My former Letter prepares you for the celebration of Mahurrum, the observance of which is at this time going forward here (at Lucknow) with all that zealous emulative spirit and enthusiasm which I have before remarked the Mussulmaun population of India entertain for their Emaums (leaders), and their religion.
This annual solemn display of the regret and veneration they consider due to the memory of departed excellence, commences on the first day of the Moon (Mahurrum). The Mussulmaun year has twelve moons; every third year one moon is added, which regulation, I fancy, renders their years, in a chronological point of view, very nearly equal with those of Europe. Their day commences and ends when the stars are first visible after sunset.
The first day of Mahurrum invariably brings to my recollection the strongly impressed ideas of 'The Deserted Village'. The profound quiet and solemn stillness of an extensively populated native city, contrasted with the incessant bustle usual at all other times, are too striking to Europeans to pass by unheeded. This cessation of the animated scene, however, is not of long duration; the second day presents to the view vast multitudes of people parading backwards and forwards, on horseback, in palkies, and on foot, through the broad streets and roadways, arrayed in their several mourning garbs, speeding their way to the Emaum-baarahs of the great men, and the houses of friends, to pay the visit of respect (zeearut), wherever a Tazia is set up to the remembrance of Hasan and Hosein.
The word Tazia signifies grief. The term is applied to a representation of the mausoleum at Kraabaallah, erected by their friends and followers, over the remains of Hasan and Hosein. It is formed of every variety of material, according to the wealth, rank, or preference, of the person exhibiting, from the purest silver down to bamboo and paper, strict attention being always paid to preserve the model of Kraabaallah, in the exact pattern with the original building. Some people have them of ivory, ebony, sandal-wood, cedar, &c., and I have seen some beautifully wrought in silver filigree. The handsomest of the kind, to my taste, is in the possession of his Majesty the King of Oude, composed of green glass, with brass mouldings, manufactured in England (by whom I could not learn). All these expensive Tazias are fixtures, but there are temporary ones required for the out-door ceremony, which, like those available to the poor and middling classes, are composed of bamboo frames, over which is fixed coloured uberuck (lapis specularum, or tulk); these are made in the bazaar, of various sizes and qualities, to suit the views of purchasers, from two rupees to two hundred each.
The more common Tazias are conveyed in the procession on the tenth day, and finally deposited with funeral rites in the public burial-grounds, of which there are several outside the town. These cemeteries are denominated Kraabaallah, and the population of a large city may be presumed on by the number of these dispersed in the suburbs. They do not bury their dead in the vicinity of a mosque, which is held too sacred to be allowed the pollution. Any one having only touched a dead body, must bathe prior to entering the mosque, or performing their usual prayer-service at home; --such is the veneration they entertain for the name of God.
The opulent people of Mussulmaun society have an Emaum-baarah erected in the range of buildings exclusively denominated murdanah (men's abode). The habitation of all Mussulmauns being composed of separate departments for the males and the females, communicating by private entrances, as will be explained hereafter.
The Emaum-baarah is a sacred place, erected for the express purpose of commemorating Mahurrum; the founder not unfrequently intends this also as the mausoleum for himself and family. But we generally find Mukhburrahs (mausoleums) built in conspicuous situations, for the remains of kings, princes, nobles, and sainted persons. Of the latter, many are visited, at stated periods, by the multitude, with religious veneration, the illiterate attaching considerable importance to the annual pilgrimage to them; and where--to secure the influence of the particular saint's spirit, in furthering their views--mothers present their children, in numbers beyond all calculation; and each having something to hope for who visits the shrine, presents offerings of money and sweetmeats, which become the property of the person in charge of the tomb, thus yielding him a profitable sinecure, in proportion as the saint is popular amongst the ignorant.
An Emaum-baarah is a square building, generally erected with a cupola top, the dimensions guided by the circumstances of the founder. The floor is matted with the date-leaf mats, in common use in India, on which is spread a shutteringhie (cotton carpet), and over this a clean white calico covering, on which the assembled party are seated, during the several periods of collecting together to remember their leaders: these meetings are termed Mudgelluss (mourning assemblies). It would be esteemed indecorous or disrespectful to the Emaums, if any one in error called these assemblies Moollakhaut, the usual term for mere worldly visiting.
The Tazia is placed against the wall on the side facing Mecca, under a canopy of rich embroidery. A reading-desk or pulpit (mhembur) is placed in a convenient situation, for the reader to face Mecca, and his voice to be heard by the whole assembly of people; it is constructed of silver, ivory, ebony, &c. to correspond with the Tazia, if possible: the steps are covered sometimes with gold-cloth, or broad-cloth of black, or green, if a Syaad's property, being the colour worn by that race for mourning. The shape of a mhembur is a flight of steps with a flat top, without any railing or enclosed place; the reader, in his recitings, occasionally sitting on the steps, or standing, as may be most convenient to himself.
