An account of the Mussulmaun festivals, I imagine, deserves a Letter; for in many of them I have been able to trace, not only the habits and manners of the people with whom I was sojourning, but occasionally marks of their particular faith have been strongly developed in these observances, to most of which they attach considerable importance. Buckrah Eade, for instance, is a festival about as interesting to the Natives, as Christmas-day is to the good people of England; and the day is celebrated amongst all classes and denominations of Mussulmauns with remarkable zeal and energy.
The particular event which gives rise to Buckrah Eade is the well-known circumstance of Abraham offering his son in sacrifice to God. The Mussulmauns, however, insist that the son so offered was Ishmael, and not Isaac, as our Scriptures declare. I have before remarked that I had frequent arguments with the learned men of that persuasion on this subject, which provoked a minute investigation of their most esteemed authors, to decide between our opinions. The author of 'The Hyaatool Kaaloob' advances many authorities, which the Mussulmauns deem conclusive, all of whom declare that Ishmael was the son demanded and offered in sacrifice; and two only, I think, of the many names that author quotes, were disposed to doubt whether it was Isaac or Ishmael. An evident proof, I think, that on some former occasion there had existed a difference of opinion on this subject among men of their persuasion. The result of the present inquiry, however, is that they believe Ishmael was the offering and not Isaac; whilst I remain equally convinced of the correctness of our sacred book.
The Mussulmauns, I should remark, as well as the Jews, trace their origin to Abraham, the former through Ishmael, and the latter through Isaac; and it is more than probable that to this circumstance may be attributed the decided prejudice of opinion, in favour of Ishmael being the person offered in sacrifice. Whether this be the case or not, these children of Abraham annually testify their reverence for their progenitor, and respect for his faith towards God, in the way most congenial to their particular ideas of honouring the memory of their forefathers.
I have thus attempted to sketch the origin of the festival, it shall now be my task to describe the way in which the Mussulmauns of Hindoostaun celebrate Buckrah Eade.
On this day all classes of people professing 'the faith' sacrifice animals, according to their circumstances; some offer up camels, others sheep and goats, lambs or kids. It is a day of religious veneration, and therefore by the pious prayers are added to sacrifice; --it is also a day of joyful remembrances, consequently one of festivity amongst all ranks of the Mussulmaun population.
Kings, Princes, or Nuwaubs, with the whole strength of their establishments, celebrate the event, by going in great state to an appointed place, which is designated 'The Eade-Gaarh' where the animals designed for immediate sacrifice are previously conveyed. On the arrival of the cavalcade at the Eade-gaarh, the head Moollah reads the form of prayer appointed for the occasion, and then presents the knife to the royal personage, who with his own hand sheds the blood of the camel he offers in sacrifice, repeating an impressive prayer as he presents the steel to the throat of the animal. The exact moment of the King's sacrifice is announced by signal, when a grand salute from the artillery and infantry commences the day's rejoicing.
An account of the procession on these occasions may be interesting to my readers, though no description can give an adequate idea of its imposing appearance. I have witnessed the Buckrah Eade celebrations at Lucknow, where expense and good taste are neither wanted nor spared, to do honour to the great occasion.
The several persons forming the King's suite, whether nobles or menials, together with the military, both horse and foot, are all dressed in their best apparel. The elephants have undergone a thorough cleansing in the river, their hides have been well oiled, which gives a jetty hue to the surface, and their heads painted with bright colours, according to the fancy of their keepers; their housings and trappings are the most costly and brilliant the possessors can procure, some with gold, others with silver howdahs (seats), and draperies of velvet or fine cloth embroidered and fringed with gold.
The horses of individuals, and those of the irregular troops, are, on this occasion, caparisoned with embroidered horsecloths and silver ornaments, necklaces of silver or gold; or in the absence of these costly adornings, the less affluent substitute large coloured beads and tufts of variegated silk on their horses' necks. Many of the horses have stars and crescents painted upon the chest and haunches: the tail and mane are dyed red with mayndhie.
The procession is formed in the following order: Fifty camels, in pairs, carrying swivels, and each attended by two gunners and a camel-driver; the men dressed in clean white dresses, with turbans and sashes of red and green: the trappings of the camel are composed of broadcloth of the same colours. Next to these is a park of artillery, the men in new regimentals of blue, faced with red and yellow lace. Two troops of horse soldiers, in new regimentals, scarlet cloth unrurkas (coats) and white trousers, with high-crowned caps of lambskin, similar to the Persian caps: these horsemen have black belts, and are armed with pistols in the holsters, a sabre and lance.
