The Brahmins who fought for Hussain at Karbala

Maharaja Chandar had dispatched Rahab Datt to protect the Imam

Artistic depiction of Maharaja Dahir (d.712) son of Maharaja Chach of Alor (d.711), founder of the Brahman Empire of Sindh. Wikipedia.

The Brahman Empire of Sindh was founded by Maharaja Chach of Alor (d.711), and covered the entire Indus Valley and beyond. Maharaja Chach of Alor was succeeded by Maharaja Chandar of Sindh (671 – 679) who had dispatched a Brahman army against the Umayyads known later as Hussaini Brahmans, to protect Imam Hussein ibn Ali.  Maharaja Chandar of Sindh was succeeded by Maharaja Dahir (d.712) the third and last Maharaja of the Brahman Empire of Sindh. Princess Jodha of Sindh, mother of Imam Zaid Bin Ali Zain al Abidin, grandson of Hussein (d.740) –  known by Muslim chroniclers as Jayda al-Sindhi – was the daughter of Maharaja Dahir (d.712).  The Brahman Empire of Sindh was allied with Hussain and the Alids (descendants of Imam Ali) against the Umayyads, and was annexed in 711 CE by the Umayyads . 

(RAHNUMA) The birth of the community of the Hussaini Brahmins has many versions. It is said that at the time of the battle of Karbala, Rahab Sidh Datt, a Brahmin trader sacrificed his seven sons for Imam Hussain.

According to legend, Datt was closely associated with the Prophet Mohammad’s family.  This is not completely unbelievable, given Cherman Perumal Maharajah Rama Varma Kulashekhara is documented as an Indian king who who embraced Islam on the Holy Prophet’s hands and was one of his recognized Companions. Narrated Abu Saeed Al-Khudri: “A king from India presented the Holy Prophet with a bottle of pickled ginger. The Holy Prophet shared it among his Companions. I also received a piece to eat.” (Bukhari)

However, unlike the Prophet’s companion Maharajah Rama Varma Kulashekhara, a lack of historical evidence about the Hussaini Brahmin community leads to one many varying versions about them.

Sisir Kumar Mitra, in his book The Vision of India, talks about the presence of a large population of Hindus in Arabia before the Battle of Karbala. Another version of presence of Brahmins in Arabia is documented by PN Bali, The History of Mohyals (1986) who wrote, “The induction of Datts into Arabia is attributed to the Mahabharat character Ashvathama, who after the treacherous assassination of his father Dronacharya in the epic war, went into voluntary exile and bestrode into Arabia and made home there.”

Did the Brahmins fight for Imam Hussain in Karbala?

History of The Muhiyals: The militant Brahmin clan of India, T.P. Rusell Stracey (1911), a ballad (Kabitt) from folklore describes in poetic form the presence of Dutts in Arabia and their subsequent role in the battle of Karbala.

The popularly known narrative about the Hussaini Brahmins is that of Datt’s sacrifice of his seven sons for Imam Hussain. It is believed that when a handful of Muslims came forward to help Imam Hussain in the massacre of Karbala, Datt is said to have participated valiantly. The British writer T.P. Rusell Stracey has recorded the names of the seven sons as Sahus Rai, Harjas Rai, Sher Khan, Ram Singh, Rai Pun, Dhoro and Pooro.

On the seventh day of Muharram, 30,000 men and a strong army sent by Yazid, the second caliph of the Umayyad caliphate from Syria and other places attacked them. 6000 soldiers guarded the river bank to ensure not a drop of water reached Hussain’s followers. Hussain was fatally wounded by Shimr, the commander of Yazid.

Rahab Datt chased the murderers as they ran carrying the severed head of Hussain upto Kufa, the capital of Yazid. The Shia disciples of Imam Hussain and the valiant Datts did not lay down their arms till they saw the end of Yazid. Shimr was killed in cold blood in an encounter in 686 AD.

The supporters of Hasan and Hussain honoured the Datts with the title of “Hussaini Brahmin”. They treated them with great reverence for the supreme sacrifices that they made in the war of Karbala. At the time of the Karbala, about fourteen hundred Hussaini Brahmins lived in Baghdad alone.

Another version recounts that a large army from Sindh, the part then in Rajasthan on learning of the battle was sent to Iraq to assist the Imam. By the time they arrived, however, the Imam had been slain.

In the town of Kufa, in present-day Iraq, they met with one Mukhtar Saqaffi, a disciple of the Imam, who arranged for them to stay in a special part of the town, which even today is known by the name of Dair-i-Hindiya or ‘the Indian quarter’. Some Dutt Brahmins, under the leadership of one Bhurya Dutt, got together with Mukhtar Saqaffi to avenge the death of the Imam. They stayed behind in Kufa, while the rest returned to India. Here they built up a community of their own, calling themselves Hussaini Brahmins, keeping alive the memory of their links with the Imam.

Kilakarai mosque – Palaiya Jumma Palli (pallivasal) India’s oldest mosque and 5th oldest in the world. It is located in Kilakarai, an ancient port town in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu known for its early Indo-Muslim culture. It was built in 628–630 AD. The mosque is one of the greatest examples of Pancha-Dravida Islam architecture and was constructed during the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Pancha-Dravida is one of the two major groupings of Brahmins in Hinduistan, of which the other was Pancha-Gauda.
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