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Muharram is observed by the Shia community of Muslims in commemoration of the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussain, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in AD 680. The prophet's son-in-law Ali, and Ali's elder son Hassan, are also remembered during this period as having suffered and died for righteous causes. Muharram, or the sacred month, marks the beginning of the Muslim year.

The word muharram also means respect. The first ten days of the month are observed as a period of mourning. After the death of the Prophet Mohammed, the Quran was considered the final word. The Prophet had named no successor. One faction of his followers believed that succession should remain within Mohammed's family, while another disagreed. After a long dispute, Abu Bakr, a loyal follower of Mohammed, was elected his successor. His reign was peaceful, as was that of his successors.

However, during the reign of Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law, there was opposition from the masses. Ali was assassinated and his elder son Hassan was poisoned. His younger son Hussain, his family and his troops, were tortured and killed, and Hussain's head was severed and presented to the king.

The killing of Hussain happened on the tenth day of month of Muharram, and the event was called Ashura. It is now observed as a day for public expression of grief. These circumstances divided the Muslim community into the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shias consider Ali, Hassan and Hussain the rightful successors of Prophet Mohammed and mourn their death during Muharram.


The Shias observe the entire month as a period of mass mourning. There is no celebration or expression of joy of any kind. Women are expected to forsake all adornments. Public enactments of grief, depicting scenes from the Battle of Karbala, are carried out in Shia mosques on the first ten days.

The Shias in India observe certain ceremonies in common, though the details differ considerably. As soon as the new moon appears, people clad in black assemble and recite plaintive verses over sweetened cold drink, in memory of Imam Hussain.


The cool drink is meant to remind people of the terrible thirst Hussain and his family had to suffer. Food and drink are later distributed to the public, especially to the poor. The first nine days are also spent in making bamboo and paper replicas of the martyr's tomb. On Ashura, the tenth day, decorated taziyas, or tombs embellished with precious metals, are carried through the city streets. A horse is led in procession in memory of Hussain's horse, Dul Dul.Wrestlers and dancers enact scenes depicting the Battle of Karbala. Bare-chested Shia men strike their body with chains or walk barefoot over burning coal while uttering cries of anguish for the torture that Hussain suffered. Apart from reliving his suffering, it is also an expression of the people's inability to save Hussain from the brutalities.

Observed In

Muharram is observed in all the Shia communities in India. Lucknow sees great fervour, as it is the centre of Shia culture and religious activities in India