Then follows a regiment of nujeebs (foot soldiers), their jackets red, with small cap turban of black leather ornamented with the kirrich or dirk (part of the armorial bearings of the House of Oude): their trousers reach no lower than the hams, where they are ornamented with black points turning upwards on the white, leaving the thighs and legs perfectly bare. The dunkah (kettle drums) on a horse, richly ornamented with scarlet cloth drapery, embroidered and fringed with gold, the rider dressed in scarlet and gold, with a turban to correspond, both being ornamented with the royal insignia, --a fish.
The elephant carriages, containing first his Majesty and the Resident, the others conveying the Prime Minister and the favoured nobles of his Majesty's suite, form an impressive feature in the cortege, from their splendour and novelty. The King's carriage is composed chiefly of silver, open on every side, with a canopy of crimson velvet, embroidered and fringed with gold, the curtains and lining to correspond; this carriage is drawn by four elephants, exactly of one size (the rest have but two), each very richly attired in velvet and gold coverings. The King and his suite are very splendidly dressed in the Native costume. The chowries and afthaadah are flourished before him, and on each side; the royal carriage is guarded by the irregular horse in great numbers, and immediately followed by led horses, very richly caparisoned, their grooms neatly dressed in white, with turbans of red and green. To these succeed the royal naalkie, a species of conveyance supported by bearers, constructed of beautifully wrought gold; the bearers in loose scarlet coats, embroidered with gold, bearing the royal insignia on their coats and turbans. A gold palkie, supported in the same style; an elegant state carriage, with eight black horses in hand, the coachman (a European) dressed in scarlet, with a cocked-hat and staff feather.
Hurkaarahs (running messengers), chobdhaahs with gold and silver staffs, are seen on either side and in front of the King's carriage, reiterating the King's titles and honours as they proceed. Then follow the English gentlemen composing the King's suite, in their court dresses, on elephants. To them succeed the Native nobility, great officers of state, &c., on many elephants, --I should think more than fifty, --and the whole followed by military, both horse and foot. The procession has an imposing effect, particularly when viewed from an open space. The regiments have each their colours unfurled, and their bands of music playing English pieces. I have often thought if our theatrical managers could witness some of these splendid processions, they might profit by representing on the stage the grand exhibition of an Eastern monarch, which loses much of its splendour by my indifferent powers of description.
After the ceremony at the Eade-gaarh has concluded, the King and his suite return in the same well-arranged order, and arriving at his palace, enters the throne-room, where being seated, he receives nuzzas in due form, presented in turn by every person belonging to the court, whether relations, nobles, courtiers, dependants, servants, or slaves; every person observing a proper etiquette in their approach to the throne, the inferiors keeping back until their superiors retire, --which each one does immediately after presenting his nuzza; thus confusion is prevented in the hall of audience.
As a description of the ceremony of presenting nuzzas, on such occasions, may be acceptable to some of my friends, I will describe that which I witnessed at the Court of Oude.
The King was seated on his throne of pure gold, dressed in a very costly habit of Persian velvet, embroidered with gold; on his neck, valuable haarhs (necklaces) of diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds, were suspended in many rows, reaching from the neck nearly to the waist.
The throne is a flat surface, about two yards square, raised about two feet from the floor, upon three sides of it is a railing; a square canopy, supported by poles, is attached to the four corners of the throne, which, together with the poles, are formed of wood, and cased over with pure gold, into which are set precious stones of great value. The canopy and cushions, on which the King takes his seat, are of crimson velvet, very richly embroidered with gold and pearls; a deep fringe of pearls of a good size finishes the border of the canopy. The chattah is of corresponding costly materials (crimson velvet and gold), fringed also with red pearls.
The King's crown is elegantly formed, richly studded with diamonds, and ornamented with handsome plumes of the birds of Paradise. Over his head was supported the velvet chattah. On either side of the throne stood a nobleman with chowries of peacock's-feathers in gold handles, which they kept waving continually over the King's person.
To the right of the throne were gilt chairs with velvet seats placed for the accommodation of the Resident and his lady, who were accompanied by many English ladies and gentlemen standing, as also by the European gentlemen attached to the King's suite: the latter, in their court dresses of puce cloth, richly embroidered with gold, had a very good effect, mingled with the well-dressed lady-visitors of the Resident.
To the left of the throne stood the Native gentlemen holding high offices in the Court of Oude, each richly dressed in the Asiatic costume.
At the King's feet stood the Vizier (Prime Minister), whose business it is, on such occasions, to deposit the nuzzas on the throne after they have been accepted by his Majesty.
As the company advanced the head Chamberlain announced the name and rank of each person in the presence of the King. The second Chamberlain directed such persons, after presenting the nuzza, the way they must retire from the hall.
