Published on 26th
Standard Bearer of Imam Husayn ('a)
The shifting sand dunes of Karbala were
smeared with blood. Near one of wash dunes, on the bank of Al
koma, lay the prostrate figure of a youth with blood gushing
out from innumerable wounds. The crimson life-tide was ebbing
fast. Even so, it seemed as if he was anxiously expecting
somebody to come to him, to be near him before he breathed his
last. Through his starched throat he was feebly calling
somebody. Yes, Abbas was anxiously expecting his master to
come to him before he parted with his life, as he had come to
the side of all his devoted friends who had laid down their
dear lives for him and in espousing his cause.
It is said that before a man's death al the
past event of his life pass before his mind's eye in a
flash-back. In his last moments Abbas was experiencing this.
He was seeing himself as a child in Medina following Husain
with a devotion which was considered unique even for a
brother. He was seeing the events of that hot and sultry day
in Kufa when his illustrious father Ali was addressing a
congregation in the mosque and he, as a child, with his
characteristic devotion, was looking at the face of his
beloved brother watching him intently so that he could attend
to his wishes on an instant command.
Seeing from the parched lips of Husain that he
was feeling extremely thirsty, how he had darted out from the
mosque and returned with a tumbler full of cool, refreshing
water and in the hurry to carry the water as quickly as
possible to quench the consuming thirst of his dearest
brother, how he had spilled water on his own clothes. He was
recalling how this incident had made his illustrious father
stop in the midst of his speech, with tears rolling down his
cheeks at the sight of his young son all wet with water.
He was remembering his father's reply to the
queries from his faithful followers as to what had brought
tears in his eyes, that Abbas who had wetted his body with
water in the process of quenching Husain's thirst would in the
not too distant future wet his body with his own blood in
attempting to quench the thirst of his young children. He was
vividly seeing the scene on the 21st Ramazan, way back in 40
Hijra, when his father mortally wounded, was lying on his
death-bed and entrusting his children and dependents to the
care of the his eldest brother, Hasan - all except him. Seeing
that his father had commended all but him to the care of Hasan
- how he, a child of 12, had burst out into uncontrollable
tears. His father, on hearing him sobbing, had called him to
his side and given his hand in Husain's hand with the words:
Husain, this child I am entrusting to you.
He will represent me on the day of your supreme sacrifice
and lay down his life in defending you and your dear ones,
much as I would have done if alive on that day.
How his father had turned to him and
affectionately told him:
Abbas, my child, I know your unbounded love
for Husain. Though you are too young to be told about it,
when that day dawns, consider no sacrifice too great for
Husain and his children.
He saw before his mind's eye that parting with
his aged mother Fatima in Medina. How she had affectionately
embraced him and reminded him of the dying desire of his
father to lay down his life in the defence of Husain and his
A faint smile of satisfaction flickered for a
brief moment on his parched lips a smile of satisfaction that
he had fulfilled his father's wish; that he had performed his
duty for which he was brought up. It just flitted for a moment
and vanished as other scenes came before his mind's eye. He
was re- living the events of the night before. He was seeing
Shimr stealthily coming to him; and talking to him about his
ties of relationship; about the protection he had been
promised for Abbas by the Commander of Yazid's forces, only if
he would leave Husain and go over to Yazid's camp; about the
promises of riches and rewards that he would get; how he had
spurned the suggestion of Shimr with the utmost disdain to the
chagrin of that servile minion who had sold his soul for a
mess of pottage. How he had scared away that coward by his
scathing rage saying:
You worshipper of Mammon, do not think that
Abbas will be lured by your tempting offer of power and pelf.
If I die in fending my master, Husain, I shall consider myself
the luckiest person. O coward, remember that valiants die but
once. Nobody is born to live eternally. By betraying my
master, you have betrayed the Prophet, whose religion you
profess to follow. On the Day of Judgement you will be doomed
to eternal perdition. I am ashamed to own any relationship
with you. Had it not been for the fact that you have come here
unarmed, I would have given you the chastisement you deserve
for your impudence in asking me to become a turncoat.
How that wretch had scampered from there
seeing him roaring like an enraged lion. The thought of that
unpleasant interlude contracted his brows. Or was it the
excruciating pain he was suffering on account of the deep
gashes he had all over his body?
Yet another scene passed before Abbas's eyes -
Sakina leading 42 children, each with a dry water-bag. The
children were shouting as if in chorus
Thirst, consuming thirst, is killing us.
Sakina coming to him and putting her dry
water-bag at his feet and saying to him:
O uncle, I know you will do something to get
water for us. Even if you can bring one bag full of water,
we can wet our parched throats.
He could see that thirst, aggravated by the
scorching heat of the desert, was squeezing their young lives
out of them. The sight of these youngsters had moved him more
than any other soul-stirring events of that faithful day. How
he had picked up the water-bag with assurance to Sakina that
he would go and bring water - God Willing.
How he had taken Husain's permission and
marched out of the camp with a sword in one hand, the flag in
the other, and the bag on his shoulder, with the children
following him in a group up to the outer perimeter of the
camp. How Husain had repeatedly requested him to avoid
fighting as much as possible and confine himself to the task
of bringing water!
His thoughts switched over to the events that
had preceded his fall from the horse. With the object of
procuring water for his dear little Sakina, he had charged on
the enemy who held the river banks. He had run through the
enemy ranks like a knife through butter. Again this surging
onslaught the cowards could not stand and had run
helter-skelter shouting for protection.
