Muharram terminology :
as seen in this painting by Sewak Ram, “A Muharram Scene”, Patna, India c1807 (Victoria and Albert Museum)
Today on the Alam, patka and the Alamdar. Every imambara is decorated with alams with elaborate patkas.
- First of all you can see the fluttering standards called alam – these are borne on wooden staffs. The alam is the standard of the army of Imam Hussain and represents the martytrs but particularly associated with Hazrat Abbas, the brother of Imam Hussain and the commander in chief of the army. He is called the Alamdar.
Abbas for whom Mirza Dabeer wrote:
“Kis sher ki aamad hai ke rann kaanp raha hai
Rustam ka jigar zer-e kafan kaanp raha hai.”
the alams can be seen fluttering throughout the procession.
- The alams have cloth patkas hanging on the wooden staff. these have various symbols embroidered on them in gold and silver.
- though it can’t be seen here but the alam will also have a small mashkeeza hanging from it, symbolising the mashk (waterskin bag) that hazrat Abbas took to the river Euphrates to fill for his thirsty niece Sakina. he was martyred by the army of Yezid and was brought back to the camp of Imam Husain dead. Since he had promised his brother that he would not fight and would only fill water his sacrifice is particularly tragic
His bravery was legendary and he was the best warrior of his times, but bound by his oath to his brother unable to fight.
Mir Anees celebrated this brave warrior with the words
naara tha ke haan aey sipah’e Sha’m, khabardaar
Abbas e dilaawar hai mera naam, khabardaar
hai qahr’e ilaahi meri samsaam, khabardaar
naizah hai mera maut ka paighaam, khabardaar
maiN lakhT e jigar saaheb’e shamsheer’e do-sar hooN
hoshyaar ke maiN sheir e ilaahi ka pisar hooN
because Hazrat Abbas could not fight as he had wanted to and his wish remained unfulfilled he has become bab-ul hawaij- the door for asking for fulfilment of wishes from Allah.
PHOTO 2- Alam from met Museum
Photo 3- Alam with patka in bara Imambada, Lucknow
Photo 4-maskeeza (in silver) attached to a alam in bara Imambara, Lucknow
The taziya, seen throughout this painting
The earliest record that we get by a Muslim historian of the events of Karbala and Husain’s martyrdom is from the Maqtal of Abu Mikhnaf (d. 157/774).
While his maqtal wasnt preserved, his descriptions were partaly preserved in later sources, notably al-Tabari (d. 310/923).
We know that Bibi Zainab along with her nephew Imam Zainul Abidin was the first toestablish an assembly or majlis to mourn Imam Hussain in Damascus after their release from imprisonment by Yezid.
This tradition contunued and Shias ( partisans of Hazrat Ali) continued this tradition annually on the tenth of Muharram (ʿAshuraʾ) with special ceremonies and the so-called passion plays (taʿziya).
The literal meaning of taziya is a passion play where the events of Ashura ( 10th Muharram) were commemorated.
Ashura epitomised epic spirit and resistance of evil and oppresion and sacrifice in the path of Allah.
This is how it was observed in Iran and the Persianate world.
In South Asia particularly the subcontinent a taziya refers to Miniature Mausoleums (imitations of the mausoleums of the martyrs of Karbala, generally made of coloured paper and bamboo). These are of various sizes and elaboration in design and kept in the imambaras. On 10th Muharram they are removed anf taken out in ritual processions for symbolic burial in Karbalas ( name given to Shia cemeteries) .
This is called thanda karna.
These processions are taken out by Sunnis and Shias and i have personally witnessed many Hindus, Christians and Jews joining in.
There is a tradition that if a child is taken beneath a taziya he/ she remains healthy.
Photo below is of a passion play or Persian taziya. Source wikipedia
Please read A history of Tazita making in Lucknow
Note: Today most azadars (mourners of Imam Hussain and the martyrs of Karbala will wear black or green)