The nuzzas of the first nobility consisted of twenty-one gold mohurs; those of less exalted persons were proportioned to their rank and circumstances; whilst servants and slaves, with inferior dependants of the Court, tendered their humble tribute of respect in rupees of silver.
The person presenting has the offering placed on a clean white folded kerchief; he advances with his head bowed low, until within ten paces of the throne; he then stands erect for a few seconds, with his hands folded and held forward, after which he bows his head very low three times, and each time places his open hand to his forehead, --this is called 'salaaming'; this done, he advances to the foot of the throne, repeats the three salaams, then presents with both hands the nuzza on the kerchief, which the King touches with, his hand, and the Vizier receives and deposits with the collected heap by the side of his Majesty.
When the ceremony of presenting nuzzas has concluded, the King rises and advances with the Resident to the centre of the audience hall, where the person in charge of the haarhs is in attendance with several of these marks of distinction, one of which the King selects and places with his own hands over the head of the Resident; the Resident then takes one and places it on the King in a similar way. Should the Vizier be in favour at this time, he is invested with the haarh, both by his Majesty and the Resident; but if, unfortunately for him, he does not enjoy his royal master's confidence, he takes this opportunity of testifying his dissatisfaction by omitting the favour to his Vizier. The haarh is actually of very little value but as a badge of distinction peculiar to Native courts, to which the Natives attach so much importance, that I wonder not at their anxiety to be honoured with this distinguishing mark of the King's satisfaction.
European visitors, both male and female, are generally adorned with haarhs on these occasions. The King then conducts the Resident to the entrance, --when taking leave, he pours otta on his hands, with the 'Khodah Afiz!' (God be with you!) and sometimes out of compliment to the Resident, his Majesty offers otta also to each of the English visitors, as they pass him at the door.
On these great court days, the Vizier's nuzza is usually of great value, --sometimes a lac of rupees has been presented, when the Vizier is much in favour, who is sure to receive ten times the value of his nuzza ere the day is passed. When this large sum is presented, the Minister has his one hundred bags (each containing a thousand rupees), covered with crimson silk, and tied with silver ribands, placed on each side the throne prior to the King's arrival; who, on seeing this proof of his faithful servant's attachment, condescends to embrace him in the presence of the assembled court--an honour of vast magnitude in the estimation of Natives.
The King confers favour on, as well as receives homage from, his subjects, on the day of Buckrah Eade. On some, titles or other distinctions are conferred; to others presents, according to his good will and pleasure: many receive khillauts; and should there be an unfortunate omission, in the distribution of princely munificence, that person understands to his sorrow, that he is out of favour, without needing to be told so by word of mouth.
The title of Khaun, Nuwaub, Rajah, or any other distinction conferred by the King, is accompanied by the dress of honour, and often by elephants, horses, or the particular kind of Native palkie which are alone used by princes and the nobility. The elephant is always given ready furnished with the several necessary appendages, as silver howdah, embroidered jhewls (draperies), &c.; and the horse richly caparisoned for riding.
The naalkie and palkie are vehicles conferred on Native gentlemen with their titles, which cannot be used by any persons than those who have received the grant from their Sovereign; and there is quite as much ambition to be thus distinguished in a Native Court, as may be traced amongst the aspirants for 'the orders' in the several European states.
Though the naalkie and palkie are restricted to the use of privileged persons, all are allowed the services of the elephant. I knew a professed beggar, who made his diurnal tour through the city of Lucknow on one. A beggar, however, in Native estimation, is not the despicable creature he is in European opinion; a degree of veneration is always evinced towards men, who live on the casual bounty of their fellow mortals, and profess not to have either a worldly calling or other means of support. The beggar, I allude to, was called Shaah Jhee; he had originally been a travelling mendicant, and made a visit to Lucknow, when the late King was a young man, whom he met by accident outside the town; and, I believe, without knowing to whom he was speaking, predicted some favourable circumstances which should attend him eventually; the young prince then disclosed himself to the beggar, and promised him if his predictions were verified, he would reward him in the way he wished. Shaah Jhee left the Oude district, and travelled over most parts of Hindoostaun. Returning after many years' absence to Lucknow, he found the prince seated on the throne of his ancestors, and watching for a favourable opportunity to present himself, made his claims to the sovereign, who, remembering the circumstance and his promise, conferred the required reward--to be allowed to demand five cowries daily from every shopkeeper in the city of Lucknow. The King added to this humble demand a house to reside in, and the elephant on which he went to collect his revenue. Eighty-five cowries (shells) are valued at one pice, or a halfpenny; yet so vast is this capital of Oude, that Shaah Jhee was in the receipt of a handsome daily allowance, by this apparently trifling collection.
