On 9 August 2022, all of India would be mourning 'Ashura'. In 680 AD (61 Hijri), on the Day of Ashura, Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was martyred in the Battle of Karbala. His family members and companions were either killed or subjected to humiliation. This heinous crime was committed by the forces of tyrant Yazid.
Let us see how the rites of Muharram and Chehlum were started by the Shia community in our city Ranchi.
In 1932, the eminent advocate Late Syed Anwar Hussain Khan, son of Nawab Syed Azhar Hussain Khan, the resident of Dulighat, shifted to Ranchi from Patna. Till then, there was no observance of the tradition of commemorating Muharram, Chehlum, and mourning by the Shia in Ranchi.
The late advocate Syed Anwar Hussain Khan Saheb was the founder of Muharram, Chehlum and Azadari (the mourning) in the Shia community of Ranchi. Anwar Saheb established 10 days of 'Ashra' (days of mourning) in Ranchi as an aesthesia of Muharram and Chehlum. Eminent scholars from all over the country were invited to address the majlis (the assembly) during these mournful days.
Till 1964, Maulana Sadiq Hussain Saheb of Lucknow used to come and read the 'Ashra' of Chehlum. Maulana would stay at Anwar Saheb's place and address the Majlis in that very house for 10 days. From 1965, Maulana Ahmad Hasan Saheb, a scholar from Banaras, started coming to Ranchi to address the Majlis in Anwar Saheb's house only. This concatenation continued till 1998. Nowadays, Maulana Dilkash Ghazipuri Saheb comes for Chehlum. All the preceding religious programs are still conducted in the same well-planned manner at Anwar Saheb's.
Interestingly, in the pre-Partition days, many high officials from the Baloch and the Punjab regiments posted at Ranchi were Shias. All these officers used to participate regularly in the mournful observance of Muharram at Anwar Saheb's house. At times, their reverence for Imam Hussain grew so much that these devotees would come out on road and mourn in the open. After the Partition, these people went to Pakistan taking the memories of Ranchi with them.
In 1968, Anwar Saheb started the tradition of Chehlum procession in the city which still retains its grandeur. The very first procession left from his main road residence (Anwar Arcade) to the taxi stand and returned back to his kothi. In the procession itself, Maulana Ahmed Hasan Saheb would address people of all religions on the main road, educating them about the purpose of the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (son of Prophet Muhammad's daughter) and exhorting them to live in harmony among themselves.
In the procession of 1968, the mourning by hitting themselves with chains was initiated for the first time by the four sons of Anwar Saheb and his nephew (Mohammad Baqar Ali) and the 'Nawasa' (Syed Hashim Raza). It was a historic moment. The city of Ranchi was witnessing such a sight for the first time and before long, the number of people watching the procession erupted into thousands. Seeing the mourners covered in blood, the townspeople were taken aback. The tradition of lamentation with chains is still alive and it is only increasing by every year.
Children, young and old, in the procession recite Nauha and Salaam and remember Imam Hussain's sacrifice zealously. Along with the self-flagellating mourners with chains, there is also a significant number of chest-beaters with hands.
After the procession returned, Maulana Ahmad Hasan Saheb would address Majlis in Anwar Saheb's kothi. Devotees mourned and were then fed with nazar (a type of food) in the name of Imam Hussain. This rite continues.
During the 10 days of Chehlum, Anwar Saheb’s house used to be a guesthouse. Devotees from far flung areas of Chhotanagpur (Palamu, Jamshedpur, Hazaribagh, Ramgarh, etc.) used to gather in his house and responsibility of their food was happily carried out by Anwar Saheb and his family. Nevertheless, in the confines of his kothi, the procession of Majlis and Mehfil used to continue throughout the year. Devotees kept coming and going. Since Anwar Saheb considered it as his duty to take care of guests, anyone could come to his house. And on the occasions of Muharram and Chehlum, his house would become an inn. Late Professor Sheen Akhtar Saheb has described this richly in his book Shahar Naama.
In 1977, Anwar Saheb and his four sons (Syed Khurshid Anwar, High Court Advocate; Syed Yawar Hussain; Syed Mansoor Anwar; and Syed Tanveer Anwar), Syed Hashim Raza, and some Iranian banjaras settled in Ranchi, collectively founded a Dus Muharram (Ashura) procession. The procession had the patronage of Anwar Saheb. Initially, this procession used to go from Main Road overbridge to Karbala Chowk. This procession continues even till now and is a regular event.
Simultaneously, the procession of nine Muharram also emanates from the house of Anwar Saheb. This is also a very old tradition.
Similarly, the procession for eight days of Muharram also had the guidance of the family of Late Anwar Saheb, and still has!
It is important for readers to know that Anwar saheb used to organise 'Muharram Ashra' in his native city Bhagalpur also, which still continues. In Patna as well, the foundation of Muharram was laid by Anwar Saheb's ancestor Mr Syed Ahmad Ali Khan Qayamat Azimabadi in 1722 AD. Hence his family is credited with laying the foundation of Muharram in four cities (Patna, Bhagalpur, Sheikhpura, and Ranchi) of the undivided Bihar.
The credit for the establishment of Shia Masjid and Imambara in Ranchi also goes to this very family. Till 1999, the prayers of Eid, Bakrid, Juma, Ramzan etc. were offered in Anwar Saheb's house itself. After the construction of Masjid-e-Jafria, these prayers are now offered in this mosque. The first foundation brick of this mosque was laid by the late advocate Syed Yawar Hussain Saheb (a son of Anwar Saheb).
Located on the Main Road, Ranchi, 'Anwar Sahib Ki Vishal Kothi' (Anwar Arcade) is still the focal point of many social and religious functions and gatherings. In this way, the hard work, dedication, sacrifice and patience of Anwar Saheb and his family laid a strong foundation of Muharram, Chehlum and Azadari in the city of Ranchi that still stands out.
(Translated from Hindi by Manohar Notani)