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Essay Paper on Muharram Processions

This paper is devoted to considering Muharram Processions and analyzing their role and place in India.

Muharram Processions were once trans-communal but over the past few decades they have become a vehicle for identity assertion and sectarian mobilization. In order to understand the importance of the mourning rituals of Muharram referred to collectively as azadari, and particularly to the processions (julus), it’s necessary to define their position within the history of South Asia. Muharram processions date back around 900’s AD in Iraq, and later, in the sixteenth century they were introduced in India as a result of Iranian immigration to this country.

The processions origin from the Muharram tragedy of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed on the battlefield. According to the historical assumptions, his sons vanished too. After his death, the mourning took place the whole month instead of just ten days. It’s considered to be the greatest display of suffering in history.

Although some Muharram rituals were often criticized, especially those which required the usage of camels, horses, drums, they mostly came to peaceful folk practices. In 19th century it was proclaimed that “wailing and beating one’s chest over the calamities that befell the family of the Prophet was only permissible if one lost control of one’s self”.

After the processions were adapted in India, Sunnis and Hindus took part in numerous processions together although they didn’t resort to chest beating. By that time processions had become an integral part of a composite culture. As a matter of fact, Sunnis avoided all festivities during the month of Muharram, but they contributed a lot by offering food and drinks and facilitating the processions.

Both Hindu and Muslim women brought their children to Zuljinah’s feet to guarantee healthy and prosperous life of the former. Many researchers assume that namely Muharram processions strengthened the relations between representatives of different religions and enhanced the consolidation and emotional integration of the society on the whole.

In further, Shia rituals became more “Indianized”, besides, they were observed both by Hindu and Muslims on the equal basis. In general the festival of Muharram lasted ten days. The day of Ashura is considered to be an apogee of the rituals, when the greatest procession of all takes part. Those who participate in it, are divided into several groups based on the type of self-mortification example applied. There exist groups of those who beat their chests with their hands, those that beat their backs with the chains and those who injure their foreheads with a knife. The mournful music is a compulsory element of the procession.

Nowadays, Muharram impacts Islamic communities in different countries of the world, remaining a powerful prototype of massive demonstrations (e.g. during revolutionary events in 1978-79). In some regions the processions are actually forbidden for the reasons of their “heretical innovation”…

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