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THE FEASTS AND FASTS OF ISLÁM.
1. MUHARRAM.—Muharram, the name of the first month of the Muhammadan year, has now become the name by which are known the days of mourning spent by the Shía'hs in commemoration of the martyrdoms of 'Alí and of his two sons Hasan and Husain. The historical events thus referred to have been already described in the third chapter, so that it is only necessary now to give an account of the ceremonies connected with the Muharram. They differ in different countries. The following is a description of an Indian Muharram.
Some days previous to the feast, the 'Áshúr Khána (literally, ten-day house) is prepared. As soon as the new moon appears, the people gather together in the various ’Áshúr Khánas, and offer a Fátiha over some sherbet or some sugar in the name of Husain. The Fátiha concludes thus : "O God, grant the reward of this to the soul of Husain." The sherbet and sugar are then given to the poor. Then they mark a spot for the Alláwa, or hole for the bonfire which is to be lit. Every night during the festival these fires are kindled, and the people, both old and young, fence across the fire with swords or sticks, and jump about calling out: "'Alí! Noble Husain! Noble Husain ! Dulha! Dulha ! Bridegroom! Bridegroom! Friend! &c." These words they repeat hundreds of times.
In some parts of the country they erect an Imám Bára (Imám-house). This is often a substantial building, frequently used afterwards as a mausoleum for the founder and his family. In South India the 'Ashúr Khána only is known. This is generally a temporary structure, or
some large hall fitted up for the occasion. Sometimes the walls are draped with black cloth, bordered with texts of the Qurán written in a large and elegant style. The place is brilliantly illuminated. On one side stands the Tázíahs or Tábúts-structures made of bamboos covered with tinsel and profusely ornamented. They are intended to represent the mausoleum erected on the plains of Karbalá over the remains of Husain. Sometimes the Tázíah is constructed to represent the Prophet's tomb at Madína. Large sums of money are spent on these Tázíahs, which when lighted up have a very elegant appearance. At the back of the Tázíahs are laid the several articles similar to those supposed to have been used by Husain at Karbalá,—a turban of gold, a rich sword, a shield, a bow and arrow. The Mimbar, or pulpit is so placed that the speaker can face Mecca. The 'Alams, or standards, which are commonly made of copper and brass, though occasionally of gold or of silver, are placed against the walls. The usual standard is that of a hand placed on a pole. This is emblematic of the five members who compose the family of the Prophet, and is the special standard of the Shía'hs. These standards have many different names, such as-the standard of the palm of 'Ali, the Lady Fátima's standard, the standard of the Horse-shoe, to represent the shoe of Husain's swift horse, and others too numerous to mention. Mirrors, chandeliers and coloured lanterns add lustre to the scene.
Every evening large crowds of people assemble in these 'Áshúr Khánas. In the centre, on a slightly raised platform a band of singers chant the Marsiya, an elegiac poem in honour of the martyred Husain. It is a monotonous performance lasting about an hour; but it has a wonderful effect on the audience, who, seated on the ground, listen patiently and attentively. At each pause the hearers beat their breasts, and say Husain! Husain! Real or stimulated grief often finds expression in groans and tears, though the more violent expression of the anguish felt is reserved for a later ceremony.
This over, the Waqi'a Khán (literally, narrator of events) ascends the Mimbar, or pulpit, and seats himself on the top, or on a lower step. He proceeds to relate the historical facts, adding many curious stories gathered from the vast heap of Traditions which have cast such a halo of glory around the martyr. Sometimes he becomes very excited, and the audience is stirred up to great enthusiasm. The following account is that of an eye-witness who passed an evening in an 'Áshúr Khána. "The first Waqi'a Khán was a Persian who delivered a very eloquent oration in his own tongue. It was calm but effective. He was succeeded by an eloquent old gentleman who spoke rapidly in Hindustani at the top of his voice, then rose up, ran down the steps, and casting off his turban rushed in and out amongst the audience, vociferating vigorously all the while. The effect was marvellous, old and venerable men wept like little children, whilst from the adjoining Zanána was heard the bitter weeping of the women who, though not exposed to view, could hear all that was said. After a while, the assembly rose and formed two lines facing each other. A boy then chanted a few words and the whole assembly began, slowly at first, to sway their bodies to and fro, calling out 'Alí! 'Alí! Husain ! Husain! Each one then began to beat his breast vigorously. The excitement at last became intense and the men in the rows looked like so many wild creatures."
