Hosay is an Islamic festival observed by Shi'a Muslims throughout the world. The celebration was brought to Trinidad as early as 1845.
In many Islamic countries, this tradition takes a more solemn religious tone as it is considered a time of mourning for the martyred. Generally, Hosay runs for four days either in April, May or June in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar.
Hosay is the commemoration of the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed's grandsons Hassan and Hussein at the Battle of Kerbala in Persia. The observances start on Flag Night when the first procession takes place. Hundreds of devotees walk through the streets carrying multi-coloured flags to symbolize the beginning of the Battle of Kerbala in which the brothers lost their lives.
On the second night, small Tadjahs (elaborately decorated models of mosques that are made in 'yards' by volunteers who first go through purification rituals of fasting, abstinence from sex, and prayers) are carried slowly through the streets to the sound of throbbing Tassa drums - symbolic of war drums, played in set rhythms that are common throughout the world. You cannot help but be drawn in by the pulsating sound of these drums whose cadence can be heard for miles.
Large Tadjahs, also accompanied by Tassa drums, make their appearance on the third night and are quite spectacular - usually being more than two metres high and more elaborate versions of their smaller counterparts.
Eager participants parade them through the streets while dancers carry two large crescent-shaped moons representing the two brothers.
On the fourth day, there is a daylight procession where the moons are led through the streets to an open field, where, in simulation of the battle they 'dance' with each other. A special prayer is offered for the dead as this part of the proceedings represent the entombment of the brothers. This is the last time you will see the Tadjahs, because the celebrations end on this day - usually by about 7:00 p.m. In the early beginnings of the festival, the Tadjahs would be thrown into the sea to ensure that all prayers would be answered. Today, however, the celebrants are much more environmentally aware and choose to dismantle and properly dispose of its parts.
In Trinidad, the observances have evolved to include participants from all races, religions and walks of life. The largest observance is held in St. James, a suburb of Port of Spain, but you can also find Hosay processions in Curepe, Tunapuna, Couva and Cedros.