Moharrum, Marsiya and Deccani Bharat


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.

Naim Naqvi

Naim Naqvi

Did his graduation in Science discipline from AMU in 1972-73. He was Secretary of University Ali Society in 1970 and M.M. Hall Literary Society in early 70 's and member of Tayyabji Literary Society. Did his Diploma in Bakery Administration from HTT College Oxford Street London in 1987. Worked with National Herald - Delhi, Blitz - Bombay as Trainee Journalist and in Production Department with 'Naya Sansar Pictures' of Khwaja Ahmed Abbas at Bombay in early 70's. Traveled for study and training purposes to Germany, U.K., Switzerland, France, Dubai, Oman, AbuDhabi, Bahrain and Philepines.

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What Is Moharram ?

Rāyyan bin Shabeeb, who says that I went to meet Imām Ali ar Rezā (a.s.) on the first day of the month of Moharram. Imām Rezā (a.s.) asked me,

O son of Shabeeb! Are you in the state of fasting today”?
“This is the day when Prophet Zakariyyah (a.s.) prayed to his Lord thus
“Lord grant me from unto Thee a good offspring, Verily Thou art the Hearer of Prayers”

Then Allāh accepted his Prayers and commanded His Angels to go and give him glad tidings regarding the birth of his son Prophet Yahyā (a.s.). The Angels came and called out to him while he was engaged in Prayers in the niche. Hence the one who fasts on this day and asks for his desires from Allāh, his prayer will be answered as was of Zakariyāh.”

Then Imām (a.s.) said,

“O son of Shabeeb! Moharram is such a month that the Arabs of the age of ignorance (pre-Islāmic) too respected it’s sanctity and forbade oppression and blood-shed in it. But these people (the umayyads) did not honour the sanctity of this month nor of their Prophet. In this month they killed the son of the Prophet and imprisoned the women-folk after looting and plundering their belongings, verily Allāh will never ever forgive this crime of theirs.”

“O son of Shabeeb! If you wish to mourn and lament over anyone, do so upon Husain bin Ali bin Abi Tālib (a.s.) for he was beheaded like a lamb. Eighteen persons from among his family, who were unparalleled in the earth, were also killed alongwith him. The heavens and the earth lamented the death of Husain. Four thousand Angels descended from the heavens to aid him, but when they reached there they saw that he had already been mar-tyred. Thus, now they all remain near his blessed grave with disheveled hair covered with dust until the rising of the Qaem (Imām al Mahdi). Then they will all aid him and their slogan will be: Vengeance for the blood of Husain.”

“O son of Shabeeb! My father (Imām Moosā al Kazim) has related from his father (Imām Ja’far as Sādiq), who has related from his grandfather (Imām Ali Zainul Ābedeen), that when my grandfather Imām Husain (a.s.) was mar¬tyred, the sky rained blood and red sand.”

“O son of Shabeeb! If you weep over the afflictions of Husain (a.s.) such that tears flow from your eyes and fall upon your cheeks, Allāh will forgive all your sins whether big or small and less or large in number.”

“O son of Shabeeb! If you desire to meet Allāh the Glorified in a state purified of all sins, then go for the pilgrimage to the grave of Imām Husain (a.s.).”

“O son of Shabeeb! If you desire that you may abide in the palaces of Paradise in the company of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and his Progeny, then invoke Allāh’s curse upon the murderers of Imām Husain (a.s.).”

“O son of Shabeeb! If you desire to earn the reward of those who were martyred alongwith Imām Husain (a.s.), then whenever you remember him, say: I wish I had been with them, then I too would have attained the Great Triumph.”

“O son of Shabeeb! If you desire to reside in the exalted status of Para¬dise alongwith us, then bemoan our sorrows and sufferings and rejoice in our happiness and remain attached to our love. For even if a person is attached to a stone in this world, Allāh shall make him arise with it on the day of Qiyāmah.”

Reference: Tradition No. 1 Nafasul Mahmoom
Relating to the heart rending tragedy of Karbalā, Vol. 1 By Hāj Shaikh Abbās Qummi (a.r.)
Translated By Aejaz Ali T Bhujwala (Al Husainee)