Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali
Part 1 out of 10
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OBSERVATIONS ON THE MUSSULMAUNS OF INDIA
Descriptive of Their Manners, Customs, Habits and Religious Opinions
Made During a Twelve Years' Residence in Their Immediate Society
MRS. MEER HASSAN ALI
Second Edition, Edited with Notes and an Introduction by W. Crooke
WITH SENTIMENTS OF GRATITUDE
AND PROFOUND RESPECT
THE FOLLOWING PAGES ARE HUMBLY DEDICATED,
TO HER ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCESS AUGUSTA;
BY HER ROYAL HIGHNESS'S
AND VERY HUMBLE SERVANT,
B. MEER HASSAN ALI.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
In the present reprint the text of the original edition of this work has
been reproduced without change, even the curious transliterations of the
vernacular words and phrases having been preserved. The correct forms of
these, so far as they have been ascertained, have been given in the Notes
and in the Index-Glossary. I have added an Introduction containing an
account of the authoress based on the scanty information available, and I
have compiled some notes illustrating questions connected with Islam
and Musalman usages. I have not thought it necessary to give detailed
references in the notes, but a list of the works which have been used will
be found at the end of the text. As in other volumes of this series, the
diacritical marks indicating the varieties of the sound of certain letters
in the Arabic and Devanagari alphabets have not been given: they are
unnecessary for the scholar and serve only to embarrass the general reader.
I have to acknowledge help from several friends in the preparation of this
edition. Mr. W. Foster, C.I.E., has supplied valuable notes from the India
Office records on Mir Hasan 'Ali and his family; Dr. W. Hoey, late
I.C.S., and Mr. L.N. Jopling, I.C.S., Deputy-Commissioner, Lucknow, have
made inquiries on the same subject. Mr. H.C. Irwin, late I.C.S., has
furnished much information on Oudh affairs in the time of the Nawabi.
Sir C.J. Lyall, K.C.S.I, C.I.E., and Professor E.G. Browne, M.A., have
permitted me to consult them on certain obscure words in the text.
Very little is known about the authoress of this interesting book. She is
reticent about the affairs of her husband and of herself, and inquiries
recently made at Lucknow, at the India Office, and in other likely
quarters in England, have added little to the scanty information we
possess about her.
The family of her husband claimed to be of Sayyid origin, that is to say,
to be descended from the martyrs, Hasan and Husain, the sons of Fatimah,
daughter of the Prophet, by her marriage with her cousin-german, 'Ali.
The father-in-law of the authoress, Mir Haji Shah, of whom she
speaks with affection and respect, was the son of the Qazi, or
Muhammadan law-officer, of Ludhiana, in the Panjab. During his
boyhood the Panjab was exposed to raids by the Mahrattas and incursions of
the Sikhs. He therefore abandoned his studies, wandered about for a time,
and finally took service with a certain Raja--where she does not tell
us--who was then raising a force in expectation of an attack by the Sikhs.
He served in at least one campaign, and then, while still a young man,
made a pilgrimage thrice to Mecca and Kerbela, which gained him the title
of Haji, or pilgrim. While he was in Arabia he fell short of funds,
but he succeeded in curing the wife of a rich merchant who had long
suffered from a serious disease. She provided him with money to continue
his journey. He married under romantic circumstances an Arab girl named
Fatimah as his second wife, and then went to Lucknow, which, under the
rule of the Nawabs, was the centre in Northern India of the Shi'ah
sect, to which he belonged. Here he had an exciting adventure with a tiger
during a hunting party, at which the Nawab, Shuja-ud-daula, was
present. He is believed to have held the post of Peshnamaz, or 'leader
in prayer', in the household of the eunuch, Almas 'Ali Khan, who
is referred to by the authoress.
His son was Mir Hasan 'Ali, the husband of the authoress. The
tradition in Lucknow is that he quarrelled with his father and went to
Calcutta, where he taught Arabic to some British officers and gained a
knowledge of English. We next hear of him in England, when in May 1810 he
was appointed assistant to the well-known oriental scholar, John
Shakespear, professor of Hindustani at the Military College, Addiscombe,
from 1807 to 1830, author of a dictionary of Hindustani and other
educational works. Mention is made of two cadets boarding with Mir
Hasan 'Ali, but it does not appear from the records where he lived.
After remaining at the College for six years he resigned his appointment
on the ground of ill-health, with the intention of returning to India. He
must have been an efficient teacher, because, on his resignation, the East
India Company treated him with liberality. He received a gift of L50 as a
reward for his translation of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and from the
Court minutes it appears that on December 17, 1816, it was resolved to
grant him 100 guineas to provide his passage and L100 for equipment.
Further, the Bengal Government was instructed to furnish him on his
arrival with means to reach his native place, and to pay him a pension of
Rs. 100 _per mensem_ for the rest of his life.
A tradition from Lucknow states that he was sent to England on a secret
mission, 'to ask the Home authorities to accept a contract of Oudh direct
from Nasir-ud-din Haidar, who was quite willing to remit the money
of contract direct to England instead of settling the matter with the
British Resident at Lucknow'. It is not clear what this exactly means. It
may be that the King of Oudh, thinking that annexation was inevitable, may
have been inclined to attempt to secure some private arrangement with the
East India Company, under which he would remain titular sovereign, paying
a tribute direct to the authorities in England, and that he wished to
conduct these negotiations without the knowledge of the Resident at
Lucknow. There does not seem to be independent evidence of this mission of
Mir Hasan 'Ali, and we are told that it was, as might have been
No mention is made of his wife in the official records, and I have been
unable to trace her family name or the date and place of her marriage.
Mir Hasan 'Ali and his wife sailed for Calcutta, and travelled to
Lucknow via Patna. She tells little of her career in India, save that she
lived there for twelve years, presumably from 1816 to 1828, and that
eleven years of that time were spent in the house of her father-in-law at
Lucknow. In the course of her book she gives only one date, September 18,
1825, when her husband held the post of Tahsildar, or sub-collector
of revenue, at Kanauj in the British district of Farrukhabad. No
records bearing on his career as a British official are forthcoming.
Another Lucknow tradition states that on his arrival at the Court of Oudh
from England he was, on the recommendation of the Resident, appointed to a
post in the King's service on a salary of Rs. 300 per annum. Subsequently
he fell into disgrace and was obliged to retire to Farrukhabad with
the court eunuch, Nawab Mu'tamad-ud-daula, Agha Mir.
With the restoration of Agha Mir to power, Hasan 'Ali returned
to Lucknow, and was granted a life pension of Rs. 100 _per mensem_ for his
services as Darogha at the Residency, and in consideration of his
negotiations between the King and the British Government or the East India
From the information collected at Lucknow it appears that he was known as
Mir Londoni, 'the London gentleman', and that he was appointed
Safir, or Attache, at the court of King Ghazi-ud-din Haidar,
who conferred upon him the title of Maslaha-ud-daula, 'Counsellor of
State'. By another account he held the post of Mir Munshi, head
native clerk or secretary to the British Resident.
One of the most influential personages in the court of Oudh during this
period was that stormy petrel of politics, Nawab Hakim Mehndi. He
had been the right-hand man of the Nawab Sa'adat Ali, and on the
accession of his son Ghazi-ud-din Haidar in 1814 he was dismissed on
the ground that he had incited the King to protest against interference in
Oudh affairs by the Resident, Colonel Baillie. The King at the last moment
became frightened at the prospect of an open rupture with the Resident.
Nawab Hakim Mehndi was deprived of all his public offices and of
much of his property, and he was imprisoned for a time. On his release he
retired into British territory, and in 1824 he was living in magnificent
style at Fatehgarh. In that year Bishop Heber visited Lucknow and received
a courteous letter from the Nawab inviting him to his house at
Fatehgarh. He gave the Bishop an assurance 'that he had an English
housekeeper, who knew perfectly well how to do the honours of his
establishment to gentlemen of her own nation. (She is, in fact, a singular
female, who became the wife of one of the Hindustani professors at
Hertford, now the Hukeem's dewan, and bears, I believe, a very
respectable character.)' The authoress makes no reference to Hakim
Mehndi, nor to the fact that she and her husband were in his employment.
The cause of her final departure from India is stated by W. Knighton in a
highly coloured sketch of court life in the days of King Nasir-ud-daula,
_The Private Life of an Eastern King_, published in 1855. 'Mrs. Meer
Hassan was an English lady who married a Lucknow noble during a visit to
England. She spent twelve years with him in India, and did not allow him
to exercise a Moslem's privilege of a plurality of wives. Returning to
England afterwards on account of her health, she did not again rejoin
him.' The jealousy between rival wives in a polygamous Musalman
household is notorious. 'A rival may be good, but her son never: a rival
even if she be made of dough is intolerable: the malice of a rival is
known to everybody: wife upon wife and heartburnings'--such are the common
proverbs which define the situation. But if her separation from her
husband was really due to this cause, it is curious that in her book she
notes as a mark of a good wife that she is tolerant of such arrangements.
'She receives him [her husband] with undisguised pleasure, although she
has just before learned that another member has been added to his
well-peopled harem. The good and forbearing wife, by this line of conduct,
secures to herself the confidence of her husband, who, feeling assured
that the amiable woman has an interest in his happiness, will consult her
and take her advice in the domestic affairs of his children by other wives,
and even arrange by her judgement all the settlements for their marriages,
&c. He can speak of other wives without restraint--for she knows he has
others--and her education has taught her that they deserve her respect in
proportion as they contribute to her husband's happiness.'
It is certainly noticeable that she says very little about her husband
beyond calling him in a conventional way 'an excellent husband' and 'a
dutiful, affectionate son'. There is no indication that her husband
accompanied her on her undated visit to Delhi, when she was received in
audience by the King, Akbar II, and the Queen, who were then living in a
state of semi-poverty. She tells us that they 'both appeared, and
expressed themselves, highly gratified with the visit of an English lady,
who could explain herself in their language without embarrassment, or the
assistance of an interpreter, and who was the more interesting to them
from the circumstance of being the wife of a Syaad'.
From inquiries made at Lucknow it has been ascertained that Mir
Hasan 'Ali had no children by his English wife. By one or more native
wives he had three children: a daughter, Fatimah Begam, who married a
certain Mir Sher 'Ali, of which marriage one or more descendants
are believed to be alive; and two sons, Mir Sayyid 'Ali or Miran
Sahib, said to have served the British Government as a Tahsildar,
whose grandson is now living at Lucknow, and Mir Sayyid Husain, who
became a Risaldar, or commander of a troop, in one of the Oudh
Irregular Cavalry Regiments. One of his descendants, Mir Agha 'Ali
Sahib, possesses some landed property which was probably acquired by
the Risaldar. After the annexation of Oudh Mir Hasan 'Ali is
said to have been paid a pension of Rs. 100 _per mensem_ till his death in
It is also worthy of remark that she carefully avoids any reference to the
palace intrigues and maladministration which prevailed in Oudh during the
reigns of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar and Nasir-ud-din Haidar, who
occupied the throne during her residence at Lucknow. She makes a vague
apology for the disorganized state of the country: 'Acts of oppression may
sometimes occur in Native States without the knowledge even, and much less
by the command of, the Sovereign ruler, since the good order of the
government mainly depends on the disposition of the Prime Minister for the
time being'--a true remark, but no defence for the conduct of the weak
princes who did nothing to suppress corruption and save their subjects
Little is known of the history of Mrs. Mir Hasan 'Ali after her
arrival in England. It has been stated that she was attached in some
capacity to the household of the Princess Augusta, who died unmarried on
September 22, 1840. This is probable, because the list of subscribers
to her book is headed by Queen Adelaide, the Princess Augusta, and other
ladies of the Royal Family. She must have been in good repute among
Anglo-Indians, because several well-known names appear in the list: H.T.
