‘A 15 feet taziya [symbolic representation of the mausoleum of Imam Hussain (a.s.)] made of abrak [mica flakes],’ a gentleman from Barabanki tells a taziya maker in Rudauli, Faizabad, over the phone while trying to place an order while standing in Lucknow’s Rauz-e-Kazmain (a replica of the shrine of the seventh imam, Imam Musa-al-Kazim and ninth imam, Imam-e-Jawwad). ‘But why are you after abrak, you will not get a taziya made of abrak!’ exclaims one of the 10 men accompanying the buyer. Currently, all large taziye (plural for taziya) are made from bamboo and decorated with papers or abrak, while smaller and compact taziye are made from cardboard.
Rauz-e-Kazmain is one of the major taziya making centres in Lucknow where almost all residing families are into bamboo taziya making. Men and women of the locality are equally involved in this extensive labour and creative work. Many taziya makers borrow money to arrange raw materials required in bulk and rent space in Rauz-e-Kazmain’s compound to store their taziye until sale. Some of the makers also use tarpaulin sheets to keep their creations safe from weather extremities. (Fig. 1) A well-lit taziya market is set up at Kazmain prior to the start of Muharram month. People from all walks of life frequent the market and make a purchase according to their budgets as well as azakhana (a private, temporary imambada) size.
Apart from designs, pattha (vein from the dorsal of a buffalo) is a distinguishing feature of Lucknow bamboo taziya making. Pattha is sliced into thin strips to bind together bamboo sticks as it is believed to be sturdier than a thread. (Fig. 2) Hence, even though the cost of pattha keeps fluctuating, taziya makers swear by it. While traditionally pattha was a preferred binding agent used in taziye in India, many taziya makers outside Lucknow have now shifted to threads soaked in Fevicol, pulp of certain fruits, and flour; this shift is visible in places such as Biswan, Bilehra and even the Chhota Imambada of Lucknow which makes the famous Shahi Zarih (shahi means royal and zarih is a permanent, larger structure similar to taziya) commissioned by Hussainabad Trust, which takes part in the city’s grand Shahi Jaloos. While in most places the move away from pattha was due to its low shelf life and cost, preference for threads in Shahi Zarih is motivated by the secular nature of the Shahi Jaloos where non-Muslims also come to pay their homage in Muharram processions.
Kashmiri Mohalla and its Kamrakhi Gumzi
Lucknow’s Kashmiri Mohalla is a hub of taziya making. Many households in Kashmiri Mohalla are into the taziya trade and generations have invested themselves in making cardboard taziya. Months before Muharram, taziya makers start work; while women especially work from home and play an integral part in embellishing the taziye, many male taziya makers now work out of workshops. (Fig. 3) Many aari-zardozi (chain stitch embroidery) artists also temporarily take up taziya making due to the steady profit the profession makes during the Muharram season.
What sets apart Kashmiri Mohalla’s taziye from the others is the kamrakhi gumzi (starfruit shaped dome) taziya. (Fig. 4) The kamrakhi gumzi design was introduced by taziya maker Sikander Mirza about 50 years ago; now his sons and extended family as well as other taziya makers imbibe this feature in their taziya, making it a Lakhnavi (Lucknow style) feature.
The Mirza family is renowned for its cardboard taziye, thus initially kamrakhi gumzi mostly adorned taziye made from cardboard though similar designs in bamboo can be seen on bamboo taziye as well. There are makers who are further modifying the already intricate kamrakhi gumzi; for instance, few years ago, Kashmiri Mohalla’s Syed Qasim Haider made a curved dome with kamrakhi patterns. (Fig. 5)
Makers in Kashmiri Mohalla have been experimenting with designs as well as raw materials such as taziya made from wedding cards. Two young boys, siblings Shoaib and Zuhair, are popular for their innovative taziya making; buyers are so in love with their technique that their stocks sell out in a single night.
On the first day of Muharram, the main road of Kashmiri Mohalla is adorned with glittering lights, tents, and decorated taziye; here one can find taziya from the size of a palm to five feet. (Figs 6, 7 and 8)
Tazia Making in Awadh
A more elaborate taziya making can be witnessed in Lucknow’s Chota Imambada. Months before Muharram artists from the Jarwal region in Bahraich occupy side arches of the imambada to prepare for what is probably the most famous structure in Lucknow azadari (mourning rituals and cultural depiction of the tragedy of Karbala), the Shahi Zarih. Popular for their bamboo taziye, Jarwal taziya artists are commissioned to make the shahi zarih, taziya and other azadari paraphernalia for Hussainabad Allied Trust under the care of district magistrate of Lucknow. A 21-feet tall zarih made of wax and bamboo and a 17-feet taziya of bamboo and arbak prepared by the makers become the face of the Shahi Juloos which sees people of all faiths in large numbers. (Fig. 9) The tradition of the Shahi Zarih was started by Awadhi nawab Asif-ud-Daula’s son Wazir Ali Khan in 1795 and is also known as moom wali zarih (wax zarih) though the use of wax is mostly on the exterior. Rubber moulds are used to make flowers and stars of wax on the zarih while wooden moulds are used for pillars. The Shahi Zarih is made in 11 parts and each part is almost the size of a large taziya and it weighs in quintals.
