Hussain and Hindustan

The famous Indian Sufi saint, Khawaja Muinuddin Chisti commemorated Imam Hussain’s sacrifice of self and family in the battle of Karbala with the following verse:

Shah ast Hussain, Badshah ast Hussain
Deen ast Hussain, Deen Panah ast Hussain
Sardad na dad dast, dar dast-e-yazeed,
Haqaa key bina e La ila ast Hussain
Ruler is Hussain, Emperor is Hussain,
Faith is Hussain, guardian of faith is Hussain,

Offered his head and not the hand to Yazid.

‘Indeed, Hussain is the foundation of La-ilah
declaration that none but God is absolute and almighty)

Hussain Ibne Ali, (grandson of the Prophet Mohammed pbuh , son of Ali ibne Abu Talib and Fatima binte Mohammed pbuh) sacrificed himself and his family, friends, including his six month old son rather than give an oath of allegiance to the Ummayyad ruler, Yezid, who being impious would have put the survival of Islam in danger. He refused to bow down before tyranny and oppression. His fight was for truth against injustice and he did it by showing that those who have right on their side can face any numerical superiority or force, with faith and dignity.
gandhi hussain
Every year the start of the first Islamic month of Moharrum marks a month of mourning for Hussain ibn e Ali or Imam Hussain as he is called. Nowadays, with the growing sectarian and communal divides between religions and sects this period of mourning is being observed increasingly only by Shias the world over and that too under an atmosphere of fear.

But in India this is not the case. From childhood I remember it was an inter- faith activity and more taziyas (miniature mausoleums used in ritual processions held in the month of Muharram) were kept and taken out in processions by the local populace comprising of Sunnis, Hindu and Christian families, all observing this tradition of paying homage to Hussain, than the Shias themselves.
Imambaras (building where Muharram is commemorated) were and are open to all communities and there is no ban on anyone wanting to enter, attend majlis (religious gathering to commemorate Karbala), pay homage etc.
The mother of a Hindu Brahmin school friend of my husband told me that even today the village Taziya starts from their house, in their village near Sitapur, U.P.
My aunt informs me that the biggest taziya procession in Allahabad is taken out by Sunnis and is called Bada (big) Taziya and Budha (old) taziya.
In many villages there is a tradition that if a barren woman walks under the taziah, she is granted a child. One of my vivid childhood memories is of our sweeper Kamala, who took a taziya for her children.
Hindus and Muslims take out taziyas in Rajanagar, Birbhum ( from Hindustan Times)
Fahad Hussain a very popular Indian RJ in radio Mirchi, Dubai has this to say:

“Our family is old taluqedaar’s of Inhauna, a village in Amethi , 70 KMs from Lucknow. Though we are Sunni’s, our family has taken the lead in taaziyadaari and alam bardaari from many centuries past. Best part is that in Inhauna has no Shias but still we have a Imambaras which was built by us and we have the biggest taaziya built specially in Kazmaen in Lucknow on ashoora, my father, Ch. Azhar Hussain an erstwhile taluqedaar used to recite nauha on 2nd and 9 and 10th Moharrum. We even hold aag ka maatam in our village, which is so popular that people from Lucknow come down to have a glimpse of aag ka maatam. ‘Khichda’, (a dish associated with Moharrum) ‘dul dul’ (horse symbolic of Imam Hussain’s horse) , ‘alam’ ( the war standard of Imam Hussain’s army), are part and parcel of our lives in Inhauna. Not just Moharram, but even Dusherra is still organised on our ground and on our own expense. I grew up seeing Ravan being built in our compound with huge bamboo sticks and colored paper. I am thankful to my family who inculcated so secular values in us.”

There are many instances of active participation by Sunnis and Hindus all over India.
People of all faiths participated in large numbers in the procession taken out as part of Muharram in Dharwad, Karnataka ( from The Hindu, November 26, 2012)

“Every Muharram, the remote Muthuvanthidal hamlet in Sivaganga district turns a picture of religious harmony. The Hindus in the southern village observe the Muslim holy day by performing rituals like walking on burning coals, more common to Hinduism. Ironically, the village has about 400 Hindu families, but no Muslims.”

