In our modest hostel room at the Northeastern Student’s House at Delhi University, my friend Gitanjali, a devout Sankari, lighted incense sticks every morning before she said her prayers; the strong, sweet smell of burning mogra incense invariably turned my thoughts towards home – Assam. I remembered the Eid mornings when it filled up the whole house, mixed with the warm smell of simmering sewiyyan on the gas stove. A typical Eid morning meant getting up early, taking a quick bath (for there was so much to be done!), helping lay the table with delicate bowls of sewiyyan and an assortment of sweetmeats. In Upper Assam, a traditional Eid breakfast spread consists of Bora saul with an accompanying chicken korma or mutton korma (korma is a curd-based gravy), or if you prefer, you could switch parathas with Bora saul and relish the former with cream and gur. In lower Assam, a pulao tempered with mustard oil and a spicy onion rich meat gravy is more popular. Then, there are some who prefer a variety of pithas instead: Kol pitha, chitta pitha, mera pitha, pakkon pitha and so on, all typically rice based. To wash down this heavy morning meal, cups of strong, sweet, milky tea is ideal.
The preparation for Eid-ul-Fitr
As the sun begins to sink in the sky on the final day of fasting, families gather on colorful mats or at the dining table, to share the last meal of Ramzaan together. Across the town, many pairs of eyes are cast upward, to spot the much anticipated crescent moon in the sky. The night takes on a magical meaning as the moon is finally spotted. In Islamic tradition, such a sighting signals the end of the month of fasting. The local mosque confirms that Eid has begun, and cries of celebration echo through the neighborhood.
While the men offer the Eid or’ namaz at the mosque, the women offer theirs in the solitude of their homes. The Eid Salat (prayer) consists of two rakatswith six takbeers, followed by the Khutba of Eid. As a young girl, I was fascinated by the little green flags saying ‘Eid Mubarak’ pinned to my brothers’ crisp, cotton kurtaswhen they got back from the Eidgah. It is not common for women to pray at a mosque in India, though many mosques, over the years, have opened their doors to women, including the Madina Glass Mosque in Shillong, the only Green mosque after the blue mosque of Istanbul, Turkey. Interestingly, the mosque was built from contributions – mostly by Hindus. In Assam’s Puranigudam, recently, the Puranigudam Minar was supposed to be taken down to make way for a highway expansion project; it is part of the Puranigudam Masjid, built way back in 1824. When NHAI officials started breaking away pieces of the minar, eggshells and lime oozed out from the ancient structure. The locals, as part of a crowd-funding programme, managed to call in a firm from Haryana who found a way to lift the whole minar from its old home to a new one nearby. Chittaranjan Borah, a local resident, was the first to alert the authorities.
Assam has been long known as the land of Sankar-Azaan, and though its peace and harmony has been broken many a times by communal skirmishes, it is, by and large, peaceful State. The syncretic tradition of Sankardeva’s Ek Sarana Naam Dharma and Azan Fakir’s Sufi Islam has held the people together by a common thread. The winds of change may be blowing hard, but in this corner of Northeastern India, one hopes that it will be a mild breeze, appreciative of the shared history of the people.