On the walls of the Emaum-baarah, mirrors and looking-glasses are fixed in suitable situations to give effect to the brilliant display of light, from the magnificent chandeliers suspended from the cupola and cornices. The nobles and the wealthy are excited with a desire to emulate each other in the splendour of their display on these occasions; --all the mirrors, glass, lustres, chandeliers, &c. are brought together to this place, from their several stations in the mansion; and it is due to them to admit the effect to be often imposingly grand, and the blaze of light splendid. I have frequently been reminded in these scenes of the visionary castles conjured to the imagination, whilst reading 'The Arabian Nights' Entertainments'.
On each side the Tazia--the whole length of the wall--banners are ranged, in great variety of colour and fabric; some of them are costly and splendid. I have seen many constructed of the richest embroidery, on silk grounds, of gold and silver, with massy gold fringes, cords, and tassels; the staff is cased with gold or silver, worked into figures of birds and other animals, in every variety; the top of which has a crest, in some a spread hand, in others a sort of plume, and not unfrequently a crest resembling a grenade, formed of the precious metals, and set with stones of great value.
On the base of the Tazia the several articles are placed conceived likely to have been used by Hosein at Kraabaallah; a turban of gold or silver tissue, a splendid sword and belt, the handle and hilt set with precious stones, a shield, the Arabian bow and arrows. These ancient emblems of royalty are indispensable in order to do honour to Hosein, in the view they take of his sovereign right to be the head or leader of the true Mussulmauns. Wax lights, red and green, are also placed in great numbers about its base, in silver or glass candlesticks; and censers of gold and silver, burning incense perpetually during Mahurrum. Many other minor tributes to the Emaums are discovered near the Tazia, as choice fruits and garlands of sweet-scented flowers, the offerings of ladies of the family to their relative's Tazia.
Amongst the poorer classes of the people an equal proportion of zealous spirit is evinced; and according to their several abilities, so they commemorate the period, interesting alike to all. Those who cannot compass the real splendour of an Emaum-baarah, are satisfied with an imitative one in the best hall their habitation affords; and, where mirrors and chandeliers are not available, they are content to do honour to the Emaums with lamps of uberuck, which in truth are pleasing substitutes at a small price: these lamps are made in a variety of pretty shapes, curiously painted, and ingeniously ornamented with cut paper; they burn oil in them, and, when well arranged, and diversified with their wonted taste, produce a good light, and pleasing effect.
The banners of Hosein, in the houses of the poor, are formed of materials according to their humble means, from tinsel imitations down to dyed muslin; and a similar difference is to be perceived in their selection of the metal of which their crests are made.
Mourning assemblies are held in the Emaum-baarahs twice every day during Mahurrum; those of the evening, however, are the most attractive, and have the fullest attendance of visitors. The master of the house, at the appointed hour, takes his seat on the floor near the pulpit, surrounded by the males of his family and intimate friends, and the crowd of strangers arrange themselves--wherever there is sitting room--without impeding the view of the Tazia.
One of the most popular Maulvees of the age is engaged to recite the particular portion appointed for each day, from the manuscript documents, called Dhie Mudgelluss, in the Persian language. This work is in ten parts and contains a subject for each day's service, descriptive of the life and sufferings of the Emaums, their friends, and children, particularly as regards the eventful period of Mahurrum in which they were engaged. It is, I am assured, a pathetic, fine composition, and a faithful narrative of each particular circumstance in the history of their leaders, the heroic bravery of their friends, &c. They are particularly anxious to engage an eloquent reader for this part of the performance, who by his impressive manner compels his hearers to sympathise in the affecting incidents which are recited by him.
I have been present when the effect produced by the superior oratory and gestures of a Maulvee has almost terrified me, the profound grief, evinced in his tears and groans, being piercing and apparently sincere. I have even witnessed blood issuing from the breast of sturdy men, who beat themselves simultaneously as they ejaculated the names 'Hasan!' 'Hosein!' for ten minutes, and occasionally during a longer period, in that part of the service called Mortem.
The portion of Dhie Mudgelluss concluded, sherbet is handed round to the assembly; and as they voluntarily abstain from luxuries at this season, a substitute for pawn--the green leaf in general use amongst the natives--has been introduced, consisting of dried coffee, cocoa-nut shreds, betel-nut, cardimuns, dunyah, and a proportionate quantity of tobacco-leaf and lime; these are mixed together and handed to the visitors, on small silver trays. The hookha is introduced to the superiors of the assembly; you are perhaps aware that inferiors do not smoke in the presence of superiors without their command or permission.
