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The Growth of Shi段te Ceremonies in Kashmir

By: Dr. Ejaz Husain Malek
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

The period of Chak rule in Kashmir witnessed many interesting changes in the religious practices of Shi段tes of Kashmir. The elaborate Muharram rituals, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussain at Karbala, the tradition of commemorating the birth and death anniversary of each and every Imam and the family of the Prophet, the use of a clay tablet to perform prayers (sajdagah), the recitation of elegy (Marsiya), the celebration of Nauroz, Eid-i ghadir, the patronage of Shi段 theological class, etc. took roots during the brief reign of Chaks Sultans of Kashmir. Contemporary Persian sources while mainly concerned with the political history provide stray references of only a few Shi段te festivals like Muharram and Nauroz. From this it is easy to assume that other rituals and practices were also a part of religious life of the Shi段tes during this period. Here we will confine our discussion to these two festivals, since they constitute an important marker in defining the religious boundaries and make the presence of Shi段tes felt any where and every where they are celebrated.

The festival of Nauroz literally 哲ew day is celebrated primarily by Shi段s with public rejoicings and festivities.[1] The first day after the sun has crossed the vernal equinox and the length of the day and night is equal in all parts of the earth i.e., 21st March used to be a day of great festivity among the Shi段s of Kashmir.[2]
The Shi段te Imam Ja断ar al-Sadiq established its importance for the Shi段s with his statement: this day is associated with primordial time as the day of the primordial covenant recorded in Quran 7:12 where God asked humanity collectively: Am I not your Lord? To which humanity replied in affirmation. It is the day on which Noah痴 ark came to rest on Mount Judi, an event referred to in the holy Quran.
Nauroz was the say on which Prophet Muhammad designated his cousin an son-in-law, Ali ibn. Abi Talib, as his successor and Amir al-Muminin (commander of the faithful). It is also the day on which the prophet along with Imam Ali destroyed the idols in the Ka誕ba just as Prophet Ibrahim had destroyed idols on the same day many generations ago. Finally Nauroz is recorded as the day on which the 漸aim or 閃essiah will appear at the end of time and destroy the archenemy of justice, al Dajjal, at Kufa.
There had been tradition of house cleaning ahead of Nauroz as this also brings to an end the long and harsh winter in Kashmir. On this day people wore new clothes. Visiting friends and relatives forms a part of the activities comprising the celebration of the New Year, as did offering of special congregational prayer.[3] Thus, this festival has been from its introduction during Chak period been utilized for social bonding and getting to know the well being of community.
Varieties of dishes were prepared but the main dishes of the day which women cooked a night before was radish (cooked in tamarind), spinach, besides lotus roots. On Nauroz eve, elite families used to lay a table spread for Imam Ali (Sufra-e-Shah) in the belief that the holy Imam visits the household at an appointed hour (tehvil), and leaves his blessings and marks of his visit on the objects laid our for him. The Sunni Muslims of Kashmir considered such practices by Shi段s 礎ida or innovation.
The day was considered very auspicious by the Shi段s, sometimes even christening their children after the name of the festival, like Nauroz Chak.[4]