Colebrooke, G.C. Haughton, Mordaunt Ricketts and his wife, and Colonel J.
The value of the book rests on the fact that it is a record of the
first-hand experiences of an English lady who occupied the exceptional
position of membership of a Musalman family. She tells us nothing of
her friends in Lucknow, but she had free access to the houses of
respectable Sayyids, and thus gained ample facilities for the study of the
manners and customs of Musalman families. Much of her information on
Islam was obtained from her husband and his father, both learned,
travelled gentlemen, and by them she was treated with a degree of
toleration unusual in a Shi'ah household, this sect being rigid and
often fanatical followers of Islam. She was allowed to retain a firm
belief in the Christian religion, and she tells us that Mir Haji
Shah delighted in conversing on religious topics, and that his happiest
time was spent in the quiet of night when his son translated to him the
Bible as she read it.
Her picture of zenana life is obviously coloured by her frank admiration
for the people amongst whom she lived, who treated her with respect and
consideration. It is thus to some extent idyllic. At the same time, it may
be admitted that she was exceptionally fortunate in her friends. Her
sketch may be usefully compared with that of Mrs. Fanny Parks in her
charming book, _The Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque_.
Mrs. Parks had the advantage of having acquired a literary knowledge of
Hindustani, while Mrs. Mir Hasan 'Ali, to judge from the way in
which she transliterates native words, can have been able to speak little
more than a broken patois, knew little of grammar, and was probably unable
to read or write the Arabic character. Colonel Gardner, who had wide and
peculiar experience, said to Mrs. Parks: 'Nothing can exceed the quarrels
that go on in the zenana, or the complaints the begams make against each
other. A common complaint is "Such a one has been practising witchcraft
against me". If the husband make a present to one wife, if it be only a
basket of mangoes, he must make the same exactly to all the other wives to
keep the peace. A wife, when in a rage with her husband, if on account of
jealousy, often says, "I wish I were married to a grass-cutter," i.e.
because a grass-cutter is so poor that he can only afford to have one
wife.' Mrs. Parks from her own experience calls the zenana 'a place of
intrigue, and those who live within four walls cannot pursue a straight
path; how can it be otherwise, when so many conflicting passions are
called forth?' She adds that 'Musalmani ladies generally forget
their learning when they grow up, or they neglect it. Everything that
passes without the four walls is repeated to them by their spies; never
was any place so full of intrigue, scandal, and chit-chat as a zenana.'
When she visited the Delhi palace she remarks: 'As for beauty, in a whole
zenana there may be two or three handsome women, and all the rest
remarkably ugly.' European officers at the present day have no
opportunities for acquiring a knowledge of the conditions of zenana life;
but from the rumours that reach them they would probably accept the views
of Mrs. Parks in preference to those of Mrs. Mir Hasan 'Ali.
Though her opinions on the life of Musalman ladies is to some extent
open to criticism, and must be taken to apply only to the exceptional
society in which she moved, her account of the religious feasts and fasts,
the description of the marriage ceremonies and that of the surroundings of
a native household are trustworthy and valuable. Some errors, not of much
importance and probably largely due to her imperfect knowledge of the
language, have been corrected in the notes of the present edition. It must
also be understood that her knowledge of native life was confined to that
of the Musalmans, and she displays no accurate acquaintance with the
religion, life or customs of the Hindus. The account in the text displays
a bias in favour of the Shi'ah sect of Musalmans, as contrasted with
that of the Sunnis. For a more impartial study of the question the
reader is referred to Sir W. Muir, _Annals of the Early Caliphate, The
Caliphate_, and to Major R.D. Osborn, _Islam under the Khalifs of Baghdad_.
 Col. H.M. Vibart, _Addiscombe_, pp. 39, 41, 42.
 _Diwan_, chief agent, manager.
 p. 208.
 p. 182.
 p. 290.
 p. 227.
 _Calcutta Review_, ii. 387.
 pp. 80, 422.
 Vol. i, pp. 230, 453.
 i. 391.
 i. 450.
 ii. 215.
Introductory Remarks.--The characteristic simplicity of manners
exhibited in Native families.--Their munificent charity.--The Syaads.
Their descent, and the veneration paid to them.--Their pride of
birth.--Fast of Mahurrum.--Its origin.--The Sheahs and
Soonies.--Memorandum of distances.--Mount Judee (Judea), the
attributed burying-place of Adam and Noah.--Mausoleum of Ali.--Tomb
of Eve.--Meer Hadjee Shah.
Celebration of Mahurrum.--The Tazia.--Mussulmaun Cemeteries.--An
Emaum-baarah.--Piety of the ladies.--Self-inflicted abstinence and
privations endured by each sex.--Instances of the devotional zeal of
the Mussulmauns.--Attempted infringement on their religious
formalities.--The Resident at Lucknow.--Enthusiastic ardour of the
poor.--Manner of celebrating the Mahurrum in opposition to the
precepts of the Khoraun.--Mosque and Emaum-baarah contrasted.--The
supposition of Mussulmauns practising idolatry confuted.
Continuation of Mahurrum.--Consecration of Banners.--Durgah at
Lucknow.--Its origin explained.--Regarded with peculiar
veneration.--The Nuwaub vows to build a new one.--Its
description.--Procession to the Durgah.--Najoomies.--Influence
possessed and practised by them.--Eunuchs.--Anecdotes of some having
attained great honours and wealth.--Presents bestowed upon them
generally revert to the donor.--Rich attire of male and female
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...Page 42
Time.--How divided in Hindoostaun.--Observances after
Mahurrum--Luxuries and enjoyments resumed.--Black dye used by the
ladies.--Their nose-ring.--Number of rings worn in their ears.--Mode
of dressing their hair.--Aversion to our tooth-brushes.--Toilet of
the ladies.--The Pyjaamahs.--The Ungeeah (bodice).--The Courtie.--The
Deputtah.--Reception of a superior or elder amongst the
ladies.--Their fondness for jewels.--Their shoes.--The state of
society amongst the Mussulmaun ladies.--Their conversational
endowments.--Remark upon the fashion and duty of beards...Page 55
The Mussulmaun religion.--Sectarians.--Their difference of
faith.--History of the Soonies.--The Caliphas Omir, Osman, Aboubuker,
&c.--Mahumud's parting charge to Ali.--Omir's jealousy of Ali.--The
Khoraun.--How compiled.--The Calipha Omir held in detestation.--Creed
of the Sheahs.--Funeral service.--Opinions of the Mussulmauns
respecting the Millennium.--The foundation of their faith
exhibited.--Sentiments of the most devout followers of
Mahumud.--Bridge of Sirraat, the Scales, &c., explained.--Emaum
Mhidhie.--Prophecy of his reappearance.--Its early fulfilment
anticipated.--Discourse with Meer Hadjee Shaah on this
Namaaz (daily prayer).--The Mussulmaun prayers.--Their different
names and times.--Extra prayer-service.--The Mosque.--Ablutions
requisite previous to devotion.--Prostrations at prayers.--Mosque
described.--The Mussulmaun's Sabbath.--Its partial observance.--The
amusements of this life not discontinued on the Sabbath.--Employment
of domestics undiminished on this day.--Works of importance then
commenced.--Reasons for appropriating Friday to the Sabbath.--The
Jews opposed to Mahumud.--The Prophet receives instructions from the
angel Gabriel.--Their import and definition.--Remarks of a
Commentator on the Khoraun.--Prayer of intercession.--Pious
observance of Christmas day by a Native Lady.--Opinions entertained
of our Saviour.--Additional motives for prayer.--David's Mother's
prayer.--Anecdote of Moses and a Woodcutter.--Remarks upon the piety
and devotion of the female Mussulmauns...Page 82
The Fast of Rumzaun.--Motives for its strict observance.--Its
commencement and duration.--Sentiments of Meer Hadjee Shaah on the
day of fasting.--Adherence of the females to the observing this
fast.--How first broken.--Devout persons extend the term to forty
days.--Children permitted to try their zeal.--Calamitous effects of
the experiment.--Exemptions from this duty.--Joyful termination of
the fast.--Celebration of Eade on the last day.--The
Nuzza.--Nautchwomen and Domenie.--Surprise of the Natives at European
dancing.--Remarks on their Music.--Anecdotes of Fatima.--The
The Hadje (Pilgrimage to Mecca).--Commanded to be performed by
Mahumud.--Eagerness of both, sexes to visit the Prophet's
tomb.--Qualifications requisite for the undertaking.--Different
routes from India to Mecca.--Duties of the pilgrims at the Holy
House.--Mecca and its environs.--Place of Abraham.--The
Bedouins.--Anecdote of a devotee and two pilgrims.--A Bedouin Arab
and the travellers to Mecca.--The Kaabah (Holy
House).--Superstitious regard to a chain suspended there.--Account of
the gold water-spout.--Tax levied on pilgrims visiting the tomb of
Mahumud by the Sheruff of Mecca.--Sacred visit to the tombs of Ali,
Hasan, and Hosein.--The importance attached to this duty.--Travellers
annoyed by the Arabs.--An instance recorded.--The Nudghiff
Usheruff.--Anecdotes of Syaad Harshim...Page 112
The Zuckhaut (God's portion).--Syaads restricted the benefit of this
charity.--The Sutkah.--The Emaum's Zaumunee (protection).--The Tenths,
or Syaads' Due.--Mussulmauns attribute thanks to God only, for all
benefits conferred.--Extracts from the 'Hyaatool Kaaloob'.--Mahumud's
advice.--His precepts tend to inculcate and encourage
charity.--Remarks on the benevolence of Mussulmauns...Page 135
Mussulmaun festivals.--Buckrah Eade.--Ishmael believed to have been
offered in sacrifice by Abraham and not Isaac.--Descent of the
Mussulmauns from Abraham.--The Eade-gaarh.--Presentation of
Nuzzas.--Elephants.--Description of the Khillaut (robe of
honour).--Customs on the day of Buckrah Eade.--Nou-Roze (New Year's
Day).--Manner of its celebration.--The Bussund (Spring-colour).--The
Sah-bund.--Observances during this month.--Festival of the New
Moon.--Superstition of the Natives respecting the influence of the
Moon.--Their practices during an eclipse.--Supposed effects of the
Moon on a wound.--Medicinal application of lime in
Hindoostaun.--Observance of Shubh-burraat.
