It was almost like Eid, with the slight difference being in the exchange of trays full of gourmet goodies with neighbours and friends, and praying with family the entire night instead of visiting them; with the festivities being the same as you wore new clothes, cooked the best savoury in your cookbook and decorated the house with flowers and lights on this auspicious night of Sha’ban of the lunar calendar.
I am talking about Shab-e-barat; the night when your fate for the coming year is said to be decided by the Almighty. For those who believe in His grace and are true followers, it’s a night to seek divine forgiveness and pray for a prosperous future, while for others who are not so devout, it’s another reason to celebrate the unknown, the mystified future. In all, it’s a special night for Muslims.
In our part of the world, Shab-e-barat, or the night of destiny, was always celebrated with a homely kind of cheeriness and devotion. The night long prayers were the soul of the celebrations, more so because of the unsaid competition between siblings and cousins as to who could count more prayer beads or who could do the late nights at the mosque.
Most people in Muslim countries outside the sub-continent do not make much fuss of this day; some opine that this is not religiously correct to observe this day. Many here have followed suit, and as a result, the entire culture of neighbourly love and fraternity is on the wane.
With office work and regular chores, you hardly have time or desire to go for any elaborate arrangements to prepare anything, ultimately, simply sticking to the basic prayers and tucking in. And on top of that, since you do not know Mr and Mrs X next door, you see no point in sending them a big tray full of sweet delicacies. and of course, you do not have the heart to send one to cousin Y in Gulshan braving the Kakoli crossing.
Celebrating Shab-e-barat has been our culture since as long as one can remember. It has always been one of the happiest memories of my childhood. My father loved celebrations, so Shab-e-barat began early in our household.
Planning the list of what desserts and halwas to make, going to the bazaar to get the grocery done on time, bagging the best meat in the early morning, our usually spick-and-span kitchen bustling with activity; chopping the onions, marinating the meat, grating the almonds and the pistachios. Mum scurrying with last minute orders for errands and chores that needed attention before she returned from work and actually began the cooking. The afternoons were busy with the making of halwas, decorating them with silver paper and almonds. The air, heavy with aromas of cinnamon, cardamoms sauteed in ghee, actually made you giddy with hunger.
Then began the house calls. Neighbours were greeted with a nicely decorated goody bag full of mouth-watering delights for them. These visits were fun because you not only showed off your new dress and how deep the colour of your henna painted hands were, but also whose mum was the best cook in the neighbourhood.
The poor were also given a share from the halwas. The evenings were an extended family affair at grandma’s place and all the cousins would gather on the porch to light the fireworks, in fact ‘tarabattis’ were synonymous with Shab-e-barat. Then began another competition of who could stay awake the whole night and pray, in the morning the tally would be an issue to brag.
Those were childhood Shab-e-barat’s; the long-lost ones.
In a time where life is full of wars, murders, distortion and terrorism, it is important to remember that Islam, the religion, is all about peace, loving, giving and equal treatment. Perhaps, Shab-e-barat is religiously not as important as we thought it was. But I strongly believe that there are lessons to be learnt from our cultural tradition of observing this night.
Photo: LS Archive/Sazzad Ibne Sayed