Brahmans in Karbala

LITERARY NOTES
COLUMN: Brahmans in Karbala
By Intizar Husain, Dawn, January 20, 2008

The history of Husaini Brahmans, as told by Nonica Dutt, begins with ten Brahmans going to Karbala with the determination to die fighting for Imam Husain. Among them were Rahib Dutt and his seven sons who fought bravely and resolutely. With the blessings of Imam Husain they met their death in a heroic way. Rahib Dutt was the lone survivor of the battle.

WITH the arrival of Muharram this year, I was reminded of an encounter I had with an unusual, intelligent girl in Delhi who asserted that she was a Husaini Brahman. I recall referring to Prem Chand’s play ‘Karbala’ in one of my addresses, which was based on a legend. The legend was about a group of eight Hindu brothers who had somehow reached Karbala determined to die fighting for the cause that Imam Husain stood for. They fought bravely and sacrificed their lives in devotion to Imam Husain. It was in this context that I was talking about Husaini Brahmans, who seemed to have vanished from the social scene in India.

All of a sudden, a girl from among the audience stood up and challenged my statement. She said, ‘Here I am before you. My name is Nonica Dutt. I belong to a Husaini Brahman family.’ It was clearly a pleasant surprise for me, something like discovering a rare bird while walking through a jungle.

The girl promised me an exclusive meeting to enlighten me with interesting information about the Husaini Brahmanian background of her family. But the proposed meeting kept on being postponed for one reason or the other. Finally, on the last day of my stay in Delhi, I received a call from her.

‘Let us meet now,’ she said

‘But I have no evening to spare for you. Today is the last day of my stay in your city,’ I said.

‘But I am already in the lounge and I must meet you,’ she said.

So we finally had a meeting. She entered my room with two large volumes under her arm. I proposed a detailed sitting on my next visit, which was due after a month or so. ‘But in the coming months, I will not be in Delhi. I am moving to Germany and will spend four months at the Humboldt University.’ Nonica Dutt taught history at Jawahar Lal University and had been honoured with a fellowship from the Humboldt University. Hence she was on her way to Germany.

‘I,’ she said, ‘told my mother about your comments regarding Husaini Brahamans and how I introduced myself as one. To that she said, did you tell him that we don’t perform the rituals the Brahmans are obliged to perform. That we don’t go to the temples?’

‘Should I presume from this,’ I asked, ‘that you have turned Muslim.’

‘No, we are not Muslims,’ she exclaimed.

‘Then what are you?’ I inquired.

‘We are Husaini Brahmans,’ she said with a certain sense of pride and added, ‘Now, I will tell you about a sign each and every Husaini Brahman carries with him/her. On his/her throat s/he bears a line of cutting, which is indicative of the fact that s/he is the descendant of those Brahmans whose throats were cut in the battle of Karbala.’ Then she told me about the ritual carried out on the birth of every child in her family. She said, ‘Among Brahmans, after child birth, the ritual of Moondan is performed. In our family this ritual is performed in the name of Imam Husain.’

She then went on to tell me the historical facts. ‘I will now tell you about the history of our martyred forefathers.’ Pointing to the two books placed on the table she said, ‘our entire history is conserved within these two books. When needed, I will quote from them.’ Considering their worn out and pale pages, the books, which were written in English, seemed to be centuries old.

The history of Husaini Brahmans, as told by Nonica Dutt, begins with ten Brahmans going to Karbala with the determination to die fighting for Imam Husain. Among them were Rahib Dutt and his seven sons who fought bravely and resolutely. With the blessings of Imam Husain they met their death in a heroic way. Rahib Dutt was the lone survivor of the battle. From Karbala he escaped to Kufa, where he stayed for some time. It is said that Rahib had the privilege of meeting the members of the Imam’s family after the massacre. He introduced himself by saying, ‘I am a Brahman from Hindustan.’ The reply came, ‘Now you are Husaini Brahman. We will always remember you.’

Rahib went from Kufa to Afghanistan, and from there came back to India where he stayed for a few days in Nankana. Nonica paused for a while and then spoke, ‘In the Sialkot district there is a town known as Viran Vatan. That place is our ancestral home. We are the descendants of Rahib Dutt. He had brought with him a hair of Imam Husain, which is ensconced in the Hazratbal shrine in Kashmir. She then recited a few couplets from the book she had brought along with her, in which these incidents have been recorded. ‘These couplets,’ she said, ‘are very popular among the Husaini Brahmans.’

Nonica shut the book and said ‘Let me inform you that Sunil Dutt was also a Husaini Brahman. And the father of Nargis too was a Husaini Brahman.’

She got up saying ‘Now I must go.’

‘I think,’ I said, ‘after you return from Germany, I should make a point to come to Delhi so that you can introduce me to your father. I will perhaps be able to know much more about your ancestors from him.’

She said goodbye and left hurriedly. I had been under the impression that the story of the eight Brahmins was just a legend. But Nonica firmly believed that it is a historical fact. And it is the belief of Nonica and her community that really counts. For them the event is a reality.

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