Most of the respectable gentlemen in Lucknow maintain an elephant for their own use, where it is almost as common to meet them as horses. Though most persons, I observe, avoid falling in with the royal cortege, (which is always announced by the sound of the dunkah), unless they are disposed to court the King's observation; then they draw up their elephant, and oblige the animal to kneel down whilst the King passes on, the owner standing in his howdah to make salaams; others, I have seen, dismount in time, and stand in a humble posture, with the hands folded and the head bowed low, doing reverence and attracting his Majesty's notice as he passes on. These little acts of ceremonious respect are gratifying to the King, and are frequently the means of advancing the views of the subject to his favour.
The khillauts, presented by the King, vary in the number of the articles composing the gift, as well as in the quality. The personal rank, and sometimes the degree of estimation in which the receiver is held, is defined by the value and number of an individual's khillaut. I have known some gentlemen tenacious to a foible, about the nature of the khillaut that could consistently be accepted; I have heard it even expressed, 'I shall be disgraced in the eyes of the world, if my khillaut has not the full complement usually conferred on men of my rank'. It is the honour they value, not the intrinsic worth of the articles, for it is no uncommon thing to find them distributing the dress of honour amongst their dependants, on the same day they have received it.
The splendid articles composing khillauts are as follows: swords with embroidered belts, the handle and scabbard either enamelled or embossed silver, often set with precious stones; the most inferior have silver mountings and velvet scabbards; shields studded with silver; kirrich (dirk), the handle and sheath equally as rich as the swords; embroidered or gold cloth chupkunds (coats); shawl-stuff labaadahs (pelisses), trimmed with sable; turbans of shawl or muslin; ornaments for the turban of diamonds and emeralds, the inferior of paste; strings of pearls and emeralds for the neck; shawls, always in pairs, of more or less value; shawl-kerchiefs; shawl cummerbunds (girdles); shawl lahaafs (counterpanes); gold cloth, gold and silver muslins, and shawl stuff, in pieces, each being sufficient to form a dress; Benares silks, or rich satin for trousers; pieces of fine embroidered muslin for shirts. These are the usual articles of value given in khillauts to the most exalted favourites. In some instances the King confers one hundred and one pieces in a khillaut; in others seventy-five, and down to five articles, which is the lowest number given in this much-prized dress of honour. In a khillaut of five pieces, I have observed, generally, a coarser kind of gold cloth dress, a coloured muslin turban, a pair of coarse shawls, a coarse shawl romall (kerchief), and a girdle. I have also observed, that the higher the numbers rise, the quality of the articles increased in value; consequently, when we hear of any one being invested with the highest number, we calculate that each piece is of the very best quality and fabric.
When khillauts are conferred, the investiture usually takes place in the King's presence, who sometimes condescends to place one of the articles on the receiver with his own hands; at other times he merely touches the turban with his hand, and the individuals are clothed by the Prime Minister. After receiving the khillaut, each person approaches the throne and does homage to the King, presenting a nuzza in accordance with his rank, and the value of the khillaut.
The Revenue Collectors and Zemindhaars (landlords of farms) crowd to the Court on these days, to testify their respect and share in the honours distributed with a liberal hand. These persons may well be solicitous to receive this badge of distinction, which they find increases their influence over the Ryotts (cultivators).
On the morning of Buckrah Eade, the King gives a public breakfast at Lucknow, to the Resident and his suite, and to such of the Native nobility as are privileged to 'the chair' at the royal banquets. The breakfast concluded, many varieties of sports commence, as elephant-fighting, tiger sports, &c. The entertainment is got up with great magnificence, neither expense nor trouble being spared to render the festivities of the day conspicuous.
After the Resident and his party have retired, the King returns to his private apartments, where the forms of state are thrown aside with the splendid robes; and the ease and comfort of real Asiatic life is again indulged in, without the parade so studiously observed in public, as being essential to the sovereign's dignity. The trammels of state must indeed be irksome to those who indulge in that sort of luxurious ease which forms the chief comfort of Native life.
The evening at Court is passed by the King and his favourite courtiers, with music and the performances of dancing-girls; a variety of fire-work exhibitions; the witticisms of the Court-jesters, and such other amusements as are suited to Asiatic taste.
The magnificent style of celebrating Buckrah Eade at Lucknow is perhaps unequalled by any other Native Court now existing in Hindoostaun. The rejoicings on this festival are not confined to the higher classes alone; but it is a period of equal interest to every individual of the Mussulmaun community. The custom of the Court is imitated by the subjects in their several grades, each striving to do honour to the day according to their ability. The religious classes add, to their usual Namaaz, the appointed prayer for the occasion of Buckrah Eade.
