Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali
Public Domain Books
Mahurrum concluded.–Night of Mayndhie.–Emaum-baarah of the King of Oude.–Procession to Shaah Nudghiff.–Last day of Mahurrum.–Chattahs. –Musical instruments.–Zeal of the Native gentlemen.–Funeral obsequies over the Tazia at Kraabaallah.–Sentiments of devout Mussulmauns.–The fast followed by acts of charity.–Remarks on the observance of Mahurrum.
The public display on the seventh Mahurrum is by torch-light, and called the night of Mayndhie, intending to represent the marriage ceremony for Cossum, who, it will be remembered, in the sketch of the events of Kraabaallah, was married to his cousin Sakeena Koobraah, the favourite daughter of Hosein, on the morning of the celebrated battle.
This night presents to the public all the outward and showy parade which marks the Mayndhie procession of a real wedding ceremony, of which I propose speaking further in another place. This display at Mahurrum is attended with considerable expense; consequently, the very rich only observe the out-door formalities to be exhibited on this occasion; yet all classes, according to their means, remember the event, and celebrate it at home.
The Mayndhie procession of one great personage, in Native cities, is directed–by previous arrangement–to the Emaum-baarah of a superior. I was present, on one occasion, when the Mayndhie of the Prime Minister of Oude was sent to the King’s Emaum-baarah, called Shaah Nudghiff,–from the mausoleum of Ali, of which it is an exact representation, on a small scale.
It is situated near the banks of the river Goomtie, some distance from the palace at Lucknow; the entrance to the outer court, or quadrangle, is by a handsome gateway of brickwork plastered and polished, resembling marble. On each side of the gateway, and carried up the two sides, in a line with the building, are distinct apartments, designed for the abode of the distressed and houseless poor; the back of these apartments forms a substantial wall or enclosure. The Shaah Nudghiff faces the gateway, and appears to be a square building, on a broad base of flights of steps, with a cupola roof; the interior is paved with black and white marble tesselated, the walls and dome neatly ornamented with plaster and gold in relief, the beading, cornices, &c. of gold, to correspond on a stone-colour ground. The cupola and cornices on the outside are richly ornamented with plaster designs, relieved with gold; on the summit of the dome is placed a crown, of pure silver, gilt, of an immense size.
The decorations of the interior, for the season of Mahurrum, were on a scale of grandeur not easily to be conveyed by description. The walls were well covered with handsome glasses and mirrors; the splendid chandeliers,–one containing a hundred wax lights,–in every variety, and relieved with coloured lamps–amber, blue, and green,–mellowing the light, and giving a fairy-like effect to the brilliant scene. In the centre of the building stood the green glass Tazia, surrounded by wax lights; on the right of which was placed an immense lion, and on the left, a fish, both formed of the same bright emerald-green glass as the Tazia. The richness and elegance of the banners,–which were numerous and well arranged,–could be equalled only by the costliness of their several mountings.
In Asiatic buildings niches and recesses prevail in all convenient situations, and here they are appropriated for the reception of the relics of antiquity and curiosities; such as models of Mecca, the tent of Hosein, the gate of Kraabaallah, &c.; these three are made of pure silver, and rest on tables of the same metal. Many curious sabres, of all ages, shields, chain armour of the ancients, lances, &c., arranged with much taste, adorn the interior.
The pulpit (mhembur) is of silver, and of very handsome workmanship; the whole of the fitting up and arrangements had been made under the eye of his Majesty, and to his good taste may be ascribed all the merit of the well-ordered display for these occasions. He delighted in visiting this place, which he not only designed as a tribute of his respect to the Emaums, but as the future repository for his own remains, when this world should cease to be his place of joy, or anxious care. His intention has been fulfilled–he died in 1827, aged fifty years, much and justly beloved and regretted by all who knew him; his funeral obsequies were impressively grand, according to Mussulmaun custom. This good and amiable King was succeeded by his only son Nusseer ood deen Hyder, who had just completed his twenty-second year when he began to reign.
