Interesting facts about Muharram - significance , practices , rituals and food

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and one of the four sacred months when warfare is forbidden. It is also the second holiest month after Ramadan, when Muslims fast and pray. Muharram is a time of remembrance and reflection for Muslims, especially on the tenth day of the month, known as Ashura.


Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE by the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I. Husayn and his family and followers were outnumbered and surrounded in the desert, where they faced thirst, hunger and violence. Husayn refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, who he considered an illegitimate and tyrannical ruler, and chose to stand up for his principles and values. His sacrifice is seen as a symbol of courage, resistance and justice by Muslims, especially by the Shia sect, who regard Husayn as their third Imam.

Ashura is also a day of fasting for some Sunni Muslims, who follow the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, who fasted on this day along with the Jewish community in Medina. According to some hadiths (sayings of the Prophet), Muhammad said that fasting on Ashura would expiate the sins of the previous year. Some Sunni Muslims also believe that Ashura marks other historical events, such as the day when Noah's ark landed on Mount Judi, or when Moses crossed the Red Sea with his followers.

Who follow Muharram

Muharram and Ashura are celebrated by Muslims of different sects and regions, but with different rituals and practices. Shia Muslims observe Muharram as a period of mourning and grief, starting from the first day of the month until the fortieth day after Ashura, known as Arbaeen. They abstain from joyous events and wear black clothes as a sign of sorrow. They also attend majalis (gatherings) where they listen to sermons, recite poems and lamentations, and express their emotions by crying or beating their chests. Some Shia Muslims also participate in processions where they carry replicas of Husayn's coffin or banners with his name. Some even perform self-flagellation or blood donation as a way of showing solidarity with Husayn's suffering.

Sunni Muslims celebrate Muharram as a month of worship and gratitude to Allah. They fast on the ninth and tenth or tenth and eleventh days of the month, following the sunnah (example) of Prophet Muhammad. They also recite Quranic verses, offer prayers and charity, and seek forgiveness from Allah. Some Sunni Muslims also respect the memory of Husayn and his family by visiting their shrines or sending salutations to them.

Historical relevance

Muharram and Ashura have historical relevance not only for Muslims but also for other religions and cultures. The Battle of Karbala was a pivotal event in Islamic history that shaped the division between Sunni and Shia Muslims, who differ on the issue of succession after Prophet Muhammad's death. The martyrdom of Husayn also inspired many movements and revolutions throughout history, such as the Safavid dynasty in Iran, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Muharram and Ashura also have connections with other Abrahamic faiths, such as Judaism and Christianity. The word Muharram means "forbidden" or "prohibited" in Arabic, which is similar to the Hebrew word harum (חרם), meaning "devoted" or "consecrated". Both words refer to sacred months or times when fighting is prohibited. The tenth day of Muharram also coincides with the tenth day of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar, which is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. This is a day when Jews fast and repent for their sins before God. Some scholars suggest that Prophet Muhammad adopted this practice from his Jewish neighbors in Medina before he received revelation about Ramadan.

How is Muharram followed in Bengaluru

Bengaluru is a city in India that has a diverse population of Muslims from different sects and backgrounds. Muharram and Ashura are celebrated in various ways by different communities in Bengaluru. Some common features are:

- The Shia community organizes processions called juloos or matam where they carry taziyas (replicas of Husayn's tomb) or alams (flags) through the streets while chanting slogans such as "Ya Husayn" or "Labbayk Ya Husayn" (meaning "O Husayn" or "Here I am, O Husayn"). They also perform matam (mourning rituals) such as zanjeer zani (self-flagellation with chains) or qama zani (self-flagellation with knives) to express their grief and devotion. Some Shia mosques or imambaras (religious halls) also host majalis where they recite marsiyas (elegies) or nauhas (lamentations) for Husayn and his companions.

- The Sunni community observes Muharram as a month of fasting and prayer. They fast on the ninth and tenth or tenth and eleventh days of the month and offer special prayers such as Salat al-Ashura or Salat al-Ghufayla. They also recite Quranic verses, hadiths, and du'as (supplications) related to Muharram and Ashura. Some Sunni mosques or madrasas (religious schools) also organize lectures or seminars on the significance and lessons of Muharram and Ashura.