For a moment it seemed as if Ali, the Lion of
God, had descended from heaven. In no time Abbas was near the
rivulet. He had jumped down from the horse and bent to fill
the water-bag. When it was filled to the brim, he had taken
some water in his cupped hand to drink and satisfy his killing
But, on second thoughts, he had thrown the
water away. How could he drink water when Sakina and the
children were still withering without it? How could he be so
callous as to forget that his master Husain had not had a
drop of water since the last three days. He had turned to
his horse which had been let loose so that it could satisfy
its thirst. The animal had been intently looking at its
master as if to say:
I too am aware that, so long as our master
and his children remain without water, our thirst cannot be
With the water-bag filled he had jumped into
the saddle with one thought uppermost in his mind, to get the
water to the anxiously waiting children as quickly as
possible. Seeing him galloping towards the camp of Husain, the
enemy had turned. Somebody had shouted from the enemy ranks
that if Husain and his people got water, it would be difficult
to fight them on the battlefield.
Though it was an uneven fight, he fought them
with valour which was so characteristic of his fathers Though
he was thirsty and hungry, he charged on them and scattered
them. The mercenaries of Yazid were running like lambs in a
fold when charged by a lion. Seeing that a frontal assault on
a man so brave was not possible, they had resorted to a
barrage of arrows. When arrows were coming form all sides,
Abbas had only one thought in his mind, how to protect the
water-bag than his life.
Seeing that Abbas was preoccupied with this
thought, one treacherous foe, hiding behind a sand-dune, had
rushed out and dealt a blow on his right hand and cut it off.
In a flash Abbas had transferred his sword to his left hand
and the standard he was bearing he had hugged to his chest.
Now that the Lion of Ali was crippled, the foes had found
courage to surround him. A blow from an enemy's sword severed
his left arm. The odds were now mounting against him. He held
the bag with his teeth and protected the flag with his chest
pressed on the horse's back. Now the paramount thought in his
mind was to reach the camp somehow or the other. A silent
prayer had escaped his lips:
Merciful Allah, spare me long enough to fulfil
But that was not to be. An arrow had pierced
the water-bag and water had started gushing out of it. Was it
water that was flowing out of that bag or the hopes of Abbas?
All his efforts had been in vain. After all Sakina's thirst
would remain unsatisfied and all her hopes would be
frustrated. The enemies who had made bold to surround him, now
seeing his helpless condition, were now gathering thick round
him. One of them came near him and struck mortal blow with an
iron mace. He reeled over and fell from the horse.
He tossed on the burning sand with
excruciating pain. He felt that life was fast ebbing out but
his wish to see his master had remained unfulfilled. With one
last effort, with all the strength that was left in him, he
O my master, do come to me before I die.
As it in answer to his prayers he felt some
footsteps near him, Yes, his instinct told him that it was his
lord. His one eye had been blinded by an arrow and the other
filled with blood and so he could not see. But he felt his
master kneeling down beside him, lifting his head and taking
it into his lap. Not a word was said for a few seconds because
both were choked with emotion. At last he heard Husain's
voice, a half-sob, half-muffled cry:
Abbas, my brother, what have they done to
If Abbas could see, would he have recognized
his master? With back bent and beard turned white and hoary,
on hearing the parting cry of his beloved brother, Husain's
plight was such that nobody could have recognized him - such
was his transformation. Abbas was now feeling the loving touch
of his master's hand. With effort he muttered:
You have come at last, my Master. I thought
I was not destined to have a last farewell with you but,
thank God, you are here.
With these words he put his head on the sand.
Tenderly Husain lifted his head and again put it on his lap,
inquiring why he had removed it from there.
My Master, replied
Abbas, the thought that
when you will be breathing your last, nobody will be there
to put your head in a lap and to comfort you, makes me feel
that it would be better if my head lies on the sand when I
die, just as yours would be. Besides, I am your slave and
you are my master. It is too much for me to put my head on
Husain burst into uncontrollable tears. The
sight of his brother, whose name was to become a byword for
devotion and unflinching faithfulness, laying down his dear
life in his arms, was heart-rending.
Abbas was heard to whisper softly:
My master, I have some last wishes to
express. When I was born, I had my first look at your face
and it is my last desire that when I die, my gaze may be on
it, too. My one eye is pierced by an arrow and the other is
filled with blood. If you will clear the blood from my one
eye, I'll be able to see you and fulfil my last dying
My second wish is that when I die you may not carry
my body to the camp. I had promised to bring water to Sakina
and, since I have failed in my attempt to bring her water, I
cannot face her even in death. Besides, I know that the
blows that you have received since morning have all but
crushed you and carrying my body to the camp will be heart
breaking work for you.
And my third wish is that Sakina may
not be brought here to see my plight. I know with what love
and affection she was devoted to me. The sight of my dead
body lying here will kill her.
Husain sobbingly promised him that he would
carry out his last wishes added:
Abbas, I too have a wish to be fulfilled.
Since childhood you have always called me master. For once
at least call me brother with your dying breath.
The blood was cleared from the eye, one
brother looked at the other with a longing lingering look.
Abbas was heard to whisper:
My brother, my brother
and with these words he surrendered his soul
to his Maker: Husain fell unconscious on the dead body of
Abbas with a cry:
Abbas, who is left to protect me and
Sakina after you?
The flow of Furat became dark as winter and a
murmur arose from the flowing water as if to protest against
the killing of a thirsty water-bearer on its banks.