Sopore: The era of Sehar Khans of yore is coming to an end. In the towns of Sopore and Baramulla, there are very few Sehar Khans left. The Sehar Khans wake up the faithful to take their pre-dawn Sehri meals before observing the day-long fast during the month of Ramazan. Now that people possess mobile phones and alarm-clocks, Sehar Khans are losing their usefulness.
Historically, the concept of the pre-dawn caller originated in Egypt, where the callers were known as Mesaharaty. The tradition continues to this day in many Gulf countries and most of the South Asian countries.
At the onset of Ramazan in Kashmir, Sehar Khans, who are mostly residents of far-flung areas like Kupwara, Uri and remote villages, come down to the urban areas and start working as a “human alarm”. They walk through the lanes and alleys of various localities and at their calls, which are accompanied by the beating of drums, houses start to begin lighting up one by one. However, times have so changed that people in some localities have refused entry to Sehar Khans. Their drum beats and chants are now considered annoying, irritating and useless.
A father of three kids, Zubair Ahmad, who has a medical shop in the Iqbal Market of Sopore, said that Sehar Khans are not needed in the 21st century. “The drum beats wake up my kids and make it difficult for us to have our Sehri meals in peace, as the kids have to be looked after. Now that we have mobile phones to wake us up, where is the need for Sehar Khans?” he said.
Mohd Sultan, 59, popularly known as Sul Kak, belongs to Kupwara and stays in Sopore for the month of Ramzan. He told Kashmir Reader that working as a Sehar Khan is his hobby. “I have been practising this for the past more than 14 years. I have grown up witnessing elders in my family doing it, so I follow the tradition. I always look forward to the month of Ramazan. But with the arrival of mobile phones, the people have lost interest in us,” he said.
A decade ago, each locality in Sopore and Baramulla towns had its own Sehar Khan. “This was the tradition of the entire valley. The sound of drum beats at night created a unique atmosphere and made this month very festive,” Mohd Sultan said.
The job of Sehar Khans is not an easy one. “We have to wake up early, go to the streets with our drums, and wake up the people. I wake up at 2am and go around the streets of Sopore beating the drum, covering almost three kilometres by foot,” Mohammad Sultan said.
The security situation in the valley is also such that this traditional practice has become too risky. “Though people have mobiles now, we were disappearing from the streets of Kashmir from much before due to the fear of security forces. Many of my family friends who were in this practice stopped to pursue it due to these reasons,” Mohammad Sultan said.
Asadullah Mir, a resident of Sopore town, reminisced about the time when Sehar Khans used to come and wake up people for Sehri. “These people brought with them a great feeling during Ramazan. They have now disappeared from the streets of Sopore and Baramulla due to a number of reasons. Our old ways attached us deeply to our culture, but they are disappearing by the day,” he said.
People used to give money to Sehar Khans on Eid, the festive day at the end of the month of Ramazan, but now no one has time for such things. “One just hopes that this is not the end of another aspect of our beautiful tradition,” Mir said.
Be as it may, Sul Kak says he will continue his practice of waking up people for the pre-dawn meal, because for him Ramadan is incomplete without the resonating drum beats and the chants of the Sehar Khan.