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  Updated: January 9, 2011

Muharram during the Qutb Shahi Period

By: Dr. Sadiq Naqvi Hyderabad, India
Sender: Ali Zaidi

The Shias are identified by the observance of Muharram. The Qutb Shahs were Shias and therefore Muharram was of great importance to them. They celebrated it with great enthusiasm and devotion.

Fortunately we have accounts of Muharram ceremonies of Abdullah Qutb Shah's period, recorded by Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed in Hadiqat-us-Salatin. Though he describes Muharram as it was observed during one reign, yet we have enough evidences to believe that what Abdullah Qutb Shah practiced was the tradition of his predecessors. These traditions were also followed in perfect solemnity after him by his successors.

Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed confirms that right from the beginning of the reign of the Qutb Shahs the traditions of Tazia and Azadari of Imam Hussain (A.S.) began and remained throughout the period. It was during Muhammad Quli Qutb shah's period that the observance of Muharram ceremonies became more elaborate. (12) Meer Abul Qasim in Hadiqa-ul-Alam makes similar observations.(l3) Therefore it can be believed that the descriptions of Muharram proceedings as given by Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed remained as the normal practice of the Qutb Shahs, may be with slight variations, all through the period. According to him, the moment the moon of the month of Muharram was sighted, the Sultan used to wear black costume. Beating of Tabal, Naqaras, Damme and Khos were stopped. The musical instruments were placed in their containers and no music was played and no dance performed. (14) People belonging to all the sections of the society abstained from eating meat or drinking liquor. Even Pan, so very common among the people, was not chewed. (15) Black costumes were distributed to all the employees. Fourteen Alams made of gold and studded with jewels were raised in Baad Shahi Ashur Khana near the royal palace. The Ashur Khana was decorated with 10,000 lamps decked in ten rows. The Sultan used to light them, one row during each night, so that on 10th night the total number of 10,000 lamps got illuminated. (l6)

Every evening the Sultan used to come to the Ashur Khana accompanied by his nobles and offered flowers to the Alams. The Majlis was then conducted in which the Marsiyas written by the Sultan were recited. He then offered Fateha and returned to his palace. The people were served with excellent vegetarian food and Sharbath of roses. This continued up to the seventh Muharram. On seventh night the Sultan invited all the nobles and ambassadors in Nadi Mahal. Alam processions from Langer-e-Faiz Asar and Hyat Nagar came to the palace where they were presented with Dhatees and cash. The Azadari continued up to the early hours of the next day, after which the Sultan returned to his palace. (17)
On the eighth night the Sultan visited different Ashur Khanas and presented flowers and Dhatees.

The ninth night, being the night of Ashura was considered to be very solemn. A number of Alam processions reached the ground of Darbar-e-Khusravi. The Sultan along with his nobles and relatives received them with great honor and respect. He distributed food with his own hands to the poor and the needy, irrespective of religion, sect or caste. He then walked along with the Alam processions bare footed up to the mosque. All through the way Marsiya Khawns recited Marsiyas.(18)

On the tenth Muharram, the Sultan came to the mosque once again bare footed. After the Majlis, he performed Amaal-e-Ashura and returned. People were served with a special type of food called Kunduri. Two hundred orphans were given clothes and a number of others cash, in the name of the martyrs of Karbala. (19)
The people throughout the Golconda Empire raised Alams during the Muharram days, in accordance with the orders of the Sultan in their Chowries and Dewan Khanas. Every such Ashur Khana was paid for the expenditures by the imperial treasury.(20)
It was due to this that all the people were kept busy in Azadari during the Muharram days throughout the empire. It has become a custom that the people, poor and needy, used to sit in Ashur Khanas silently praying throughout the night of Ashura. As a reward for this they got their wishes fulfilled. (21)

The Majlis which was conducted in Ashur Khanas was meant to mourn the tragedy of Karbala. The narration of the events which took place at Karbala was recited in a particular form of poetry called Marsiya.

Marsiya was not a new creation. 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, (22) Marsiya, therefore, was written with the purpose of mourning 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.(23)
In Persian literature, Marsiya was borrowed from Arabic but it underwent many changes, it is believed that the first Marsiya was written by Muhtasham Kashi during the Safawid period (1523-1578). (24) But the Marsiya which became very famous and popular both in India and Iran was written by Mulla Hussain Kashifi called Rawzat ul-Shuhada. (25) During the early period of the Qutb Shah's Rawzat ul-Shuhada was recited in Majalis. But soon the poets of the period felt the urge to write Marsiyas and recite in Majalis, before the people. It was considered to be a religious duty as well as an honor to do so. The Marsiya in Dakhni literature, therefore became exclusively a poem in which the tragedy of Karbala was described.

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.(26) The Musaddas(27) form which became popular during the later period was not known. Even the length of the marsiyas was much shorter. It generally had seven to nine couplets, with a Maqta (28) as the last couplet.

The Qutb Shahs not only patronized the Marsiya writing, but themselves wrote Marsiyas. Even in this, they followed their religious policy and allowed the people of different sects, to participate in it. We find as many as twenty one poets, during the Qutb Shahi period, who wrote Marsiyas. They were not all Shias but the list contains many Sunni poets also. Some of them belonged to Silsila-e-Qadria.(29)
The Marsiyas were meant to be recited in Majlis. 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 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. Even the Sultans wrote their Marsiyas for this purpose.
Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah writes
(Come O! Muharram, let us cry and grieve and shed our blood remembering our Imam).
Abdullah Qutb Shah clearly says that the r people mourned the tragedy of Karbala sitting around the Allava reciting the Marsiyas.(30)
It was the same purpose with which even other poets wrote their Marsiyas. Ghavasi the most famous poet of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah’s period writes.(31)

(Ghavasi says that there is no sorrow, as great as that of Imam Husain (A.S.) for the people).

Ahmed, who lived and wrote during the period of Abul Hasan Qutb Shah also expresses the feelings of the people writing that every heart is effected due to Ahmed's Marsiya.(32)
The first poet of Golconda who wrote the first Marsiya in the Deccan was Wajihi.(33) 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. The total number of couplets in them are sixty (34) His Marsiyas have deep devotion for Hazrat Ali's son Imam Hussain and express his sorrow over the tragedy of Karbala. Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed clearly mentions that his Marsiyas were recited in the Majlis of Baad Shahi Ashur Khana by Marsiya Khawns. The Sultan in person attended these and shed tears over the tragedy of Karbala.(35)

Beside Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Abdullah Qutb Shah wrote Marsiyas. In his collection there are four Marsiyas having fifty four couplets. (36) Abdullah like Muhammad Quli has expressed his sorrow in his Marsiyas. He even writes that Imam Hussain helps those who participate in Majalis. (37)

Including these two Sultans, there were altogether twenty one poets who wrote Marsiyas, during the Qutb Shahi period. Their names, period in which they wrote and the total number of couplets in their Marsi'yas are mentioned. (38)
The list of the poets includes two outstanding poets of the period, like Wajhi and Ghavasi, which shows that even the leading poets considered Marsiya writing an honour.

Wajhi, whose name was Abdullah, wrote two Marsiyas having twenty two couplets. One of his Marsiya reveals that even ladies used to conduct Majalis, Wajhi has given a graphic picture of mourning women in a beautiful verse. (39)
Ghavasi, the court poet of Abdullah Qutb Shah wrote Marsiyas during the period of Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah and Abdullah Qutb Shah. His name was Shaykh Hussain Bahauddin. There are six Marsiyas in his collection having ninety one couplets. (40) Beside them, there were others who wrote Marsiyas, along with their other literary works.

The Marsiyas were purely religious in nature. They were written to fulfill the religious duty and to identify oneself with the martyrs of Karbala. Therefore, they express deep devotion and sorrow of the poet. Beside this, the marsiyas are a valuable source of information too. They describe the ceremonies of Muharram, the articles used in them, the costumes worn, the jewelry used. For example Dardi in one of his Marsiya writes, the Mandap was balanced with Neizas. The sword bent to Salam, the Kangan and the Sehra of bravery was tied and the blessings of Allah became the Chattar over the head of the bride. The people went along in procession in perfumed clothes. (41)

The verses describe the way in which the bride of the period was decorated. Mandap, Kangan, Sehra and Chattar were the articles used. The verses are the extract from the Marsiya written to mourn the tragedy of Hazrat Qasim, the son of Hazrat Imam Hasan (A.S.). According to the history of Karbala, he was married to Imam Hussain's daughter, Fatima Kubra, at the battle field of Karbala.(42) The Dakhni poets have described this marriage in pure Indian setting. All the ceremonies and costumes they have mentioned are Indian. This goes to show the process of Indianization of the ceremonies connected with the Muslim festivals, aimed and practiced by the Qutb Shahs.