This ceremony terminated, the Murseeah is chanted, by several well-practised voices, with good effect. This part of the service is, perhaps, the most impressive, as the very ignorant, even, can comprehend every word, --the Murseeah being in the Hindoostanic tongue, a poetical composition of great merit, and embracing all the subjects they meet to commemorate. The whole assembly rise up afterwards, and, as with one voice, recount the names of the lawful leaders after Mahumud, entreating blessings and peace to their souls. They then repeat the names of the hated usurpers (Caliphas), on whose memory they invoke curses, &c. Mortem follows, beating of breasts in unison with the voices, and uttering the names of Hasan and Hosein; this performance concludes each day's Mudgelluss, either of the morning or evening.
The ladies celebrate the returning season of Mahurrum with as much spirit and zeal as the confinement, in which they exist, can possibly admit of. There are but few, and those chiefly princesses, who have Emaum-baarahs at command, within the boundary of the zeenahnah; the largest and best apartment in their establishment is therefore selected for the purpose of an Emaum-baarah, into which none but females are admitted, excepting the husband, father, son, or brother, of the lady; who having, on this occasion, full liberty to invite her female acquaintance, those who are her nearest male relatives even are not admitted until previous notice is given, in order that the female guests may secrete themselves from the sight of these relatives of their hostess.
In commemorating this remarkable event in Mussulmaun history, the expressions of grief, manifested by the ladies, are far greater, and appear to me more lasting than with the other sex; indeed, I never could have given credit to the extent of their bewailings, without witnessing, as I have done for many years, the season for tears and profound grief return with the month of Mahurrum. In sorrowing for the martyred Emaums, they seem to forget their private griefs; the bereavement of a beloved object even is almost overlooked in the dutiful remembrance of Hasan and Hosein at this period; and I have had opportunities of observing this triumph of religious feeling in women, who are remarkable for their affectionate attachment to their children, husbands, and parents; --they tell me, 'We must not indulge selfish sorrows of our own, whilst the Prophet's family alone have a right to our tears'.
The religious zeal of these people is evinced, likewise, in a stern, systematic, line of privations, during the period of Mahurrum; no one is obliged by any law or command; it is voluntary abstinence on the part of each individual--they impose it on themselves, out of pure pity and respect for their Emaums' well-remembered sufferings. Every thing which constitutes comfort, luxury, or even convenience at other times, on these occasions are rigidly laid aside. The pallungh and the charpoy (the two descriptions of bedsteads in general use), on which the females love to lounge for some hours in the day and night, are removed from their standings, and, in lieu of this comfort, they take their rest on a common date mat, on the floor. The musnud, and all its cushioned luxuries, give place, on this occasion, to the simply matted floor. The indulgence in choice dainties, at other times so necessary to their happiness, is now foregone, and their meal limited, throughout Mahurrum, to the coarsest food--such as barley bread, rice and peas boiled together (called kutcher), without even the usual additions to make it palatable ketcherie, as ghee, salt, pepper, and spices; these ingredients being considered by the zealous females too indulgent and luxurious for humble mourners during Muhurrum.
The pawn leaf, another luxury of no small moment to Asiatic tastes, is now banished for the ten days' mourning. A very poor substitute has been adopted, in the mixture described at the gentlemen's assembly--it is called goattur. The truth is, their health would suffer from any long disuse of tobacco-leaf, lime, and a bitter gum, which are in general use with the pawn; the latter is of a warm aromatic nature, and imparts a fine flavour to the other ingredients; but, as it is considered a great indulgence to eat pawn, they abstain from it altogether during Mahurrum; --the mixture, they say, is only allowed for health's sake.
When visitors call on the Mussulmaun ladies at Mahurrum, the goattur is presented on trays, accompanied by bags, neatly embroidered in silver and gold, of many different shapes and patterns, mostly their own work and invention; they are called buttooah and jhaumdanies.
The variety of ornaments, which constitute the great delight of all classes of females in India, are entirely laid aside, from the first hour of Mahurrum, until the period for mourning concludes. I never heard of any people so thoroughly attached to ornaments as the females of India are generally. They are indulged in this foible--pardonable it may be--by their husbands and parents. The wealthiness of a family may often be judged by a single glance at the principal lady of the zeenahnah, who seldom omits doing honour to her husband, by a full display of the precious metals, with a great variety of gems or jewels on ordinary occasions. The men of all ranks are proud of their wives' finery; even the poorest hold in derision all ornament that is not composed of sterling metal, of which they seem excellent judges. The massy chains of gold or silver, the solid bangles for the arms and ancles, the nut (nose-ring) of gold wire, on which is strung a ruby between two pearls, worn only by married women; the joshun (armlet), of silver or gold, often set with precious stones; the many rings for the fingers, thumbs, and toes, form the daily dress of a lady; --but I must not digress further. These are all removed from the person, as soon as the moon is seen, when the first day of Mahurrum commences; the hair is unloosed from its usual confinement, and allowed to flow in disorder about the person; the coloured pyjaamahs and deputtahs are removed, with every other article of their usual costume, for a suit that, with them, constitutes mourning--some choose black, others grey, slate, or green, and the widow wears white from the day her husband dies.
A widow never alters her style of dress, neither does she wear a single ornament, during her widowhood, which generally lasts with her life. I never heard of one single instance, during my twelve years' residence amongst them, of a widow marrying again--they have no law to prohibit it; and I have known some ladies, whose affianced husbands died before the marriage was concluded, who preferred a life of solitude and prayer, although many other overtures were made.
Many of the rigidly zealous, among the females, mortify themselves by wearing their suit of mourning, during the ten days, without changing; the dress is worn next the skin, and, in very warm weather, must be comfortless after the first day--but so it is; and so many are the varieties of self-inflicted privations, at this period, that my letter might be filled with the observations I have made. I cannot, however, omit to mention my old woman-servant (ayah), whose mode of abstinence, in remembrance of Hosein, is rigidly severe; my influence does not prevail in dissuading her, although I fear the consequences to her health will be seriously felt if she persist in the fulfilment of her self-imposed trial. This poor old creature resolves on not allowing one drop of water, or any liquid, to pass her lips during the ten days' mourning; as she says, 'her Emaum, Hosein, and his family, suffered from thirst at Kraabaallah, why should such a creature as she is be indulged with water?' This shows the temper of the people generally; my ayah is a very ignorant old woman, yet she respects her Emaum's memory.
The Tazia, you are to understand, graces the houses of all good Mussulmauns in India, who are not of the sect called Soonies. This model of their Emaum's tomb is an object of profound respect. Hindoos, even, on approaching the shrine, bow their heads with much solemn gravity; I often fancied they mistook the Tazia for a Bootkhanah (the house of an idol).
It is creditable to the Mussulmauns, that they do not restrict any profession of people from visiting their assemblies; there is free admission granted when the Emaum-baarah is first lighted up, until the hour of performing the service, when strangers, that is the multitude, are civilly requested to retire. Every one is expected, on entering the outward verandah, to leave their shoes at the threshold of the sanctuary; none but Europeans have any occasion to be reminded of this, as it is a well known and general observance with all degrees of natives in Asia. The servants, in charge of the Emaum-baarah, are responsible for the due observance of respect to the place, and when any foreigners are advancing, they are politely requested to leave their shoes outside; which must be complied with, or they cannot possibly be admitted.
Some few years since, a party of young gentlemen, from cantonments, had made up their minds to evade the necessity for removing their boots, on the occasion of a visit to one of the great men's Emaum-baarahs, at a Native city; they had provided themselves with white socks, which they drew over their boots before leaving their palkies. The cheat was discovered by the servants in attendance, after they had been admitted; they made a precipitate retreat to avoid the consequences of a representation to the Resident, by the proprietor of the Emaum-baarah; who, hearing of the circumstance, made all possible inquiry, without, however, discovering the names of the gentlemen, who had thus, in his opinion, violated the sanctuary.
The Natives are aware that the Resident sets the bright example of conforming to the observances of the people, over whom he is placed as governor and guardian; and that he very properly discountenances every attempt of his countrymen to infringe on their rights, prejudices, or privileges; and they have, to my knowledge, always looked up to him as to a parent and a friend, from the first to the last day of his exalted station amongst them. Many a tear marked the regret of the Natives, when their best, their kindest, earthly friend quitted the city he had blessed by his presence; and to the latest page of their history, his memory will doubtless be cherished with sincere veneration and respectful attachment.
The poor people vie with their rich neighbours, in making a brilliant light in their little halls containing the Tazia; the very poorest are liberal in the expenditure of oil and tallow candles--I might say extravagantly so, but for the purity of their intentions, supposing it to be a duty--and they certainly manifest their zeal and respect to the utmost of their power; although many, to my knowledge, live all the year round on the very coarsest fare, to enable them to show this reverence to their Emaum's memory.
The ladies assemble, in the evening, round the Tazia they have set up in their purdahed privacy--female friends, slaves, and servants, surrounding the mistress of the house, in solemn gravity.