- The Sufi community celebrates Muharram as a month of love and devotion to Allah and his beloved ones. They visit the shrines or dargahs of Sufi saints or awliya (friends of God) who are believed to have a special connection with Husayn and his family. They also perform dhikr (remembrance of God) or qawwali (devotional music) in praise of Allah and his messengers. Some Sufi orders also hold urs (anniversary) ceremonies for their spiritual masters or shaykhs during Muharram.

- The Bohra community, which is a sub-sect of Shia Islam, celebrates Muharram as a month of loyalty and obedience to their spiritual leader or dai al-mutlaq (absolute missionary). They attend majalis in their mosques or jamatkhanas (community centers) where they listen to the sermons or waaz of their dai or his representatives. They also wear white clothes as a sign of purity and simplicity. They refrain from eating meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products during the first nine days of Muharram and break their fast on the tenth day with a special dish called khichda, which is made of wheat, lentils, rice, and meat.

- The Ismaili community, which is another sub-sect of Shia Islam, celebrates Muharram as a month of knowledge and wisdom. They attend majalis in their mosques or jamatkhanas where they listen to the guidance or farman of their spiritual leader or Aga Khan. They also recite ginans (hymns) or qasidas (poems) that highlight the spiritual significance of Muharram and Ashura. They also perform charitable deeds and social service activities during this month.

Here is a table that summarizes some of the differences between the various communities in Bengaluru:

Interesting facts about Muharram - significance , practices , rituals and food

Community | Sect | Procession | Fasting | Mourning | Shrine visit
 Shia      | Twelver | Yes      | No      | Yes      | Yes         
 Sunni     | Hanafi | No       | Yes     | No       | No          
 Sufi      | Various | No       | Optional| No       | Yes       
 Bohra     | Musta'li | No       | Yes     | No       | No        
 Ismaili   | Nizari  | No       | No      | No       | No          

Foods  during Muharram

The food consumed during Muharram festival varies depending on the region, sect and tradition of the Muslims. However, some common themes are:

- The food is mostly vegetarian or made with lamb or chicken, as pork is forbidden in Islam.
- The food is often sweet or rich, as a way of expressing gratitude to Allah or honoring the memory of Husayn and his family.
- The food is sometimes shared with neighbors, relatives or the poor, as a way of showing generosity and solidarity.

Zarda Rice

Zarda rice, also known as meetha chawal (sweet rice) in Hindi, is a traditional delicacy cooked during Muharram. It is made with basmati rice, sugar, saffron, cardamom, nuts and dried fruits. It is usually cooked on the first day of Muharram and distributed among family and friends as a sign of goodwill and happiness.


Haleem is an age-old dish, a thick stew or porridge made from wheat, spices, lentils, barley and minced meat. It is cooked for several hours until the ingredients are well blended and tender. It is a nutritious and filling dish that provides energy and strength to the fasting Muslims. It is usually eaten on the ninth or tenth day of Muharram, especially after sunset.


Sherbet is a refreshing drink made with water, sugar, lemon juice and rose water. It is sometimes flavored with other ingredients such as mint, basil or saffron. It is served cold to quench the thirst and cool down the body. It is often drunk on the tenth day of Muharram, as a tribute to the sufferings of Husayn and his companions who were deprived of water in the desert of Karbala. ¹²

Suji ka Halwa

Suji ka halwa is a simple but delicious dessert made with semolina, ghee, sugar and nuts. It is cooked in a large pot and stirred continuously until it becomes golden and aromatic. It is served hot or cold with puris (deep-fried breads) or parathas (flatbreads). It is usually eaten on the tenth day of Muharram or on other occasions such as birthdays or weddings.


Biriyani is a popular dish made with rice, meat, vegetables and spices. It is cooked in layers in a large pot or oven and garnished with fried onions, nuts and herbs. It is a festive dish that can be made with different types of meat such as lamb, chicken or beef. It is often eaten on the tenth day of Muharram or on other special days such as Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha.