By Khalid Alvi
September 21, 2018
Many may know that it is common amongst
several Hindu communities across India to observe Muharram as a gesture of brotherhood.
A lesser known fact is that there is a group of Brahmins — the Mohyal Brahmins
— who prefer to call themselves the Hussaini Brahmins.
This seemingly inter-religious nomenclature
is not an indication of a lack in Brahmanical sentiment but it is very true
that they not only participate in the Muharram processions and mourning, but
also abstain from social celebrations like marriages during the month of
Muharram. The sect is also not as remote as one might imagine. It boasts of a
number of well known names amongst its followers. Film star Sunil Dutt and Urdu
writers such as Kashmiri Lal Zakir, Sabir Dutt and Nand Kishore Vikram are some
of the better known Hussaini Brahmins. Before Partition, Hussaini Brahmins were
mostly residents of the Sindh and Lahore regions. Afterwards, they were forced
to settle in places like Pune, Delhi, Allahabad and Pushkar.
The Hussaini Brahmins believe that their
ancestor Rahib Dutt, along with his sons, fought alongside the righteous Imam
Hussain at Karbala. While historians have been able to confirm some facts about
Rahib Dutt, there is also no dearth of legends around him. Some claim that he
was a courtier in the service of Chandragupt, who was the king of Lahore at the
time. A number of researchers have suggested that there were two Brahmins (one
of them probably Rahib Dutt) in Iraq during the war of Karbala. They were there
as cloth merchants and according to legend, when they came to know about the
war, they considered it a battle between good and evil like all primordial
battles. Rahib Dutt was certain that this battle was, in essence, no different
from the battle of the Ramayana or Mahabharata and sent his seven sons to fight
for Hussain. The battle between Hussain and Yazid was thought to be one sided.
Despite knowing this, Rahib Dutt and his sons joined forces Hussain. Rahib Dutt
survived the battle but his sons did not.
After the battle, Rahib met a family member
of Hussain who honoured him with the title, Hussaini Brahmin. It is a common
belief that all Hussaini Brahmins have a scar on their necks. This they believe
is a symbol of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and the Brahmin brothers, whose
throats were slit.
Even apart from the Hussaini Brahmins,
there are many examples in history of Hindus who would observe Muharram,
composed Marsiya (elegies lamenting the martyrdom of Hussain) and
constructed Imambaras in Lucknow. The most famous Hindu poet to have composed Marsiya
was Chunnu Lal Dilgeer (1778-1846). It is believed that he composed about
70,000 couplets in praise of Hussain and about the war at Karbala. Dilgeer’s
couplets are thought to be historically accurate rather than being works of
fiction. Some of his more famous couplets celebrate his love for and faith in
the greatness of Imam Hussain:
Gham-E-Hussain/Mujhey Aur Gham Na Ho
pray that the grief for Hussain is not reduced/that God would give me no pain
except the pain of Hussain)
Hashr Mein Yaarab Meri Taqseer Bhi/Paye Naam-E-Tazya Daran Ho Ye Dilgeer Bhi
god forgive me on the Day of Judgment/because I was also one of the mourners of
Many critics believe that Dilgeer’s poetry
has played a great role in the evolution of Urdu Marsiya. At the time
when Dilgeer was writing, the interaction between Hindus and Muslims was very common
but not between men and women. Dilgeer includes many female rituals and idioms
practised by Muslim women, which even the Muslim poets of Lucknow could not
because interactions with women were socially prohibited.
Besides Chunnu lal Dilgeer, prominent Hindu
poets as well as civilians at many places have been known to mourn during
Muharram. Mewa Ram, a Diwan of Ghaziuddin Haider of Oudh, was a great follower
of Imam Hussain. He too constructed an Imambara and arranged Taziadari at
his residence. Rai Shatab Singh Bedar is another poet of the period who has
left a body of romantic verses along with a number of Marsiya.
In the current times, when all one hears of
is communal mistrust and misconduct, it is well worth our time, and sanity, to
look back at these traditions of mutual cultural respect.