On the evening of Mayndhie, the crowds of admiring people were admitted to view their Paidshah’s (King’s) exhibition; until the distant sounds of musketry announced the approach of the spectacle, when the multitude were desired to quit the Emaum-baarah. Hundreds still lingering, could not be prevailed on to depart, except by the stripes dealt out unsparingly from the whips of the hurkaarahs and peons, appointed to keep order on the occasion. The place cleared, and quiet restored, I had leisure to view the fairy-like palace of splendour, before the bustle of the procession reached the building. I could hardly persuade myself the picture before me was not a dream, instead of a reality.
I stood at the entrance to watch the approach of the minister’s train, through the gateway into the illuminated quadrangle. Spacious as this court-yard is, it was nearly filled with the many people forming the Mayndhie parade. I should imagine there could not be less than three thousand souls engaged in this service, including the match-lock soldiery. Several trays of Mayndhie are brought, with the other requisites for the usual forms of marriage gifts, such as sweetmeats, dried fruits, garlands of sweet jasmine, imitative beds of flowers, composed of uberuck: in some of the flowers, fireworks were concealed, to be let off in the quadrangle. An imitative tomb on a bier is also paraded, together with the palkie and chundole of silver, which are the covered conveyances for females of the royal family, or such of the nobility as are privileged by grants from the crown; all other females use the covered palkie, mahanah, dhollee, and the rutt. Several bands of music follow, and torches out of number. The elephants, camels, cavalry, &c., are left in the open space, outside the gateway–the gentlemen, dismounting, enter with Dhull Dhull and the trays of Mayndhie.
I trembled for the probable destruction of the brilliant ornaments in the Emaum-baarah, when I heard the noble animal was to make the circuit round the Tazia. Dhull Dhull, being led in, went up the steps with little difficulty; and to my astonishment, the gentle creature paced the tesselated floor, in very slow time, without once slipping, or seeming concerned at the novelty of his situation; indeed, this docile animal seemed to me the only living thing present that felt no interest in the scene–rendered more attractive and conspicuous by the gentle manners of the pretty Dhull Dhull himself. The circuit being made, he was conducted back into the court-yard, without the slightest accident or confusion occurring during his visit to the Emaum-baarah.
The model of the tomb of Cossum, the chundole and palkie, the trays of Mayndhie, sweetmeats, &c. were deposited here until the tenth day, when they accompany the King’s temporary Tazia cavalcade to Kraabaallah for interment.
The ceremonies performed on this night of Mayndhie resemble, in every particular, those of the same rank of persons on the actual solemnization of a wedding, even to the distribution of money amongst the populace who crowd in multitudes on such occasions, though apparently more eager for the prize than the sight.
The most imposing spectacle in the celebration of Mahurrum, is reserved for the last day; and, judging from the activity of all classes, the zealous exertions of the multitude, the deep interest marked on every face, male and female, a mere spectator might well imagine this morning to be of more importance than any other in the Mussulmaun’s catalogue of days.
At the earliest hour of the dawning day, the preparations for the march being complete,–which had occupied the hours usually devoted to sleep,–the streets and roads present a very animated picture. From the bustle and outpouring of the multitude, on this one absorbing engagement, a stranger might be led back in imagination to the flight from Egypt; the object, however, is very different from that of the children of Israel. The order of the day being to commemorate the death of Hosein, a grand military funeral is pourtrayed in each person’s cavalcade, all pressing forward to their chosen Kraabaallah,–the poor man, with his humble Tazia and flags, falling in the rear of the more affluent person’s display, as well for protection as for speed. There is so much of similarity in these processions, that the description of one will be sufficient to convey the idea of the whole, as they pass on in succession to the chosen place of burial.
The consecrated banners take the precedence, in the order of march, carried by men on elephants; then a band of music. Next comes the jillewdhar (sword-bearer), supporting, on a black staff, the bow reversed, with brilliant swords suspended; on each side of him are men bearing black poles, on which are fixed immense long streamers of black unspun silk,–designed to symbolize grief, despair, &c.
Then follows the horse, caparisoned as on the day of consecrating the banners; it is attended by servants, in the same order as when a prince rides out,–viz. a man with the afthaadah (or sun),–the well-dressed grooms, holding the bridle rein on either side,–a man with the chowrie of peacock’s feathers in a silver handle,–chobdhaahs with long silver and gold staffs,–sota badhaahs, with short staffs resembling fish, of the same materials,–hurkaarahs (running-footmen, or messengers), bearing small triangular banners with silver handles,–shoe-bearers, &c.
The royal chattah (umbrella), of embroidered velvet, is supported over the head of Dhull Dhull. This article in its plain garb, so generally used in Europe, is, in Hindoostaun, an original distinguishing mark of royalty, gracing the King’s throne in lieu of a canopy. In Oude, the chattah cannot be used by the subject when in view of the sovereign; if the King’s dunkah be heard abroad, the people hide their chattahs, and even descend from their carriages, elephants, horses, or palkies, standing with their hands folded, in all humility, to make obeisance to the King,–resuming them only when the royal cortège has moved out of sight. I have known many of the first nobility in the Court of Oude, and English gentlemen in the King’s suite, exposed to the rays of the morning sun, during the hottest season of the year; in these airings, the King alone has the benefit of a chattah, except the Resident happens to be of the party, who being always received as an equal, is privileged to the chattah, the chowrie, and the hookha; indulgences of which those only who have lived in India can possibly estimate the true value.
But to my subject:–The saddle is adorned with Hosein’s chain armour, gold turban, a richly set sword, with an embroidered belt: some of the family and friends attend respectfully near the horse. Then follow the bearers of incense, in gold censers, suspended to chains, which they wave about, fumigating the air with the refreshing smell of lahbaun,–a sweet-scented resin from the cedar of Lebanon, I imagine, though some suppose it to be the frankincense noticed in Scripture.
Next in the cavalcade is a chanter or reader of the Musseeah, who selects passages from that well-arranged work suited to the time when Hosein’s person was the mark for Yuzeed’s arrows, and which describe his conduct on the trying occasion; one or two couplets being chanted, the procession advances in slow time, halting every five minutes on the way from the beginning to the end of the march. The reader is attended by the proprietor of the Tazia display, and his many relatives and friends, bare-footed, and without any covering on their heads;–many of these persons throw chaff on their heads, expressive of grief, and whilst the Musseeah is chanted, their boisterous expressions of sorrow are painfully severe to the mere observer of the scene.
The Tazia then follows, surrounded by banners, and covered with a canopy upheld by silver poles in the hands of the supporters, according to the general style of conveying their dead at the funerals of the Mussulmauns. The canopy is of green, bordered and embroidered with gold. The model of Cossum’s tomb follows in succession, which is covered with gold cloth, and has a canopy also supported over it, in the same way, by poles carried by several men. The palkie and chundole of silver and tissue are next seen; the trays of Mayndhie, the flowers of uberuck, and the other paraphernalia of the marriage ceremony, follow in due order. Then the camels and elephants, conveying the tent equipage and luggage of Hosein, form a long train, representing the supposed style of his march from Medina to Kraabaallah.
The last and most judicious feature in the arrangement is the several elephants with confidential servants, distributing bread and money to the poor, who are thus attracted to the rear in countless numbers, leaving the cavalcade in quiet possession of the space of roadway uncrowded by the multitude. The bread given on these occasions is in great esteem amongst the females, who receive a small portion from the followers on their return from Kraabaallah with veneration, for the Emaum’s sake, in whose name it is given. I have often been led to the remembrance of past times by this act of theirs, when the cross-buns of Good-Friday were esteemed by the aged women as possessing virtues beyond the mere substance of the cake.
The whole line of march is guarded in each procession by burkhandhars (matchlock men), who fire singly, at intervals on the way. Several bands of music are dispersed in the cavalcade, performing solemn dirge-like airs, peculiar to the style of composition in Hindoostaun and well-suited to the occasion–muffled drums and shrill trumpets, imitating the reiteration of ’Hasan, Hosein’, when Mortem is performed. I remember a fine female elephant, belonging to King Ghauzee ood deen Hyder, which had been so well instructed, as to keep time with the soundings from her proboscis with the occasional Mortems. I cannot say that she clearly pronounced the names of the two sons of Ali, yet the regularity of keeping time with the music and the human voices was of itself sufficient to excite admiration–the Natives declare that she pronounces the names distinctly. Her name is Hoseinie, the feminine of Hosein.
