A far cry from the bustling crowds dressed in black and mounted screens on the streets playing sermons, Dongri – a major Shia pocket in the city – is observing a largely sombre Muharram this year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, and its first 10 days are observed by Muslims in reflection and sorrow, which would culminate on Sunday in Ashura, commemorating the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussein in Karbala.
Unlike public gatherings and sermons that usually mark the 10-day period, several people of the Shia community are performing majlis (sermons), matam (beating of the chest) and nauhas (elegies about Karbala) at their own houses this year. Several families also kept their individual taboots (replica of a tomb) at their houses as against at a common place where all used to earlier congregate.
Rida Fatema, a resident of Andheri (East) who travelled to Dongri every year for Muharram, apart from attending majlis at homes of other people, has for the first time kept a taboot at her house. “Usually, one rushed from one house to another where majlis was performed. This year, in order to avoid congregation, we have kept a taboot at our house and recite nauhas everyday. In a way, it has been a positive change as we can mourn at our own pace,” Fatema told The Indian Express.
Versova resident Komail Abbas said that over the last few years, the sermon of several maulanas is telecast on religious channels like Zainabi and Ali Channel. “Since we cannot go to Dongri this year, we are watching majlis on TV. While every year we go to other houses in the area for Majlis, this year that is not happening either. People are praying at home,” he added.
In Dongri, while sabeels – cubicles on the road from where eatables and water is distributed – have been set up, the distribution is being done in a different manner this year.
“While during other years, water would be kept in an earthen pot for people to pour into their glasses, this year, sealed plastic glasses or pouches containing water have been kept,” said Meezan Hasan, a Dongri resident. “ Even when it comes to eatables, only packed food is being given to people,” he added.
Besides, unlike other years, no juloos (processions) are being taken out where people carrying alams (symbolic flag) would do maatam while reciting nauhas.
“Only the main juloos on the day of Ashura has been allowed by the Bombay High Court under various restrictions. Apart from that there is no gathering. We have to be extra responsible this year,” Hassan said.
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