Friday, 25 July 2014

Ramzan in Old Delhi/ Shahjahanabadi Ramzan



It has been five years now since I left Old Delhi, and the most I miss it is during Ramzan. A whole month of fasting and feasting, sacred for Muslims all over the world as Quran is believed to have been revealed to Prophet Mohammad during this month. The month starts with the sighting of the new moon, as Islamists follow lunar calendar. The lunar calendar also means that Ramzan revolves and every year it goes forward by ten days, which can mean fasting in the comfortable months of winter to difficult summer months. Summer days are long and fasts can become difficult without food and water, throughout the day from dawn to sunset.  

Tarawih Prayers Ramzan also means the special long Ramzan prayers, called Tarawih, where Quran is recited by the Hafizs in different mosques. Hafiz are Quran orators- who have learnt Quran by heart. They lead these special prayers, and decide in how many days, they would finish the Quran. Some Hafiz finish it in three days to fifteen to thirty days. The shorter the finishing of Quran recitation, longer the duration of prayers, as the Namazis standing behind the Hafiz often complain of getting tired. The shopkeepers prefer faster Quran recitations as then; they can do shorter Tarawihs for the rest of the month, and also follow up on Eid business. Hafizs distribute sweets when they finish Quran, and enjoy a lot of respect and honor for being Quran-orators. It is a usual discussion amongst Muslims in the days leading up to Ramzan, to decide which mosque they are going to pray Tarawih in, or behind which Hafiz, and the number of days he would take to finish Quran. These days, a lot of cable channels also show live Tarawih prayers from Mecca, followed especially by women of the house who have to do short Tarawih prayers by themselves in the house.      

Sehri Sehri refers to the pre-dawn meal that people eat before they begin their fasts. Sweet shops and bakeries start selling special Sehri food, like Khajla, Pheni, special sweet breads with butter/coconut/jam fillings. On the streets of Old Delhi, the buzz starts a lot early around the time of Sehri at night. A man comes around 2.30am-3am and knocks on all the doors to wake up people for the meal. And, this usually bothersome knock at the door comes with charges, which you pay at the end of the month on Eid for his services. Mosques start playing sirens, neighbors would call out each other so that nobody misses the important pre- fast meal. Sometimes, groups of faqirs come reciting Naats and Qawwalis (religious songs). If this happened in non-Roza days, people would just report all this as disturbances at night and be upset about it, but during Ramzan it helps as it means, you are not going for your fast with an empty stomach. Some families cook proper meals with sabzi/ salan and parathas, with milk soaked Khajla/pheni/ sewaiyyan and tea. It is not easy to eat all this at that hour! I was always scolded by my mother for getting up late, not having enough time for eating and stuffing myself with all this food, all at once, with a lot of water! In the early Rozas, you have to force your body to eat at night, as body clock is not used to it and post Eid, people often suffer from post-Sehri symptoms, where you get up at Sehri time at night with hunger pangs! Interestingly, even at that hour in Old Delhi you can see people going out to buy Nahari/ biryani etc. or neighbors/ relatives sharing Sehri food delicacies. It still amazes me, how we eat so much food at Sehri during Ramzan, as in non-Roza days, if this happened, most will just refer you to a doctor.       
Post-Sehri, people go for the early morning prayers, and then sleep. Since, a lot of people in Old Delhi are mostly self employed, bazaars usually open late in the mornings, as they have to make up for the lack of sleep at night. Roza during the day means late mornings, quiet afternoons.

Iftar Bazaars come alive around the time of post-afternoon prayers, as people come out to do shopping for breaking the fast/Iftar food. Fruits are bought for Iftar, along with pakoras, chaat, samosas. Neighbors, relatives share iftari food, women of the house try new recipes, curd and milk consumption goes up, as lassi, milk shakes are often served with other sherbets and snacks for Iftar dastarkhwan. As not-so-rich people often complain that during Ramzan, their food expenditure goes up, although it is supposed to be a month for fasting, but you end up eating and spending more on food, as compared to regular days. Post roza and the same roza-dars start eating with a vengeance. Rozas are an attempt towards trying to live life with higher morals and ideals of not lying/ cheating/ backbiting/ sharing food and resources.

Zakaat During Ramzan, Muslims also give charity/Zakaat, in an effort towards equitable distribution of wealth, to make life better for those who cannot afford it. Wealthy Muslims give out clothes/raw food/cash during Ramzan to help those who cannot afford the better things in life. Every wealthy Muslim is supposed to pay an amount of Rs.2500 over Rs. 1,00,000 that he has in his account in charity, as well as on gold that he may possess. On the day of Eid too, Muslims give Fitra (Eid-ul-Fitr) or equivalent of 1.75 kg of wheat charity in cash to the poor, so that Eid is happy for them as well. 

Laylat-ul-Qadr In the last ten days of fasts from the night of 21st to 29th,  in the nights preceding rozas 21,23,25,27,29, it is believed that Quran was revealed, and that one night is the most blessed night. Believers stay up all night to pray in the sacred night. Shabeenas or full night prayers (or simply Jagratas) are conducted in the last nights of Rozas of 27,28,29 and Quran is recited for those who may have missed the Tarawih Quran recitations by the Hafizs.     

I’tikaaf Some Muslims also sit in solitary confinement, especially in the last ten rozas of Ramzan, men in mosques, women in secluded rooms in the house. They do not speak, except when necessary and devote all their time to praying in seclusion.   
Alvida Jumma refers to the last Friday of Ramzan. Muslims wear new clothes and make and share special food for Iftar, especially on this Friday.   

During Ramzan everyday schedule goes upside down for most Muslims- the eating hours, sleeping-waking hours, as most of the time is to be devoted for praying. Bazaars are full of people eating, and doing shopping for Eid, or just out for fun at night. The feeling of community bonding is strongest during Ramzan as the odd schedules are shared by all fasting Muslims around the world.

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