Hindu contribution to the marsiya – by Intizar Husain

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LUBP Archive on Karbala

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.

13 Comments to “Hindu contribution to the marsiya – by Intizar Husain”

  1. Hindus fought for Imam Hussain at Karbala
    By: Yoginder Sikand

    One of the most important events in early Muslim history was the battle of Karbala fought in 680 CE in which Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima and her husband Imam Ali, was slaughtered along with a small band of disciples in a bloody battle against the tyrant Yazid. This event occurred in the Islamic month of Muharram, and it is for this reason that this month is observed with great solemnity in many parts of the Muslim world.

    What is particularly striking about the observances of the month of Muharram in large parts of India is the prominent participation of Hindus in the ritual mourning. In several towns and villages, Hindus join Muslims in lamenting the death of Hussain, by sponsoring or taking part in lamentation rituals and tazia processions. In Lucknow, seat of the Shia nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, standards representing the Karbala event. The Hindu Lambadi community in Andhra Pradesh have their own genre of Muharram lamentation songs in Telugu. Among certain Hindu castes in Rajasthan, the Karbala battle is recounted by staging plays in which the death of Imam Hussain is enacted, after which the women of the village come out in a procession, crying and cursing Yazid for his cruelty. In large parts of rural India, Hindus believe that if barren women slip under a Moharrum alam they would be blessed with a child.

    Perhaps the most intriguing case of Hindu veneration of Imam Hussain is to be found among the small Hussaini Brahmin sect, also called Dutts or Mohiyals, who are found mainly in Punjab. The Hussaini Brahmins have had a long martial tradition, which they trace back to the event of Karbala. They believe that an ancestor named Rahab traveled all the way from Punjab to Arabia, where he became a disciple of Imam Hussain. In the battle of Karbala, Rahab fought in the army of the Imam against Yazid. His sons, too, joined him, and most of them were killed. The Imam, seeing Rahab?s love for him, bestowed upon him the title of Sultan or king, and told him to go back to India. It is because from this close bond between Rahab and Imam Hussain that the Hussaini Brahmins derive their name.

    After Rahab and those of his sons who survived the battle of Karbala reached India, they settled down in the western Punjab and gradually a community grew around them. The Hussaini Brahmins practised an intriguing blend of Islamic and Hindu traditions. A popular saying refers to the Hussaini Brahmins or Dutts thus:

    Wah Dutt Sultan,
    Hindu ka Dharm
    Musalman ka Iman,
    Adha Hindu Adha Musalman

    Oh! Dutt, the king
    [Who follows] the religion of the Hindu
    And the faith of the Muslim
    Half Hindu, half Muslim.

    Another story, which seems less reliable, is related as to how the Dutts of Punjab came to be known as Hussaini Brahmins. According to this version, one of the wives of Imam Hussain, the Persian princess Shahr Banu, was the sister of Chandra Lekha or Mehr Banu, the wife of an Indian king called Chandragupta. When it became clear that Yazid was adamant on killing the Imam, the Imam?s son Ali ibn Hussain rushed off a letter to Chandragupta asking him for help against Yazid. When Chandragupta received the letter, he dispatched a large army to Iraq to assist the Imam. By the time they arrived, however, the Imam had been slain. In the town of Kufa, in present-day Iraq, they met with one Mukhtar Saqaffi, a disciple of the Imam, who arranged for them to stay in a special part of the town, which even today is known by the name of Dair-i-Hindiya or ‘the Indian quarter’.

    Some Dutt Brahmins, under the leadership of one Bhurya Dutt, got together with Mukhtar Saqaffi to avenge the death of the Imam. They stayed behind in Kufa, while the rest returned to India. Here they built up a community of their own, calling themselves Hussaini Brahmins, keeping alive the memory of their links with the Imam.

    The Hussaini Brahmins believe that in the Bhagwadgita Krishna had foretold the event of the Imam’s death at Karbala. According to them, the Kalanki Purana, the last of eighteen Puranas, as well as the Atharva Veda, the fourth Veda, refer to Imam Hussain as the divine incarnation or avatar of the Kali Yug, the present age. They hold Imam Ali, Imam Hussain’s father, and son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, in particular reverence, referring to him with the honorific title of ‘Om Murti’.

