Monday, 29 January 2007
Muharram: Hussaini Brahmins of Telangana
January 29, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Higera calendar, binds together the hearts of people of different religions in Andhra Pradesh, as in other parts of India. The first 10 days of this holy Islamic month are observed with religious fervour and devotion by Muslims and Hindus alike. In fact, more number of Hindus are seen offering prayers at Ashoorkhanas in Telangana villages and at Peerla Panjas in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
Moharrum in Andhra Pradesh is a great occasion of integration. In some villages Hindu women dance and sing songs recalling the great sacrifice of Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain.
The uniqueness of Muharram in Andhra Pradesh is that even upper caste Hindus including Brahmins, particularly women, participate in prayers at Ashoorkhanas and Peerla Panjas, presenting a rare show of communal amity and human brotherhood. Some villages in Telangana still have a small section of people called "Hussaini Brahmins", who are known to observe Muharram traditionally for centuries. Hussain Brahmins are known to have been observing the 10th day of Muharram (Yaum-e-Ashoora) even before the formal entry of Muslims into the Indian sub-continent.
Muharram is observed differently in three different regions of the State. A majority of Shias and a section of Hindus observe "matam" (mourning) and offer "dhattis" to the Alams (standards) in Telangana. But in coastal Andhra where Shia Muslims are numerically a small community, Sunni Muslims manage and organise the Muharram processions with beautifully decorated "Peers" (Alams). The main difference in Muharram observance between Telangana and Andhra regions is that Hindus belonging to a particular caste in Andhra have adopted a particular Peerla Panja. For instance, dhobis have their own Peerla Panja and the organisers ensure that the Peer or Alam visits the houses of all dhobis in the given locality. The butcher community has its
own Peerla Panja. In the case of Rayalaseema, Muharram processions are taken out jointly by Hindus and Muslims.
In Hyderabad the Yaum-e-Ashoora is marked by the huge Bibi-ka-Alam procession on a caparisoned elephant. Lakhs of people from different parts of the State visit Hyderabad to witness the event. Some of the Panjas and Ashoor Khanas are controlled by Hindu mutavallis. Fire-walking is also a practice in some parts of the State during Muharram.
"Even the nomadic Lambada tribal community has evolved its own style of observing Muharram. There are hundreds of Muharram hymns in Telugu, though Telugu is the mother tongue of only a few thousand Muslims in Andhra Pradesh. This clearly shows that many Hindus have been religiously observing the Yaum-e-Ashoora. Interestingly most of the Muharram hymns and lamentation songs in Telugu have been penned by Hindu writers and poets," says eminent Telugu poet Yakoob. Since Muharram stands for the
fight between democracy and Satanic forces, people of all communities have stood by Imam Hussain and his pious group of followers.
On the 10th day of Muharram processions are taken out throughout the State wherein people of all communities participate singing hymns in praise of the martyrs of the battle of Karbala. The Hussaini Brahmin sect, though very small in number, also takes part in the procession.
According to senior Islamic writer Syed Naseer Ahmad, the Hussaini Brahmins are also known as Dutts or Mohiyals in north India. "They have a long martial tradition, which the Hussaini Brahmins trace back to the Battle of Karbala about 14 centuries ago. The belief is that the ancestor of Hussaini Brahmins known as Rahab had fought in the army of Imam Hussain by travelling all the way from Punjab. Rahab fought against Yazid. Rahab's sons who survived the battle returned to India and settled down in the western Punjab. But this tradition is slowly dying down," says Naseer
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