The rich send presents of goats and sheep to their neighbours and to the poor, so that the meanest of the people are enabled to offer sacrifice and rejoice in the good things of which they partake: new suits of clothes are also distributed to the dependants of the family and to the poor. In short, on this day, there seems a spirit of benevolence abroad, that is even remarkable beyond the general generosity of their natural character, as all who have any thing to share will assuredly, on this occasion, impart a blessing to the needy, and gratify their friends and acquaintances.
The bride and bridegroom elect exchange presents of goats, &c.; the tutor writes a copy of verses on the day, and presents it to his pupil; the pupil in return sends his tutor a dress and money to enable him to keep Eade with his family.
The ladies dress in their most costly jewels and apparel to receive or pay visits. The children have their sports and amusements. Whenever I have entered a Native house on these days, all seemed cheerful and happy, and enjoying themselves in whatever way was most congenial to their particular tastes; 'every one must be cheerful (they say) on Buckrah Eade'.
On this day, millions of animals are sacrificed in remembrance of Abraham's faith. I have often thought how striking is the similarity between the Mosaic and Mussulmaun institutes, --indeed my recollections of Scripture history have frequently been realized in the views I have had of the domestic habits of the Mussulmauns. They are forbidden the use of unclean animals; the swine is equally abominable to Mussulmauns as to the Jews; neither are they less scrupulous in discarding from their kitchen any kind of animal food prohibited by their laws, or which has not been killed by one of their faith. In this process the person, who is to slay, turns the animal's head towards Mecca, repeats the short appointed prayer, and with one plunge the animal has ceased to feel: they are expert in the art of despatching life, so that the animal's sufferings may not be protracted unnecessarily; --an amiable trait of character and worthy of imitation.
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'Nou-Roze' (New Year's Day) is a Festival of Eade of no mean importance in the estimation of Mussulmaun society.
The exact period of commencing the Mussulmaun new year is the very moment of the sun's entering the sign Aries. This is calculated by those practical astronomers, who are in the service of most great men in Native cities; --I should tell you they have not the benefit of published almanacks as in England, --and according to the hour of the day or night when the sun passes into that particular sign, so are they directed in the choice of a colour to be worn in their garments on this Eade: if at midnight, the colour would be dark puce, almost a black; if at mid-day, the colour would be the brightest crimson. Thus to the intermediate hours are given a shade of either colour applicable to the time of the night or the day when the sun enters the sign Aries; and whatever be the colour to suit the hour of Nou-Roze, all classes wear the day's livery, from the King to the meanest subject in the city. The King, on his throne, sits in state to receive congratulations and nuzzas from his nobles, courtiers and dependants. 'Mabaarukh Nou-Roze!' (May the New Year be fortunate!) are the terms of salutation exchanged by all classes of society, the King himself setting the example. The day is devoted to amusements, a public breakfast at the palace, sending presents, exchanging visits, &c.
The trays of presents prepared by the ladies for their friends are tastefully set out, and the work of many days' previous arrangement. Eggs are boiled hard, some of these are stained in colours resembling our mottled papers; others are neatly painted in figures and devices; many are ornamented with gilding; every lady evincing her own peculiar taste in the prepared eggs for 'Nou-Roze'. All kinds of dried fruits and nuts, confectionary and cakes, are numbered amongst the necessary articles for this day's offering: they are set out in small earthen plates, lacquered over to resemble silver, on which is placed coloured paper, cut out in curious devices (an excellent substitute for vine leaves) laid on the plate to receive the several articles forming 'Nou-Roze' presents.
Amongst the young people these trays are looked forward to with child-like anxiety. The ladies rival each other in their display of novelty and good taste, both in the eatables and the manner of setting them off with effect.
The religious community have prayers read in their family, and by them it is considered both a necessary duty and a propitious commencement to bring in the new year by 'prayer and praises'.
When it is known that the Nou-Roze will occur by daylight, the ladies have a custom of watching for the moment the year shall commence by a fresh rose, which being plucked from the stalk is thrown into a basin of water, the eye downwards. They say, this rose turns over of itself towards the sun at the very moment of that luminary passing into the sign Aries. I have often found them thus engaged; but I never could say I witnessed the actual accomplishment of their prediction.
The Nou-Roze teems with friendly tokens between the two families of a bride and bridegroom elect, whose interchange of presents are also strictly observed. The children receive gifts from their elders; their nurses reap a harvest from the day; the tutor writes an ode in praise of his pupil, and receives gifts from the child's parents; the servants and slaves are regaled with dainties and with presents from the superiors of the establishment; the poor are remembered with clothes, money and food; the ladies make and receive visits; and the domenie attend to play and sing in the zeenahnah. In short, the whole day is passed in cheerful amusements, suited to the retirement of a zeenahnah and the habits of the people.
