Sunday, February 04, 2007
A few days ago it was the Muslim festival of Muharram. From what I gathered, a long time ago some very important Muslim leaders and a large Muslim population were brutally tortured and killed; Muharram is the time to remember this tragedy. I had heard about there being a large parade/festival that was going to happen from some of the Muslims I know in my area of Kolkata so I decided I would go down and check it out. I walked for maybe a half an hour to get to where the parade was to start; I'm used to being a minority in this country, but there where so many people and I really stood out, I was the only westerner there. Within a few minutes I had a crowd around me just staring. It was a little awkward at first but then someone went and brought me chai and biscuits and refused to accept payment. Pretty soon I was talking to a well known Politician from Calcutta and his family. They were really nice and apparently the ones who had paid for my chai. They were all Sunni Muslims so they wouldn't be taking part of the flagellation that was about to start (only the Sia Muslims beat themselves). Nothing happened until about two hours as it was supposed to, but that's almost expected. Then as the procession started, to my surprise, we started walking along with it. So I walked the whole route with these guys, a very hot and crowded four hours. It basically went like this: we would walk for a little while and then we would stop and crowd would form around the Sias who were going to take part of the ceremony. They would then begin beating their chest with razor blades and whipping their back with knifes on a chain. It was a bizarre thing to see, because there wasn't an ounce of pain on their face. When I asked them they all were adamant that it didn't hurt at all. They really must get into a religious frenzy with all that adrenaline pumping or something, otherwise it seems like it would hurt A LOT. Kids as young as six years (as you can see in the picture, the child has knives in his right hand that he's about to use on his own back) and the elderly alike take part in this tradition. For the first few kilometers the bystanders had been all Muslim, but all of a sudden we entered a Hindu area. To my surprise they were all out on the street acting as though this were a Hindu holiday and when I asked Mr. D.K. (the politician's nephew) why they were here he simply replied that they were praying to Allah. I thought that this was fairly interesting, but no one else seemed to notice. After the end of the procession I went to Mr. D.K.'s house for snacks and then we said our goodbyes. I took a taxi back to Sudder St. and was all of a sudden immersed in westerners again.