Tabarruk – giving alms, seeking blessings during Muharram

Tabarruk or sacred offerings are distributed among thousands of ‘azadaars’ or mourners as part of Muharram ritual.
Food being packed to be distributed as ‘tabarruk’ or sacred offering among the mourners as during the 10-day-long Muharram ritual.(HT PHoto)
Food being packed to be distributed as ‘tabarruk’ or sacred offering among the mourners as during the 10-day-long Muharram ritual.(HT PHoto)
Published on Sep 02, 2019 01:50 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Lucknow | By, Lucknow

Deep inside Lucknow’s Chhota Imambada, there is a flurry of activity these days. Those aware of it know it as an annual feature, but for the uninitiated, it can be an experience. Huge earthen ovens belch smoke. Elsewhere, sack after sack of flour is neatly stacked against an aged, yellow-painted wall. Along the opposite wall are stacked logs of wood as a team of cooks is busy firing earthen ovens. Welcome to the over-180-year-old ‘Bawarchi Khana’!

The Bawarchi Khana, or the Royal Kitchen, is believed to have been established by Muhammad Ali Shah, the third King of Awadh along with iconic Bada Imambada in 1838, to ensure the preparation of tabarruk (sacred offerings) distributed among thousands of ‘azadaars’ (mourners) as part of the 10-day-long Muharram ritual.

Besides, the King, before his death had also formed a trust—Hussainabad and Allied Trust (HAT) in 1839 at a cost of 12 lakh to carry out religious practices (including distribution of tabarruk) during Muharram. Interestingly, the trust is still functional and is carrying forward the royal legacy.

“We have allocated a fund of 26 lakh this year for the distribution of tabarruk and other religious practices, which are a tradition during the Muharram period. Since we have to cater to a large congregation of mourners and around 300 families of the descendants of nawabs, the preparation of tabarruk has started well in advance at the Royal Kitchen,” said district magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma, who is also the custodian of HAT.

The DM said that true to the over-180-year-old tradition, this year too, they have the same menu for tabarruk. “In the menu we have ‘tale huye aloo ka salan’ (fried potato curry), chane ki daal (split chickpea lentil), sheermaal (saffron coloured bread prepared in milk and sugar), Khamiri roti (yeast bread) and Royal Bread or as it is known, Bakarkhwani. This bread weighs around 750 gram and is only prepared for 300 families that are enlisted with trust as the descendants of Nawabs,” he added.

Not only is the menu long, but the preparation is equally arduous. And to ensure the distribution of authentic tabarruk, HAT ensures that it hires only traditional cooks. “We have been preparing tabarruk for quite some time, hence, we are well aware with the quantity, quality of edibles we are dealing with,” said Sadiq Hussain, a cook who is heading the team of cooks.

Hussain said that the preparation begins well in advance. He said it takes more than a dozen cooks, more than 20 tonnes of flour, more than 15 tins of cooking oil, tonnes of milk, dry fruit and more than 50 tonnes of wood to prepare the entire menu. “Of the entire menu, the preparation of Bakarkhwani, is perhaps the trickiest. One has to be extra cautious while handling its dough, which is a mixture of flour, semolina, sugar, a pinch of salt, saffron, poppy seeds, dry fruits, butter and milk. It’s a part of Mughal cuisine,” he added.

HAT officials said that the distribution of tabarruk is aimed at feeding the masses. “We have made sure that the food that is being distributed, is adequate to meet the needs of the people. We start distributing tabarruk from the 2nd Muharram to the 9th Muharram. The trust ensures the distribution of tabarruk at Bada Imambada, Chhota Imambada and Shanajaf Imambada after a religious ceremony (majalis),” said HAT officer on special duty (OSD) Habibul Hasan. Hundreds of azadaars consume tabarruk at all the three places, he said.

Hasan said that the tradition of distribution of tabarruk on such a large scale also makes the City of Nawabs different from others. And it’s perhaps the only city that has a dedicated trust to do so.

Other than the tabarruk distribution by the trust, the city also witnesses tabarruk distribution by hundreds and thousands of Shia Muslim families and individuals. “Lucknow’s Azaddari (mournings and rituals performed to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain and his 72 companions in Karbala in 680 AD) is world famous and is the most authentic one, as it’s the only place in world where Muharram is observed for two months and eight days. Distribution of tabarruk is the most important part of the set of rituals performed during Muharram,” said Nawab Meer Jafar Abdullah, a descendant of the royal family.

Abdullah said it is that time of the year when gas stoves of most Shia families go off as every second house in the state capital organises religious meetings followed by the distribution of tabarruk. “The families ensure that not only those who were a part of the meetings but that tabarruk reaches all the families known to them. Perhaps that is the reason why generally food is not cooked at homes during Muharram. The state capital has more than 5 lakh Shia population,” said Abdullah.

However, the City of Nawabs has witnessed a change in the menu of tabarruk as it is no more restricted to distribution of traditional food like Biryani, Haleem or fry potato curry only. “Yes, now tabarruk can be in any form — it could be in a form of a pressure cooker, which is distributed among the faithful, soft drink cans, tazbi, umbrella, any utensil or it could be ice cream and so on,” he added.

S Mohammed Haider, mutwalli of Sibtainabad Imambada, said, “Tabarruk distribution is a tradition which enables us propagate and inculcate the “art of giving” in the younger generation. The entire process, from procuring the raw material, up to its preparation and distribution is taken care of personally, ensuring purity and sanctity of the tabarruk, a divine offering”.

Not a Muslim-only affair

It’s a time for mourning for the city’s Muslim population and so also the time for the closure of a 60-year-old juice shop, situated just a few yards from busy Hazratganj crossing. The juice shop’s closure is an annual ritual, to mark the onset of Muharram.

The shop is owned by Pappu Rani Kinnar, a Hindu. Pappu Rani’s shop, a fellow shop-owner saidm is known for its unique tradition. “The juice shop is replaced by a grand tazia— a replica of Imam Hussain’s mausoleum in Iraq—during Muharram. Besides, the place is used to offer Muharram rituals and offering prayers,” said a local pan shop owner. She also distributes tabarruk among the azadaars. She said that the tradition began in 90s, when the owner of the tea stall opposite her tea stall fell seriously ill. “While they were rushing him to the hospital, they came across a Muharam procession. “I made a wish that if his heath stabilises, I will start keeping tazias during Muharram. And miraculously he started recovering. Since then, I have been following the tradition and distributing tabarruk,” said Pappu Rani Kinnar, as she displayed the tazia, prepared all in silver.

Other than Pappu Kinnar, there are many non-Muslim families in the state capital that not only distribute tabarruk but also follow Muharram rituals religiously.

caption: Sibtainabad Imambada distributed Rice and soya nuggets pulao, as tabarruk among the azaddars on the first day of Muharram here in Lucknow on Sunday. sourced


    Oliver Fredrick is working in capacity of Senior Correspondent and is based in Lucknow. Other than covering important beats like Railways, Defense, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), District Administration, he loves to write on human interest stories as it gives an instant connect with the readers. In his career of around 10 years, he has done several path-breaking stories which had forced the State Government authorities to take appropriate actions. Prior coming to Lucknow, he was based in Bareilly and was taking care of politically-sensitive West UP districts like Rampur, Moradabad, Pilibhit, Badaun,Muzaffarnagar and others.

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