Ashura, The Pink City, and Amber Fort

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Wednesday, January 31, 2007


After two months, India seemed like a vivid dream unfolding unceasingly. I arrived to Jaipur, walking to the Kantichandra Palace, as a procession of drummers and bearers of a silver taj. Sipping a chai, I asked the owner of a sweets shop what was happening:

"Ashura...the tajia processions...Muslim celebration."

Another celebration! So many celebrations in India.

The procession of Ashura is one of the most important for Shi'a Muslims. The tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, in the year 680 A.D. Husayn became a martyr on the battlefield of Karbala, in present-day Iraq. Husayn and his followers faced insurmoutable odds during the entire battle and were abused, deprived of food and water, and treated with disrespect. The battle is seen as one between good and evil and is now commemorated through Ashura.

During Ashura, Shi'ites reflect on the importance of Husayn, especially with regards to being disrespected, humiliated, or abused by others.

Husayn was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima. Shi'ites believe that he represents the third Imam to lead Islam, according to Muhammad's wishes.

Sunnis disagree. Instead, they believe that Abu Bakr, chosen during a meeting of leaders after Muhammad's death, was the rightful Imam, as such a vote was the traditional way of choosing leaders.

Thus began the sectarian aspect of Islam that continues today.

After finding a large four-dollar room at the Kantichandra Palace, I entered the frenetic streets of Jaipur, named the Pink City because of the hue of its buildings. Everywhere, Shi'a Muslims walked the streets, following tajias, or replicas of mausoleums of Husayn, on procession. I joined in the processions, walking into the center of the city's historical district--to the Hawa Mahal and through narrow streets near and around the city palace and Jantar Mantar Observatory.

Once, I joined a group of drummers, pounding on a bass drum as everyone smiled and laughed.

After hours on the street, I retired to my room.

In the morning, I took a public bus to the town of Amber, known for its large fort and palace, the old capital of the Kuchwaha Rajputs for almost 700 years. Amber was located strategically in a passage through steep ridges, all of which were fortified.

For most of the day, I walked through the palace, fort, and town. Entering the palace apartments through the Ganesh Gate, I first glanced at the Sheesh Mahal, the Sukh Mahal, and a central garden. The Sheesh Mahal was covered in dazzling glass mosaics. The Sukh Mahal, known as the Pleasure Palace, once was graced with cascading waterfalls that acted as air conditioners. Opulence was a good descriptor for the places. The large Amber fort was full of cannon paraphenalia and commanded views of the countryside, fitting for a stronghold.

Soon, however, I was continuing my journey west towards the Thar Desert, leaving behind the Pink City, the Amber fort and palace, and the Ashura processions.
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Where I stayed
Kantichandra Palace

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