Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A day of prayers and merriment

Muslims in Kerala joined over a billion co-religionists around the globe to celebrate Id-ul-Fitr (Cheriya Perunnaal), the day of festival after the end of the fasting month of Ramzan, on Monday.

The clear, bright day set the mood for celebration, and the long weekend made it possible for relatives and friends to get together for the festival. The State Government had declared both Monday and Tuesday holidays.

Since the festival follows the lunar calendar and the date is determined by the sighting of the new moon, there was confusion until Sunday evening whether it would be on Monday or Tuesday.

However, organisations of religious pundits, on reports of sighting the new moon, declared Monday as the festival early, ending the confusion. Mosques announced the festival by chanting "Allahu Akbar" on the public address system.

Festive spirit

Children and women, with fresh henna (mayilaanchi) designs on their palms, kept awake all night, expecting the excitement of the day. Drawing intricate designs on the palms and hands with freshly ground henna leaves is a highlight of the festival, for women and children.

Mass prayers, a key component of the festival, were held on open public spaces and in mosques. In Kochi, the prayers were held at makeshift

"Id gahs" at Marine Drive, the international stadium and several mosques. Community members, including a large number of women and children, participated.

Senior clerics or community elders gave the sermons.

Having a sumptuous meal with friends and relatives is an important aspect of the Id celebration.

The camaraderie and visits to the homes of neighbours, friends and relatives add to the festival mood.

As part of the "fitr zakaat," free Perunnaal kits, comprising food items, new clothes and money, were distributed to the poor. This a trend which picked up momentum in the past five years. Fitr zakaat is an old custom of well-off people giving money and food items to the poor.

The custom has these days taken a collective form, with people pooling their resources to distribute the kits. In places such as Kozhikode, lines form in front of centres where the kits are distributed. In some places, the kits were supplied on a first come, first served basis, while in others, tokens were issued for taking the kits later.

However, many people who turned up for receiving the kits were "professional" beggars from outside Kerala. They started arriving a week ago and many of them wore Muslim garments.


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