    The Hussaini Brahmins, along with other Hindu devotees of the Muslim Imam, are today a rapidly vanishing community. Younger generation Hussaini Brahmins are said to be abandoning their ancestral heritage, some seeing it as embarrassingly deviant. No longer, it seems, can an ambiguous, yet comfortable, liminality be sustained, fuzzy communal identities identities giving way under the relentless pressure to conform to the logic of neatly demarcated ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ communities. And so, these and scores of other religious communities that once straddled the frontier between Hinduism and Islam seem destined for perdition, or else to folkloric curiosities that tell of a bygone age, when it was truly possible to be both Hindu as well as Muslim at the same time.


  2. Heartcrushing Salam to Hazrat Imam Hussain recited by a Hindu lady

  3. Marsiya Mir Anees
    Lata Mangeshkar

    Hussain Jab K Chalay

  4. This is a very old group of a small Hindu community of peshawar who form part of believers of Imam Hussain and Ahlaybait.I have always seen them come out with their Nishaan’s on every 10th muharram nigh.
    Hindu Believers of Imam Hussain (A.S) On 10th Muharram Peshawar

  5. Hindus Join Shia Muslims to Mourn the Martyrdom Anniversary of Imam Hussain (pbuh)

    15 November 2010

    Hundreds of Hindus Thursday joined Shia Muslims in Orissa to observe the 10th day of Muharram, to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (pbuh), the grandson of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

    BHUBANESWAR (Ahlul Bayt News Agency) – Hundreds of Hindus Thursday joined Shia Muslims in Orissa to observe the 10th day of Muharram, to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (pbuh), the grandson of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).
    Hindus joined Muslims across Orissa and participated in the tazia (replica of the Imam Hussain’s shrine) processions. A Hindu family in Orissa’s Sambalpur district took out a tazia procession during first Ashra (ten days) of Muharram.

    Only 2.1 percent of Orissa’s population of 36,706,920 are Muslims. Muslims and Hindu families are known to participate in each other’s religious functions.


  6. Hindu Mourners of Al-Hussain a.s.

    BBC Urdu

  7. Muharram – where Hindus and Muslims unite
    – by Naim Naqvi 22 Dec 2009

    One can observe the richness and beauty of the diversity of Indian Culture at the occasion of Muharram. Since the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Muharram ceremonies are observed all over the world including India. Hindus take part in them with great reverence and devotion. The tragedy of Karbala has become the harbinger for interfaith understanding in the Indian sub-continent.

    Participation of Hindus in the mourning rituals of Imam Hussain has been a feature of Hinduism for centuries in large parts of India. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and even Christians observe Muharram. In the city of Varanasi which is the holiest city for Hindus many Hindu families participate in Muharram processions.

    A Hindu poet had once said:
    “Baad marne ke bhee matam ki sada aati rahi,
    Log harat se meri jalti chita dekha kiye”.

    Translation: The sound of lamentation (at the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) continued even after my death. The people watched my burning pyre with adoration and admiration.

    One can notice the same spirit of love, respect and sadness for Imam Hussain in Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Chennai, Amroha, Indore, Nagpur, Jaipur, Bhopal and other major cities and towns. In several cities Hindus also take part with enthusiasm in making the taziyas (replicas of the Imam Husain’s mausoleum in Karbala). Varanasi’s Shivala Mohalla boasts of the most artistic taziya, and a replica of Zuljinah, Imam Hussain’s brave horse which is given milk in a traditional ritual in many cities.

    Readers of this blog would find it interesting to learn that the Hindu rulers of Vijayanagar in Deccan (southern India) built wonderful Imambaras during the 16th and 17th centuries. They even wore the black garments of mourning during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram.

    Muharram processions during the 18th and 19th centuries
    were taken out by the Hindus in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra with rath-shaped (Hindu chariots) tazias. The Maratha kingdoms like the Scindias of Gwalior, the Holkars of Indore, the Gaekwads of Baroda and the Bhonsle of Kolhapur and Pune till now observe Muharram rituals with great devotion.

    Let us forgive and forget the recent conflagrations caused by those who are not even aware of the meaning and message of Hinduism and Islam and recollect that during the dynastic Hindu rules they strived to create interfaith understanding between Muslims and Hindus by observing Muharram ceremonies. The most famous of them all was the Rajah of Gwalior, a state in central India.

