Ashura, the first month of the Islamic calender is when Shia Muslims across the world mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohaammed, and his family in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. They are clad in black to attend meetings and processions of this mourning. The ethos reaches its zenith on the tenth day of the month, Muharram.
In the old city areas of Hyderabad, India, Shia Muslims bring out Alams, insignia of the martyrs, from the Ashur Khanas (mourning halls) in processions along the streets. The most revered of the alams, Bibi ka Alam is carried atop an elephant while the smaller ones ride on horses and even hand-pulled rickshaws.
Congregations known as Majlises are organised at various point along the route of the procession. As the procession moves past the Majilises, men flagellate themselves with knives and cane, to show their respect and solidarity with the martyrs. Some beat their chests with bare hands, holding razor blades in between fingers while some whip themselves with leather whips encrusted with glass pieces and blades.
Muharram is more than just symbolic mourning. It is a motif of solidarity, and of gratitude towards the fallen heroes.