Amongst the many varieties of Native musical instruments I have seen in India, the kettle-drum is the most simple and singular, which I will take the liberty of describing:–It is of well-baked earth, moulded in the usual way, and very similar in shape to those of the Royal Horse Guards. A globe of the common size, divided into exact halves, would be about the dimension and shape of a pair of Indian manufacture; the parchment is strained over the open mouth, with a thin hoop to fix it firm; the slightest pressure with the fingers on this hoop draws it into tune. The simplicity of this accompaniment to the human voice, when touched by the fingers, very much in the way Europeans use the tambourine, is only to be appreciated by those who have been long acquainted with the sound. The only time when it is beaten with sticks is, when used as dunkahs, before the King and Queen, on their appearing in public–a sort of alarum to warn obstructing hackeries, or carriages, to move out of the way.
I have occasionally observed a singular mode of imitating the sound of cavalry going over hard ground, adopted in the processions of great men on the tenth of Mahurrum; the contrivance is called chuckee, and composed of ebony, or some equally hard wood, the shape and size of a pocket globe, divided into halves; each person, having the pair, beats them with a particular tact on the flat surface, so as to produce the desired sound of horses galloping; and where from fifty to a hundred men, or more, are engaged in this performance, the resemblance may be easily conceived.
There are many little observances, not of sufficient importance to make them general to all who keep Mahurrum, that need not here be detailed;–but one must not be omitted, as it is a feature in the domestic observances of Mussulmauns. On the Tazias, when about to be conveyed to Kraabaallah, I discovered small portions of corn, rice, bread, fruits, flowers, cups of water, &c.;–this is in keeping with the Mussulmaun funerals, who invariably convey food to the tomb with their dead. For the same reason, at Mahurrum, camphor and rosewater are always carried with the Tazia to Kraabaallah, although there is not the same occasion for the articles, as will be observed when the burial service is explained.
I have seen females of rank, with their own hands, place red and green wax lights in front of the Tazia in their halls, on the night of Mayndhie. I was told, in answer to my inquiry, What was meant by the solemn process I had witnessed?–that these ladies had some petition to make, for which they sought the Emaum’s intercession at the throne of mercy. The red light was for Hosein, who died in battle; the green for Hasan, who died by poison,–which these colours symbolize; and that those females place great dependance on the fulfilment of their desires, who thus present to their Emaums the wax lights on the night of Mayndhie.
I have remarked that the noblemen and gentlemen generally engaged in the service of celebrating Mahurrum, walk on the tenth morning with their heads bare and their feet uncovered from their homes to the burial ground called Kraabaallah, whatever may be the distance,–perhaps four or five miles,–exposed to the fiery rays of the sun: some persons, who on this occasion are very scrupulous in thus humbling their nature, walk back again in the same manner, after the funeral ceremony has been duly gone through at Kraabaallah. The magnitude of this undertaking can be only well understood by those who have experienced the state of an atmosphere in the shady rooms of a large house, when the thermometer ranges from eighty-four to eighty-eight, or even ninety degrees; and when, if you venture to the verandah for a few seconds, the flames of heated wind are not only insupportable to Europeans, but frequently produce severe attacks of fever. The luxurious habits of the Eastern great men may be well recollected when counting over the proofs of zeal exhibited in this undertaking, where every selfish consideration for the time is banished. The nobility (or indeed any one who lays the slightest claim to gentility) never walk from one house to another during their lives, but at this particular season; even in their gardens indulging in whatever luxury they may boast, by being conveyed round in their palkie, or thonjaun–a chair with poles, supported by bearers. On the tenth day, the good Mussulmauns rigidly fast until after the third watch; not even a drop of water, or the hookha, enters their mouths;–as they believe Hosein’s sufferings only concluded just before the third watch, they cautiously abstain from indulgences, until that hour has passed.