The Zeenahnah.--Its interior described.--Furniture, decorations,
&c.--The Purdah (curtains).--Bedstead.--The Musnud (seat of
honour).--Mirrors and ornamental furniture disused.--Display on
occasions of festivity.--Observations on the Mussulmaun
Ladies.--Happiness in their state of seclusion.--Origin of secluding
females by Mahumud.--Anecdote.--Tamerlane's command prohibiting
females being seen in public.--The Palankeen.--Bearers.--Their
general utility and contentedness of disposition.--Habits peculiar to
Mussulmaun Ladies.--Domestic arrangements of a Zeenahnah.--Dinner
and its accompanying observances.--The Lota and Lugguns.--The
Hookha.--Further investigation of the customs adopted in
Plurality of wives.--Mahumud's motive for permitting this
privilege.--State of society at the commencement of the Prophet's
mission.--His injunctions respecting marriage.--Parents invariably
determine on the selection of a husband.--First marriages attended by
a public ceremony.--The first wife takes precedence of all
others.--Generosity of disposition evinced by the Mussulmaun
ladies.--Divorces obtained under certain restrictions.--Period of
solemnizing marriage.--Method adopted in choosing a husband or
wife.--Overtures and contracts of marriage, how regulated.--Mugganee,
the first contract.--Dress of the bride elect on this occasion.--The
ceremonies described as witnessed.--Remarks on the bride.--Present
from the bridegroom on Buckrah Eade... Page 179
Wedding ceremonies of the Mussulmauns.--The new or full moon
propitious to the rites being concluded.--Marriage settlements
unknown.--Control of the wife over her own property.--Three days and
nights occupied in celebrating the wedding.--Preparations previously
made by both families.--Ostentatious display on these occasions.--Day
of Sarchuck.--Customs on the day of Mayndhie.--Sending Presents.--Day
of Baarraat.--Procession of the bridegroom to fetch the bride.--The
bride's departure to her new home.--Attendant ceremonies
explained.--Similarity of the Mussulmaun and Hindoo
ceremonies.--Anecdote of a Moollah.--Tying the Narrah to the
On the birth and management of children in Hindoostaun.--Increase of
joy on the birth of a Son.--Preference generally shown to male
children.--Treatment of Infants.--Day of Purification.--Offerings
presented on this occasion to the child.--The anniversary of the
birthday celebrated.--Visit of the father to the Durgah.--Pastimes of
boys.--Kites.--Pigeons.--The Mhogdhur.--Sword-exercise.--The Bow and
Arrows.--The Pellet-bow.--Crows.--Sports of Native
gentlemen.--Cock-fighting.--Remarks upon horses, elephants, tigers,
and leopards.--Pigeon-shooting.--Birds released from captivity on
particular occasions.--Reasons for the extension of the royal
clemency in Native Courts.--Influence of the Prime Minister in the
administration of justice...Page 210
Remarks on the trades and professions of Hindoostaun.--The
Bazaars.--Naunbye (Bazaar cook).--The Butcher, and other
trades.--Shroffs (Money-changers).--Popular cries in Native
cities.--The articles enumerated and the venders of them
Butcher-bird, the Coel, and Lollah.--Fireworks.--Parched
corn.--Wonder-workers.--Snakes.--Anecdote of the Moonshie and the
Snake-catcher.--The Cutler.--Sour curds.--Clotted
cream.--Butter.--Singular process of the Natives in making
butter.--Ice.--How procured in India.--Ink.--All writing dedicated to
God by the Mussulmauns.--The reverence for the name of God.--The
Mayndhie and Sulmah...Page 228
Seclusion of Females.--Paadshah Begum.--The Suwaarree.--Female
Bearers.--Eunuchs.--Rutts.--Partiality of the Ladies to Large
retinues.--Female Companions.--Telling the Khaunie.--Games of the
Zeenahnah.--Shampooing.--The Punkah.--Slaves and
slavery.--Anecdote.--The Persian Poets.--Fierdowsee.--Saadie, his
Kaaloob'.--Different manner of pronouncing Scripture names...Page 248
Evils attending a residence in India.--Frogs.--Flies.--Blains.--
Musquitoes.--The White Ant.--The Red Ant.--Their destructive
habits.--A Tarantula.--Black Ants.--Locusts.--Superstition of the
Natives upon their appearance.--The Tufaun, or Haundhie
(tempest).--The rainy season.--Thunder and lightning.--Meteors.--
Earthquakes.--A city ruined by them.--Reverence of the Mussulmauns
for saints.--Prickly heat.--Cholera Morbus.--Mode of
Treatment.--Temperance the best remedy.--Recipe...Page 258
Kannoge.--Formerly the capital of Hindoostaun.--Ancient
castle.--Durability of the bricks made by the aborigines.--Prospect
from the Killaah (castle).--Ruins.--Treasures found therein.--The
Durgah Baallee Peer Kee.--Mukhburrahs.--Ancient Mosque.--Singular
structure of some stone pillars.--The Durgah Mukdoom
Jhaunneer.--Conversions to the Mussulmaun Faith.--Anecdote.--Ignorance
of the Hindoos.--Sculpture of the Ancients.--Mosque inhabited by
thieves.--Discovery of Nitre.--Method of extracting it.--Conjectures
of its produce.--Residence in the castle.--Reflections...Page 274
Delhi.--Description of the city.--Marble hall--The Queen's Mahul
(palace).--Audience with the King and Queen.--Conversation with
them.--Character of their Majesties.--Visit to a
Muckburrah.--Soobadhaars.--The nature of the office.--Durgah of Shah
Nizaam ood deen.--Tomb of Shah Allum.--Ruins in the vicinity of Delhi.
--Antique pillars (Kootub).--Prospect from its galleries.--Anecdotes
of Juangheer and Khareem Zund...Page 289
Natural Productions of India.--Trees, shrubs, plants, fruits,
&c.--Their different uses and medicinal qualities.--The Rose.--Native
medical practice.--Antidote to Hydrophobia.--Remedy for the venom of
the Snake.--The Chitcherah (Inverted thorn).--The Neam-tree.--The
Hurrundh (Castor-tree).--The Umultass (Cassia-tree).--The
Myrtle.--The Pomegranate.--The Tamarind.--The Jahmun.--The
Mango.--The Sherrefah.--White and red Guavers.--The Damascus Fig.--The
Peach, and other Fruits.--The Mahdhaar (Fire-plant).--The Sirrakee and
Sainturh (Jungle-grass).--The Bamboo, and its various uses
Monkeys.--Hindoo opinions of their Nature.--Instances of their
sagacity.--Rooted animosity of the Monkey tribe to the
snake.--Cruelty to each other when maimed.--The female remarkable for
affection to its young.--Anecdotes descriptive of the belief of the
Natives in the Monkey being endowed with reason.--The Monkeys and the
Alligator.--The Traveller and the Monkeys.--The Hindoo and the
The Soofies.--Opinion of the Mussulmauns concerning Solomon.--The
Ood-ood.--Description of the Soofies and their sect.--Regarded with
great reverence.--Their protracted fasts.--Their opinion esteemed by
the Natives.--Instance of the truth of their predictions.--The Saalik
and Majoob Soofies.--The poets Haafiz and Saadie.--Character and
attainments of Saadie.--His 'Goolistaun'.--Anecdotes descriptive of
the origin of that work.--Farther remarks on the character and
history of Saadie.--Interesting anecdotes illustrative of his virtues
and the distinguishing characteristics of the Soofies...Page 331
The Soofies continued.--Eloy Bauxh.--Assembly of Saalik
Soofies.--Singular exhibition of their zeal.--Mystery of Soofeism.--The
terms Soofie and Durweish explained.--Anecdote of Shah Sherif.--Shah
Jee and the Paltaan.--Dialogue on death between Shah Jee and his
wife.--Exemplary life of his grandson.--Anecdote of a Mussulmaun
lady.--Reflections on modern Hindoos.--Anecdotes of Shah ood Dowlah
and Meer Nizaam...Page 348
Mussulmaun Devotees.--The Chillubdhaars.--Peculiar mode of
worship.--Propitiatory offerings.--Supposed to be invulnerable to
fire.--The Maadhaars or Duffelees.--Character of the
founder.--Pilgrimage to his tomb.--Females afflicted on visiting
it.--Effects attributed to the violation of the sanctuary by a
foreigner.--Superstition of the Natives.--Anecdote of Sheikh Suddoo
and the Genii.--The way of the world exemplified, a Khaunie
(Hindoostaunie fable).--Moral fable.--The King who longed for
Superstition of the Natives.--Fair annually kept by Hindoos.--Supposed
practice of witchcraft by an old woman.--Assaulted by an infuriated
populace.--Rescued by a Native gentleman.--He inquires their reasons
for persecuting her.--Is instrumental in appeasing their
malignity.--Endeavours to remove their prejudice.--Proneness of
Asiatics to superstition.--Opinion of a Mussulmaun on the influence
of evil spirits.--Account of a woman possessed by an evil
spirit.--Dialogue with her during the paroxysms of her
affliction.--Means used for her recovery.--Further allusions to the
false notions of the Natives respecting supernatural agency...Page 387
Memoir of the life of Meer Hadjee Shah.--His descent.--Anecdote of a
youthful exploit.--His predilection for the army.--Leaves his home to
join the army of a neighbouring Rajah.--Adventures on the way.--Is
favourably received and fostered by the Rajah.--His first pilgrimage
to Mecca.--Occurrences during his stay in Arabia.--Description of a
tiger-hunt.--Detail of events during his subsequent pilgrimages.--The
plague.--Seizure by pirates.--Sketch of the life of Fatima, an
Arabian lady.--Relieved from slavery by Meer Hadjee Shah.--He marries
her.--Observations on the piety of his life.--Concluding
Actuated by a sense of duty to the people with whom twelve years of my
life were passed on terms of intimacy and kindness, I was induced to write
the principal number of the following Letters as faithful sketches of the
Manners, Customs, and Habits of a people but little known to the European
reader. They were at first designed merely for the perusal of private
friends; who, viewing them with interest, recommended my bringing them
before the public, considering that the information they contained would
be acceptable from its originality, as presenting a more familiar view of
the opinions and the domestic habits of the Mussulmaun community of
Hindoostaun than any hitherto presented through other channels.
I have found (and I believe many will coincide with me in the opinion)
that it is far easier to think with propriety than to write our thoughts
with perspicuity and correctness; but when the object in view is one which
conscience dictates, the humblest effort of a female pen advances with
courage; and thus influenced, I venture to present my work to the public,
respectfully trusting they will extend their usual indulgence to a first
attempt, from the pen of a very humble scribe, more solicitous for
approbation than applause.
The orthography of Asiatic words may differ in some instances in my pages
from those of other writers--this, however, is from error, not design, and
may be justly attributed to my own faulty pronunciation.
I have inserted in these Letters many anecdotes and fables, which at the
first view, may be considered as mere nursery tales. My object, however,
will I trust plead my excuse: they are introduced in order to illustrate
the people whom I have undertaken to describe; and, primarily strengthened
by the moral tendency of each anecdote or fable selected for my pages, I
cannot but consider them as well suited to the purpose.
Without farther apology, but with very great deference, I leave these
imperfect attempts to the liberality of my readers, acknowledging with
gratitude the condescending patronage I have been honoured with, and
sincerely desiring wherever anticipations of amusement or information from
my observations have been formed, that the following pages may fulfil
those expectations, and thus gratify my wish to be in the smallest degree
useful in my generation.
[B. MEER HASSAN ALI]
Introductory Remarks.--The characteristic simplicity of manners
exhibited in Native families.--Their munificent charity.--The
Syaads.--Their descent, and the veneration paid to them.--Their pride
of birth.--Fast of Mahurrum.--Its origin.--The Sheahs and
Soonies.--Memorandum of distances.--Mount Judee (Judea), the
attributed burying-place of Adam and Noah.--Mausoleum of Ali.--The
tomb of Eve.--Meer Hadjee Shaah.
I have promised to give you, my friends, occasional sketches of men and
manners, comprising the society of the Mussulmauns in India. Aware of the
difficulty of my task, I must entreat your kind indulgence to the
weaknesses of a female pen, thus exercised for your amusement, during my
twelve years' domicile in their immediate society.
