LEADING THE TADJAH: Tassa drummers lead a large tadjah in procession along the Western Main Road, St James at last year's Hosay commemoration.

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Remembering Imam Hussain

Hosay commemoration begins tomorrow

By Wayne Bowman wayne.bowman@trinidadexpress.com

The 2012 Hosay commemoration in St James begins on tomorrow with Flag Night and will continue nightly until Sunday. The seven Shiite Muslim families that produce the five tadjahs and two moons are presently working steadily to bring their respective creation onto the Western Main Road for the solemn processions in remembrance of the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussain and his followers.

President and public relations officer of the St James/Cocorite Hosay Association, Jameel Bisnath told the Express that despite the financial challenges all of the families involved will fulfill their respective obligations. He also wanted to remind the general public that Hosay is not a festival or celebration, but a solemn commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, his followers and of his brother Hassan.

"Yes the cost of producing the tadjahs has increased and is challenging, but we must do it and the families have to find the money somehow. We do receive a small grant from the Multiculturalism Ministry, but this usually comes after the Hosay. We are very thankful for whatever assistance the Ministry gives, but the responsibility is on the families and not the government or any corporate business."

"We also need to make it clear that Hosay is not a festival or celebration. It is a very solemn commemoration of what took place with Imam Hussain and his brother, Hassan who, by the way, was killed ten years before Imam Hussain and not on the Sands of Karbala with him. We appreciate people coming out to watch the procession, but remember that it is not a carnival or party. We have to thank the St James police who go out of their way to ensure there is order and that everyone is safe," Bisnath said.

Bisnath added that since 1863 Shiite families in St James have been involved in Hosay with the Panchatie Hosay being the longest running after 149 years of presentations. The Panchatie Hosay is now led by Ronald Lakhan and Daryl Barani, while the Gulam Hosay from Matura Street is led by, Riaaz Ali and the Balma Hosay is headed by Bunny Emamali. There are also the Cocorite Hosay led by Errol Ali and the most recent or fifth, Bisnath Hosay by Noble Bisnath who is Jameel Bisnath's father.

The two moons, the Red Moon and Green Moon representing Imam Hussain and Imam Hassan are produced by Cecil Ragoonanan and Lyndon Juman respectively. On the night that the large Tadjahs take to the streets the moons are "danced" and at a certain point brought together in what is referred to as a kiss symbolising the two brothers embracing each other in Heaven.

Another aspect of Hosay in St James is the visit to the grounds of Queens Royal College (QRC) where the families gather with their tadjahs and moons to pray at a specific spot that they regard as being holy ground. Bisnath explained that this is because in 1963, Queen's Victoria signed a Royal Charter granting that area to the, "Coolies" of St James. This was before the college occupied the land, which was royal estate property at the time.

There was a time when people treated Hosay in St James as though it were a carnival of sorts and they would follow the tadjahs drinking alcohol and wining to the music of the tassa drums. The bars along the Western Main Road would continue to blast music competing with the drums and adding to the atmosphere of revelry. This is why even today you will see participants guarding the tadjahs many times with ropes cordoning them.

Things are much different now as the bars silence their music once the procession has gotten on the way and people for the most part follow the procession quietly and respectfully. Hosay begins weeks before with fasting and nightly prayers while the tadjahs are being built. The Hosay yard on Clarence Street is the location of the Karbala where all the families gather for communal prayers during the period.

The first night, Flag Night sees the platforms that the small tadjahs will eventually be mounted upon adorned with flags being processed several times along the WMR. This commemorates Imam Hussain and his followers being held at siege on the Sands of the Karbala by the Caliph, Yezid and his forces.

The small tadjahs are brought out on the second night, when the Muslims remember how the infant son of Imam Hussain was pinned by with an arrow after he had pleaded for water for the women and children.

Night three sees the very elaborate large tadjahs, some having cost as much as $50,000 or more to construct, taking to the streets. On this night too the much anticipated moons are also brought out. People follow and are fascinated by the whirling dance that the men carrying them do and also to catch the moment they are brought together in the "kiss". On each of the nights the procession begins roughly around 11p.m.

After the tadjahs and moons are processed through the streets during the afternoon on the fourth day they are taken to QRC grounds for the prayers there. A couple days following this the tadjahs and moons are taken down to the shore at Cocorite where they are broken up and cast into the sea in yet another very solemn ceremony. —Photos: ISHMAEL SALANDY, JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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