The procession having reached Kraabaallah, the whole ceremony of a funeral is gone through. The Tazia is committed to the grave with equal solemnity to that which is observed when their dead are deposited in the tomb: this occupies some time. I never witnessed the movements at Kraabaallah,–the season of the year, the confusion, and the anticipated feuds between Sheahs and Soonies, ever deterred me from gratifying my curiosity. It is always expected that the bad feelings between the two sects, amongst the lower orders of the people, may produce a real battle on the imitative ground of Kraabaallah; and I have heard of many such terminations of the Mahurrum at Lucknow, where the enthusiastic Sheahs and Soonies–having reserved their long hatred for a favourable opportunity of giving it vent,–have found an early grave on the very ground to which their Tazia has been consigned. Private quarrels are often reserved for decision on the field of Kraabaallah.
I may here remark, swords form a part of every man’s daily costume, from the king to the poorest peasant; save only the devout men, who having forsaken the world have no occasion for a sword. I have often heard them say, ’My trust is not resting on a morsel of steel, but on the great mercy of my God’.–’What shall I defend? my life? Where is the arm that can assault me without the permission of my God; if He ordains it, should I murmur, or ward off the blow?’–’Is it my worldly goods I am to defend? From whose bounty have I received them? Is not the great Giver able to defend His gifts? and if He wills that I should lose them, what shall I say, but as Yoube (Job) said, “It is the Lord, to do His own will"; blessed be His great name for ever.’ These are the sentiments of the devout men of all creeds; and these are likewise the exemplary opinions of some good Mussulmauns I have known in India.
Returned to their home, the rich men are occupied in dispensing benefits among the poor. Food, money, and clothes, are distributed in nearly as great proportions as when they have to mourn over a recent separation by death from a beloved relative. The clothes worn during Mahurrum are never retained for the next occasion, but always distributed amongst the poor, who derive so many advantages from the annual commemoration of Mahurrum, that the philanthropic heart will rather be pleased than vexed at the zeal which produces such a harvest of benefits to the necessitous.
The riches of a native city may be calculated by the immense sums expended at Mahurrum every year; and if no greater advantage be derived from the gorgeous display of the wealthy, than the stimulus to honest industry amongst the several trades, whose labour is brought into use on these occasions, there is enough in the result to excuse the expenditure of surplus cash in apparent trifles. This, however, is strictly the result, not the design, of those expensive displayers at Mahurrum, who are actuated solely by fervent zeal, in keeping a continued remembrance of the sufferings of their Emaums, and doing honour to their memory.
It is not my province either to praise or condemn, but merely to mark out what I observe of singularity in the habits, manners, and customs of the Mussulmauns, in whose domestic circles I have been so many years a sojourner. On the subject which my pen has faintly traced to your view,–the celebration of Mahurrum,–I cannot refrain from offering one remark; I think them to be actuated by so fervent a zeal, that if they could believe with me, that whatever we do in this life is for Eternity, they would still persevere in this their supposed duty of honouring their Emaums.
 Mendhi in its primary sense is the plant Lawsonia alba, the leaves of which are used for dyeing the hands and feet of the bride and bridegroom; hence, the marriage rites on this occasion.
 This edifice was built under the superintendence of Ghauzee ood deen Hyder, first King of Oude; and it is here his remains are deposited. May his soul rest in peace! [Author.] [This building was named after Shah Najaf or Najaf Ashraf, the scene of the martyrdom of ’Ali, 120 miles south-west of Baghdad. The capture of the Shah Najaf, in which the guns of Captain Peel played a leading part, was a notable incident in the relief of Lucknow by Sir Colin Campbell.–T.R.E. Holmes, History of the Indian Mutiny (1885), 398 ff.]
 The Gumti, Gomati, ’abounding in cattle’.
