Culture

Cries, candies, celebrations: Inside Kashmir’s ceremonial tonsuring

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Family members of Hoorain waiting for the completion of process. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

The significance of the ritual is so profound that people can go from one part of Kashmir to another to have their wishes fulfilled.

Hoorain’s cries were echoing in the Makhdoom Sahib shrine and were in resonance with another infant whose ‘Zara-Kasaai’—ceremonial tonsuring—was happening in front of her.

It was as if she could feel his pain and was partly crying for him and partly because that eight-month-old somehow knew she was next in the long line.

Hoorain’s mother searching for hajam. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

After the Hajam (barber) got done with that child, Hoorain’s cries grew louder as her grandmother passed her for the ceremonial tonsuring.

“Our turn finally came! We have been looking for him [Hajam] for the past half-an-hour,” says Hoorain’s mother.

Hajam applying water to a baby before shaving. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

The Hajam tried to make Hoorain comfortable and stable for a few seconds while he started to prepare to shave her head off.

While applying water to the hair to make the tonsuring process smooth, he threw a few droplets on the child’s face trying to make her laugh but failed to do so.

Newborn’s head being shaved. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

Hajam now started to shave her hair. “This is a special blade used only for babies,” says Ghulam Mohammad, Hajam at Makhdoom Sahib shrine.

Reaching towards the end of tonsuring, Hoorain’s head was red with a few rashes here and there.

“Amis aasi naar neara’n (Her head must be having a burning sensation),” Hoorain’s grandmother mumbled to herself.

Hajam pouring talcum on baby’s head. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

To calm the effects of shaving and rashes, Hajam put some talcum powder on her head. “This is how ‘Zara-Kasaai’ is done,” says Ghulam Mohammad.

Hoorain’s grandmother turns talkative amid celebrations: “The first hair is considered to be a burden on the baby’s head and it is our religious responsibility to shave it off.”

During the nine months when the baby is inside the mother’s womb, a lot of impurities get adhered to the baby’s hair, informs Mohammad Rafiq Wani, an Islamic scholar. To remove the attached filthiness from the hair, he says, ‘Zara-Kasaai’ is done.

“Whatever our religion has ordered us, everything has a deep meaning and is beneficial for us,” the scholar continues. “It’s one of the practices of our beloved Prophet [PBUH] and it needs to be done within seven days.”

But a lack of awareness, the scholar rues, makes the masses to go for the tonsuring ceremony after the prescribed time.

At Makhdoom Sahab, cries and celebrations are making the ceremonial tonsuring an emotional moment for the families coming to the shrine from different parts of the valley.

Hoorain’s family came all the way from Pampore for the fulfillment of this ritual. “Even before her birth we had decided that we would take her to Makhdoom Sahib for ‘Zara-kasai’,” says Hoorain’s grandmother.

‘Zara-Kasaai’ is an age-old ritual performed by Muslims as well as Pandits of Kashmir which has a cultural as well as religious significance. For the ritual to be done there used to be a particular Hajam in every shrine and the practice still continues.

Every shrine has its own Hajams. The Auqaf committee passes a tender for the positions of Hajams in different shrines. Once the tender opens, an auction is held for these positions. “Whoever bids more money, the position is his. We are usually two or three Hajams and work on alternative weeks,” says Ghulam Mohammad.

Habitants of ‘Peervaer’ go to different shrines to perform this ritual as people here are staunch believers that these places hold special spiritual energy. And they want to have their children blessed by the Sufi saints.

“These places are pure and have an aura of positivity and infants need to be kept in such spaces,” says a parent waiting in the queue.

People setting around hajam waiting for their turn in the park outside Dargah Sharief. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

Far from the Makhdoom Sahab shrine, people were sitting in the park outside Dargah Sharief enjoying the warm weather under the shade of majestic Chinars.

Among the clutter, Aamina’s mother was becoming impatient with every passing second and requested others to let them get done with ‘Zara-Kasaai’ first because they have to reach the Baba Reshi shrine in the Anantnag district.

“We already came from two shrines; Makhdoom Sahib and Char-i-Sharief and now Baba Reshi is the last spot,” says Shugufta, Aamina’s aunt.

“She is our only daughter and we wanted to do something special for her. That’s why we took her to four shrines for Zara-Kasaai.”

Aamina’s aunt distributing candies. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

After the completion of the process, as a part of a ritual, Aamina’s aunt Shugufta hurriedly opened a packet of candies and scattered a few over the ground.

“Mae gov tchaer (I’m running late),” says Shugufta while distributing the rest of the candies among her relatives and beggars present there.

Aamina’s Aunt giving money to hajam. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

Before leaving Shagufta handed a few hundred rupees note to the Hajam for his services.

“There are no fixed prices,” says Hilal, Hajam at Dargah. “People give as much as they please.”

Ashmuqam shrine located at the hilltop in district Anantnag. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

The significance of the ritual is so profound that people can go from one part of Kashmir to another to have their wishes fulfilled.

Zayan’s family went all the way from Srinagar to the Ashmuqam shrine in the district Anantnag to shave off his head as a fulfillment of his grandmother’s wish.

Zayan’s grandmother died soon after his birth but his family kept her wish and did exactly as she wanted to. “She was very excited about his birth and wanted to do everything for her grandson. But little did we all know that it was short-lived and she would leave us all too soon,” says Zayan’s paternal aunt. “Nonetheless, we did as she wanted.”

Baby crying while hajam is shaving his head. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

During the process of tonsuring, Zayan was screaming and was inconsolable. His mother and other relatives accompanying him were trying to pacify and distract the little one but all in vain.

Zayan’s family is posing for a photo after the ritual is done. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

To add to his annoyance, Zayan’s little cousins started playing and posing with him as a result of which he cried even more.

After collecting Zare, Hajam gets ready for the next one. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

As ‘Zara-Kasaai’ is a religious practice, what to do with that hair is also prescribed in the scriptures. “The hair is weighed in accordance with the weight of silver and the amount is given in charity,” says Islamic scholar Rafiq. “The hair needs to be buried after that.”

However, nowadays, the collection and burial of the hair is mainly done by Hajams.

Grandfather giving the baby to a peer (spiritual healer) for blessings. [FPK Photo/Masroor Ashraf.]

At the end of this cultural ceremony held in shrines, the elders of the family give charity for the welfare of the child.

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