The Zuljanah And Its Traditional Route In Lahore

The Zuljanah And Its Traditional Route In Lahore
As the holy month of Muharram arrives, it brings with it a grand security operation across the country. While ensuring safety during this sensitive period is crucial, the caretakers of Imambargahs and majalis in Pakistan have their biggest concern rooted in the peaceful and smooth conduct of the Zuljanah procession on Muharram 9 and 10.

Zuljanah - A Symbol of Devotion and Sacrifice

Zuljanah, the name of the horse that displayed unwavering loyalty to Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) during the epic battle of Karbala, has become an enduring symbol of devotion and sacrifice. The history of Karbala reveals that Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) acquired Zuljanah from an Arab named Harith shortly before his martyrdom. Originally named Murtajiz, Zuljanah had been the beloved companion of Imam Hussain (AS) since childhood.

In the battlefield of Karbala, Zuljanah stood alongside the brave companions who sacrificed their lives, and it further exemplified its love and loyalty by offering its own life after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS).

Following Imam Hussain's martyrdom, Zuljanah carried the Imam's flag and the sword known as Zulfiqar. It rushed towards the tents to inform Bibi Pak Syeda Zainab (AS) of the Imam's martyrdom, where she witnessed the heart-wrenching scene of Hazrat Ali Akbar's throat being cut. Despite being gravely injured, Zuljanah refused to leave the side of Imam Hussain (AS) until his last breath. It bravely confronted the forces of Yazid during the battle of Karbala.

In memory of Hazrat Imam Hussain's (AS) martyrdom, on the 10th of Muharram, the day of Ashura, Shia Muslims mourn and remember the tragedy of Ahlul Bayt. Zuljanah is an integral part of these mourning processions and is specially adorned on the 10th of Muharram. Shia Muslims display profound love and devotion to Zuljanah, preparing it for the processions on the solemn day. During the Ashura processions, mourners dressed as Zuljanah carry the symbolic representation of the horse and attach arrows around its body in remembrance of the battle of Karbala, the great sacrifice of Imam Hussain (AS), and the loyalty of Zuljanah.

Muharram in Lahore - The Magnificent Zuljinah Processions

Muharram holds a distinctive religious significance due to its extended duration and the involvement of mass public gatherings and processions. In Punjab alone, this year will witness an astounding number of 38,910 majalis and 9,127 processions. The number of majalis is growing as in 2020, it was 36,464, while the number of approved processions remain unchanged, as reported by the Province's Central Police Office.

Syed Hassan Raza is the caretaker of an imambargah on Mason Road. He claims that the Home Department  figures only represent the official number; the actual count of majalis and processions held throughout the province is likely to be significantly higher. With potentially a quarter of the nation observing Muharram in mourning, the 9th and 10th of Muharram are observed as public holidays.

During this period, public transport services are halted, roads are blocked, and only essential businesses remain open. The economic activities in the country during these two days and the preceding week are heavily influenced by the observance of Muharram.

In Lahore, more than 15 Zuljanah processions take place on Muharram 9 and 10, according to the Punjab Home Department. Among these, thousands of mourners embark on a 20-hour march, starting at 10:30 PM on the eve of Ashur, culminating at Karbala Gamay Shah on Lower Mall the next evening.

The Zuljanah procession is a central point of focus and respect for mourners throughout its journey. The moment Zuljinnah moves, the entire procession follows suit.

“I’m 60 years old, and this year, it will be my 60th appearance in the Zuljinnah procession of Mochi Gate,” says Syed Kaleem Haider Gillani.

“Just like other rituals, attending the Zuljanah  procession is our family’s never-miss event; this is part of our life.”

When the procession is taken out from the Niar Haveli in Mochi Gate, Agha Ali Jan Qazalbash, the grandson of Nawab Muzaffar Ali Qazalbash, holds the harness of Zuljanah for being the license holder. The family has been holding the license for more than 160 years.

The Zuljanah is taken from their home of "Nawab Palace" near the Lahore Railway Station.

For the last three decades, the Zuljanah has been escorted by police due to security reasons; before that it was not the case.  After the procession, Zuljanah is escorted back to the palace by police vans.

Preparation for the grand event is a meticulous process that takes three to five hours. Zuljanah’s adornments symbolise Hazrat Imam Hussain's (AS) ride in his final hour at the battle of Karbala. The horse wears a saddle, an embroidered sheet, traditional shields, a wreath of flowers, a sword, a crown, and a rein.

The Zuljanah procession is not merely a religious observance; it is a powerful expression of devotion, sacrifice, and unity among Shia Muslims, commemorating the revered sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) and the loyalty displayed by Zuljanah during the tragic events of Karbala.

As the nation prepares for Muharram, the caretakers of Zuljanah hold their duties with utmost responsibility, ensuring that the procession remains a symbol of peace, reverence, and faith for all.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy.