Muharram during the Qutb Shahi Period
By: Dr. Sadiq Naqvi
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
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
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
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.
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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.
better than wealth because it protects you while you have to
guard wealth. it decreases if you keep on spending it but the
more you make use of knowledge ,the more it increases . what you
get through wealth disappears as soon as wealth disappears but
what you achieve through knowledge will remain even after you."MORE