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Muharram in Faizabad

Faizabad: Imam Husain who fell martyr, thirsty for three days, is mourned all over the world in one way or the other according to local traditions. Every nation pays its tribute to the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the sacrifices of his family. The Shia fraternity mourns him for two months and eight days. Wrapped in black garments, men, women and children forget their routine affairs and businesses and convey from holy shrines their elegiac notes to Fatima Zahra (ra) on her son’s tragic tryst. This mournful remembrance of Muharram was brought to a high grandeur by the Nawabs of Awadh by lending it royal patronage. What was begun by Begum Amat-e Zara (Bahu Begum Sahiba), the Begum of Awadh Nawab Shujauddulah, at Faizabad was made a grand and spectacular event by his son Nawab Asifuddaulah in Lucknow.

Muharram: Procession of Mehndi / Faizabad / U.P. / India               
Muharram: Procession of Mehndi / Faizabad / U.P. / India

Every historical edifice built by Nawab Shujauddaulah has one distinct feature – invariably there is a mosque and an imambara attached to it. Bahu Begum sanctified those buildings and associated them with the memory of Imam Husain. Were these buildings constructed by the Awadh Nawabs without this religious identity and had there been no uninterrupted celebration of Muharram through centuries, the Archaeological Survey of India would have annexed these buildings as heritage properties under the pretext of maintenance and would have reduced them to ruins as it has done to innumerable Muslim monuments in Delhi and elsewhere or, just like the Quwwatul-Islam Masjid, near the Qutub Minar, it would have fixed a board claiming how many temples were demolished and how many non-Muslims sacrificed their lives defending them.

In Faizabad there are several edifices associated with Nawab Shujauddaulah and his begum. The beautiful Gulab-bari which is regarded as mini-Taj Mahal, Bahu Begum’s tomb, Moti Mahal built in the memory of Nawab’s mother, and the central monument for mourning the martyrs – Imambara Jawahar Ali Khan where majalis are regularly held and rallies organised. In the night of seventh Muharram, the illuminated mehndi, 25 feet tall, is taken from Bahu Begum’s tomb, to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain’s nephew Hazrat Qasim who had been married just one day before his martyrdom. There is no similar mehndi anywhere in the world. Starting from the tomb it reaches the Imambara at about 3 o’clock in the morning passing via Clock Tower. In the rally several groups recite noha and beat their breasts in lamentation. This mourning procession accompanied with qama’ and chains marches forward with royal grace. The naqal,  distributed when the procession comes to an end, is also a Nawabi legacy. Similarly, the Chehlum procession (on the 40th day of martyrdom) starts from Imambarah and comes back to Bahu Begum’s tomb. It takes eight hours to cover a distance of three kilometres, from 8 am to 5 pm. These royal processions during Muharram which have become Faizabad’s identity are also testimony to the religious fervour of Bahu Begum.