Hindu contribution to the marsiya – by Intizar Husain

Related articles:

Hussaini Brahmins: Karbala and how Lahore was involved – by Majid Sheikh

LUBP Archive on Karbala

Non-Muslims’ homage to Imam Hussain ibn e Ali (AS) – by Ali Salman Alvi

In selecting this post, we at the LUBP stand by the pluralist traditions of our land. We stand with our Hindu and Christain Pakistani brothers and sisters (and followers of other religions and faiths) and want to highlight the universalist strands of the Karbala paradigm where Imam Hussain was supported by his Hindu and Christain friends and supporters, who also sacrificed their lives for his cause of standing up against injustice.

Karbala teaches us to awaken our conscience and take a stand against oppression and tyranny. This is a clarion call for us to take a stand against not just the ongoing genocide of Shias in Pakistan but also of the persecution of our Christain, Ahmadi, Hindu, Barelvi and Sikh Pakistanis. We stand with our moderate Deobandi Pakistanis who are taking a stand against the ISI tactic of cultivating their sect for raising jihadi-sectarian militias that fulfil the foreign and domestic policy imperatives of our establishment.

Karbala teaches us to stand with Aasia Bibi in this time when she is being persecuted by the so-called independent closet Jamaati judiciary. Shame on you, Babar Awan, for opposing the revocation of the laws passed by Islamist tyrants and going against the initiatives and efforts by your party, the PPP, to help Aasia Bibi. By your words , you have cast your lot with the progeny of Yazid and General Zia ul Haq. (Qudsia Siddiqi)

Hindu contribution to the marsiya
Intizar Husain

Source: Message of Peace

It may appear a bit odd to talk about Hindu contribution to the tradition of marsiya and azadariat a time when communalists in India seen bent upon effacing every vestige of the religious heritage of the Muslims from that country. In fact, now is the time to show how different were the cultural attitudes in this land in the past. I am chiefly indebted for this information to Kalidas Gupta Raza.

Kalidas Gupta Raza, who died recently, is known as an authority on Ghalib. His preoccupation with the marsiya and the azadari tradition in general is a little less known. And it was something more than of mere academic interest. While on a visit to Bombay I had the opportunity to meet him. Seeing me curious about his pen name, ‘Raza’, he told me that he had chosen it because of his devotion to Hazrat Imam Raza. He was kind enough to give me his booklet titled, ‘Shaoor-i-Gham’, which included marsiya pieces written by him.

While engaged in his research on Hindu marsiya writers he had unearthed a number of such writers, which were hitherto unknown to us. An article, which was intended to be the first chapter of his book, Hindu marsiya go is included in his collection, published under the title,Sahv-o-Suragh, in which he has traced Hindu involvement in azadari from the times of Quli Qutab Shah. This ruler, he says, would take care to say goodbye to wine as soon as the moon of the month of Muharram was sighted. Clad in black, he would come out from his palace and proceed to the aza-khana followed by a large number of people, most of whom were Hindus.

The first Hindu marsiya writer, as researched by Gupta Raza, was as Ram Rao, whose pen name was ‘Saiva’. He belonged to Gulberg but migrated to Bijapore in the time of Ali Adib Shah. In about 1681, he translated Rozatush Shuhada in Deccani verse. This translation was in addition to the original marsiyas written by him.

Sri Makkhan Das, and Balaji Tasambak with ‘Tara’, as his pen name are some other marsiyawriters, who flourished in Deccan in the years that followed. Add to them the name of Swami Prashad who wrote marsiyas in Urdu under the pen name of ‘Asghar’, though he also wrote poetry in Persian and Hindi.

As the centre of Urdu shifted from the South to the North and the azadari culture began to flourish in Lucknow. Here, too, we find the Hindu gentry actively participating in the rituals of Muharram and Hindu poets ardently engaged in writing marsiyas. Better known among the earlier poets was Munshi Channoo Lal Lakhnavi, who wrote ghazals under the pen name of ‘Tarab’ and marsiyas under the pseudonym, ‘Dilgir’. In his later period, he wrote marsiyas alone and distinguished himself in the field.

Raja Balwan Singh, who wrote under the pen name, ‘Raja’, was the son of Maharaja Chait Singh, the ruler of Benares. But the British did not allow him to rule for long. Ousted from Benares, he succeeded in winning a jagir from the Maharaja of Gawalior. His son Raja mostly lived in Agra and became a disciple of Nazeer Akbarabadi. He distinguished himself as amarsiya writer, though he also wrote in other verse forms.

Lala Ram Prashad wrote marsiyas under the pen name, ‘Bashar’. Gupta Raza tells us that he was a devotee of the Ahl-i-Bait. In his last days, he migrated to Karbala. It was there that he breathed his last and was buried there.

Perhaps in Lucknow, Hindus were more deeply involved in the rituals of Muharram. So their participation was not confined to writing marsiyas alone. Lala Har Prashad was not a marsiyawriter. But he had a passion for reciting them. Every year, he participated with devotion in taziaprocessions and recited his favourite marsiyas depicting the martyrdom of Hazrat Abbas.

Lala Har Prashad belonged, as Mirza Jafar Husain has told us, to the family of Raja Mahra. But Tika Ram was a potter. Out of his devotion for Imam Husain (AS) he had made a tazia of clay, which in its own way was a piece of art. This tazia was exhibited every year on the night of Muharram 10 and was always a centre of attraction for the mourners.

Mirza Jafar Husain has written about a unique ritual observed by the Hindu mourners. On the night of Muharram 10, someone from among them chose to masquerade as a messenger. He was expected to perform his duty on the day of Ashoor. So the next day, with bells hanging around his body and with a morchhal in his hand, he would go running from one place to the other, going to each group of mourners and announcing in a mournful voice, “Husain Kushta Shud” (Husain has been martyred).

In a cultural atmosphere of this sort, who could imagine a Hindu-Muslim riot? Only in such an atmosphere a Hindu poet could feel inspired to write marsiyas. This atmosphere in later times found its echoes in Munshi Prem Chand when he wrote his famous play, Karbala, in which a group of Hindus is seen fighting in Karbala for the cause Imam Husain (AS) stood for.

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