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There is a festival observed at Lucknow called Bussund (spring-colour). I should remark here, that almost all the trees of India have perpetual foliage; as the season approaches for the new leaves to sprout, the young buds force off the old leaves; and when the trees are thus clothed in their first delicate foliage, there is a yellow tinge in the colour which is denominated Bussund (Spring). A day is appointed to be kept under this title, and then every one wears the Bussund colour: no one would be admitted at Court without this badge of the day. The elephants, horses and camels of the King, or of his nobles, are all ornamented with the same colour on their trappings.
The King holds a Court, gives a public breakfast, and exhibits sports with ferocious animals. The amusements of this day are chiefly confined to the Court: I have not observed much notice taken of it in private life.
The last month of the periodical rains is called Sahbaund. There is a custom observed by the Mussulmaun population, the origin of which has never been clearly explained to me; some say it is in remembrance of the Prophet Elisha or Elijah, and commences the first Friday of Sahbaund, and is followed up every succeeding Friday through this concluding month of the rainy season.
This ceremony may have had its origin with devout persons willing to honour or to invoke the Prophet Elijah, who, as our Scripture informs us, 'prayed, and the clouds gave no rain for the space of three years; and again he prayed and the heavens were opened to his prayer'. Or in that of Elisha parting the waters with the mantle of Elijah, after succeeding him in the Prophetic office, 2 Kings ii. 14; or a still more probable event, calculated to excite the pious to some such annual notice as is observed with these people, in the same chapter, the twentieth and following verses, where we find it said of Elisha, 'And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more dearth or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.'
The learned men call it a zeenahnah, or children's custom; but it is common to see children of all ages amongst the males, partake of, and enjoy the festival with as much glee as the females or their juniors.
A bamboo frame is formed to the shape of a Chinese boat: this frame-work is hidden by a covering of gold and silver tissue, silk, or coloured muslin, bordered and neatly ornamented with silver paper. In this light bark many lamps are secreted, of common earthenware. A procession is formed to convey the tribute, called 'Elias ky Kishtee', to the river. The servants of the family, soldiers, and a band of Native music attend in due order of march: the crowd attracted by this childish play is immense, increasing as they advance through the several streets on the way to the river, by all the idlers of the place.
The kishtee (boat) is launched amidst a flourish of trumpets and drums, and the shouts of the populace; the small vessel, being first well lighted, by means of the secreted lamps, moves down gently with the stream. When at a little distance, on a broad river, in the stillness of evening, any one--who did not previously know how these little moving bodies of light were produced--might fancy such fairy scenes as are to be met with in the well-told fables of children's books in happy England.
This custom, though strongly partaking of the superstitious, is not so blameable as that which I have known practised by some men of esteemed good understanding, who having a particular object in view, which they cannot attain by any human stratagem or contrivance, write petitions to the Emaum Mhidhie on Fridays, and by their own hands commit the paper to the river, with as much reverence as if they thought him present in the water to receive it. The petition is always written in the same respectful terms, as inferiors here well know how to address their superiors; and every succeeding Friday the petition is repeated until the object is accomplished, or the petitioner has no further inducement to offer one.
I have made particular inquiries whether such sensible people (as I have seen thus engaged) placed any dependence on this mode of petitioning. The only answer I have received, is, 'Those who think proper thus to petition, certainly believe that it will be effectual, if they persevere in it.'
The New Moon is a festival in the family of every good Mussulmaun. They date the new moon from the evening it first become visible, and not as we do--from the moment it changes. The event is announced in Native cities by firing salutes from the field-pieces of Kings, Nuwaubs, &c.
Amongst the religious people there is much preparation in bathing and changing the dress against the evening the moon is expected to be visible, and when the guns have announced that it is visible, they have the Khoraun brought, which they open at the passage where Mahumud praises God for this particular blessing. A small looking glass is then brought, on which passage it is placed, and the book held in such a position that the moon may be first seen by the person reflected in the glass. They then repeat the prayer, expressly appointed for this occasion, and that done, the whole family rise and embrace each other, making salaams and reverence to their superiors and elders. The servants and slaves advance for the same purpose, and nothing is heard for some minutes, but 'May the new moon be fortunate!' reiterated from every mouth of the assembled family.
I cannot answer for the motives which actuate the ignorant people to bow when they first see the new moon; but the pious Mussulmaun, I am assured, bows to the Creator for the visible blessing, and not to the object.