Muharram is the first month of the Muslim lunar calendar; the early Muslim community considered Muharram to be one of the four sacred months, hence its name, 鍍hat which is sacred, during which no blood could be shed.[5] For all Muslims irrespective of religious denomination the month of Muharram has significance. Even before the time of the Prophet Muhammad, an annual feast marked it. The tenth day, called 鄭shura, is specially marked by being the day when first rain fell; when Adam and Eve were created; when the ninth heaven was created, and when the divine mission was granted to the spirits of ten thousand Prophets.[6] For Shi段s, this day has additional significance as the day on which the Prophet痴 grandson al-Hussain was martyred in the year 680 on the battlefield by Yazid (d. 683), the son of Mu誕wiya, founder of the Umayyad dynasty, as he attempted to restore his claims to the Caliphate.[7] So the tragedy of Karbala converted it into the month of mourning for the Muslims especially Shi段s.[8] Muslim consciousness as shaken by the tragic fate of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and his determination to fight to the very end a regime that held up to ridicule the ethics and principles of earliest Islam.[9] The annual observance of the Muharram is characterized as: 鍍he most distinctive and the most widely known of Shi段te customs.納10] That is where the heart of Shi段sm lies, in this agony, which is at one and the same time a revolt and a sign of hope.[11] Imam al-Hussain痴 martyrdom also served, to the Shi段s of all times and in places, as an everlasting exhortation to guard their separate identity, and to brave their numerical inferiority in the face of firmly established and sometimes oppressive majorities.[12]
The story of the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain and his family, and the ritual observances Shi段s developed to commemorate it, proved central to the formation of Shi段 community in Kashmir since the times of Chak Sultanate. Two central rituals for Shi段 dominated Muharram: the mourning session (Majlis) held in an Imambara or a private dwelling and the processions.[13] Every evening large crowd of people assembled in the 的mambara where a 溺ajlis was held. In the center the reciter (zakir) recited the 閃arsiya (an elegy in honour of the martyred Imam al-Hussain). At intervals there were lamentations and beating of the chest with hands and cries of 践ussain-Hussain. He professions gave discourses on the episodes of the tragedy of Karbala resulted in weeping and lamentation.[14] The 閃arsiya and 鮮oha were also recited in rural areas.[15] Feasts were arranged for the participants, especially mourners. The mourning sessions held in homes during Muharram and during other months of the Shi段 sacred calendar provided crucial opportunities for the development of social networks among Shi段s, whether male or female, notable or commoner. Mourners went from session to session, spreading news and giving Shi段s of one neighbourhood or village a sense of unity with their co-religionists elsewhere. Leaving aside the religious significance, the Shi段s being a minority community attending of such sessions were crucial in keeping the ethos of their culture intact in the fast changing political and social scenario of Kashmir. Elegy (Marsiya) writing in Kashmir in the conventional form gained full momentum in the 19th century when Khawaja Hussain Mir and Hakeem Azim added new dimensions to its form and content,[16] but its beginning was made during the reign of Chaks when Shi段te theological class consolidated their place in the complex social set up.
The Shi段s took out small processions from the sixth Muharram onwards in their respective villages. In Kashmir Shi段s also performed Nara-Matam, a pit filled with burning coal where people stood around reciting Marsiya and fanning the fire. Young men after ritually purifying themselves used to walk on them, a practice followed in many Shi段 pockets of Hindustan especially Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh).
On the tenth day 羨shura mourning processions were conducted on higher scale. These processions often carried a simulated body or a replica sarcophagus (Tazia) and were in effect, ritualized funeral processions for the Imam al-Hussain, not withstanding the criticism such rituals evoked on the part of the Sunnis of Kashmiris.[17] In original meaning the term Tazia is applied to expression of sympathy, and therefore also to the passion play of Imam al-Hussain.[18]
