March Past

Memory and mourning in Lahore’s Shia processions

A head mask for a Zuljinah at Haveli Bilo Shah, in 2018. The mask is adorned with a mirror in the center. The fish figurines that hang from the headdress represent water and freedom of movement.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Nad-e-Ali Text by Utkarsh
31 May, 2022

A torrent of bodies dressed in black, with indiscernible faces and flailing arms, surges towards a centre that is bruised red. Enveloped by a warm tungsten hue, the crowd pours through a narrow alley and into a large open space. Its seething movement creates a seamlessness that lends a sense of duration to an otherwise static frame. The focus of the image, and the crowd, is the undefined centre: a barely visible horse draped in a bright red cloth.   

The image belongs to the Pakistani photographer Nad-e-Ali’s ongoing photo series “The Other Horses,” which documents Lahore’s annual Shabih-e-Zuljinah processions. Held during the month of Muharram, the Shia mourning processions commemorate the death of Hussain ibn Ali, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in the seventh-century Battle of Karbala. The Shia–Sunni rift, which dates back to the death of Muhammad, in 632, is said to have intensified after the battle. The horses at these processions, called the Zuljinahs, represent Murtajiz, the loyal stallion that Hussain rode into battle. Legend has it that Murtajiz refused to leave his master’s side after his death, only to return to camp, covered in blood, to deliver the news of the killing.  

A Zuljinah trains for a procession inside the premises of the Karbala Gamay Shah, in 2015.