 The fish is a symbol of sovereignty, or authority emanating from the sovereign, in Hindoostaun, since the period of Timour.–Possessors of Jaghires, Collectors of Districts, &c., have permission to use the fish, in the decorations on their flags, in the way similar to our armorial bearings. In Oude the fish is represented in many useful articles–pleasure boats, carriages, &c. Some of the King’s Chobdhaars carry a staff representing a gold or silver fish. [Author.] [The Order of the Fish (mahi maratib) is said to have been founded by Khusru Parviz, King of Persia (A.D. 591-628), and thence passed to the Moghul Emperors of Delhi and to the Court of Oudh.–W.H. Sleeman, Rambles and Recollections, ed. V.A. Smith, 135 ff.]
 Nasir-ud-din Haidar, son of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, whom he succeeded in 1827, died, poisoned by his own family, in 1837. ’He differed from his father, Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, in being considerably more debauched and disreputable. His father had been an outwardly decent hedonist and voluptuary, but the son was under no restraints of any sort or kind, and it is probable that his character was not unfavourably depicted in that highly coloured sketch, “The Private Life of an Eastern King” (by W. Knighton, 1855). “Any one”, we are told, “was his friend who would drink with him,” and his whole reign was one continued satire upon the subsidiary and protected system.’–H.C. Irwin, The Garden of India, p. 117.
 Harkara, ’a messenger, orderly’.
 Palki, the common palanquin or litter; chandol, usually carried by four men at each end (a drawing representing one carried by twelve men will be found in N. Manucci, Storia do Mogor, iv. 32, and see ii. 76 f.;) miyana, a middle-sized litter out of which the type used by Europeans was developed; the Anglo-Indian ’dhooly’, properly duli; the rath is a kind of bullock-carriage, often with four wheels, used by women and by portly merchants.
 Known as ’Ashura.
 See a graphic account of the procession at Bombay in Sir G. Birdwood, Sva, 177 ff.
 Jilaudar, Jalaudar, properly an attendant holding the bridle of a mounted officer or magnate.
 The afthaadah is a sun embroidered on crimson velvet, both sides the same, and fixed on a circular framework, about two yards in circumference; this is attached to a silver or gold staff, the circle deeply and fully flounced with gold brocade, or rich silk bound with silver ribands. The person riding is sheltered from the rays of the sun by the afthaadah being carried in an elevated position. [Author.] (See p. 38.)
 Chobdar, ’a stick-or staff-bearer’.
 Sontabardar, ’a bearer of the silver stick or mace’.
 Chhata, a mark of dignity in the East.
 Danka, ’a kettle-drum’.
 Loban, luban, frankincense, olibanum, procured from various species of Boswellia.
 As early as A.D. 1000 the people of Baghdad used to throw dust and ashes about the streets, and dress in black sackcloth on the anniversary of the death of Husain (Ockley, History of the Saracens, 418). The custom was common among the Hebrews (Isaiah iii. 26, xlvii. 1; Job ii. 8, & c.). Robertson Smith suggests that the dust was originally taken from the grave, and the ashes from the funeral pyre (Religion, of the Semites, 413).
 Barqandaz, ’lightning-darter’.
 Charkhi; the description is reproduced, without acknowledgement, by Mrs. Parks, Wanderings of a Pilgrim, i. 299.
 The practice of offering food to the dead is an Indian innovation on Musalman practice; it is based on the Hindu custom of offering flour-balls (pinda) to the spirit of the dead man.
 This was a Hebrew practice, condemned by the prophets (2 Samuel xv. 30; Ezekiel xxiv. 17).
 Tamjhan, thamjan, the Anglo-Indian ’tonjon’ or ’tomjohn’, the derivation of which is obscure. See Yule, Hobson-Jobson, 930 f.
 Ill-feeling between Sunnis and Shi’ahs is not universal in India. ’Though the Sunnis consider the Shi’ah observances as impious, they look on with the contempt of indifference. The fact that the British Government punishes all who break the peace may have something to do with this. Still the Sunni and the Shi’ah in India live on much better terms, and have more respect for each other than the Turk has for the Persian, or the Persian for the Turk. Some Musalman poets, indeed, are both Sunnis and Shi’ahs.’–E. Sell, The Faith of Islam, 292 f.; cf. p. 14.