festival celebrations

Prayers, fasting and feasting in the Valley: How Kashmir celebrates Ramzan

From human alarm clocks to food festivals and night-long prayers, the holy month is an eventful time for Kashmiris.

In the wee hours of the morning, as the Valley is cloaked in darkness, its residents fast asleep, the sound of drums pierces the silence and a voice rings out in the air: “Waqhtey Sahar!” (It’s time for sahar).

These are the Sehar Khans – the human alarm clocks for residents of Kashmir – who roam the streets before daylight, beating their drums and diligently reminding Muslims in the Valley to wake up for their pre-dawn mean, or sahar, so that they can brace themselves for hours of fasting ahead during the holy month of Ramzan.

Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and begins with the sighting of the crescent moon, which, in the Valley, was June 7.

Sawm, or fasting, is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an integral part of Ramzan the world over. Muslims believe that the reward of every good deed is multiplied during this month, so Ramzan is also a time for prayer, charity, reflection and abstaining from bad thoughts and deeds.

Life in the Valley

Prayers, charity and food characterise the Muslim-dominated Valley for the month of Ramzan. The streets are lit up in festive colours and mosques reverberate with prayers.

After the pre-drawn meal, the air is filled with calls for prayers and scores of people fill up the mosques and shrines dotting the Valley’s landscape.

Then, it is business as usual for the working population – except that lunch hour becomes a time for noon prayers.

If someone disturbs the peace at work, everyone protests saying: “It is Ramzan. Let’s do this peacefully.”

In fact, “It is Ramzan” is a common refrain in the Valley – “it is Ramzan and you are making us wait?” or “How can you overcharge during Ramzan?” or “I do not want to fight, it's Ramzan."

Meal fit for a king

For Kashmiris who are fasting, iftar – the evening meal with which the Ramzan fast is broken – is a chance to feast on local delicacies such as Babribyol tresh (a drink made of basil seeds), firi’en (made of semolina and milk), qateer (a drink of tragacanth), custards, fruit juices, dates and dishes made with mutton and chicken.

To keep the table ready for iftar, residents start queuing up around noon outside the shops of the kandur, the local bread makers of Kashmir. The kandur take special orders – so visitors can get customised bread made with extra ghee, poppy and sesame seeds.

Street food vendors, conspicuous by their absence in the day, line the markets in the evening to offer food and water to passersby and there's a flurry of activity as people try to rush home to break their fasts with family or friends. Those stuck in transit at iftar time can rest assured that co-passengers or passersby will offer them dates or fruit so that they can symbolically break their fast.

Most mosques and shrines also spread sheets and lay out an inviting iftar meal – typically including a plate of fruits, dates and something to drink.

Keeping the Ramzan celebrations going into the night is a food festival at Kashmir Haat in Srinagar. The festival, organised by LoudBeetle, is an initiative by the ministry of culture to revive the nightlife in Kashmir and stalls of popular eating joints are in business from iftar to sahar.

Religion and charity

During Ramzan, Muslims offer five prayers through the day. The last prayer at night is called Isha. The grand mosque, or Jama Masjid, in downtown Srinagar sees a throng of visitors, particularly on Akhir Jumah, the last Friday of Ramzan, when people from all corners of the city come here to pray. The Hazratbal shrine on the banks of Dal Lake, which is believed to house a relic of Prophet Muhammad, is also popular.

Since charity is an integral part of this month, beggars often come knocking at houses in the Valley, seeking alms. Zakat and Sadqah are two forms of charity that are obligatory for all Muslims. Zakat, a pillar of Islam, is a fixed percentage of total wealth that a person of means needs to give to the poor, while Sadqah is voluntary charity.

Activity in the Valley peaks on Shab-i-Qadr, which is held on one of the odd-numbered nights (according to the Ramzan calendar) during the last 10 days of the holy month. Mosques are brightly lit and packed with visitors for night-long prayers. It is believed that the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to the Prophet on this night. Nowadays, Shab-i-Qadr is usually held on the 27th night of Ramzan.

Drawing the curtain on the auspicious month is the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.

And what happens in Kashmir on Eid? That’s another story for another day.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.