The first eatables handed round to secure good luck and health throughout the month are sugar-candy and cheese. I fancy this is a mere zeenahnah custom, for I do not find the males so particular about eating this most extraordinary mixture as the females.
The servants' wages are paid by the month, and in well-regulated families the first day of the moon is hailed by dependants and domestics with no small share of anxiety. Indeed, these people make the moon of much more importance in the regulation of domestic affairs than the inhabitants of more polished countries, for they attribute the influence of that planet over the inhabitants of the earth in many extraordinary ways. It may be deemed superstitious, but as my business is to relate the most material ceremonies among this people, I cannot well omit noticing some of their observances at this time.
If any person is ill, and bleeding is the only good remedy to be pursued, the age of the moon is first discussed, and if it happens to be near the full, they are inflexibly resolute that the patient shall not lose blood until her influence is lessened. And should it happen at the commencement of the second quarter, or a few days after the full, the difficulty is to be overcome by deprecating the evil influence of the moon over the patient, by burning a brand of straw which is flourished about the sick person's head, who is brought out into the moon's presence for this important operation. Many equally extraordinary things of this sort I have been obliged to witness in the zeenahnah.
The full moon is deemed propitious for celebrating the marriage festivals. If this be not possible, care is always to be taken that the ceremony does not fall at the period when she is in the unfavourable sign; they say the happiness of the young couple depends on this being carefully avoided, as in the opinion of every Mussulmaun 'the moon in Scorpio' is unpropitious for any business of moment.
When a journey is contemplated the moon's age is the first consideration; indeed, the favourable signs of Madam Luna's movements are not only selected for commencing a journey, but for all undertakings of like importance; --whether to build, to write, to plant, to take medicine, &c.
What will be said of the singular custom, 'drinking the moon at a draught'? A silver basin being filled with water is held in such a situation that the full moon may be reflected in it; the person to be benefited by this draught is required to look steadfastly at the moon in the basin, then shut his eyes and quaff the liquid at one draught. This remedy is advised by medical professors in nervous cases, and also for palpitations of the heart. I have seen this practised, but I am not aware of any real benefit derived by the patient from the prescription.
When the planet Venus is in conjunction with the moon, they say the time is most favourable to offer prayers to God for any particular object they may have in view. At this time they write charms or talismans to be worn by children. I remember having witnessed a gentleman thus occupied, who wrote little scraps in the Arabic character to distribute amongst the children of his friends, who wore them enclosed in silver cases on their arms.
An eclipse of the moon is an event of great interest, both with the Mussulmaun and the Hindoo population, although they have very opposite ideas of the causes of an eclipse.
Many of the notions entertained by the lower classes of Mussulmauns upon the nature of an eclipse are borrowed from the Hindoos. Some think that it is caused by the anger of God towards the people of the earth; others say the moon is in debt, and many other equally odd conceits exist amongst the ignorant people, and among them only. Yet a sensation of awe is felt by most; and where is the intelligent creature who can view an eclipse or any other phenomenon of Nature without the same feeling of awe, although all are not equally ready to express the sensation?
Loud cries from the mixed population, Mussulmauns and Hindoos, announce the commencement of an eclipse, whether it be of the sun or the moon. The voice of the Mussulmaun is distinguished by the Namaazies' call to prayers-- 'Allah wo uckbaar! (God alone is great!) To this summons the faithful attend diligently, and they are generally occupied in the form of prayer appointed by Mahumud until the shadow has passed over the sun or moon eclipsed.
The ladies prepare offerings of corn, oil, and money to be distributed amongst the poor. The gentlemen give presents to the needy. The astronomer who predicts to his royal or noble master the exact period of an eclipse, is rewarded, when it is over, with money, a dress, and a crescent of pure gold in some instances. A bride elect sends sutkah to her intended husband, accompanied by a goat or kid, which must be tied to the leg of his bedstead during the continuance of an eclipse: these offerings are afterwards distributed in charity. Women expecting to become mothers are carefully kept awake during an eclipse, as they declare the infant's security depends on the mother being kept from sleep; they are not allowed to use a needle, scissors, knife, or any other instrument during an eclipse, for fear of drawing blood, which would be injurious at that period, both to the mother and child; neither are the animals in a similar state neglected; a mixture of cow-dung and drugs is rubbed over the belly of such animals, whether cows, sheep, goats, &c., and all these are securely housed until the planet is again resplendent: they fancy that both the animal and its young would be endangered by exposure during the time of the eclipse.