Biswan’s Taziye and the Taziya Makers of Kamapur
Moving away from the capital city, one reaches Sitapur district, probably the biggest taziya centre in central Uttar Pradesh. Biswan, a small town in the district, is famous all over the region for bamboo taziya making and Lucknow’s largest taziya market at Sultanul Madaris is dominated by the taziya of Biswan town; last year, a taziya of 35 feet made in Biswan was sold at INR 70,000. If one visits Biswan just before Muharram, one can see trucks loading taziye in parts to be taken to Gonda, Bahraich, Lakhimpur, Dewa, Lucknow, etc. It is not surprising that the Biswan taziya makers’ homes are chock full of taziye during business season.
Apart from bamboo, Biswan taziya makers also specialise in wooden and cardboard taziye; then there are karigars who make taziye out of thin plastic films, a replacement for paper that give the taziye a glossy effect.
However, Biswan’s taziya mastery is only part of the story, which is incomplete without the mention of Kamapur, a village about 11 km away from the town. With no access to pucca roads and most houses made with mud and thatched roofs, karigars of Kamapur produce bamboo taziye which are bought by the Biswan karigars who then decorate them with paper and other elements. Once embellished with decorative elements, these taziye are sold at an unimaginable margin of profit. Almost all the taziye of Biswan are made by the karigars from Kamapur. The condition of the village and standard of living in Kamapur is a clear indicator that these makers get meagre return of their work. The taziye they make passes to Biswan and from there to other parts of Uttar Pradesh and beyond. To people sitting in towns and cities, Biswan is the taziya centre but in true sense Kamapur deserves equal recognition.
Evolution of Taziya Making
The eighteenth and nineteenth century descriptions of the taziya give us a basic idea of its design, size and type; however, most of those taziye were elaborate in construction, made of expensive materials such as ivory, ebony, sandalwood, cedar, tinsel, brass and silver. Describing the taziye she saw in the 1820s in Awadh, British history writer and memoirist Mrs Meer Hassan Ali, who lived in India for a decade in the early nineteenth century, notes, ‘the handsomest of the kind, to my taste, is in the possession of his majesty the King of Oudh, composed of green glass, with brass moldings, manufactured in England.’  She goes on to explain that the expensive taziye were generally permanent fixtures in imambade while the temporary taziye were made from bamboo frames. According to Ali, the taziye prices ranged from INR 2 to INR 200 in the market.
Taziya making has come a long way. Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU, Peter Chelkowski notes that once taziye were merely replicas of the Iranian nakhl (symbolic representation of the tomb and bier of Imam Hussain [a.s.]);  nowadays, made out of bamboo, abrak, cardboard and paper, the taziya might be seen by an onlooker as a high tower with sequins and other decorations; some might even compare it to an ornate Christmas tree, conical in shape, vibrant with colours and embellishments. (Fig. 10)
The cardboard taziya which finds no mention in various historical accounts seems to be a later innovation. It is likely that cardboard taziye were the result of first-time taziya makers noticing cardboard’s sturdy nature when used as packaging material. Even today, part-time taziya makers or people who make it for their own use, recycle cartons to make cardboard taziya; for example, the mannati (prayer) taziya, which is the smallest taziya, is made mostly out of cigarette packets.
Taziya makers of both bamboo and cardboard style have been striving to improvise and compete in their own ways, from making taziye with plastic sheets to making domes of varied styles to making takhats (bases) of different shapes. Competition not only persists in terms of the design but also in terms of size; every year, a new region claims to have made the largest taziya for Muharram. Since the bamboo taziye are more diverse and spread across regions, we see more shapes, sizes, and design among them in comparison to cardboard taziye.
There are also eccentric innovators such as the jau ka (barley’s) taziya makers who are making the mausoleums with barley and wood. Abdul Mumtaz, a 75-year-old man from Narhai locality in Lucknow, is known for his jau ka taziya which he makes with the help of his family for Muharram. He even makes a miniature swing out of barley in remembrance of Hazrat Ali Asghar's (a.s.) martyrdom, grandson of the Prophet (p.b.u.h) who was six months old at the time of the battle of Karbala. (Fig 11) Similarly, there is also Kashmiri Mohalla’s Athar Hussain whose jau ka taziya is reserved for Chehlum.
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