Every one who sojourns in India for any lengthened period, will, I believe,
agree with me, that in order to promote health of body, the mind must be
employed in active pursuits. The constitutionally idle persons, of either
sex, amongst Europeans, are invariably most subject to feel distressed by
the prevailing annoyances of an Indian climate: from a listless life
results discontent, apathy, and often disease. I have found, by experience,
the salutary effects of employing time, as regards, generally, healthiness
of body and of mind. The hours devoted to this occupation (tracing remarks
for the perusal of far distant friends) have passed by without a murmur or
a sigh, at the height of the thermometer, or the length of a day during
the season of hot winds, or of that humid heat which prevails throughout
the periodical rains. Time flies quickly with useful employment in all
places; in this exhausting climate every one has to seek amusement in
their own resources, from sunrise to sunset, during which period there is
no moving from home for, at least, eight months out of the twelve. I have
not found any occupation so pleasant as talking to my friends, on paper,
upon such subjects as may admit of the transfer for their acceptance--and
may I not hope, for their gratification also?
The patriarchal manners are so often pictured to me, in many of the
every-day occurrences exhibited in the several families I have been most
acquainted with in India, that I seem to have gone back to that ancient
period with my new-sought home and new friends. Here I find the master and
mistress of a family receiving the utmost veneration from their slaves and
domestics, whilst the latter are permitted to converse and give their
opinions with a freedom (always respectful), that at the first view would
lead a stranger to imagine there could be no great inequality of station
between the persons conversing. The undeviating kindness to aged servants,
no longer capable of rendering their accustomed services; the remarkable
attention paid to the convenience and comfort of poor relatives, even to
the most remote in consanguinity; the beamings of universal charity; the
tenderness of parents; and the implicit obedience of children, are a few
of those amiable traits of character from whence my allusions are drawn,
and I will add, by which my respect has been commanded. In their
reverential homage towards parents, and in affectionate solicitude for the
happiness of those venerated authors of their existence, I consider them
the most praiseworthy people existing.
On the spirit of philanthropy exhibited in their general charity, I may
here remark, that they possess an injunction from their Lawgiver, 'to be
universally charitable'. This command is reverenced and obeyed by all
who are his faithful followers. They are persuaded that almsgiving
propitiates the favour of Heaven, consequently this belief is the inducing
medium for clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, supporting the weak,
consoling the afflicted, protecting the fatherless, sheltering the
houseless traveller, and rendering the ear and the heart alive to the
distresses of the poor in all situations. A good Mussulmaun never allows
the voice to pass unheeded where the suppliant applies, 'In the name of
God', or 'For the love of God'.
I have often been obliged to hear the Mussulmauns accused of an
ostentatious display of their frequent acts of charity. It may be so in
some instances; human nature has failings common to all complexions. Pride
may sometimes open the purse of the affluent to the poor man's petition;
but when the needy benefit by the rich, it is unjust to scrutinize the
heart's motive, where the act itself alleviates the present sufferings of
Imposition is doubtless often practised with success by the indolent, who
excite the good feelings of the wealthy by a tale of woe; the sin rests
with him who begs unworthily, not with him who relieves the supposed
distresses of his poorer neighbour. The very best of human beings will
acknowledge they derive benefits from the bounty of their Maker, not
because they are deserving, but that 'He is merciful'.
I shall have occasion to detail in my Letters some of the Mussulmaun
observances, festivals, &c., which cannot be accomplished without feeding
the poor; and, in justice to their general character, be it acknowledged,
their liberality is not confined to those stated periods.
The Syaads (Meers) are descendants from Mahumud, the acknowledged
Prophet and Lawgiver of the Mussulmauns; and, as might be expected, are
peculiar objects of respect and favour amongst the true believers (as
those who hold their faith are designated). 'The poor Syaad's family' are
the first to be considered when the rich have determined on dispensing
gifts in charity. The Syaads, however, are under peculiar restrictions as
regards the nature of those gifts which they are permitted to accept.
Money obtained by unlawful means, as forbidden in the Khoraun (usury
for instance), is deemed polluted, and must neither be offered to, nor
accepted by, these 'children of the Prophet'.
The Syaads are the Lords of Mussulmaun society, and every female born to
them is a Lady (Begum). Heralds' offices they have none, but genealogy
is strictly kept in each Mussulmaun family, who can boast the high
privilege of bearing the Prophet's blood in their veins. The children of
both sexes are taught, from the time of their first speaking intelligibly,
to recount their pedigree, up to Hasan, or Hosein, the two sons of Ali, by
his cousin Fatima, the daughter of their Prophet: this forms a striking
part of their daily education, whilst they continue in their mother's
zeenahnah (lady's apartment); and, from the frequent repetition, is so
firmly fixed in the memory, that they have no difficulty in tracing their
pedigree whenever called upon to do so, unaided by the manuscript
genealogy kept with care in the parental treasury.
This method of retaining lineage is not always a check against impostors;
many have taken upon themselves the honourable distinction of the Syaad,
without having the slightest claim to the title; but when the cheat is
discovered such persons are disgraced, and become aliens to the
respectable. So many advantages are enjoyed by Syaads, that it is not
surprising there should be some, which have no right, anxious to be
numbered with those who are truly the Mussulmaun lords; though such men
are taught to believe that, by the usurpation, they shut themselves out
from the advantages of their Prophet's intercession at the great day of
The Syaads are very tenacious in retaining the purity of their race
unsullied, particularly with respect to their daughters; a conscientious
Syaad regards birth before wealth in negotiations for marriage: many a
poor lady, in consequence of this prejudice, lives out her numbered days
in single blessedness, although--to their honour be it told--many
charitably disposed amongst the rich men of the country have, within my
recollection of Indian society, granted from their abundance sufficient
sums to defray the expenses of a union, and given the marriage portion,
unsolicited, to the daughters of the poorer members of this venerated race.
A Syaad rarely speaks of his pecuniary distresses, but is most grateful
I am intimately acquainted with a family in which this pride of birth
predominates over every advantage of interest. There are three unmarried
daughters, remarkable for their industrious habits, morality, and strict
observance of their religious duties; they are handsome, well-formed women,
polite and sensible, and to all this they add an accomplishment which is
not by any means general amongst the females of Hindoostaun, they have
been taught by their excellent father to read the Khoraun in Arabic--it is
not allowed to be translated,--and the Commentary in Persian. The fame
of their superiority has brought many applications from the heads of
families possessing wealth, and desirous to secure for their sons wives so
eminently endowed, who would waive all considerations of the marriage
dowry, for the sake of the Begum who might thus adorn their untitled house.
All these offers, however, have been promptly rejected, and the young
ladies themselves are satisfied in procuring a scanty subsistence by the
labour of their hands. I have known them to be employed in working the
jaullie (netting) for courties (a part of the female dress), which,
after six days' close application, at the utmost could not realize three
shillings each; yet I never saw them other than contented, happy, and
cheerful,--a family of love, and patterns of sincere piety.
The titles and distinctions conferred by sovereigns, or the Hon. East
India Company in India, as Khaun, Bahadhoor, Nuwaub, &c., are
not actually hereditary honours, though often presumed on, and indulged in,
by successors. The Syaads, on the contrary, are the Meers and Begums
(nobility) throughout their generations to the end of time, or at any rate,
with the continuance of the Mussulmaun religion.
Having thus far explained the honourable distinction of the Syaads, I
propose giving you some account of the Mahurrum, a celebrated mourning
festival in remembrance of their first martyrs, and which occupies the
attention of the Mussulmauns annually to a degree of zeal that has always
attracted the surprise of our countrymen in India; some of whom, I trust,
will not be dissatisfied with the observations of an individual, who
having spent many years of her life with those who are chief actors in
these scenes, it may be expected, is the better able to explain the nature
of that Mahurrum which they see commemorated every year, yet many, perhaps,
without comprehending exactly why. Those strong expressions of grief--the
sombre cast of countenance,--the mourning garb,--the self-inflicted
abstinence, submitted to by the Mussulmaun population, during the ten days
set apart for the fulfilment of the mourning festival, all must have
witnessed who have been in Hindoostaun for any period.
I must first endeavour to represent the principal causes for the observance
of Mahurrum; and for the information of those who have witnessed its
celebration, as well as for the benefit of others who have not had the same
opportunity, describe the manner of celebrating the event, which occurred
more than twelve hundred years ago.
Hasan and Hosein were the two sons of Fatima and Ali, from whom the whole
Syaad race have generated; Hasan was poisoned by an emissary of the
usurping Calipha's; and Hosein, the last sad victim of the family to
the King Yuzeed's fury, suffered a cruel death, after the most severe
trials, on the plains of Kraabaallah, on the tenth day of the Arabian
month Mahurrum; the anniversary of which catastrophe is solemnized with
the most devoted zeal.
This brief sketch constitutes the origin of the festival; but I deem it
necessary to detail at some length the history of that period, which may
the better explain the motives assigned by the Mussulmauns, for the deep
grief exhibited every year, as the anniversary of Mahurrum returns to
these faithful followers of their martyred leaders, Hasan and Hosein, who,
with their devoted families, suffered innocently by the hands of the
Yuzeed, the King of Shawm, it appears, was the person in power,
amongst the followers of Mahumud, at that early period of Mussulmaun
history. Of the Soonie sect, his hatred to the descendants of Mahumud
was of the most inveterate kind; jealousy, it is supposed, aided by a very
wicked heart, led him to desire the extirpation of the whole race,
particularly as he knew that, generally, the Mussulmaun people secretly
desired the immediate descendants of their Prophet to be their rulers.
They were, however, intimidated by Yuzeed's authority; whilst he, ever
fearing the possibility of the Syaads' restoration to their rights,
resolved, if possible, on sacrificing the whole family, to secure himself
in his illegal power.
Ali had been treacherously murdered through the contrivances of the
usurping Calipha; after his death, the whole family removed from Shawm,
the capital, to Medina, where they lived some years in tranquillity,
making many converts to their faith, and exercising themselves in the
service of God and virtuous living. Unostentatious in their habits and
manners, they enjoyed the affection of their neighbours, their own good
name increasing daily, to the utter dismay of their subtle enemy.
In the course of time, the devout people of Shawm, being heartily tired of
Yuzeed's tyrannical rule, and fearing the true faith would be defamed by
the excesses and abuses of power committed by him, they were desirous of
calling to their aid a leader from the Prophet's family, who would secure,
in its original purity, the performance of that religion which Mahumud had
taught. Some thousands of respectable Mussulmauns, it is related, signed a
petition to Hosein, requesting his immediate presence at Shawm, in order,
as the petition stated, 'that the religion his grandsire taught might be
supported and promoted'; and declaring 'the voluptuousness and infamy of
Yuzeed's life to be so offensive and glaring, that the true faith was
endangered by his vicious examples'; and entreating him to accept his
lawful rights as 'Emaum' (Leader of the Faithful).
Hosein received the petition, but declined accepting the proposed
restitution of his family's rights at that time; yet he held out hopes in
his reply, that he might eventually listen to their entreaties, should he
be convinced his presence was essential to their welfare; and, as a
prelude to this, he sent his cousin Moslem, on whom he could rely, to
make personal observation of the real state of things at Shawm; expecting
to learn, from his matured knowledge, the real causes of complaint, and
the wishes of the people, and by whose report he would be guided, as to
his final acceptance or rejection of the proposed measure for his becoming
Moslem, accompanied by his two sons, mere youths, left Medina on this
important mission, and having accomplished the tedious march without
accident or interruption, he delivered Hosein's letters to those persons
of consequence in Shawm, who were at the head of the party petitioning his
appearance there, and who proffered their influence and support for the
recovery of the rights and privileges so long withheld from the
descendants of Mahumud.
