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How were Muharram Processions Different in the 19th Century?

How were Muharram Processions Different in the 19th Century?

Rida Khalid

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and one that represents a sense of loss and mourning and not celebration. Muharram marks the historical Karbala that took place in 680AD. Several prominent primitive Muslims lost their lives including Imam Hussain, Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandson.

During the month of Muharram, especially the 9th and the 10th – the day of Imam Hussain’s Shahadat, Shia’s worldwide attend and conduct gatherings.

There are processions held to remember and mourn the loss of many. Several paintings were made back in the day to make aware the Europeans of Muharram. This article is a collection of the paintings and their depiction.


The gathering is headed by a leader called the Alam. A cluster of people surrounds him in their bloodstained attired. The Alam narrates anecdotes from the battle in a dramatic manner as the listeners weep at the travesty.

Followed by the narration is the matam. This is also an act of self-flagellation to varying degrees. Songs written to remember Iman Hussain known as Nohay are sung in unison.

All the members are dressed in black, which symbolizes mourning.

The gatherings are not always limited to the Shias. Sunnis, Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians have also often participated in their own capacities.

Despite this belief aging all the way back to 680 AD the commemoration, we see today was sparred after the European Invasion and was not conducted like this in the past.

The month of Muharram and how it is passed has always been a source of intrigue and fascination for the British. They found it exotic despite being completely horrified by the act and riveted at the same time.

The paintings were made particularly for Europeans of the East India Company and the likes but were done by Indian artisans. Traditional Western art of miniatures was amalgamated with watercolors to meet the desired result.

However, due to their often-extreme nature, the proceedings had to often be altered to ensure they met the sensibilities of the Europeans in a balance.

Critics of the time claimed that the paintings were subtler and even out of context to a certain extent when compared to the actual events that unfolded during Muharram. The paintings were taken out of context and could not fully depict the sense of mourning that is a prevalent theme of the month.

Despite their less dramatic style depicted of Muharram from the subcontinent’s history, it allows Muslims of today a quick insight into how the month has always been spent.

It reminds us how cultural representations have fascinated the Europeans to an artistic desire to immortalize the month.

*The information and pictures in this article are all sourced from Dawn*

Rida Khalid
Rida Khalid

An English Literature graduate with a passion for Psychology. An avid reader, writer, poet (self-proclaimed) and part-time fitness trainer. Currently working with NIC, Lahore. I spin words to make my narcissistic wit sound like diffident profundity. The above feels a lot like braggadocio, meh!

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