There are many opinions among different investigators, as to the origin and meaning of the word Karbala.
Some have pointed out that Karbala has a connection to the Karbalato language, while others attempt to derive the meaning of word by analyzing its spelling and language. They conclude that it originates from the Arabic word Kar Babel which was a group of ancient Babylonian villages that included Nainawa, Al-Ghadiriyya, Karbella, Al-Nawaweess, and Al-Heer. This last name is today known as Al-Hair and is where Imam Hussein’s (AS) grave is located.
The investigator Yaqut al-Hamawy had pointed out that the meaning of “Karbala” could have several explanations, one of which is that the place where Imam Hussein (AS) was killed is made of soft earth – Al-Karbalat.
Other writers made the connection between the name and the disastrous event which painted the desert with blood, and so the word “Karbala” was said to compose of two Arabic words: “Karb” meaning grief and sorrow, and “Balaa” meaning affliction. Such a connection, in fact, has no scientific evidence, since Karbala was known as such even before the arrival of Imam Hussein (AS).
Martyrdom and popularity
Karbala was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any construction activity, although it was rich in water and its soil fertile.
Following the tenth of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD), after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS), people from far as well as tribes living nearby started visiting the holy grave.
A lot of those who came stayed behind and/or asked their relatives to bury them there after their demise.
Despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Al-Rashid and Al-Mutawakkil, to put a restriction on the development of this area, it has nonetheless spread with time to become a city.
Bounty of visiting Imam Hussein (AS)
There is a lot of benefit and great spiritual reward in visiting the grave of Imam Hussein (AS). The Prophet (PBUH) has said of his grandson Imam Hussein (AS): “Hussein is of me and I am of him”. Several narrations mention that visiting the grave of Imam Hussein (AS) relieves one of worldly afflictions as well as those after death.
Believers, therefore, come from all parts of the world all year round to receive the honor of visiting Imam Hussein (AS), particularly during the first ten days of Muharram (Ashura) and the twentieth of Safar (the fortieth).
One common Iraqi custom during that season is to go walking from Najaf to Karbala, reflecting their strong adhesion to and adoption of the morals and principles for which Imam Hussein (AS) struggled and attained martyrdom.