Moslem was kindly greeted by them, and multitudes flocked to his quarters,
declaring Hosein the lawful leader of true Mussulmauns. Elated with these
flattering indications, he too promptly despatched his messengers to
Hosein, urging his immediate return to Shawm.
In the mean time, and long before the messengers could reach Medina,
Yuzeed, learning the state of things in the capital, was seriously alarmed
and greatly enraged; he issued orders for the seizure of Moslem and his
children, and desiring to have them brought to his presence, offered
immense sums of money for their capture. The friends of Moslem, however,
succeeded, for a time, in secreting his person from King Yuzeed's
emissaries, trusting the darkness of night would enable him to escape. But
the slaves and dependants of the tyrant being despatched into all quarters
of the city, Moslem's retreat was eventually discovered; and, through the
influence of a purse of gold, his person was given up to the King's
The unfortunate agent of Hosein had confided the charge of his two sons to
the Kauzy of the city, when the first report reached him of the tyrant
Yuzeed's fury. This faithful Kauzy, as the night advanced, intended to get
the poor boys conveyed to the halting place of a Kaarawaun, which he
knew was but a few miles off, on their route for Medina. The guide, to
whom the youths were intrusted, either by design or mistake, took the
wrong road; and, after wandering through the dreary night, and suffering
many severe trials, they were taken prisoners by the cruel husband of a
very amiable female, who had compassionately, at first, given them shelter
as weary travellers only; but, on discovering whose children they were,
she had secreted them in her house. Her husband, however, having
discovered the place of their concealment, and identified them as the sons
of Moslem, cruelly murdered the innocent boys for the sake of the reward
offered for their heads. In his fury and thirst for gold, this wicked
husband of the kind-hearted woman spared not his own wife and son, who
strove by their united efforts, alternately pleading and resisting, to
save the poor boys from his barbarous hands.
This tragic event is conveyed into pathetic verse, and as often as it is
repeated in the families of the Mussulmauns, tears of fresh sympathy are
evinced, and bewailings renewed. This forms the subject for one day's
celebration during Mahurrum; the boys are described to have been most
beautiful in person, and amiable in disposition.
After enduring ignominy and torture, and without even being brought to
trial, Moslem was cast from a precipice, by Yuzeed's orders, and his life
speedily terminated, to glut the vengeance of the tyrant King.
As the disastrous conclusion of Moslem's mission had not reached the ear
of Hosein, he, elated with the favourable reception of his cousin, and the
prospect of being received at Shawm in peace and good will, had without
delay commenced his journey, accompanied by the females of his family, his
relations, and a few steady friends who had long devoted themselves to his
person and cause. The written documents of that remarkable period notice,
that the whole party of Hosein, travelling from Medina towards Shawm,
consisted only of seventy-two souls: Hosein having no intention to force
his way to the post of leader, had not deemed it necessary to set out with
an army to aid him, which he undoubtedly might have commanded by his
influence with the people professing 'the Faith'.
Yuzeed, in the mean time, having by his power destroyed Moslem and the two
youths his sons, and receiving positive intelligence that Hosein had
quitted Medina to march for Shawm, as his fears suggested, with an army of
some magnitude, he ordered out an immense force to meet Hosein on the way,
setting a price on his head, and proclaiming promises of honours and
rewards, of the most tempting nature, to the fortunate man who should
succeed in the arduous enterprise.
The first detachment of the Shawmies (as they are designated in the
manuscript of Arabia), under a resolute chief named Hurrh, fell in
with Hosein's camp, one day's march beyond the far-famed ground, amongst
Mussulmauns, of Kraabaallah, or Hurth Maaree, as it was originally
Hurrh's heart was subdued when he entered the tent of the peaceable Hosein,
in whose person he discovered the exact resemblance of the Prophet; and
perceiving that his small camp indicated a quiet family party journeying
on their way, instead of the formidable force Yuzeed's fears had
anticipated, this chief was surprised and confounded, confessed his shame
to Hosein that he had been induced to accept the command of the force
despatched against the children of the Prophet, and urged, in mitigation
of his offences, that he had long been in Yuzeed's service, whose
commission he still bore; but his heart now yearning to aid, rather than
persecute the Prophet's family, he resolved on giving them an opportunity
to escape the threatened vengeance of their bitterest enemy. With this
view, he advised Hosein to fall with his party into the rear of his force,
until the main body of the Shawmies had passed by; and as they were then
on the margin of a forest, there to separate and secrete themselves till
the road was again clear, and afterwards to take a different route from
the proposed one to Shawm.
Hosein felt, as may be supposed, grateful to his preserver; and, following
his directions, succeeded in reaching the confines of Kraabaallah
The ancient writings of Arabia say, Mahumud had predicted the death of
Hosein, by the hands of men professing to be of 'the true faith', at this
very place Kraabaallah, or Hurth Maaree.
Hosein and his family having concluded their morning devotions, he first
inquired and learned the name of the place on which their tents were
pitched, and then imparted the subject of his last night's dream, 'that
his grandsire had appeared to him, and pronounced that his soul would be
at peace with him ere that day closed'. Again he fell on his knees in
devout prayer, from which he rose only to observe the first warnings of an
approaching army, by the thick clouds of dust which darkened the horizon;
and before the evening closed upon the scene, Hosein, with every male of
his small party capable of bearing arms, had been hurried to their final
rest. One son of Hosein's, insensible from fever at the time, was spared
from the sacrifice, and, with the females and young children, taken
prisoners to the King's palace at Shawm.
The account given by historians of this awful battle, describes the
courage and intrepidity of Hosein's small band, in glowing terms of praise;
having fought singly, and by their desperate bravery 'each arm (they say)
levelled his hundreds with their kindred dust ere his own gave way to the
sway of death'.
Amongst the number of Hosein's brave defenders was a nephew, the son of
Hasan: this young man, named Cossum, was the affianced husband of
Hosein's favourite daughter, Sakeena Koobraah; and previous to his
going to the combat on that eventful day, Hosein read the marriage lines
between the young couple, in the tent of the females. I mention this here,
as it points to one particular part of the celebration of Mahurrum, which
I shall have occasion to mention in due order, wherein all the outward
forms of the wedding ceremony are strictly performed, annually.
During the whole of this terrible day, at Kraabaallah, the family party of
Hosein had been entirely deprived of water; and the river Fraught
(Euphrates) being blockaded by their enemies, they suffered exceedingly
from thirst. The handsome Abass, another nephew of Hosein, and his
standard-bearer, made many efforts to procure water for the relief of the
almost famishing females; he had, at one attempt, succeeded in filling the
mushukh, when, retreating from the river, he was discovered by the
enemy, was pursued and severely wounded, the mushukh pierced by arrows,
and the water entirely lost ere he could reach the camp.
In remembrance of this privation of the sufferers at Kraabaallah, every
good Mussulmaun, at Mahurrum, distributes sherbet in abundance, to all
persons who choose to accept this their favourite beverage (sugar and
water, with a little rosewater, or kurah, to flavour it); and some
charitable females expend large sums in milk, to be distributed in the
public streets; for these purposes, there are neat little huts of
sirrakee (a reed, or grass, resembling bright straw) erected by the
road side of the Mussulmauns' houses; they are called saabeels, where
the red earthen cups of milk, sherbet, or pure water are seen ranged in
rows, for all who choose to call for drink.
Hosein, say their historians, was the last of the party who suffered on
the day of battle; he was surrounded in his own camp--where, by the usage
of war, at that time, they had no right to enter--and when there was not
one friendly arm left to ward the blow. They relate 'that his body was
literally mangled, before he was released from his unmerited sufferings'.
He had mounted his favourite horse, which, as well as himself, was pierced
by arrows innumerable; together they sank on the earth from loss of blood,
the cowardly spearmen piercing his wounded body as if in sport; and whilst,
with his last breath, 'Hosein prayed for mercy on his destroyers,
Shimeear ended his sufferings by severing the already prostrate head
from the mutilated trunk'.--'Thus they sealed (say those writers) the
lasting disgrace of a people, who, calling themselves Mussulmauns, were
the murderers of their Prophet's descendants.'
This slight sketch gives but the outline of those events which are every
year commemorated amongst the zealous followers of Ali, the class
The Mussulmaun people, I must here observe, are divided into two distinct
sects, viz. the Sheahs and the Soonies. The former believe Ali and his
descendants were the lawful leaders after Mahumud; the latter are
persuaded that the Caliphas, as Aboubuker, Omir, &c., were the leaders to
be accredited 'lawful'; but of this I shall speak more fully in another
Perhaps the violence of party spirit may have acted as an inducement to
the Sheahs, for the zealous annual observance of this period, so
interesting to that sect; whatever the motive, we very often find the two
sects hoard up their private animosities and dislikes until the return of
Mahurrum, which scarcely ever passes over, in any extensively populated
city of Hindoostaun, without a serious quarrel, often terminating in
I could have given a more lengthened account of the events which led to
the solemnization of this fast, but I believe the present is sufficient to
explain the motives by which the Mussulmauns are actuated, and my next
Letter must be devoted to the description of the rites performed upon the
celebration of these events in India.
P.S. I have a memorandum in my collection which may here be copied as its
From Mecca, 'The Holy City', to Medina the distance is twelve stages (a
day's march is one stage, about twenty miles of English measurement). From
Medina to Kraabaallah there are twenty-one stages; this distance is
travelled only by those who can endure great difficulties; neither water
nor provisions are to be met with on the whole journey, excepting at one
halt, the name of which is Shimmaar. From Kraabaallah to Koofah is two
In the vicinity of Koofah stands Mount Judee (Judea), on which is
built, over the remains of Ali, the mausoleum called Nudghiff Usheruff.
On this Mount, it is said, Adam and Noah were buried. Ali being aware of
this, gave directions to his family and friends, that whenever his soul
should be recalled from earth, his mortal remains were to be deposited
near those graves venerated and held sacred 'by the faithful'. The ancient
writers of Arabia authorise the opinion that Ali's body was entombed by
the hands of his sons, Hasan and Hosein, who found the earth open to
receive their sire, and which closed immediately on his remains being
Here, too, it is believed Noah's ark rested after the Deluge. When
pilgrims to Mecca make their zeearut (all sacred visits are so called)
to this Mount, they offer three prayers, in memory of Adam, Noah, and All.
The grave of Eve is also frequently visited by pilgrims, which is said to
be situated near Jeddah; this, however, is not considered an indispensable
duty, but, as they say, prompted by 'respect for the Mother of men'.
These remarks, and many others of an interesting nature, I have been
favoured with from the most venerable aged man I ever knew, Meer Hadjee
Shaah, the revered father of my excellent husband; who having
performed the Hadje (pilgrimage) three several times, at different
periods of his eventful life--returning after each pilgrimage to his home
in Lucknow--and being a person of strict veracity, with a remarkably
intelligent mind and retentive memory, I have profited largely by his
information, and derived from it both amusement and instruction, through
many years of social intercourse. When he had numbered more than eighty
years he dwelt with hope on again performing the Hadje, where it was his
intention to rest his earthly substance until the great day of restitution,
and often expressed his wishes to have me and mine to share with him the
pilgrimage he desired to make. But this was not allowed to his prayer; his
summons arrived rather unexpectedly to those who loved and revered him for
virtues rarely equalled; happily for him, his pure soul was prepared to
meet his Creator, in whose service he had passed this life, with all
humility, and in whose mercy alone his hopes for the future were centred.