The few females who have been educated are in great request at this season; they read the Dhie Mudgelluss, and chant the Musseeah with good effect. These women, being hired for the purpose, are detained during the ten days; when the Mahurrum ceases, they are dismissed to their own homes, loaded with the best gifts the good lady their employer can conveniently spare, commensurate with the services performed. These educated females are chiefly daughters of poor Syaads, who have not been married for the lack of a dowry; they live devoutly in the service of God, according to their faith. They are sometimes required, in the families of the nobility, to teach the Khoraun to the young ladies, and, in that capacity, they are called Oustaardie, or more familiarly Artoojee.
As I have mentioned before, the Musseeah narrative of the sufferings at Kraabaallah is a really pathetic and interesting composition; the work being conveyed in the language of the country, every word is understood, and very deeply felt, by the females in all these assemblies, who, having their hearts softened by the emphatic chantings of the readers, burst into violent tears and sobbings of the most heart-rending description. As in the gentlemen's assembly, they conclude with Mortem, in which they exercise themselves until they are actually exhausted; indeed, many delicate females injure their health by the violence and energy of their exertions, which they nevertheless deem a most essential duty to perform, at all hazards, during the continuance of Mahurrum.
This method of keeping Mahurrum is not in strict obedience to the Mahumudan laws; in which code may be found prohibitions against all violent and excessive grief--tearing the hair, or other expressions of ungovernable sorrow.
I have observed that the Maulvees, Moollahs, and devoutly religious persons, although mixing with the enthusiasts on these occasions, abstain from the violent exhibition of sorrows which the uninformed are so prone to indulge in. The most religious men of that faith feel equal, perhaps greater sympathy, for the sufferings of the Emaums, than those who are less acquainted with the precepts of the Khoraun; they commemorate the Mahurrum without parade or ostentatious display, and apparently wear mourning on their hearts, with their garb, the full term of forty days--the common period of mourning for a beloved object; but these persons never join in Mortem, beating breasts, or other outward show of sadness, although they are present when it is exercised; but their quiet grief is evidently more sincere.
I have conversed with many sensible men of the Mussulmaun persuasion on the subject of celebrating Mahurrum, and from all I can learn, the pompous display is grown into a habit, by a long residence amongst people, who make a merit of showy parades at all their festivals. Foreign Mussulmauns are equally surprised as Europeans, when they visit Hindoostaun, and first see the Tazia conveyed about in procession, which would be counted sacrilegious in Persia or Arabia; but here, the ceremony is not complete without a mixture of pageantry with, the deeply expressed and public exposure of their grief.
The remarkable plainness of the mosque, contrasted with the superb decorations of an Emaum-baarah, excited my surprise. I am told by the most venerable of Syaads, 'The Mosque is devoted only to the service of God, where it is commanded no worldly attractions or ornaments shall appear, to draw off the mind, or divert the attention, from that one great object for which the house of prayer is intended'. An Emaum-baarah is erected for the purpose of doing honour to the memory of the Emaums, and of late years the emulative spirit of individuals has been the great inducement to the display of ornamental decorations.
It is rather from their respect to the Founder of their religion and his descendants, than any part of their profession of faith, that the Mussulmaun population of Hindoostaun are guided by in these displays, which are merely the fashion of other people whom they imitate; and with far different motives to the weak-minded Hindoos, who exalt their idols, whilst the former thus testify their respect to worthy mortals only. This is the explanation I have received from devout Mussulmauns, who direct me to remark the strong similarity--in habit only, where 'the faith' is not liable to innovations--between themselves and the Hindoo population; --the out-of-door celebrations of marriage festivals, for instance, which are so nearly resembling each other, in the same classes of society, that scarcely any difference can be discovered by the common observer.
Idolatry is hateful to a
who acknowledges 'one only true God', and 'Him alone to be
They respect, venerate, love, and would imitate, their acknowledged
and the Emaums (who succeeded Mahumud in the mission), but they never
them, as has been often imagined. On the contrary, they declare to me
their faith compels them 'to believe in one God, and that He alone is
be worshipped by the creature; and that Mahumud is a creature, the
sent by God to make His will known, and declare His power. That to bow
down and worship Mahumud would be gross idolatry; and, although he is
mentioned in their prayers, yet he is never prayed to. They believe
Prophet is sensible of whatever passes amongst his true disciples; and
that, in proportion as they fulfil the commands he was instructed by
to leave with them, so will they derive benefit from his intercession,
on that great and awful day, when all mankind shall appear before the
seat of God.
'enclosure of the
Imam', the place where the Muharram rites are performed, as contrasted
with Masjid, a mosque, and 'Idgah, where the service at the 'Id
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