Was writing a script during the month of Ramadan about Sahar Khan’s when I realized that one could actually try studying about this age old tradition and write something on it. The most intriguing fact about the Sahar Khan according to me is that he is one sole entity who is responsible for waking up thousands during the holy month. Times have changed, circumstances have changed but if there is something that has stayed on to give Ramadan and the fasting a unique touch it is truly the existence of these lonely strangers who hit streets before dawn with drums to wake up people.
This year too in Ramadan the Sahar Khan has hit the streets on the dot and is out there waking people, with drums beating.
Despite violence marring peace in the valley, the sound of drums is once again seen signalling Muslim devotees in Srinagar to wake and eat their pre-dawn meal during Ramadan. The valley in the recent past has seen the return of these drummers to the streets.
The idea behind the Sahar Khan trying to go out there and wake up people is to wake people up so that they can fast and pray on time. It is also an attempt to ensure that the cycle of fasting is not broken between dawn to dusk. The torchbearers of the centuries old tradition popularly termed as Sahar Khan’s carry drums and horns. This helps people to wake from slumber .The tradition of Sahar Khan’s came to a halt after an armed insurgency erupted in Kashmir in the final years of the last century.
Now, with the situation showing signs of improvement, the familiar predawn sound has returned.
Locals like Hajri Begum speaking to agencies said its nice to note that Kashmir’s old tradition is back. She claims not hearing the drum beaters for so long in the valley, appeared like an evil omen. Even though in the modern times there are alarm clocks, phones and other electronic gadgets many are still accustomed to listening to the drum beats.
Elimination of night barricades and security checkpoints has also helped these drummers to circulate without hindrances.
Historically speaking, the Sahar Khan or the Mesaharaty existed from the time of the Ottoman Empire. These Ramadan drummers were then also counted as night guards, who would not only give a wakeup call but also keep an eye in the dead of the night.
The task of these men would be to wake up the people in a pleasant way before Sehri. At that time the Sahar Khan used to recite different Turkish poems which used to be accompanied by drumming. These traditions then and even today is something that is passed on over generations. The same family continues carrying out the job.
At the end of Ramadan, the drummers would visit the homes of the people to get tips for the service they provided during Ramadan. This practice holds true even today.
Well speaking of remuneration it ranges from a meager Rs 10 to Rs 300 per household. There are other perks like rice and other edibles which are offered which is termed as Nazrana.
Many however don’t work as a Sahar Khan for monetary gains or other benefits. Some do these rounds for the simple reason that they want to gain spiritual merit or get Sawab, by pleasing the Almighty Allah.
When you hear one of these drummers chanting Wakht – e Sahar, you would realize that it is the Sahar Khan on the rounds.
In olden days, the Sahar Khan’s in the valley used to loudly recite the Quranic verses and the couplets praising Prophet Muhammad. Earlier a Sahar Khan used to blow a sheep horn pipe, which was a common practice in those days.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, wherein every month begins with the first crescent of a new moon being sighted. The lunar year is always 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year, so Ramadan has a cycle that crosses every season. It is not always summer during the holy month like it is now.
At times when militancy was at its peak, Sahar Khan’s were nowhere in the scene. The tradition in those times was badly hit, with these drummers staying indoors for fear of militants and security forces.
Speaking of more than a billion Muslims across the Globe, it is common knowledge that God revealed the first verses of the quran around 610 AD through Prophet Mohammed, during the ninth month of the holy calendar. This further leads to fasting and abstinence from dawn to sunset. The general rules are the same everywhere but the tradition of ‘human alarm clocks’ is unique to the Kashmir valley and it lives on.
If one were to understand the relevance of Ramadan by numbers, here’s the breakup of the number of Muslims in various parts of the world. The largest population of Muslims in a single country is Indonesia, where 202,867,000 Muslims live, accounting for 88.2% of the total population.
Pakistan follows with 174,082,000 muslims or 96.3% of the population. And160,945,000 Muslims live in India, making up 13.4% of the population.
Despite latest gadgets like sophisticated alarm clocks and cell phones, the years-old tradition of drum-beating to wake up people at the time of ‘Sehri’ in holy month of Ramadan is still in vogue in Kashmir.
Yet again, like every other year this Sahar Khan has made appearance on the streets of Kashmir- All through the month of Ramadan, he breaks the eerie silence of the dark night with his drum and wake up calls to stir people out of the bed for saheri. Sahar Khan has survived for generations in the Valley even as Kashmir has lost several imperial parts of its tradition and culture.
The credit for the survival of Sahar Khan is not for the people, but the Sahar Khans, who-sometimes are driven by poverty, other times by motivation to preserve culture. It fetches them good money and blessing too to keep the tradition alive.
Javed Ahmad Khan, a Sahar Khan says, “My father and grand father both played it and so I am also playing it. this is my business and my means of employment”
The tradition of Sahar Khan is very old in Kashmir. It received a break during peak years of turmoil in 90’s. But now fortunately it is back on track,” said Shabir. He supports his family of four through farming for rest part of the year. He said that so many people from Kalaroos came to different parts of the valley including Srinagar in the month of Ramadan for beating drums so that they could earn some extra money for Eid celebrations .
For rest of the year the Sahar khans earn their livelihood in agriculture fields & when Ramadan comes they go out to different parts of valley
People in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town say that, It’s an amazing feeling that the Sahar khans have returned. It is an old practice which should be kept alive.
Every household in the town though has mobile phone but people want to keep
the drum-beating tradition alive they wake the people up for taking sehri throughout this month.
Haji Ghulam Mohammad, a Local Resident maintains, “Everyday they play the dhol at 2 AM in the morning and during Sehri. There is a lot of advantage, if some people are alerted. Then we give them alms on the occasion of Eid”.
Besides, the uniqueness in prayers, food habits and daily routine during this month,
the distinctiveness of Kashmir and Ramadan per se lies in the Sahar Khans.
Without the resonating drum beats and calls of Sahar Khans, Ramadan is incomplete in the Valley.