 'Whatsoever alms ye shall give, of a truth God knoweth it.... Give ye
your alms openly? it is well. Do ye conceal them and give them to the
poor? This, too, will be of advantage to you, and will do away your
sins: and God is cognizant of your actions' (_Koran_, ii. 274-5).
 _Sayyid_, 'lord', 'chief, the class of Musalmans who claim descent
from Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet, and 'Ali, his
cousin-german and adopted son; they are divided into two branches
descended from Hasan and Husain, sons of 'Ali and Fatimah.
 _Mir_, a contraction of _Amir_, 'lord'.
 _Koran, Qur'an_.
 'They who swallow down usury shall arise in the resurrection only as
he ariseth whom Satan hath infected by his touch' (_Koran_, ii.
276). But this is rather theory than practice, and many ingenious
methods are adopted to avoid the prohibition.
 _Begam_, feminine of _Beg_, 'lord', used to denote a Sayyid lady, like
Khanam among Pathans.
 Here, as elsewhere, _zenanah, zananah_, Persian _zan_, 'woman'.
 This is incorrect. The Koran has been translated into various
languages, but the translation is always interlineary with the
original text. In Central Asia the Musalman conquerors allowed the
Koran to be recited in Persian, instead of Arabic, in order that it
might be intelligible to all (Arnold, _The Preaching of Islam_, 183).
 _Kurti_, a loose, long-sleeved jacket of muslin or net, among rich
women embroidered on the neck and shoulders with gold, and draped down
to the ankles in full, loose folds. It is made of red or other
light-coloured fabrics for girls and married women; dark blue, bronze,
or white for old ladies; bronze or black for widows.
 _Khan_, 'lord', 'prince', specially applied to persons of Mughal
or Pathan descent.
 _Bahadur_, 'champion', a Mongol term; see Yule,
_Hobson-Jobson_, 48 ff.
 _Nawab_, 'a deputy, delegate': the Anglo-Indian Nabob (ibid.,
 _Muharram_, 'that which is forbidden', the first month of the
Musalman year, the first ten days of which are occupied with this
 By his wife Ja'dah, who was suborned to commit the deed by Yazid.
 Yazid, son of Mu'awiyah, the second Caliph of the house of
Umaiyah, who reigned from A.D. 679 to 683. Gibbon (_Decline and Fall_,
ed. W. Smith, vi. 278) calls him 'a feeble and dissolute youth'.
 Kerbala, Karbala, a city of Iraq, 50 miles south-west of Baghdad,
and about 6 miles from the Euphrates.
 _Sunni_, Ahlu's-Sunnah, 'one of the Path', a traditionalist. The
Sunnis accept the first four Caliphs, Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Usman,
'Ali, as the rightful successors of Muhammad, and follow the six
authentic books of the traditions. The Shi'ahs, 'followers' of
'Ali, maintain that he was the first legitimate Imam or Caliph,
i.e. successor of the Prophet. For a full account of the martyrdom of
Husain see Simon Ockley, _History of the Saracens_ (1848), 287 ff.;
Sir L. Pelly, _The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husain_ (1879), Preface,
 _Qazi_, a Muhammadan law officer.
 _Karwan_, a caravan.
 This term is obscure. Jaffur Shurreef (_Qanoon-e-Islam_, 107) says
the plain of the martyrdom was called 'Mareea'. For 'Hurth' Prof. E.G.
Browne suggests _hirth_, 'a ploughed field', or _ard_, 'land'. Sir C.
Lyall suggests Al-hirah, the old Arabian capital which stood near
the site of the later Kufah.
 Sakinah, Hebrew Shechinah; Koobraah, _Kibriya_, 'noble'.
 The Euphrates is called in Sumerian _pura-num_, 'Great water', whence
Purat, Purattu in Semitic Babylonian; Perath in Hebrew; Frat or
Furat in Arabic.
 'Abbas, son of 'Ali.
 _Mashk_, _Mashak_, the Anglo-Indian Mussuck, a leathern skin for
conveying water, in general use amongst Musalmans at this day in
India; it is composed of the entire skin of a goat, properly prepared.
When filled with water it resembles a huge porpoise, on the back of
the beeshtie [Bhishti] (water-carrier). [_Author._]
 _Kora_, the fresh juice of _Aloe vera_, said to be cathartic and
 _Sirki_ (_Saccharum ciliare_).
 _Sabil_: see Burton, _Pilgrimage_, Memorial ed., i. 286.
 Shimar, whose name now means 'contemptible' among Shi'ahs.
 This statement is too wide. 'Among Muhammadans themselves there is
very little religious discussion, and Sunnis and Shi'ahs, who
are at such deadly feud in many parts of Asia, including the Punjab
and Kashmir, have, in Oudh, always freely intermarried' (H.C. Irwin,
_The Garden of India_, 45).
 Kufah, four miles from Najaf, the capital of the Caliph 'Ali,
which fell into decay when the government was removed to Baghdad.
 Confused with Al-judi, Mt. Ararat, on which the Ark
rested.--_Koran_, xi. 46.
 Najaf al Sharif, or Mashhad 'Ali, 50 miles south of Karbala,
the tomb and shrine of 'Ali.
 _Ziyarat_, 'visitation', especially to the tomb of the Prophet or
that of a Muhammadan saint. The pilgrim says, not 'I have visited the
Prophet's tomb', but 'I have visited the Prophet'. (Burton,
_Pilgrimage_, i. 305.)
 The grave is said to be nine yards long: according to others, much
longer. See the flippant remark of Burton, ibid., ii. 273 ff.
 Mir Haji Shah.
 _Hajj_, 'setting out'.
Celebration of Mahurrum.--The Tazia.--Mussulmaun Cemeteries.--An
Emaum-baarah.--Piety of the ladies.--Self-inflicted abstinence and
privations endured by each sex.--Instances of the devotional zeal of
the Mussulmauns.--Attempted infringement on their religious
formalities.--The Resident at Lucknow.--Enthusiastic ardour of the
poor.--Manner of celebrating the Mahurrum in opposition to the
precepts of the Khoraun.--Mosque and Emaum-baarah contrasted.--The
supposition of Mussulmauns practising idolatry confuted.
My former Letter prepares you for the celebration of Mahurrum, the
observance of which is at this time going forward here (at Lucknow) with
all that zealous emulative spirit and enthusiasm which I have before
remarked the Mussulmaun population of India entertain for their Emaums
(leaders), and their religion.
This annual solemn display of the regret and veneration they consider due
to the memory of departed excellence, commences on the first day of the
Moon (Mahurrum). The Mussulmaun year has twelve moons; every third year
one moon is added, which regulation, I fancy, renders their years, in a
chronological point of view, very nearly equal with those of Europe. Their
day commences and ends when the stars are first visible after sunset.
The first day of Mahurrum invariably brings to my recollection the
strongly impressed ideas of 'The Deserted Village'. The profound quiet and
solemn stillness of an extensively populated native city, contrasted with
the incessant bustle usual at all other times, are too striking to
Europeans to pass by unheeded. This cessation of the animated scene,
however, is not of long duration; the second day presents to the view vast
multitudes of people parading backwards and forwards, on horseback, in
palkies, and on foot, through the broad streets and roadways, arrayed in
their several mourning garbs, speeding their way to the Emaum-baarahs
of the great men, and the houses of friends, to pay the visit of respect
(zeearut), wherever a Tazia is set up to the remembrance of Hasan and
The word Tazia signifies grief. The term is applied to a representation
of the mausoleum at Kraabaallah, erected by their friends and followers,
over the remains of Hasan and Hosein. It is formed of every variety of
material, according to the wealth, rank, or preference, of the person
exhibiting, from the purest silver down to bamboo and paper, strict
attention being always paid to preserve the model of Kraabaallah, in the
exact pattern with the original building. Some people have them of ivory,
ebony, sandal-wood, cedar, &c., and I have seen some beautifully wrought
in silver filigree. The handsomest of the kind, to my taste, is in the
possession of his Majesty the King of Oude, composed of green glass, with
brass mouldings, manufactured in England (by whom I could not learn). All
these expensive Tazias are fixtures, but there are temporary ones required
for the out-door ceremony, which, like those available to the poor and
middling classes, are composed of bamboo frames, over which is fixed
coloured uberuck (lapis specularum, or tulk); these are made in the
bazaar, of various sizes and qualities, to suit the views of purchasers,
from two rupees to two hundred each.
The more common Tazias are conveyed in the procession on the tenth day,
and finally deposited with funeral rites in the public burial-grounds, of
which there are several outside the town. These cemeteries are denominated
Kraabaallah, and the population of a large city may be presumed on by
the number of these dispersed in the suburbs. They do not bury their dead
in the vicinity of a mosque, which is held too sacred to be allowed the
pollution. Any one having only touched a dead body, must bathe prior to
entering the mosque, or performing their usual prayer-service at
home;--such is the veneration they entertain for the name of God.
The opulent people of Mussulmaun society have an Emaum-baarah erected in
the range of buildings exclusively denominated murdanah (men's abode).
The habitation of all Mussulmauns being composed of separate departments
for the males and the females, communicating by private entrances, as will
be explained hereafter.
The Emaum-baarah is a sacred place, erected for the express purpose of
commemorating Mahurrum; the founder not unfrequently intends this also as
the mausoleum for himself and family. But we generally find Mukhburrahs
(mausoleums) built in conspicuous situations, for the remains of kings,
princes, nobles, and sainted persons. Of the latter, many are visited, at
stated periods, by the multitude, with religious veneration, the
illiterate attaching considerable importance to the annual pilgrimage to
them; and where--to secure the influence of the particular saint's spirit,
in furthering their views--mothers present their children, in numbers
beyond all calculation; and each having something to hope for who visits
the shrine, presents offerings of money and sweetmeats, which become the
property of the person in charge of the tomb, thus yielding him a
profitable sinecure, in proportion as the saint is popular amongst the
An Emaum-baarah is a square building, generally erected with a cupola top,
the dimensions guided by the circumstances of the founder. The floor is
matted with the date-leaf mats, in common use in India, on which is spread
a shutteringhie (cotton carpet), and over this a clean white calico
covering, on which the assembled party are seated, during the several
periods of collecting together to remember their leaders: these meetings
are termed Mudgelluss (mourning assemblies). It would be esteemed
indecorous or disrespectful to the Emaums, if any one in error called
these assemblies Moollakhaut, the usual term for mere worldly visiting.
The Tazia is placed against the wall on the side facing Mecca, under a
canopy of rich embroidery. A reading-desk or pulpit (mhembur) is
placed in a convenient situation, for the reader to face Mecca, and his
voice to be heard by the whole assembly of people; it is constructed of
silver, ivory, ebony, &c. to correspond with the Tazia, if possible: the
steps are covered sometimes with gold-cloth, or broad-cloth of black, or
green, if a Syaad's property, being the colour worn by that race for
mourning. The shape of a mhembur is a flight of steps with a flat top,
without any railing or enclosed place; the reader, in his recitings,
occasionally sitting on the steps, or standing, as may be most convenient
On the walls of the Emaum-baarah, mirrors and looking-glasses are fixed in
suitable situations to give effect to the brilliant display of light, from
the magnificent chandeliers suspended from the cupola and cornices. The
nobles and the wealthy are excited with a desire to emulate each other in
the splendour of their display on these occasions;--all the mirrors, glass,
lustres, chandeliers, &c. are brought together to this place, from their
several stations in the mansion; and it is due to them to admit the effect
to be often imposingly grand, and the blaze of light splendid. I have
frequently been reminded in these scenes of the visionary castles conjured
to the imagination, whilst reading 'The Arabian Nights' Entertainments'.