Secondly a richly decorated horse representing Imam al-Hussain痴 horse Duldul with a royal umbrella above his head was taken out in 羨shura procession. Moreover, Alams (imitation of the standard) were carried out in the processions.[19] These vary in size and material, somewhere having gold and silver embroidery with tassels and fringes.[20] The Alams often bore the shape of a hand, with the names of he five holy persons (Muhammad, Ali, Fatimah, Hassan and Hussain called Panjtan) comprising the family of the Prophet of the Ahl-i bayt (people of the House) inscribed on the standard.[21] Mourning ceremonies took the from of street processions, at which ritual performers engaged in acts of 閃atam, most often expressed through a stylized beating of the chest (sina zani) or through repetitive motions during which chains, sometimes fastened with razor blades or small knives were struck by the ritual performers on their back, chest or head drawing blood (zanjir zan), although such displays of devotion are now increasingly being discouraged, but during the time of our study these rituals worked to created impression of readiness on the part of Shi段tes to shed blood for the cause of Islam which created trepidation in the minds of people regarding Shi段s. This aspect of creating negative impression on the mass psyche became one of the logical reasons for doing away with this ritual during modern times through out the world, by the Shi段te Mujtahids.
Forty days after his death (Yawm al-arabain; the fortieth day or chihlum) the customary Islamic commemorative ceremony takes place. The chihlum procession resembles closely that to the tenth Muharram.[22]
Although these rituals and practices took concrete shape in the period following Chak Sultanate, it was during this period that they began to constitute an important component of Shi段s identity. The reference to Muharram as a festival marking mourning in commemoration of Imam al-Hussain in Baharistan-i Shahi is found only twice,[23] but its limited occurrence is associated with the wish of the Sultan who predicts his death in the month of Muharram on the day of Ashura. Baharistan says: Yaqub emphatically declared that his departing hour had not come. It will be the Friday of Muharram, the day of martyrdom of Hussain, the son of Ali.[24]
The reference underlines the significance of the Muharram in the Shi段 psyche particularly the reigning Chak Sultans. It is from this reference that one can infer the patronage it would have attracted from the Chaks for it comprised one of the most important events in the life of the Shi段s of Kashmir. It is also from this time that elegy (Marsiya) in the native Kashmiri language began to be composed by the learned Shi段s, which was later recited in rhythm involving all participating in the mourning. The same was the case with Nauroz, which distinguished Shi段s from other sects of Islam, since celebrating Nauroz was primarily associated with the nomination of Ali as his successor by Prophet Muhammad which differentiated it from other commonly celebrated festivals. These two festivals together fostered Shi段 identity, united Shi段 community and made popular the Shi段 theological elite class who were associated very closely with the organization and ritual performance of these festivals.
[1] Gulzar, Ghulam Muhammad Mattoo, Tarikh-i Shiyan Kashmir, Edara Imam Zamana, Srinagar, 2010, p. 684
[2] Rippin, Andrew (ed.), The Islamic World, Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, London, 2008 p. 206
[3] Gulzar, Ghulam Muhammad Mattoo, p. 685
[4] Baharistan, p. 178
[5] Rippin, Andrew, The Islamic World, p. 204
[6] Hollister, John Norman, The Shi誕 of India, Munshi Manoharlal, Delhi, 1979, p. 164
[7] Rippin, Andrew, p. 205
[8] Muhammad, Umar, Islam in Northern India During the 18th Century, Munshiram Manoharlal Publications, Delhi, 1993, p. 31
[9] Richard, Yann, Shi段te Islam: Polity, Ideology and Creed, Eng. tr. Antonia Nevill, Blackwell Publications, USA, 1995, p. 29
[10] Muhammad, Umar, Islam in Northern India, p. 311
[11] Richard, Yann, Shi段te Islam, p. 29
[12] Hassan, Mushirul, Islam in the Sub-Continent: Muslims in a Plural Society, Manoharlal Publications, New Delhi, 2002, p. 70
[13] Cole, J. R. I., Roots of North Indian Shi段sm in Iran and Iraqi, Oxford University Press, New York, 1989, p. 105
[14] Rizvi, S. H. M., and Roy, Shibani, Muslims: Bio-Cultural Perspective, B. R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi, 1984, p. 65
[15] Hamadani, Hakim Safdar, Tarikh-i Shiyan Kashmir, Imam Hussain Research and Publication Centre, Srinagar, 1970, p. 239
[16] Gulzar, Ghulam Muhammad Mattoo, Tarikh-i Shiyan Kashmir, p. 686
[17] Momen, Moojan, An Introduction to Shi段 Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi段sm, Yale University Press, London, 1985, p. 240
[18] Halm, Heinz, Shi段sm (second Edition), Eng. tr. Janet Watson and Marian Hill, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2004, p. 139. Tazia (from the Arabic word 疎za, 杜ourning) reenacts the passion and death of Imam al-Hussain, the beloved grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the third Imam of Twelver Shi段s, who was brutally murdered along with his male children and companions on the plains of Karbala in 680 CE (A.H. 61).
[19] Hollister, John Norman, The Shi誕 of India, p. 167
[20] Ibid., p. 168
[21] Rippin, Andrew, The Islamic World, p. 206
[22] Hollister, John Norman, p. 174
[23] Baharistan, pp. 257-58
[24] Ibid., p. 158

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