Lahore’s Kali Kothi

A hub of interfaith harmony

Embracing heavy metal chains and handcuffs, Noor, a young girl in her early twenties entered Kali Kothi’s Majlis on 7th Muharram to pay homage to the martyrs of Karbala.

While mourning and chanting ‘Ya Hussain’, she adjusts the chains to divide the weight on both shoulders equally. She will wear these chains till 10th Muharram to complete her prayer.

While talking to Minute Mirror, Noor explained the reason for her wearing the chains, “Last year, my mother had a terrible accident and doctors said she will not survive. I was helpless and could not think of anything else, my mother is my world, and my world was falling apart.”

She continued, “I prayed to Allah that if my mother will get through all of this I will come here and mourn in chains for 10 days, today I am here with my mother to fulfil my promise.”

For more than four decades Kali Kothi, which literally translates to ‘Black Bungalow’ in English, situated in Lahore’s Iqbal Town, is organizing Majalis of Ashur to highlight the sacrifice of the Martyrs of Karbala, with the participants not only of different sects, but of different religions.

Suhail Rizvi, the president of Anjuman-e-Islamia, an association which is the pioneer of the Kali Kothi’s Majalis said,  “This is our 43rd year of conducting Majalis, this housing area was built in 1978 with the name of 1600 Acre Scheme, and the president of that time, Abrar Sherazi, started this procession with only 50 people. And now more than 18,000 to 20,000 people attend the Majlis from different sects and even religions to fulfill their promises and prayers.”

Ilyas Thomas, a roman catholic by faith and a sound engineer by profession has been giving his services of sound management for the past two years to Kali Kothi’s Majlis free of cost.

“Imam Hussain’s message and sacrifice have no boundary of religion and sectarianism; it unites all humanity. I provide my services here so people can hear the sermon and how Imam Hussain stood firm in front of Yazeed. I have never charged any fee. When the allama starts speaking, I make sure that his voice can be heard loud and clear by the last man entering into the premises,” said Thomas.

With the passage of time, the Kali Kothi has been developed into a commercial building, but the symbolism is still there.

“Back in 1979, the surroundings were deserted and there was only this Kothi and it had a black tar coating on the outer walls which gave this place its historic name, but Kothi has transformed into a commercial market. The adjacent house owners, out of courtesy, have dedicated the lower portion of their house for the Hussaini mourners,” said Rizvi.

From the first of Muharram till the ninth, thousands of women and men gather at the public park in front of the Kothi. To manage the procession, hundreds of young girls and boys volunteer to manage parking, food distribution, security, lights and sound.

Rizvi told Minute Mirror, “As the place is congested for such large congregations, we shift the whole set-up to Shah-e-Khurasan Mosque in Neelam Block with the aid of our volunteers, and the 10th Muharram procession takes place there.”

Nasreen Naveed, the head of female volunteers, has more than 200 girls registered for the 10th Muharram session.

“Young females come to me and offer their help to serve the Hussaini mourners. We have never stopped anyone and we do not ask questions about their faith or beliefs. Female participants from the Christian and Hindu community, and different sects come here and serve the people with food, water, and sweets,” said Nasreen.

Throughout the first ten days of Muharram, the adjacent streets to Kali Kothi are cordoned off with tents. Security personnel check everyone who intends to participate in the procession after the Majlis.

Muhammad Asif, Station House Officer (SHO) Iqbal Town, said that we have three gender-segregated checkpoints where participants will be checked before entering the premises. “The ushers help us a lot in guiding people and to make sure the situation of law and order remains intact,” he added.

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