KARACHI: Ravi Shankar, aged 65, from the area of Chachro in Tharparkar district of Sindh reads four-verse poem, called rubaye, in the honour of Imam Hussain (RA) at Muharram gatherings across the country, especially in Punjab.
“When I read the rubaye of Mirza Dabeer, Mir Anees and Devi Roop Kumari, people attending the majlis [mourning gathering] cannot control their tears while remembering the martyrdom of Aale Muhammad [the family of Prophet Muhammad PBUH] at the hands of Yazidi forces,” says Shankar as he talks to The Express Tribune.
He says when he is reciting the poetry during a majlis, people do not think of him as a Hindu but as a follower of the path shown by Imam Hussain (RA) to the people of this world.
“During my days as student, I had a chance to read Muslim history as a subject and I realised that in the known history the tragic event of Karbala is unprecedented where Imam Hussain (RA) and his companions were martyred and women imprisoned,” he says.
Shankar believes “Aisa waqia pathar ko bhi rula de” i.e. such a tragic event can move even the stone-hearted to tears.
He says that the Hindus of Sindh have been a part of Muharram processions and gatherings owing to the coexistence spanning many centuries. However, with the emergence of extremism in the country, such practices of religious harmony are slowly dying down, he laments.
According to Shankar, Hindus of all castes observe the first 10 days of Muharram just like Muslims and especially the day of Ashura, i.e. the 10th of Muharram, by mourning and learning lessons from the sacrifice of Aale Muhammad (PBUH).
He also recalls Dewan Hamand Das Hyderi – a preacher of the ideology of the Karbala tragedy – who recently died in Sanghar, saying that many Sikhs also respect Imam Hussain (RA) and his sacrifices.
Sanjay Kumar, a Sindh government employee residing in the Tariq Road area of Karachi, not only attends Muharram gatherings, but also mourns the tragedy by thumping his chest while chanting ‘Ya Hussain (RA)’.
Several young Hindu men also join the main procession on MA Jinnah Road in Karachi that sees thousands of people heading towards Imambargah Hussainia Iranian in Kharadar to mark the anniversary of the battle of Karbala when Imam Hussain (RA) was martyred along with his family.
“Since I was a schoolgoing child, I have attended processions and gatherings in reverence of Imam Hussain (RA),” says Sanjay, who is from Sukkur, while talking to The Express Tribune.
He says he has inherited the love for the martyrs of Karbala from his father who would set up a water and juice stall, called sabeel, for the mourners during the first 10 days of Muharram.
“Like the Muslims, we also do not plan any celebratory ceremonies in Muharram, even weddings are arranged around the holy month,” says Sanjay.
His friend Ashok, clad in a black shalwar kameez, adds that Hindus and Muslims of Sindh would participate in the festivities and rituals related to both religions.
“Hindu and Muslims would live in peace, often sharing each other’s traditions and festivities but unfortunately some extremist groups are now creating anarchy in the name of religion,” he says.
Ashok believes that Imam Hussain (RA) fought against cruelty, and is a hero – not just for Muslims, but for all mankind. In many Hindu-dominated areas in Tharparkar, Sanghar, Larkana and Shikarpur, taziyas are prepared by the Hindu youth, he tells with pride.
“Can you believe that a majority of Sindhi Hindus, who migrated to India, still come here just to pay tribute to Qalandar Lal Shahbaz and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. It is just not the Muslims who hold them as sacred, we Hindus also profess them our saints because they have given the message of love, peace and harmony,” he says.
Seconding what Sanjay and Ashok say, Shia leader Allama Mashooq Ali Domki recalls a Hindu boy who was among 20 people killed in a blast during a Muharram procession in Jacobabad two years ago.
“This is a common practice in Sindh where thousands of Hindus attend gatherings and processions acknowledging the sacrifices of Imam Hussain (RA) and his family,” says Allama Domki, adding that it is also perfectly acceptable for Muslims to attend Hindu festivals such as Holi or Dewali.
“We do not believe in discrimination based on religion. There has been co-existence in Sindh and we want things to remain the way they are,” he says.
For Maharaja Prakash, a Hindu-Brahman, “The incident of Karbala is exemplary where Imam Hussain (RA) waged a war against evil or Yazid, showing us how one should never surrender in front of adversary, no matter how difficult it may seem.” He says many Hindus also look at the taziyas and make votive prayers.
The Sodha Rajput clan chief’s son, Kanwar Karni Singh Sodha, tells The Express Tribune that a significant number of Hindus in Mithi, Umnerkot and Tharparkar districts participate in Muharram processions and attend mourning gatherings while others arrange sabeels to acknowledge the great sacrifice of Imam Hussain (RA).
Sodha himself believes that “the path followed by Imam Hussain (RA) was the righteous one and would be remembered by many generations to come. We need to respect the heroic martyrs of Karbala irrespective of our religions, as their fight was against oppression and tyranny.”
Sodha says Hindus believe that their forefathers fought and died alongside Imam Hussain (RA) at Karbala hence they were referred to as Hussaini Brahmans or Dutt Brahmans.