The power of the moon on wounded persons is believed universally to be of dangerous tendency. I have heard many extraordinary relations by people who, as they tell me, have suffered from exposure to the moon whilst a wound was fresh. One person had received a severe sabre-cut on his arm; the place was sewed up by the barber (the only surgeon amongst the Natives), and being much exhausted he laid down to sleep in the open air. The moon was near the full, and after some hours' exposure to her influence he awoke in great agony; the barber examined the arm early in the morning and found the cut in a state of corruption, the sewing having burst; the wound was cleansed, and dressed with pounded camphor; the place eventually healed, and the man lived many years to tell his story, always declaring his belief that the moon had been the cause of his sufferings; he was the more certain of this as he dreamed whilst exposed to her influence, that a large black woman (an inhabitant of the moon) had wrestled with him, and hurt his wound.
The usual application in India to a fresh wound is that of slacked lime. A man in our employ was breaking wood, the head of the hatchet came off, and the sharp edge fell with considerable force on the poor creature's foot; he bled profusely and fainted, lime was unsparingly applied, to the wound, the foot carefully wrapped up, and the man conveyed to his hut on a charpoy (bedstead), where he was kept quiet without disturbing the wound; at the end of a fortnight he walked about, and in another week returned to his labour.
Lime is an article of great service in the domestic economy of the Natives. I have experienced the good effects of this simple remedy for burns or scalds: equal proportions of lime, water, and any kind of oil, made into a thin paste, and immediately applied and repeatedly moistened, will speedily remove the effects of a burn; and if applied later, even when a blister has risen, the remedy never fails: I cannot say how it might act on a wound, the consequence of a neglected burn.
The lime used with pawn by the natives of India is considered very beneficial to health; and they use it in great quantities, considering that they never eat pawn without lime, and the most moderate pawn eaters indulge in the luxury at least eight times in the course of the day. The benefit of lime is worth the consideration of the medical world--as a preventive in some climates, as a renovater in others.
Shubh-burraat, is the designation of one of the months of the Mussulmauns (you are aware their month is the duration of the moon). The night of the full moon Shubh-burraat is a period of great and interesting importance to the Mussulmaun people of every degree; for on this night they are persuaded the fate of every human being is fixed in heaven; and that whatever is to be their doom is then registered in the Book of Life. Those who are to retain health, life, prosperity, or any other blessing, and those who are to be visited by sickness, sorrows, adversity or death; in short, whatever is to occur throughout the year is on this night assuredly noted in heaven for each individual on earth.
On this night they are instructed also to remember their friends and relatives who have been separated from them by death, and the injunction is followed up with much pious respect and marked veneration. Food is cooked and portioned out in the name of each departed object of their regard, over which the elder of the family, --if a Maulvee is not available, --reads a certain form of prayer called Fahteeah; this done, each portion (if convenient) is conveyed to the several tombs wherein those friends are deposited; or if not convenient to send the food to the burying ground, it is distributed amongst the poor of the city and the suburbs; the beggars congregating in those places to indulge in the luxuries prepared to the memory of the dead. The food prepared on this occasion must not contain any animal food. Bread of various kinds, sweet rice, and meetah (a mixture of sugar, ghee, and flour), are the usual dainties I have observed in these offerings. Fireworks are in universal request on the night of Shubh-burraat, which is required to be passed in wakefulness; and to this may be ascribed the never-varying custom of letting them off: it is an amusement these people take delight in at all times, and on this occasion most usefully, to keep them awake. The younger branches, at all events, derive this benefit from the pastime.
The religious community make it a night of strict devotion; they offer prayers and intercessions for the souls of their departed friends, since they imagine that this period, of all others, is most favourable to prayer, as they believe the heart is more open to the throne of mercy, the prayer more effectual, and that the real penitent suing for pardon on the night of Shubh-burraat, is certainly heard and his sins forgiven.
The Sheah sect attach still greater importance to this night, as the anniversary of the birth of Emaum Mhidhie. They also remember Hasan and Hosein as martyrs; and in memory of their sufferings the zeearut (circuit as at Mahurrum), is performed by walking round the ground in front of their apartments, repeating the burial service, with some trifling alterations; likewise the salaams to the Prophets and Emaums are duly performed during this night of fate.
There is a singular opinion
the Mussulmauns, that the trees hold converse at this momentous
The really pious characters amongst the Mussulmauns declare that they
superstition in every way; but they strictly adhere to every habit or
on record which was the practice of Mahumud and his family, the Emaums.
Of course, they do not think the observances of Shubh-burraat are at
bordering on superstition, whatever may be thought of the practice by
 Baqarah 'Id, 'cow
on the 10th of the month Zu'l-Hijjah, the month of pilgrimage, the
sacrifice of Ishmael having, it is said, occurred at Mount Mina, near
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