In yet another Marsiya of the famous poet Wajhi, we come across the names of jewels and jewelry used during the period. Wajhi writes that the ladies who gathered to mourn the tragedy of Karbala, were wearing Gulsari, Guhungro and Mukri these were studded with Zamarrud, pearls, Neelam and Lal. (43)
The Marsiyas of Muhammad Quli also have a similar setting. He has mentioned Indian flowers, vegetables and birds in his Marsiyas. The Marsiyas were written in the Dakhni language which was spoken by the people, though, the literary language of the Ulema and nobles of the court, was Persian.

The environment in which the events were described was Dakhni, the articles, costumes, jewelry etc., mentioned in them were also Dakhni.
This goes to confirm the view that the Qutb Shahs universalized the traditions and customs around the religious ceremonies, to help the people of their kingdom to participate in them irrespective of their religion, cast or creed.
Beside Marsiya, there are three more forms of poetry which are connected with the Majlis. They are Salaam, Nowha and Soz.

Salaam and Soz are not found in the literature of the Qutb Shahi period. It is difficult to separate Nowha from Marsiya of the period as both of them were written in the same form. It is easy now a days, to separate them, because now Marsiyas are written in the form of Musaddas and Nowha in the form of Ghazal. (44) But during the Qutb Shahi period both were written in the form of Ghazal. The only way in which they can be separated is to consider their content and the Radeef used.

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. Therefore it is written with suitable Radeef. The Radeef common during the past were Vawela, Alveda etc. We find at least one Nowha written by Ghavasi in Qutb Shahi literature. The Radeef is Hai Vawela.(45) The Nowha too, which was introduced during Qutb Shahi period, progressed and was even adopted as an exclusive form for expressing deep devotion to the Martyrs of Karbala and perform Matam.

The royal patronage and the participation of the Sultans and nobles made Muharram an occasion of great importance to the Muslims. It had the religious sanction and therefore their participation in it with enthusiasm and solemnity could be understood. But it was just not the Muslim population of the empire which celebrated it; the Hindus too participated in it; not only in the cities and towns but also in the villages. We have details of Azadari in a few Qutb Shahi villages and the Marsiyas written by the Telugu poets. But the celebrations were not limited to just these villages. Muharram was celebrated in almost all the villages of the Qutb Shahi Empire, with the same spirit of piety and enthusiasm. According to the accounts that have come down to us as a legacy, the Hindus of Gugodu village observed Muharram every year. It was the only occasion on which the people of all castes were allowed to participate and the caste differences so rigid among them were forgotten. They called it Deen Govind. They even practiced the ceremony of becoming Fakir.

On the fifth night, a procession was taken out which was called Panje ka Pittar in which every one living in the village actively participated. The babies born during this period in the village were named as Faqir Appa, Hussain Rao etc. (46)
Another village called Solapur in Rai Durg Taluq gained prominence as a famous Telugu poet Ramanna of the village wrote number of poems describing and eulogizing Muharram. In one such poem he writes.

Padda la pandu ga rawe
Peer la pandu ga rawe
(Come, the festival of the great man; (47)
Come the festival of the Peer)
The people of the Solapur village, even abstained from eating meat during the Muharram days.(48)

Surapalli village was yet another village which attracted a number of people during the Muharram days. Balaiah a poet of the village wrote poems during these days and recited them every day to a large audience. One of the poem written by Balaiah starts with these lines
Allah ke namanu anara,
devata la devama vachurao
(Recite in the name of Allah,
Devata will bless you) (49)
* * *
It is interesting to note that even the women of the villages wrote poems to pay their homage to the Martyrs of Karbala. Three women, who were prominent among them were, Imam Aka, Vanoor Bee, and Gateema. Vanoor Bee in one of her poems gave us the reasons for her devotion. She writes if you speak truth Beebi Fatima will bless (50)

