Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eid Ul Fitr Festival

¤ The Advent of The Festival

105 million Muslims make India the second most populous Islamic nation in the world. They form India’s largest minority and constitute almost 12% of India’s total population. Islam is also the most recent religion added to India’s already potent cultural concoction. Islam came to India in the 12th century a.d. and opened a dialogue with Indian culture especially under the Mughals. Needless to say, it was a mutually enriching experience. A majority of India’s Muslims live in the north but a significant number are found all around the country. Hence their traditions add yet another dimension to the vast cultural landscape of India.

¤ Eid Ul Fitr is the biggest Muslim festival

Eid is derived from the Arabic word ‘oud’ or ‘the return’ to signify, well, the return of Eid each year. The festival is significant as much for its timing as for its religious implications. It is celebrated after the fasting month of Ramzan (the ninth month of the Muslim year), on the first day of the Shavval month of the Hijri year (Muslim year). It is believed that the Koran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed in the month of Ramzan.

¤ The Significance of Ramzan--(Fasting)

To get to the significance of Eid, one must first understand the meaning of Ramzan. ‘Ramz’ means to burn, and fasting is considered to burn down ones sins. Fasting or Roza starts at sunrise and lasts until sunset. During this time no food or water is consumed. Pregnant women, the handicapped and the ailing, people on a long journey, and ladies in confinement are exempted from Roza, but they must resume fasting on recovery.

The principle behind Roza is to understand the plight of the poor and pledge to live a more significant and meaningful life. Prophet Mohammed said, "if a person observing fast does not shun untruth, his having given up eating and drinking is of little value. Such a person starves for nothing. and those who rise in the midnight to recite prayers but do not give up untruth and evil deeds, lose their sleep for nothing."

Due to the rigorous discipline during the days of Ramzan, a believer becomes one with religion and feels a genuine need to do good and lead a more refined and introspective life. Giving money and material goods away in charity is another Islamic custom that every conscientious Muslim practises. In fact Zakat, or charity is one of the five main tenets of Islam. A true Muslim is expected to be magnanimous throughout the year, all the more so during Ramzan. Every Muslim who owns 52.5 tolas (one tola is approximately 10 grams) of silver or an equivalent amount of wealth must donate at least 2.5% of his total income to the needy during the month of Ramzan.

¤ The Eid Celebrations

The last few days of the austerities of Ramzan gently give way to the excitement of Eid. This feeling can only be compared to the one in school, of yearning for the summer break during the endless days of exams. As Eid is round the corner, markets get livelier. People crowd the bazaars to buy new clothes for member of their family. Many people get new curtains and tapestry for their homes while others get their houses freshly painted and whitewashed. Dry fruits, spices and a variety of things are bought to prepare mouth-watering dishes. Woman folk get attractive silk dresses stitched and girls fret over the local jewellery and bangle stalls. Tailors, shopkeepers and vendors, all do brisk business. Eid is also an occasion for family reunions.

¤ The Positioin of Moon Plays A Significent Role

Eid Ul FitrThe enchanting crescent moon is seen on the 29th or the 30th day of Ramzan, followed by the day everyone’s waiting for – Eid. The young and old offer Magrib Namaz (evening prayers) and exchange greetings. Eid finally arrives faithfully each year and stays in the merry company of her blessed children for a day.

Men get into crisp new clothes, splash themselves with scents and happily trudge to the mosques for the special morning prayers. It is customary to walk to the idgah (mosque) for this holy service. The Eid prayer is a noble and impressive event.
Multitudes assemble together and raise their hands to the heavens in a ceremony of unparalleled organisation, discipline and equality. In one of his famous couplets, Iqbal, a famous Urdu poet, had this to say about the ritual, "Stood in the same row Mahmud and Ayez, difference between the Lord and the Slave there was none".

(Mahmud of Ghazni - the great conqueror who invaded India 12 times in the first half of the 11th century and his slave Ayaz offered their prayers standing in the same row). After the prayer, the Imam, or the spiritual head delivers a discourse on social and family duties. Everyone prays for forgiveness for their sins and for protection against misfortune, after which people embrace and greet each other with ‘Eid Mubarak’ or ‘Happy Eid’ and head back home for the feast!

‘Fitr’ means a donation. It is given away to the poor and the needy during Ramzan. Fitr is a must for every Muslim and each member of the household must contribute 1.75kg of wheat and 3.5kg of barley rice. Fitr is distributed to the poor so that they can take care of their needs and celebrate Eid with the rest of the community.

¤ The Mouthwatering Festive Cuisine

Meanwhile, women pray at home and then get busy organising a lavish spread of eatables like sivai – the special sweet for Eid (vermicelli cooked in milk and sugar), dry fruits, sweetmeats, biryani (meat cooked in spicy rice) and other things. They don their fancy new clothes and pay special heed to their make-up. The men return home to their beautiful wives and the family sits down for the grand meal. People embrace each other and exchange greetings of ‘Eid Mubarak’. Non-Muslims make it a point to visit their Muslim friends to join in their happiness and especially to consume some of the scrumptious food made for Eid. Eatables are served everywhere you go and dietary precautions are thrown to the winds on this day of joyful abandon. As usual, children have a field day during Eid and enjoy spending their ‘eiddi’ money as they deem fit.

Kashmiri Muslims do not prepare sivai for Eid. Instead, they make several meat dishes, sweetmeats and kahva (Kashmiri tea, made with dry fruits, spices and a special kind of Chinese or Tibetan tea, strangely called ‘Bombay Tea’).

Brothers pay a visit to their married sisters and take along sivai and other eatables along with some clothes, bangles and money. and sisters are not the only ones who eagerly await this day. The dhobi (washerman), the postman, the plumber, the electrician take turns to ‘ appear’ on your doorstep and wish you ‘Eid Mubarak’ and flash that all too familiar grin. No one really minds though, as their ‘eiddi’ has also become a ritual of sorts.

Eid Ul Fitr is a joyous occasion. It celebrates discipline and kindness and strives to establish a semblance of equality in our crazy chaotic cosmos.


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