Srinagar (Reuters) – The valley is covered in darkness as Abdul Kareem Jinded, 71, prepares his drum to break the silence of his neighbourhood in Srinagar, the largest city in Indian Kashmir.
A wood-cutter by day, he wakes up at midnight during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to walk 3-4 miles (5-6 km) through the bylanes of Srinagar’s downtown or old quarter, knocking on doors shouting: “Wake up and eat your morning meal before it is late”.
Devout Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, and usually eat a meal before the sun comes up.
Jinded says his family has been playing the role of “Sahar Khans”, named for the pre-dawn Ramadan meal called Sahri, for generations.
Srinagar, a city of 1.5 million people and the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is predominantly Muslim. Jammu and Kashmir was also India’s only Muslim-majority state until it was converted into a federal territory in 2019.
Jinded said he has been beating his drum, singing, praying and knocking on doors in the Nowhatta neighbourhood during Ramadan for 27 years.
Just as he joined his father a generation ago, he is now joined by his three sons.
“My father was a drummer and so were my forefathers. We do it just to please God and keep the tradition alive,” he said.
Kashmir’s Ramadan drummers are not paid, but as the month nears its end, people tend to become generous.
“We don’t ask for money. We get a lot of respect from people and the majority give us money and other gifts,” Jinded said. “We do it to earn heavenly rewards.”
Srinagar is at the centre of an insurgency by Muslim militants since 1989. The militants have waged a decades-long war against Indian rule and tens of thousands of people have been killed although the violence is now dwindling.
Jinded said that even at the peak of militancy in the 1990s, when the city was dotted with security check-posts and bunkers, families like his continued with the pre-dawn ritual during Ramadan using security passes that allowed movement.
In the age of alarm clocks and smartphones, Sahar Khans are less of a necessity, but it adds an essential element to the festivities leading up to the Eid festival at the end of the month, residents said. The festival this year is likely to fall on Saturday.
“Ramadan drummers are an important part of our tradition,” said Sheikh Ghulam Nabi, a tailor in Srinagar’s old town. “They add to the festive atmosphere of the holy month.”