There are even Telugu folk songs written to pay homage to the Martyrs of Karbala. The English translation of one of them sung popularly in the Rayalseema districts is as follows:
Salutation to thee,
Salutation to God.
Salutation to the Almighty,
In the city of the sky,
There is a beautiful fort,
Inside the fort, there is a glass Palace,
There are high seats,
There are whisks and beautiful thrones.
Who are on those thrones?
They are Hasan and Hussain, two brothers,
Kings in courts, Lords on thrones,
Monarchs ruling over the seven Isles. (51)
The devotion to any movement or philosophy does need a cultural background, a sort of education, ability to understand the finer values, the Qutb Shah'i Kingdom undoubtedly had these qualities in the cities, towns and villages. Therefore devotion to the Martyrs of Karbala became an integral part of their socio-religious life.

The extent to which the Qutb Shahs were successful in universalizing the Azadari and converting Karbala into a symbol for devotion to truth and piety can be assessed by the fact that even the tribes living in remote parts of the Kingdom participated in 'it with complete devotion and faith, of course, the way in which they performed the ceremony differed from tribe to tribe, depending on their cultural background. They recited songs written in their languages describing the tragedy of Karbala.

It was customary for the Pardies to begin their Azadari, as soon as the moon of Muharram was sighted, the free English translation of the song of pardies, which is in the form of a dialogue is as follows:
Younger brother, Come! my elder brother,
I shall catch a few birds for you,
Elder brother; No, Never my brother, you
should know that Muharram has come.
Younger brother: Oh! My elder brother, why
Did you not tell me this before,
I shall wear black dress.
I Shall make an Alam With a big,
Palm leave and shall do Mattam
Ya ! All Doula, ya! Ali Doula. (52)
The Pardies usually conducted their Majlis in a large hut. After the Majlis, they offered Fateha over the fruits.
Gound was yet another tribe, among whom Azadari was performed. They too had their songs, which they sang during the Majlis. The free translation of one of them reads as follows: Our guest has come brothers, our guest has come, Cook -food and collect fruits from the jungle for him.

But he is a nice guest,
he does not eat any thing,
But feeds us back,
If he does not come,
We shall have no clouds, no rains,
Our lands will get dry,
there will be no crop,
we will all die.(53)

The Lambadies were greater in number than the other tribes, they too celebrated Muharram. The English translation of one of their songs is as follows:
The beloved son of the Shahzadi of Arab got injured with arrows:
These arrows were not shot by brave men.
They were cowards.
The brave son of the brave father got injured,
He was the son of the bravest man,
In whose name we wear Kantas.
It was not this that he was not brave.
But he had a little son in his arms,
Who was shot dead,
He had carried his young son's dead body,
His family was thirsty,
He was surrounded by the wolves,

Who were shooting their arrows at him (54)
Muharram thus was a festival of the people belonging to the cross-section of the society; it was celebrated by all in their own ways, according to their cultural back grounds and traditions. The Qutb shahs did not try to impose any restriction over the diversified ways of its celebration. They did not force the people to abide by the rules laid down for it in their religion. Instead they universalized the social customs associated with it. They knew that neither the non-Muslims could be brought into the mosque and invited to participate in the prayers, nor the Muslims could participate in the prayers inside the temple. It was Ashur Khanas in which people could be brought together and allowed to participate in the ceremonies according to their own ways. The Alams in the Ashur Khanas were made sacred not only to the Muslims belonging to Shia sect but to all the people of all the religions. It was because of this that the non-Muslims, who did not believe in Islam, also paid their homage to the Alams and adorned them.

The celebrations of Muharram founded by the Qutb Shahs and established in every part of their kingdom have became a tradition of the people, and still exist to this day as it used to be during the Qutb Shahi period. There is hardly any city, town, village of Andhra Pradesh, where the Alams are not installed. Muharram still is held as a pious ceremony not only by Muslims but also by Hindus all over the state.

Courtesy: http://www.aliwalehussainwale.com/


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