A close-up view of a tadjah during Hosay in Cedros
Tadjah pulled along the Cedros Main Road.
A beautifully decorated tadjah at the Hosay celebration in Cedros
Tassa drummers accompany tadjah parade in Fullerton Village, Cedros
By Ashraf Alli
ON THE 10th of the Holy Month of Muharram (The beginning of the Islamic New Year), a tremendous incident occurred in the history of Islam. This incident, referred to by many renowned scholars, historians and poets, from the Middle East, the Indian Sub-continent and Orientalists from Great Britain as ‘The Tragedy of Kerbala’, is surprisingly unheard of by the younger generation of Muslims in Guyana, although a strong culture had earlier developed around the incident.
On the 10th of Muharram, popularly known as AASHOORAH, huge processions accompanied by Tadja drums were held in many villages in British Guiana. Though it was a Muslim commemoration, it had the support and participation of Hindus, creole Africans and Chinese, and became the most important event of the Indentured labourers. TADJA was a procession by Muslim Indian immigrants who were sentimentally attached to the Holy Prophet and his noble Family. It was the commemoration of the Martyrdom of Hussayn, the grandson of the Holy Prophet of Islam and 72 close relatives of his who stood up against the despotic ruler of his time to protect the religion of Islam.
Within decades of the demise of the Holy Prophet, Leadership fell into the hands of the Omayyads, a tribe which had vehemently opposed the Holy Prophet. The Omayyads ruled the Muslim World from Damascus, the capital of Syria. Corruption was rampant, and the Omayyads sought to distort the teachings of Islam to suit their wicked whims and fancies.
Imam Hussain, with the will to protect the religious beliefs and teachings of his grandfather, confronted the rulership of the Omayyads. He moved towards Kufa, Iraq with his family and close supporters. The small band of faithful Muslims, most of whom were close relations of the Holy Prophet, encamped at Kerbala at the bank of the Euphrates River.
They were intercepted by the soldiers of Yazeed, the Caliph. The encampment, including women and children were denied water for three days. A battle was waged against Imam Hussain and his supporters. They fought bravely, but were all martyred.
Accounts of the battle are so touching and heartrending, they inspired many a great poet, leaders and philosophers to write about it. Mahatma Gandhi, Serojinee Naidu and Iqbal, from the Indian sub-continent, wrote in touching words about the Tragedy of Kerbala.
The women and children were bound with ropes and marched through the desert from Kerbala, in Iraq, to Kufa and then to Damascus, Syria.
The heads of Imam Hussain and his 72 Martyrs were carried on spears ahead of the march. The eloquent speeches of the captives, Zainab, the sister of Imam Hussain, and Zainul Abideen, the son of Hussain, made the Muslims aware of the atrocities committed by the Ommayad rulership on the close relatives of the Holy Prophet.
The entire incident was of such a tremendous impact, that not only did it have an immediate repercussion, but a long-lasting effect on the Muslim World that reaches down even to today.
The uprising of Hussain sparked a revolution which toppled the Omayyad regime. All those who killed the family of Hussain met with humiliating death. The name of Yazeed is remembered only in the month of Muharram, when malediction is hurled at him. But the name of Hussain, the ‘Chief of Martyrs’ is remembered and honoured.
Kerbala, which was a desert, is today a thriving, bustling city, with the magnificent shrine of Imam Hussain at its centre. Every year, millions of Muslims visit the shrine of Hussain and offer salutations and pray for blessings to be showered upon him.
It has been the tradition of our fore-parents in Guyana to treat the month of Moharram with special regard to the ‘Tragedy of Kerbala’. No festive occasion was entertained, no wedding, in particular, was conducted and Muslims held gatherings in which the story of Kerbala were retold.
TADJA was performed on the 10th of Muharram, the day in which Hussain was martyred.
TADJA came from India with the Muslim Indentured labourers. Processions carrying flags, tadja drums and a replica of the coffin and shrine of Hussayn, and accompanied by sword-fighting displays, acrobatics, stick fighting, wrestling and special songs being sung in the Urdu language known as MARSIYAS and NOHAS, were made through many villages.
At intervals, the procession would stop, and the story of ‘The Tragedy of Kerbala’ would be related in touching tones, both in words and in song. As the TADJA made its way through the villages, it gathered supporters in great numbers. Every year, TADJA became bigger until the British colonists, fearing this would spark revolution, banned the procession.
“The Mohurram or “Tadja” Festival of 1866 was one of the biggest ever. Larger numbers of Creoles took part and churchmen and Christian priests feared that their folks were being gradually converted to the Hindu and Muslim faiths. Suggestions were freely made that “Creoles who took part should be jailed and whipped”, and greater efforts were made by the churches, and even Government, to prevent “Creoles” from joining in Hindu and Muslim festivals. …” (‘Guyana in 1866: By P.P. Dial’)
It was also banned in Trinidad.
TADJA was still practised in some form in villages in the Corentyne even in the 1970s. It is still evident in some form in Trinidad, Suriname and Jamaica. Recent information confirms that some form of Tadja is practised in Haiti.
Whilst we lament over the death of Hussain and the martyrs of Kerbala, the state of Muslim’s lack of knowledge of the story of Kerbala and the losing of the Tadja commemoration is lamentable.
Is it that the Muslims in Guyana learnt an ‘Ommayad’ Islam? Hussain stood up for the true Islam of his grandfather, the Holy Prophet of Islam. Do you not claim to be the followers of Muhammad? Then on whose side should you be?