Slowly and sadly, our new generation is distancing away from our rich, cultural and linguistic past. The period and spirit of Mourning of Ashoorah and the following weeks that were known for austerity, devotion and sacrifice of mourners – the azadars of Imam Hussain (AS) are fading into memories. The occasion of AZA is now gradually turning into the mere rituals and traditions. We use these occasions of sorrow to show our status, prosperity and clout to impress the society we live in. In the name of Ghum-e-Hussain we show our fines sherwanis and our ladies are not far behind. They do follow as the best of the Black Fahion Dress which is kept for social gatherings for this period. But this is not the subject of this article. Neither, it is the whole story.
In a majlis, sometime ago, after the Marsiya, I found a boy wondering about the meaning of MUJRAYEE and Zaigham. I wasn’t shocked as even the elders there were ignorant about these words. We have been sliding past down the escarpment of our heritage unknowingly and we all should collectively take the blame.
The recitation of Marsiya has become more like a formality with a few in the audience following what is being narrated. Our children read the BAYAZ with NOHAS scribbled in Hindi and we have our Zakirs with the notebook of Majlis in English Script for Urdu delivery. Times have changed and what is there in store for us in future, only Almighty Allah knows.
Marsiya was the integral part of Azadari-e-Imam-e-Mazloom. It is not a new creation. Long before its induction in Urdu, it existed in Arabic as well as in Persian poetry. The word Marsiya is derived from an Arabic word ‘Rasa’ which means to cry and grieve. The purpose of Marsiya was to mourn over the dead people and to describe their deeds to make people realize their loss. There are a number of Marsiyas in Arabic literature, but the Marsiyas written by Mutumum lbn Navera and Hanfa are considered to be outstanding. Marsiya, in Persian literature was borrowed from Arabic. The first Marsiya was written by Muhtasham Kashi during the Safawid period (1523-1578). The most popular Marsiyas, both in India and Iran, were written by Mulla Hussain Kashifi called Rawzat ul-Shuhada. Earlier Marsiya were recited only for selective audience of aristocrats. Then, as the next step and natural culmination of the literary efforts, it was to make popular in masses. The poets of marsiya went to majalis and soon it was considered to be a religious duty as well as an honor to recite in public. The Marsiya in Dakni literature, therefore, became exclusively a poem in which the tragedy of Karbala was described. Much of the tragedy of Karbala has been Indianized in that period. The Dakni poets have described the engagement of Hazrat Qasim in pure Indian setting. All the ceremonies and costumes they have mentioned are Indian. This goes to show that culture plays a vital part even in religious traditions. Indianization of the ceremonies connected with the Muslim festivals was aimed and practiced by the Qutb Shahs of Deccan.
The Marsiyas are now purely religious in nature. They are written to identify oneself with the martyrs of Karbala. Therefore, they express deep devotion and sorrow of the poet. This genre of poetry is a valuable source of information also. They describe the deep human emotions, pathos, sufferings, sacrifices and ceremonies of Muharram. You find in Marsiya the details of the articles used in the times of Imam, the costumes worn, the jewelry used and the customs.
The earlier form of Marsiya was not the same as it is today. The poets of the Qutb Shahi period wrote Marsiya in the form of present Salam. The length of the marsiyas used to be much shorter. It generally had seven to nine couplets, with a Maqta as the last couplet.
The Qutb Shahs of Deccan not only patronized the Marsiya writing, but themselves wrote Marsiyas. Qutub Shahi dynasty were Shias but they encouraged the poets of other sects to participate in the literary exercise. There were as many as twenty one poets, during the Qutb Shahi period, who wrote Marsiyas and they were not all Shias – many Sunnis and some of them belonged to Silsila-e-Qadria.
In Ashoorkhanas (Imam Barahs or Imam Bargahs), the people irrespective of their status were made to sit on the floor, covered with Daries or Qaleen. The poet or the Marsiya Khawn then climbed the scaffolding platform called ‘Minbar’ and recited in tune, as the practice was during the later period, or just read. But it is certain that there was no Majlis, in which Marsiya was not recited and the view gets its confirmation as the Marsiyas address the people directly.
The first poet of Golconda who wrote the first Marsiya in the Deccan was Wajihi. But it was Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, who gave a set form to the Marsiya and helped in its progress. There are five Marsiyas in his Kulliyat, four are in the form of Salaam and one in the form of Masnavi. Beside Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Abdullah Qutb Shah also wrote Marsiyas. Marsiya writing was considered a great honour. Beside Marsiya, there are three more forms of poetry which are connected with the Majlis. They are Salaam, Nowha and Soz. Nowha, unlike Marsiya does not contain any description or the details of the events. It is simply meant to express the feelings of sorrow and perform Matam.