Syed Ali Mujtaba | Caravan Daily
MUHARRAM, the first month on the Islamic calendar, holds special significance for Muslims as on the 10th day of the month Imam Husain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and son of Ali ibne Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam, was martyred in the battle of Karbala (Iraq). While Muslims mourn the tragic incident in different ways in different parts of the world, little is known about a Hindu festival in commemoration of Husain outside Tamil Nadu.
In a sleepy village of Tamil Nadu, Muharram is observed as ‘Allah Festival’ by Hindus with the fervor that matches with that of Muslim brethren. The residents of Kasanadu Pudu in Thanjavur district who are predominantly Hindus except for a handful of Muslims, start preparations for the festival ten days in advance. They paint and decorate Allah Temple (Koil) near the public square of the village for the occasion with green flags, flowers and decorative lights and sanitise entire area in its vicinity.
On the eve of Muharram, Hindu women take out processions starting from each street and culminating at the Allah Koil. They carry a large pot filled with sweetened water atop their heads with a small pot over the larger containing puffed rice and jiggery. Muslim families also partake in some rituals and offer puffed rice and jiggery to the Allah Koil.
While women take out the procession with pots on their heads, men of the village take out a procession with the image of a hand with five fingers tied to a pole symbolising “five fingers of Allah” in the front followed by four, three, two and one fingers. This procession is taken through the entire village before reaching the ‘Allah Koil’.
As the procession proceeds through the village streets, residents pay obeisance to the hand symbols from their houses and those who make vows offer garlands made of lemon and silk towels to the symbols. The procession ends on the 10th Muharram when those carrying the finger symbols and those making vows wade through blazing fire barefoot as a ritual.
With this, the festival comes to a close and the finger symbols are deposited at the Allah Koil. It will be taken out again the next year for the Allah festival on the eve of Muharram.
The tradition of the ‘Allah festival’ goes back to ancient times. A legend has it that some villagers form Kasanadu Pudu saw a light in the flowing water of Pudhu Aaru River which flows by the village. A resident found a hand symbol with five fingers made of metal. Later, he had dreamt of a Muslim saint telling him that he would be residing in the village to bestow his blessings on the villagers.
Ever since, the ‘Allah festival’ is celebrated in the village every year beginning from the first day of Muharram and concluding on the 10th.
M Singaravel, a native of the village who works as a health inspector in the health department said, ‘Allah Festival’ is a faith based festival celebrated by the Hindu residents of Kasanadu Pudu village for centuries. There is an emotional attachment to the festival as many people’s wishes are fulfilled during this festival.
“I had vowed to offer a silk shawl if my daughter got a seat in the desired course,” Singaravel said adding his wish was granted.
Besides Kasanadu Pudu village, the festival is in a few other villages including Ko Vallundampattu near Thanjavur. The most fascinating aspect of this festival is the excitement with which Hindu families start preparations for the festival. The villagers who are working in far off places make it a point to visit home to join the celebrations.
What is noteworthy is that the little known tradition in a remote village of the Tamil Nadu for centuries. This is one of the myriad traditions, representative of a syncretic culture that upholds the liberal values associated with Hinduism. But will the time-tested customs survive the onslaught of the Hindutva wave sweeping across the length and breadth of the country is a question haunting most of us today.
(Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com)