Muharram rituals: Devoting lives to Azadari-e-Hussain

Artisans in Lahore have been preparing different Azadari items for generations to show their devotion


Photo: Zahoor Ahmed/Asif Mehmood September 08, 2019
Artisans complete the preparation of Azadari items before Ashura. PHOTOS: ZAHOOR AHMED

LAHORE: Since the start of Muharram, the sale and purchase of Azadari items, such as zanjeer and taziya, have surged. There are artisans in the city who have been preparing these items for many decades and have been involved in these professions for several generations.

An artisan named Suleiman Qamar, for example, has been designing and preparing miniature replicas of holy sites all his life.

“I have been preparing handmade Azadari items since the days of my youth and my family is involved in the same profession for four generations,” Qamar tells The Express Tribune. “We prepare all the items with our hands and try not to use machines for additional finesse.

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There are ready-made items available in the market, but some people prefer handmade ones. All artisans complete the preparation of Azadari items before the Ashura, including alams, zari, rauza, jhoola, zuljanah and jewelry items.

Another elderly man named Sukh Chaen, who has been associated with the profession for many years, has prepared 11 alams for this year’s Ashura procession.“It takes a lot of preparation as I start receiving orders many months before Muharram. We don’t take any more orders once Muharram commences,” he said.

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“I work very hard to prepare these items because it is related to some peoples’ love and devotion to their faith, and there is no room for mistakes.”

Sukh Chaen said that he has a profound love for the Ahle Bait – the people of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) house – which served as a motivation to enter this profession. At present, he prepares different designs and sizes of alams, claiming that he has become an expert in his work.

“A small alam takes two to three weeks to prepare while a large one takes several months,” he said.

Likewise, an artisan named Bilal said that every year, he prepares different sizes of alams together with other items.

“From drawing to cutting to preparing and polishing of alams, everything takes place here in my shop and the process takes several days,” he explained. “The artisans of Lahore are popular for being the most skilled ones, therefore, shops in the city export various Azadari items across the country.

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Bilal added that the trend of handmade Azadari items is becoming less popular with the advancement of modern technology, adding that those who are linked with this work say that the beauty and expertise associated with making items with hands is not found in machine-made items.

“The preparation of a large alam may cost up to Rs2,500, and it is sold for Rs4,000,” he shared. “The sale of items peak during the first 10 days of Muharram, however, for me it’s not merely about making money but also about earning a reward by showing devotion to the commemoration of Hazrat Hussain’s (RA) sacrifice,” Bilal concluded.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2019.

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