Indian town's 200-year-old cannon keeps Ramadan tradition alive

The practice was fairly common across Muslim-dominated areas in the country but has now faded

Ramadan cannon fire in India is like 'lightning in the sky'

The tradition of firing the cannon was started by the Begums or Queens of Bhopal, an erstwhile princely state, in the early 18th century and has been carried forward by the qazis or the head priest in the district.  Gagan Nayar for The National
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As dusk descends on the town of Raisen in India's central Madhya Pradesh state, a loud bang comes from a hilltop and reverberates across the area, signalling the end of Ramadan fasts for thousands of worshippers.

For more than two centuries, Muslims in the tiny district right in the heart of the country have trusted the distinctive sound of the 200-year-old cannon to mark the beginning and end of their fasts during the holy month.

The tradition was started by the Begum or Queens of Bhopal, an erstwhile princely state, now part of Madhya Pradesh post-independence.

The practice was fairly common across various Muslim-dominated areas in the country where devotees depended on cannon booms to start or end fasts in the absence of clocks and watches at home.

With the passage of time, the tradition faded away.

But in Raisen, the small town around 45 kilometres away from state capital Bhopal, it has been preserved.

A week before Ramadan, the 1.2-metre cannon, which is maintained by the local administration, is handed over to the town's mosque committee.

A license is issued to fire it for a month.

The cannon is then cleaned, painted and repaired before being carried to the Raisen Fort on top of a hill, where it is stationed throughout Ramadan.

“People have watches and clocks, but they can get busy doing prayers or in household chores. The cannon is very helpful to alert them all," Qazi Zeeshan, the head priest and member of the local Muslim Committee, told The National.

The cannon replaced a larger model in 1956 to prevent damage to the town's historical fort.

Each shot requires about 250g of gunpowder, with funds for the powder raised by the mosque committee.

A firecracker-maker produces a cannon ball using gunpowder, crackers and other materials, and gunner Sakhawat Ullah, a tea seller by trade, is entrusted with the task of firing the cannon. His family has held the responsibility for three generations.

Mr Ullah uses wood to load the cannonball into the tube from an open end of the cannon.

“I have been firing the cannon for the last 25 years," Mr Ullah, 45, told The National.

"I get a signal from the mosque and fire the cannon. The sound can be heard by people in 24 to 25 villages. There are times when the utensils in my house fall. It is very loud.

“It feels wonderful because only our town has kept the tradition alive. People come from faraway places to witness it.”

Mr Ullah walks about 500 metres uphill every morning and evening to fire the cannon. But he does not mind.

“I feel that I have been chosen for the service of the people in and around the town," he said.

"It feels special because it is now a family tradition.

“My grandfather started firing it, then my father, then my uncle and now I am responsible for the noble task. I am training my son so we can continue the tradition.”

At the end of Ramadan, the cannon is safely handed over to the district administration, where it is kept in state treasury.

Updated: April 04, 2023, 6:21 AM