On each side the Tazia--the whole length of the wall--banners are ranged,
in great variety of colour and fabric; some of them are costly and
splendid. I have seen many constructed of the richest embroidery, on silk
grounds, of gold and silver, with massy gold fringes, cords, and tassels;
the staff is cased with gold or silver, worked into figures of birds and
other animals, in every variety; the top of which has a crest, in some a
spread hand, in others a sort of plume, and not unfrequently a crest
resembling a grenade, formed of the precious metals, and set with stones
of great value.
On the base of the Tazia the several articles are placed conceived likely
to have been used by Hosein at Kraabaallah; a turban of gold or silver
tissue, a splendid sword and belt, the handle and hilt set with precious
stones, a shield, the Arabian bow and arrows. These ancient emblems of
royalty are indispensable in order to do honour to Hosein, in the view
they take of his sovereign right to be the head or leader of the true
Mussulmauns. Wax lights, red and green, are also placed in great numbers
about its base, in silver or glass candlesticks; and censers of gold and
silver, burning incense perpetually during Mahurrum. Many other minor
tributes to the Emaums are discovered near the Tazia, as choice fruits and
garlands of sweet-scented flowers, the offerings of ladies of the family
to their relative's Tazia.
Amongst the poorer classes of the people an equal proportion of zealous
spirit is evinced; and according to their several abilities, so they
commemorate the period, interesting alike to all. Those who cannot compass
the real splendour of an Emaum-baarah, are satisfied with an imitative one
in the best hall their habitation affords; and, where mirrors and
chandeliers are not available, they are content to do honour to the Emaums
with lamps of uberuck, which in truth are pleasing substitutes at a small
price: these lamps are made in a variety of pretty shapes, curiously
painted, and ingeniously ornamented with cut paper; they burn oil in them,
and, when well arranged, and diversified with their wonted taste, produce
a good light, and pleasing effect.
The banners of Hosein, in the houses of the poor, are formed of materials
according to their humble means, from tinsel imitations down to dyed
muslin; and a similar difference is to be perceived in their selection of
the metal of which their crests are made.
Mourning assemblies are held in the Emaum-baarahs twice every day during
Mahurrum; those of the evening, however, are the most attractive, and have
the fullest attendance of visitors. The master of the house, at the
appointed hour, takes his seat on the floor near the pulpit, surrounded by
the males of his family and intimate friends, and the crowd of strangers
arrange themselves--wherever there is sitting room--without impeding the
view of the Tazia.
One of the most popular Maulvees of the age is engaged to recite the
particular portion appointed for each day, from the manuscript documents,
called Dhie Mudgelluss, in the Persian language. This work is in ten
parts and contains a subject for each day's service, descriptive of the
life and sufferings of the Emaums, their friends, and children,
particularly as regards the eventful period of Mahurrum in which they were
engaged. It is, I am assured, a pathetic, fine composition, and a faithful
narrative of each particular circumstance in the history of their leaders,
the heroic bravery of their friends, &c. They are particularly anxious to
engage an eloquent reader for this part of the performance, who by his
impressive manner compels his hearers to sympathise in the affecting
incidents which are recited by him.
I have been present when the effect produced by the superior oratory and
gestures of a Maulvee has almost terrified me, the profound grief, evinced
in his tears and groans, being piercing and apparently sincere. I have
even witnessed blood issuing from the breast of sturdy men, who beat
themselves simultaneously as they ejaculated the names 'Hasan!'
'Hosein!' for ten minutes, and occasionally during a longer period, in
that part of the service called Mortem.
The portion of Dhie Mudgelluss concluded, sherbet is handed round to the
assembly; and as they voluntarily abstain from luxuries at this season, a
substitute for pawn--the green leaf in general use amongst the
natives--has been introduced, consisting of dried coffee, cocoa-nut shreds,
betel-nut, cardimuns, dunyah, and a proportionate quantity of
tobacco-leaf and lime; these are mixed together and handed to the
visitors, on small silver trays. The hookha is introduced to the
superiors of the assembly; you are perhaps aware that inferiors do not
smoke in the presence of superiors without their command or permission.
This ceremony terminated, the Murseeah is chanted, by several
well-practised voices, with good effect. This part of the service is,
perhaps, the most impressive, as the very ignorant, even, can comprehend
every word,--the Murseeah being in the Hindoostanic tongue, a poetical
composition of great merit, and embracing all the subjects they meet to
commemorate. The whole assembly rise up afterwards, and, as with one voice,
recount the names of the lawful leaders after Mahumud, entreating
blessings and peace to their souls. They then repeat the names of the
hated usurpers (Caliphas), on whose memory they invoke curses, &c. Mortem
follows, beating of breasts in unison with the voices, and uttering the
names of Hasan and Hosein; this performance concludes each day's
Mudgelluss, either of the morning or evening.
The ladies celebrate the returning season of Mahurrum with as much spirit
and zeal as the confinement, in which they exist, can possibly admit of.
There are but few, and those chiefly princesses, who have Emaum-baarahs at
command, within the boundary of the zeenahnah; the largest and best
apartment in their establishment is therefore selected for the purpose of
an Emaum-baarah, into which none but females are admitted, excepting the
husband, father, son, or brother, of the lady; who having, on this
occasion, full liberty to invite her female acquaintance, those who are
her nearest male relatives even are not admitted until previous notice is
given, in order that the female guests may secrete themselves from the
sight of these relatives of their hostess.
In commemorating this remarkable event in Mussulmaun history, the
expressions of grief, manifested by the ladies, are far greater, and
appear to me more lasting than with the other sex; indeed, I never could
have given credit to the extent of their bewailings, without witnessing,
as I have done for many years, the season for tears and profound grief
return with the month of Mahurrum. In sorrowing for the martyred Emaums,
they seem to forget their private griefs; the bereavement of a beloved
object even is almost overlooked in the dutiful remembrance of Hasan and
Hosein at this period; and I have had opportunities of observing this
triumph of religious feeling in women, who are remarkable for their
affectionate attachment to their children, husbands, and parents;--they
tell me, 'We must not indulge selfish sorrows of our own, whilst the
Prophet's family alone have a right to our tears'.
The religious zeal of these people is evinced, likewise, in a stern,
systematic, line of privations, during the period of Mahurrum; no one is
obliged by any law or command; it is voluntary abstinence on the part of
each individual--they impose it on themselves, out of pure pity and
respect for their Emaums' well-remembered sufferings. Every thing which
constitutes comfort, luxury, or even convenience at other times, on these
occasions are rigidly laid aside. The pallungh and the charpoy (the
two descriptions of bedsteads in general use), on which the females love
to lounge for some hours in the day and night, are removed from their
standings, and, in lieu of this comfort, they take their rest on a common
date mat, on the floor. The musnud, and all its cushioned luxuries,
give place, on this occasion, to the simply matted floor. The indulgence
in choice dainties, at other times so necessary to their happiness, is now
foregone, and their meal limited, throughout Mahurrum, to the coarsest
food--such as barley bread, rice and peas boiled together (called
kutcher), without even the usual additions to make it palatable
ketcherie, as ghee, salt, pepper, and spices; these ingredients being
considered by the zealous females too indulgent and luxurious for humble
mourners during Muhurrum.
The pawn leaf, another luxury of no small moment to Asiatic tastes, is now
banished for the ten days' mourning. A very poor substitute has been
adopted, in the mixture described at the gentlemen's assembly--it is
called goattur. The truth is, their health would suffer from any long
disuse of tobacco-leaf, lime, and a bitter gum, which are in general
use with the pawn; the latter is of a warm aromatic nature, and imparts a
fine flavour to the other ingredients; but, as it is considered a great
indulgence to eat pawn, they abstain from it altogether during
Mahurrum;--the mixture, they say, is only allowed for health's sake.
When visitors call on the Mussulmaun ladies at Mahurrum, the goattur is
presented on trays, accompanied by bags, neatly embroidered in silver and
gold, of many different shapes and patterns, mostly their own work and
invention; they are called buttooah and jhaumdanies.
The variety of ornaments, which constitute the great delight of all
classes of females in India, are entirely laid aside, from the first hour
of Mahurrum, until the period for mourning concludes. I never heard of any
people so thoroughly attached to ornaments as the females of India are
generally. They are indulged in this foible--pardonable it may be--by
their husbands and parents. The wealthiness of a family may often be
judged by a single glance at the principal lady of the zeenahnah, who
seldom omits doing honour to her husband, by a full display of the
precious metals, with a great variety of gems or jewels on ordinary
occasions. The men of all ranks are proud of their wives' finery; even the
poorest hold in derision all ornament that is not composed of sterling
metal, of which they seem excellent judges. The massy chains of gold or
silver, the solid bangles for the arms and ancles, the nut (nose-ring)
of gold wire, on which is strung a ruby between two pearls, worn only by
married women; the joshun (armlet), of silver or gold, often set with
precious stones; the many rings for the fingers, thumbs, and toes, form
the daily dress of a lady;--but I must not digress further. These are all
removed from the person, as soon as the moon is seen, when the first day
of Mahurrum commences; the hair is unloosed from its usual confinement,
and allowed to flow in disorder about the person; the coloured
pyjaamahs and deputtahs are removed, with every other article of
their usual costume, for a suit that, with them, constitutes
mourning--some choose black, others grey, slate, or green, and the widow
wears white from the day her husband dies.
A widow never alters her style of dress, neither does she wear a single
ornament, during her widowhood, which generally lasts with her life. I
never heard of one single instance, during my twelve years' residence
amongst them, of a widow marrying again--they have no law to prohibit it;
and I have known some ladies, whose affianced husbands died before the
marriage was concluded, who preferred a life of solitude and prayer,
although many other overtures were made.
Many of the rigidly zealous, among the females, mortify themselves by
wearing their suit of mourning, during the ten days, without changing; the
dress is worn next the skin, and, in very warm weather, must be
comfortless after the first day--but so it is; and so many are the
varieties of self-inflicted privations, at this period, that my letter
might be filled with the observations I have made. I cannot, however, omit
to mention my old woman-servant (ayah), whose mode of abstinence, in
remembrance of Hosein, is rigidly severe; my influence does not prevail in
dissuading her, although I fear the consequences to her health will be
seriously felt if she persist in the fulfilment of her self-imposed trial.
This poor old creature resolves on not allowing one drop of water, or any
liquid, to pass her lips during the ten days' mourning; as she says, 'her
Emaum, Hosein, and his family, suffered from thirst at Kraabaallah, why
should such a creature as she is be indulged with water?' This shows the
temper of the people generally; my ayah is a very ignorant old woman, yet
she respects her Emaum's memory.
The Tazia, you are to understand, graces the houses of all good
Mussulmauns in India, who are not of the sect called Soonies. This model
of their Emaum's tomb is an object of profound respect. Hindoos, even, on
approaching the shrine, bow their heads with much solemn gravity; I often
fancied they mistook the Tazia for a Bootkhanah (the house of an idol).