Nowadays there is a disturbing trend in urban areas, as space becomes tight, so are hearts, but I hope and pray to God that India remains the multi plural, multi ethnic, multi cultural society that it always was.
During Moharrum there is a popular tradition of reciting nauhas (songs of lamentation) and from my childhood I remember the words of one particular nauha:

Hussain (as) agar Bharat mein aate toh sheeshe mein utaare jaate
Haaye yoon Qamr-e-Bani Hashim dhokhe mein na maare Jaate,
(If Hussain had come to Bharat he would have been treated with respect
Alas, the Moon of Bani Hashim (tribe) would not have been slain by subterfuge)

The significance of the words did not strike me then as India and Iraq in the 60’s seemed very far apart but the wonder that is Internet has made me realize the Indian connection and how he could have come here. It is said that Imam Hussain who wanted to avoid a confrontation with Yezid’s army had considered travelling to India which he had heard was a “tolerant country,’ before he finally left for Kufa in Iraq, after receiving an invitation from Kufans.
But confrontation was destined and Yezid’s army encircled Husain in the plains of Karbala, in Iraq and forced a battle on him, as Hussain refused to give the oath of allegiance to Yezid.

On 10th of Moharrum, 61 A.H (10th October 680A.D), Hussain ibn e Ali stood up to face the armies of the Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph, his army was a motley band of 72 friends and relatives, which also included his six-month son Ali Asghar. What is unknown by many is that his entourage of 200 men and women also included people of other faiths as well: Wahab Kalbi, a young Christian who joined Imam Hussain on the instructions of his mother, John an African Christian and some Hindu Brahmins.

Wah Dutt Sultan,
Hindu ka Dharm

Musalman ka Iman,

Aadha Hindu Aadha Musalman

Oh! Dutt, the king

[Who follows] the religion of the Hindu

And the faith of the Muslim
Half Hindu, half Muslim

The Dutts mentioned in above poem belong to a Brahmin clan, who can be traced to a chieftain named Dutt who accompanied Alexander the Great on his return journey to Macedonia, as an envoy of Raja Porus. When Alexander died on the way, at Babylon, Datt along with his followers drifted to Arabia and settled there and flourished.
By the time of the battle of Karbala, they were well established and said to be close to the family of the Prophet.
In the battle of Karbala, their potentate, Rahab Sidh Datt, , fought on the side of imam Hussain and sacrificed his seven sons
Ram Singh
Haras Rai
Rai Pun
Sahas Rai
Sher Khan
in the battle
From then on their sect was called Hussaini Brahmins.

Colonel Ramsarup Bakshi (retd), a member of this community, told Pune Mirror that there certainly is an “element of surprise” when he introduces himself as a Hussaini Brahmin. “The employees in the factory I run now were taken aback when I told them about my community. ‘Asapan asta ka?’ (Is it so?) They exclaimed.” Bakshi said his community remains proud of its ancestral links to Imam Hussain, and they recall this bond on Ashura with great reverence. “We are a very, very small community in Pune, but this single piece of history is of seminal significance in our lives and binds us together, both Hindus and Muslims.” Most importantly, Bakshi emphasised, “We symbolise the centuries-old bond shared by Hindus and Muslims in this part of the world.”

Noted lawyer-activist Netraprakash Bhog, also a Hussaini Brahmin, said he is proud of his community. “Hussaini Brahmins hold a special place in the history of Islam. Our ancestors fought alongside Imam Hussain for the cause of truth and justice. We still cherish those sacrifices made by our community.”
Among the famous Hussaini Brahmins is Sunil Dutt. Shaukat Khanum Hospital has the recorded fact that Indian film star Sunil Dutt, who belonged to Lahore, made a donation to the hospital and recorded the following words: ‘For Lahore, like my elders, I will shed every drop of blood and give any donation asked for, just as my ancestors did when they laid down their lives at Karbala for Hazrat Imam Hussain.”
Barkha Dutt, the famous journalist is also descended from the Hussaini Brahmin sect.
During the month of Moharrum, the Hussaini Brahmins also mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, a tradition that has come down the ages.

This year an All India Hussaini Brahmin Conference held in Panipat on 12th January, where ceremonial mourning was also a part of it. There is a mention of a 186 year old magazine taken out by the Mohiyal community, with each issue carrying an article on Imam Hussain.

There are numerous articles on the web of instances of Hussaini Brahmins observing the month of Moharrum as one of mourning for Imam Hussain.

A Times of India report in 2008 records how for the first time in recent memory people claiming the lineage to Hussaini Brahmins joined the Muharram rituals in Muzaffarpur.
Asked why this practice remained discontinued for decades Sharma, a practicing lawyer, said: “We can say this was the fault of our fathers and grandfathers who did not teach us about this aspect of our historical and cultural heritage.”

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