Covid-19: Hyderabad May Give Traditional Muharram Procession A Miss

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With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow on Muharram, Hyderabad may miss the traditional ‘Bibi Ka Alam’ procession.
— File photo

Shia leaders say the tradition was being followed for more than four centuries, hence the authorities must allow them to continue the practice.

HYDERABAD — With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow on Muharram, Hyderabad may miss the traditional ‘Bibi Ka Alam’ procession.

With religious gatherings banned under the COVID guidelines by the Union Home Ministry, this historic city may not see the annual procession for the first time in more than 400 years.

Though leaders of the Shia community and public representatives in the old city of Hyderabad have urged the Telangana government to allow the procession, the authorities are not likely to give permission for its conduct in the manner and scale of the past.

Thousands of people participate in the historic procession taken out every year on ‘Youm-e-Ashoora’ or the 10th day of Muharram, which may fall on August 30 — depending on the sighting of the moon.

Thousands take part in the procession marking the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), in the battle of Karbala.

‘Bibi Ka Alam’ is carried on a caparisoned elephant as the procession with hundreds of self-flagellating mourners passes through parts of the old city, including the historic Charminar, while thousands of people line the procession route.

Shia leaders say the tradition was being followed for more than four centuries, hence the authorities must allow them to continue the practice.

‘Bibi Ka Alam’ is said to contain a piece of the sacred wooden plank on which Syeda Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad and mother of Imam Hussain, was given her final ablution before burial.

It is said to have been brought from Iraq to Hyderabad during the Qutub Shahi period.

Shia leaders and legislators belonging to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) at a meeting called by Telangana’s Minorities Welfare Minister Koppula Eshwar to discuss the Muharram arrangements demanded that the centuries-old tradition should not be disturbed.

They said that ‘Bibi Ka Alam’ should be allowed to be taken on an elephant while enforcing other COVID restrictions like social distancing.

Moulana Syed Nisar Hussain Hyder Agha sought permission for organizing the procession. “It is one of the traditions of Hyderabad. A special feature of this procession is that not just Shias and Sunnis but people of other faiths also participate in it,” he said.

The officials, however, argued that the procession with elephants may attract a large gathering. Home Minister Mohammed Mahmood Ali suggested the use of a camel to carry the ‘Alam’.

Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar is expected to take a final decision on the procession in a day or two.

Last month, the authorities had not permitted the Bonalu procession in the city in view of the COVID protocol.

Every year, the traditional Bonalu procession is taken out on a decorated elephant, carrying ‘ghatams’ of Goddess Mahakali from Akkanna Madanna temple.

As no permission was given for a gathering of the devotees, people celebrated the festival at their homes. Five persons from the temple carried the ‘ghatam’ in an auto-rickshaw from the temple and performed the annual rituals.

Officials said the installation of the ‘alams’ at the ‘ashoor khanas’ will be allowed and people will be permitted to make their offerings while maintaining social distancing.

Telangana has 11,866 ashoor khanas, the majority of them in Hyderabad.

Ashoor khanas are community spaces where Shia Muslims gather for mourning during Muharram. Some of these were built by the Qutub Shahi rulers.

The Badshahi ashoor khana, the oldest in Hyderabad, was built in 1594 by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, three years after the construction of the Charminar, the symbol of Hyderabad.

Ashoor khanas derive their name from ashoora, the 10th day of Muharram, which is also the climax of the period of mourning that marks Muharram, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain in the Battle of Karbala 14 centuries ago.

The ‘Bibi ka Alam’, assigned to Prophet Mohammed’s daughter Bibi Fatima Zehra, was raised by Hayat Bakshi Begum during the reign of her son Abdulla Qutub Shah.

According to historians, the rituals of mourning during Muharram started in the Deccan during the 14th century. It received royal patronage during the reign of the Qutub Shahis, who were Shias.

Over the centuries, the local customs and traditions in different parts of the kingdom came to be associated with ‘Azadari’ or mourning.

In parts of Telangana, Hindus observe Muharram in their unique and distinct style.

With more than 2,00,000 Shias, Hyderabad is home to the second-largest Shia community in India, after Lucknow.

— IANS

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