It is creditable to the Mussulmauns, that they do not restrict any
profession of people from visiting their assemblies; there is free
admission granted when the Emaum-baarah is first lighted up, until the
hour of performing the service, when strangers, that is the multitude, are
civilly requested to retire. Every one is expected, on entering the
outward verandah, to leave their shoes at the threshold of the
sanctuary; none but Europeans have any occasion to be reminded of this,
as it is a well known and general observance with all degrees of natives
in Asia. The servants, in charge of the Emaum-baarah, are responsible for
the due observance of respect to the place, and when any foreigners are
advancing, they are politely requested to leave their shoes outside; which
must be complied with, or they cannot possibly be admitted.
Some few years since, a party of young gentlemen, from cantonments, had
made up their minds to evade the necessity for removing their boots, on
the occasion of a visit to one of the great men's Emaum-baarahs, at a
Native city; they had provided themselves with white socks, which they
drew over their boots before leaving their palkies. The cheat was
discovered by the servants in attendance, after they had been admitted;
they made a precipitate retreat to avoid the consequences of a
representation to the Resident, by the proprietor of the Emaum-baarah; who,
hearing of the circumstance, made all possible inquiry, without, however,
discovering the names of the gentlemen, who had thus, in his opinion,
violated the sanctuary.
The Natives are aware that the Resident sets the bright example of
conforming to the observances of the people, over whom he is placed as
governor and guardian; and that he very properly discountenances every
attempt of his countrymen to infringe on their rights, prejudices, or
privileges; and they have, to my knowledge, always looked up to him as to
a parent and a friend, from the first to the last day of his exalted
station amongst them. Many a tear marked the regret of the Natives, when
their best, their kindest, earthly friend quitted the city he had blessed
by his presence; and to the latest page of their history, his memory will
doubtless be cherished with sincere veneration and respectful
The poor people vie with their rich neighbours, in making a brilliant
light in their little halls containing the Tazia; the very poorest are
liberal in the expenditure of oil and tallow candles--I might say
extravagantly so, but for the purity of their intentions, supposing it to
be a duty--and they certainly manifest their zeal and respect to the
utmost of their power; although many, to my knowledge, live all the year
round on the very coarsest fare, to enable them to show this reverence to
their Emaum's memory.
The ladies assemble, in the evening, round the Tazia they have set up in
their purdahed privacy--female friends, slaves, and servants, surrounding
the mistress of the house, in solemn gravity.
The few females who have been educated are in great request at this season;
they read the Dhie Mudgelluss, and chant the Musseeah with good effect.
These women, being hired for the purpose, are detained during the ten days;
when the Mahurrum ceases, they are dismissed to their own homes, loaded
with the best gifts the good lady their employer can conveniently spare,
commensurate with the services performed. These educated females are
chiefly daughters of poor Syaads, who have not been married for the lack
of a dowry; they live devoutly in the service of God, according to their
faith. They are sometimes required, in the families of the nobility, to
teach the Khoraun to the young ladies, and, in that capacity, they are
called Oustaardie, or more familiarly Artoojee.
As I have mentioned before, the Musseeah narrative of the sufferings at
Kraabaallah is a really pathetic and interesting composition; the work
being conveyed in the language of the country, every word is understood,
and very deeply felt, by the females in all these assemblies, who, having
their hearts softened by the emphatic chantings of the readers, burst into
violent tears and sobbings of the most heart-rending description. As in
the gentlemen's assembly, they conclude with Mortem, in which they
exercise themselves until they are actually exhausted; indeed, many
delicate females injure their health by the violence and energy of their
exertions, which they nevertheless deem a most essential duty to perform,
at all hazards, during the continuance of Mahurrum.
This method of keeping Mahurrum is not in strict obedience to the
Mahumudan laws; in which code may be found prohibitions against all
violent and excessive grief--tearing the hair, or other expressions of
I have observed that the Maulvees, Moollahs, and devoutly religious
persons, although mixing with the enthusiasts on these occasions, abstain
from the violent exhibition of sorrows which the uninformed are so prone
to indulge in. The most religious men of that faith feel equal, perhaps
greater sympathy, for the sufferings of the Emaums, than those who are
less acquainted with the precepts of the Khoraun; they commemorate the
Mahurrum without parade or ostentatious display, and apparently wear
mourning on their hearts, with their garb, the full term of forty
days--the common period of mourning for a beloved object; but these
persons never join in Mortem, beating breasts, or other outward show of
sadness, although they are present when it is exercised; but their quiet
grief is evidently more sincere.
I have conversed with many sensible men of the Mussulmaun persuasion on
the subject of celebrating Mahurrum, and from all I can learn, the pompous
display is grown into a habit, by a long residence amongst people, who
make a merit of showy parades at all their festivals. Foreign Mussulmauns
are equally surprised as Europeans, when they visit Hindoostaun, and first
see the Tazia conveyed about in procession, which would be counted
sacrilegious in Persia or Arabia; but here, the ceremony is not complete
without a mixture of pageantry with, the deeply expressed and public
exposure of their grief.
The remarkable plainness of the mosque, contrasted with the superb
decorations of an Emaum-baarah, excited my surprise. I am told by the most
venerable of Syaads, 'The Mosque is devoted only to the service of God,
where it is commanded no worldly attractions or ornaments shall appear, to
draw off the mind, or divert the attention, from that one great object for
which the house of prayer is intended'. An Emaum-baarah is erected for the
purpose of doing honour to the memory of the Emaums, and of late years the
emulative spirit of individuals has been the great inducement to the
display of ornamental decorations.
It is rather from their respect to the Founder of their religion and his
descendants, than any part of their profession of faith, that the
Mussulmaun population of Hindoostaun are guided by in these displays,
which are merely the fashion of other people whom they imitate; and with
far different motives to the weak-minded Hindoos, who exalt their idols,
whilst the former thus testify their respect to worthy mortals only. This
is the explanation I have received from devout Mussulmauns, who direct me
to remark the strong similarity--in habit only, where 'the faith' is not
liable to innovations--between themselves and the Hindoo population;--the
out-of-door celebrations of marriage festivals, for instance, which are so
nearly resembling each other, in the same classes of society, that
scarcely any difference can be discovered by the common observer.
Idolatry is hateful to a Mussulmaun, who acknowledges 'one only true God',
and 'Him alone to be worshipped'. They respect, venerate, love, and
would imitate, their acknowledged Prophet and the Emaums (who succeeded
Mahumud in the mission), but they never worship them, as has been often
imagined. On the contrary, they declare to me that their faith compels
them 'to believe in one God, and that He alone is to be worshipped by the
creature; and that Mahumud is a creature, the Prophet sent by God to make
His will known, and declare His power. That to bow down and worship
Mahumud would be gross idolatry; and, although he is often mentioned in
their prayers, yet he is never prayed to. They believe their Prophet is
sensible of whatever passes amongst his true disciples; and that, in
proportion as they fulfil the commands he was instructed by God to leave
with them, so will they derive benefit from his intercession, on that
great and awful day, when all mankind shall appear before the judgment
seat of God.'
 _Imambara_, 'enclosure of the Imam', the place where the
Muharram rites are performed, as contrasted with Masjid, a mosque, and
'Idgah, where the service at the 'Id festivals is conducted.
 _Ta'ziya_, 'consoling'. The use of these miniature tombs is said to
date from the time of Amir Taimur (A.D. 1336-1405), who on his
return from Karbala made a model of Husain's tomb. See a good account
of them in Sir G. Birdwood, _Sva_, 173 ff.
 _Abrak_, tale.
 From Karbala, the place of pilgrimage.
 _Maqbarah_, 'place of graves'.
 _Shatranj[-i]_, a chequered cloth, from _shatrang_, the game of chess.
 _Mimbar_, sometimes a wooden structure, sometimes of masonry.
 Green is the Sayyid colour (E.W. Lane, _Modern Egyptians_, i. 38).
But it is an innovation in Islam, and Sayyids in Al-Hijaz, as a
general rule, do not wear a green turban (Burton, _Pilgrimage_, ii. 4).
 The spread hand designates the Sheah sect. There are times when
holding up the spread hand declares the Sheah, whilst the Soonie is
distinguished by his holding up three fingers only. In villages, the
spread hand is marked on the walls where Sheahs reside during Mahurrum.
[The five spread fingers are regarded as emblematical of the Prophet,
Fatimah, 'Ali, Hasan, and Husain. The Sunnis prefer three
fingers, signifying the first three Caliphs. In its ultimate origin,
the spread hand is a charm against demons and evil spirits.]
 _Maulavi_, a Muhammadan doctor of law, a judge.
 From Dhie, ten; Mudgelluss, assembling together for sacred purposes.
[_Author_.] or [_Dah_, or _Dahha majlis_ denotes the ten days of
Muharram; see Sir L. Pelly, _The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husain_,
 Corrupted by Anglo-Indians into _Hobson-Jobson_, the title of Sir H.
Yule's _Anglo-Indian Glossary_.
 _Matam_, 'mourning'.
 _Pan_, 'betel leaf'.
 _Dhaniya_ (_Coriandrum sativitm_).
 _Huqqah_, 'a water tobacco pipe'.
 _Marsiyah_, 'a funeral elegy'.
 _Palang_, a more pretentious piece of furniture than the
_charpai_, or common 'cot'.
 _Masnad_, 'a thing leaned on', a pile of cushions; the throne of a
 _Khichri_, the 'Kedgeree' of Anglo-Indians.
 Catechu, Hindi _Kath_.
 _Jamdani_, properly a portmanteau for holding clothes
(_Jama_): a kind of flowered cloth.
 _Joshan_, an ornament worn on the upper arm.
 _Pa[~e]jama_, 'leg clothing', drawers.
 _Dopatta_, a sheet made of two breadths of cloth.
 Amongst the Muhammadans the proportion of widows has declined
steadily since 1881, and is now only 143 per mille compared with 170
in that year. It would seem that the prejudices against
widow-marriages are gradually becoming weaker.--_Report Census of
India_, 1911, i. 273.
 [~A]y[~a], from Portuguese _aia_, 'a nurse'.
 After much, entreaty, this humble zealot was induced to take a sweet
lime, occasionally, to cool her poor parched mouth. She survived the
trial, and lived many years to repeat her practised abstinence at the
return of Mahurrum. [_Author_.]
 This was a primitive Semitic taboo (Exodus iii. 5; Joshua v. 15, &c.).
The reason of this prohibition is that shoes could not be easily
washed.--W.R. Smith, _Religion of the Semites_, 453.
 Mordaunt Ricketts was Resident at Lucknow between 1821 and 1830, when
he was 'superannuated' owing to financial scandals, for the details of
which see Sir G. Trevelyan, _Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay_, cap.
x; H.G. Keene, _Here and There_, 10; on November 1, 1824, he was
married at Lucknow by Bishop Heber to the widow of George Ravenscroft,
the civilian who was Collector of Cawnpore, and there embezzled large
sums of money, the property of Government. He fled with his wife and
child to Bhinga in Oudh, where, on May 6, 1823, he was murdered by
Dacoits. The strange story is well told by Sleeman, _A Journey through
the Kingdom of Oudh_, i. 112 ff.
 Persian _ustad, ustadji_, 'an instructor'.
 Lamentation for the dead was strictly prohibited by the Prophet; but,
like all orientals, the Indian Musalmans indulge in it.
(_Mishkat_, i, chap, vii.)
 _Mulla_, the Persian form of Maulavi, 'a doctor of law'.
 It is a mistake to suppose that the procession of the Ta'ziya or
Tabut is peculiar to India. It is practised in Persia and Egypt.
 The Prophet was obliged to make some compromise with idolatry, as in
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