Festive mood in the Valley

A devotee at Shah-e-Hamdan in Srinagar

A devotee at Shah-e-Hamdan in Srinagar   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Life changes gear in deference to Ramzan routine

It’s 1.30 a.m., the Kashmir valley’s ‘sehar-khans,’ a native reference to traditional midnight drum beaters, set off to shout from the top of their lungs ‘waqt-e-sehar (it’s time for pre-dawn meals). Suddenly, the narrow alleys, lanes and bylanes in urban and rural parts of the Valley starts waking up to the rumble and the staccato beats. By 3.40 a.m., the devouts are ordained to have the day’s first meal and stop consuming anything, even water, till sunset, a ritual to be strictly followed as per Islam.

Forty-five-year-old Nazima Shaheen, a housewife, who lives in Srinagar’s old city, is the first to wake up in the family. She sets a dastarkhan, a cloth laid on the ground for serving food. Cooked rice and meat dishes for the elders and English breakfast — fruit and cornflakes— for her two sons have to be prepared within half of hour. The morning meal traditionally ends with a cup of salty pink tea made of herbal leaves.

Prayers at the shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani

Prayers at the shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad


The meals should be eaten before the first morning azaan, a call for prayer just before sunrise from the nearby mosque. “We stop eating once the azaan starts. We leave the food as it is if we haven’t finished our meal,” says Shaheen.

The male members of Shaheen’s family, like rest of the men in the neighbourhood then leave for the mosque. Farooq Ahmad Khan, a sehar-khan, from Srinagar’s Chanapora area too joins the prayers. Khan’s videos of drum beating and wake up call have been a hit this Ramzan on the social media platforms. His improvisation on the style and the lyrics has earned him many fans, especially youngsters, who love to take selfies with him.


“My songs are based on the latest Bollywood tunes. I also singabout the ongoing Kashmir situation. This has struck a chord with locals. They wake up and bless me with special prayers,” says Khan, who is in his late 50s. On Eid, Khan visits the households he kept waking up for 30 days and collects the Eidee (money).

A man reciting the Quran

A man reciting the Quran   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad


The pace of life slows down in the holy month in the entire Kashmir valley. Devotion takes a precedence over worldly matters. The markets open late; schools change timings and offices set up special rooms for mid-day prayers.

“The attendance of devotees in mosques goes up dramatically. Parents bring along children while women visit dargah. There’s festive buzz in the air,” says Moulvi Nizam-ud-Din, a priest at a local mosque.

The Valley’s famous shrines such as Hazratbal, Shah-e-Hamdan, Sultan-ul-Arfeen, Datigeer Sahib etc., make special arrangements for taraweeh, late night prayers, where the priests prefer to complete all Quranic chapters in 30 days. Such prayers last up to two hours, late in the night. The sleep time is reduced to an average of three hours in the night during the month.

Men and women can be seen wailing in repentance in khanqas, special wooden prayer structures, set up by Sufi preachers centuries ago.


“The idea of Ramzan is to show resilience. It’s meant to understand hunger, relate topoor, share and sympathise. It’s about self-control and a pledge to perform good deeds all through the year. The month is meant to cleanse souls ,” says Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Valley’s head priest and the chief priest at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar. Mirwaiz is invited to the shrines in the Valley to deliver sermons on Ramzan and its centrality to Islam.

Buzz in markets

A walk through the market area reflects the stark changes Ramzan has brought along. Roadside tea stalls, eateries and restaurants put up cloth screens. “It’s out of respect for those fasting,” says Nazim Ahmad, a tea seller.

A 'sehar khan' during his night rounds

A 'sehar khan' during his night rounds   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad


Scores of handcarts, selling a wide variety of dates variety, occupy every corner of the main market place. Best dates from West Asia and Saudi Arabia flood the markets during Ramzan. “Ajwa, a popular variety in Saudi Arabia’s Madinah, is preferred by most,” says a dates seller at Lal Chowk.

As people get busy with late afternoon shopping, the traffic and number of pedestrians begin to thin as the Sun starts setting. Stalls offering free sharbat, a mix of basil seeds, milk and rosewater, greet those attending iftar, where people break the fast together, before going for the evening prayers. All mosques also distribute dates and sharbat to devotees.

Special menu is drawn up for iftar parties at home and hotels where friends and relatives meet for the evening meal.

Crescent sighting starts on the 29th day and then comes the announcement about the end of the month of fasting.

Sehar-khans say they long to sight the Eid moon. “We derive a great joy from serving the people in the name of Allah. Afterall that is the spirit of Ramzan,” says Farooq Ahmad Khan.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 12:07:47 AM |

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