Hindu contribution to the marsiyaBy Intizar Husain
It may appear a bit odd to talk about Hindu contribution to the tradition of marsiya and azadari at 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 marsiya writers, 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 a marsiya 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 marsiya writer. But he had a passion for reciting them. Every year, he participated with devotion in tazia processions 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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