The month of Muharram has had immense significance in, particularly Muslim societies. Celebrated as the month of mourning across the world by the Shia community, it commemorates the significant battle of Karbala that occurred in 680 AD, where the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW), Imam Hussain was martyred along with his family members and companions while the women were taken as prisoners and subjected to humiliation.
Since then, Shias across the world mourn the deaths, condemn the brutality in the form of gatherings and processions. Among matam, mild to extreme self-flagellation, food being distributed among the believers, massive blood donation drives and huge gatherings led by Alam as shabeeh – the tragic incident is narrated and the events are recalled.
Usually wearing black and carrying out the activity every year like a ritual, the Shia customary mourning has gathered the attention of people belonging to other religious identities as well.
Due to Karbala’s message having resonance with Sunnis, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus as well, they have historically been part of them as well. People belonging to other faiths have also wholeheartedly believed in the message of Karbala because they have seen Imam Hussain as a revolutionist and reformist who dominantly changed the course of history by his rigid stance against oppression.
Due to it being celebrated in such a synchronized fashion with multiple religious representations, Muharram also caught the eye of the British, who found this mass-mourning culture interesting and strange. It can be well reflected by these paintings made by anonymous Indian artists and European patrons.
The paintings show the existence of that very culture and its recognition in the era while speaking mildly about then existing cultural dynamics. Here, have a look:
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