    The Rajah used to go barefoot with the procession every year on the day of Ashura, holding a replica of Imam Hussain’s mausoleum.. Many Hindus in Lucknow fast with Muslims on this day, while others distribute sherbet (sweet juices) and iced milk to those participating in the Muharram processions. Lucknow also boasts of several Hindu ‘imambaras’ (mausoleums). One such is the ‘Kishnu Khalifa ka Imambara’ in Bashiratganj locality in the old city area. The Imambara, established in 1880, is famous for its Hindu ‘azadars’ (devotees) who observe Muharram with all the religiosity of the Muslims. In Lucknow, seat of the Shia nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, the standards representing the Karbala event.

    Muharram is an unique occasion in the socio-cultural fabric of Indian history which presents an unparalleled example of Hindu-Muslim unity. Let us go to South India and you will find the non-Muslim tribal Lambadi community in Andhra Pradesh has their own genre of Muharram lamentation songs in Telugu. Among certain Hindu castes in Rajasthan, the Karbala battle is recounted by staging plays in which the death of Imam Hussain is enacted, after which the women of the village come out in a procession, crying and cursing Yazid for his cruelty.

    Let me talk about Madhya Pradesh. The Sharma Hindu families have been taking out the Tazia procession on Muharram for more than 120 years in some districts of Madhya Pradesh. The ritual began in 1882 when the Raikwar family of the Vidisha town began preparing and taking out Tazias on the ninth day of Muharram. Since then, the Raikwar’s Tazia leads the procession of mourners on Muharram, and moves ahead of the long line of replicas of Imam Hussain’s tomb and flags along the streets. Like several Muslim families across the globe, the Raikwar family members, too, set aside their daily chores to grieve for the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. He is one of the greatest personality of Islam and he is loved, respected and admired for his courage and fortitude against the inhuman, corrupt, delinquent and tyrant ruler Yazid, the son of Muawiah. According to historical references Yazid was not properly educated with the teachings of Islam. He used to drink alcohol, gamble, and commit all other cardinal sins.

    This despot transformed the face of the Islam of Prophet and made it subservient to his whims, fancies and debauchery. He was the real terrorist and he had brought back the old unprincipled life-style that Prophet and his companions had banished and destroyed from ordinary life. Truth, Justice, Equality, Freedom and Liberty were all at stake during his rule. All precious values were disappearing from the life as the ruler was flouting the tenets of Islam. The restoration of those values demanded rebellion against the tyrant ruler and it meant the sacrifice of life of Imam.

    He chose the path of danger and hardships and never swerved from it, giving up his life. Imam Hussain was martyred in the Karbala along with 72 members of his family and companions. For three days the supply of water and food was completely cut off by the rulers. However, that didn’t weaken the reslove and determination of Imam and he refused to surrender.

    Imam Hussain is everybody’s hero. He was the embodiment of virtues of piety, courage and self-sacrifice. He did not seek power. His message was for everyone.
    “The Hindu”, one of the largest selling English daily in India reported in its 31 January, 2007 issue that a large number of Hindus participated in the `Tazia’ procession along with Muslims at Pulimankulam in Tamil Nadu state. The procession was led by V. Nayaz Ahmed Bijili and H. Habeebur Rahman Bijili, hereditary trustees of the Athangarai Pallivasal Dargah. Hindus from Sokkalingapuram, Urumankulam, Tiruvamabalapuram and Avudayalpuram, marched towards the `chavadi’, where the `Panjas’ were installed, and offered prayers.


  8. Great tribute to shuda e KARBALA !

  9. thanks for posting this excellent article!

  10. excellent post.

  11. Thanks for these articles.
    Dibakar Rahi* ne kya khoob kaha hai:
    Tum mitey, lekin tumheiN mitne na deiNge aey Hussain
    Woh tumhaara kaam tha, aur yeh hamaara kaam hai.
    I have uploaded Jyoti Pande’s Soz and Salam (4 videos)
    Kunwar Mohinder Singh Bedi Saher* (Naat wa Manqabat)
    Tday I have uploaded 3 Soz by a Bengali lady, Jayati Bawari.
    Here is the URL for Soz no. 1
    “Hilti hai zameeN, rota hai falak, andhiyari chaane waali hai”

    Mirza Jamal

  12. sach kaho to prophet bhi bhramin ghar ke hi the. tabhi to itne door se ristedar hi to bachane aa sakta hai. dekh bhal ke liye aur kaun aata hai…. riste dar hi to ata hai. waise probphet mahadev ke pujari the. us time wo itne strong nai the jaise ki aaj ke jamane mein koi unke khilaf ek baat bhi kar de to mara jaiga par us time aisa nai tha. wo suruwat thi is liye india se brahmin aaye apne ristedaro ko bachane ke liye.

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