life.
The extent to which the Qutb Shahs were successful in universalizing the Azadari and converting Karbala into a symbol for devotion to truth and piety can be assessed by the fact that even the tribes living in remote parts of the Kingdom participated in it with complete devotion and faith, of course, the way in which they performed the ceremony differed from tribe to tribe depending on their cultural background. They recited songs written in their languages describing the tragedy of Karbala.
It was customary for the Pardies to begin their Azadari, as soon as the moon of Muharram was sighted, the free English translation of the song of Pardies, which is in the form of a dialogue is as follows:
Younger brother, Come! My elder brother,
I shall catch a few birds for you,
Elder brother; No, Never my brother you
Should know that Muharram has come.
Younger brother: Oh! My elder brother, why
Did you not tell me this before?
I shall wear black dress.
I shall make an Alam with a big,
Palm leave and shall do Matam
Ya ! Ali Doula, Ya! Ali Doula. (52)
The Pardies usually conducted their Majlis in a large hut. After the Majlis, they offered Fateha over the fruits.
Gound was yet another tribe, among whom Azadari was performed. They too had their songs, which they sang during the Majlis. The free translation of one of them reads as follows:
Our guest has come brothers, our guest has come,
Cook -food and collect fruits from the jungle for him.
But he is a nice guest,
He does not eat any thing,
But feeds us back,
If he does not come,
We shall have no clouds, no rains,
Our lands will get dry,
There will be no crop,
We will all die.(53)
The Lambadies were greater in number than the other tribes, they too celebrated Muharram. The English translation of one of their songs is as follows:
The beloved son of the Shahzadi of Arab got injured with arrows.
These arrows were not shot by brave men.
They were cowards.
The brave son of the brave father got injured,
He was the son of the bravest man,
In whose name we wear Kantas.
It was not this that he was not brave.
But he had a little son in his arms,
Who was shot dead?
He had carried his young son’s dead body,
His family was thirsty,
He was surrounded by the wolves,
Who were shooting their arrows at him (54)
Muharram thus was a festival of the people belonging to the cross-section of the society; it was celebrated by all in their own ways, according to their cultural back grounds and traditions. The Qutb Shahs did not try to impose any restriction over the diversified ways of its celebration. They did not force the people to abide by the rules laid down for it in their religion. Instead they universalized the social customs associated with it. They knew that neither the non-Muslims could be brought into the mosque and invited to participate in the prayers, nor the Muslims could participate in the prayers inside the temple. It was Ashur Khanas in which people could be brought together and allowed to participate in the ceremonies according to their own ways. The Alams in the Ashur Khanas were made sacred not only to the Muslims belonging to Shia sect but to all the people of all the religions. It was because of this that the non-Muslims, who did not believe in Islam, also paid their homage to the Alams and adorned them.
The celebrations of Muharram founded by the Qutb Shahs and established in every part of their kingdom have became a tradition of the people, and still exist to this day as it used to be during the Qutb Shahi period. There is hardly any city, town, village of Andhra Pradesh, where the Alams are not installed. Muharram still is held as a pious ceremony not only by Muslims but also by Hindus all over the state.

Source:
Dr. Sadiq Naqvi, Muslim Religious Institutions and their Role under the Qutb Shahs, Hyderabad, 1993, pp 213-218

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