In some cases blood has been known to flow from the breast, so severe is the self-inflicted beating. This continues till they are well-nigh exhausted, when the whole company goes away to repeat the performance over again in some other 'Ashúr Khána. A devout person will visit several each evening. During the day some pious Shía'hs recite the Qurán.
During this season women who can read, visit the Zanánas and chant Marsiyas to the ladies of the Harem, by whom this season of Muharram is celebrated with great earnest
For the first six days, nothing else takes place, but on the
seventh day the 'Alam-i-Qásím is taken out in public procession. This is to represent the marriage of Qásím, the son of Hasan, to the favourite daughter of Husain, just before the death of the latter. The event is now commemorated by the bearing of Qásím's standard in procession. It is usually borne by a man on horseback. If it is carried by a man on foot, he reels about like a drunken man to show his grief. The crowd shout out: Bridegroom! Bridegroom! After perambulating the principal thoroughfares, the people bring the standard back to its own 'Ashúr Khána. As the standard which represents Qásím is supposed to be a martyr, it is then laid down, covered over, and treated as a corpse. Lamentation is made over it as for one dead. Sherbet is then produced, and a Fátiha is said, after which the standard is again set up in its own place.
The Neza, a lance or spear, with a lime on the top, to recall to remembrance the fact that Yezíd caused Husain's head to be thus carried about, is taken in procession from one place to another. The Na'l Sahib (literally, Mr. Horseshoe) is the representation of a horse shoe, and is meant to remind the people of the swift horse of Husain. Vows are frequently made to this standard. Thus a woman may say to it: "Should I through your favour be blessed with offspring, I shall make it run in your procession." If she attains her wish, the child when seven or eight years old has a small parasol placed in its hand and is made to run after the Na'l Sáhib.
If two 'Alams, or standards, meet, they embrace each other, that is they are made to touch. Fátiha is then said and the respective processions pass on their way. The Buráq, supposed to be a fac-simile of the horse sent by Gabriel for Muhammad to make the night ascent to heaven (Ante. p. 159) is also taken out.
On the evening before the tenth day, which according to the Muslim mode of computing time is the tenth night, the whole of the Tázías and the 'Alams are taken out in
procession. It is a scene of great confusion, for men and boys disguised in all sorts of quaint devices run about. It is the carnival of the Musalmán year.
On the following day, the 'Áshúrá, they kindle the fires in the Alláwas, and say a Fátiha in each 'Áshúr Khána. After this the 'Alams and the Tázías are taken away to a large open spot near water, which represents the plain of Karbalá. Another Fátiha is said, the ornaments and decorations are taken off the Tázías, the frameworks of which are then cast into the water.1 Sometimes they are reserved for use the following year. The water reminds the people of the parching thirst which Husain felt before his death. Only the 'Alams, not the Buráqs nor the Na'l Sáhibs, are immersed. The people then burn incense, recite the Marsiyas, return home and say Fátiha over the 'Alams, Buráqs, &c. On the evening of the 12th, they sit up all night reading the Qurán, reciting Marsiyas and verses in the praise of Husain. On the 13th day, a quantity of food is cooked which, when a Fátiha has been said over it, is distributed to the poor. Some very pious Shía'hs celebrate the fortieth day after the first of Muharram. It is on this day, according to some accounts, that the head and body of Husain were reunited. It is known as the 'Íd-i-sar wa tan (head and body feast).
The Sunnís do not, except as spectators, take any part in the Muharram ceremonies. Indeed, where the ruling power is not strong, there is often much ill-feeling aroused by the enthusiasm excited for all that concerns 'Alí and his family. The three first Khalífs are often well abused, and that no Sunní can bear with patience. The breach between the Sunní and the Shía'h is very wide, and the annual recurrence of the Muharram feast tends to keep alive the distinction.
1. During the first ten days they are supposed to contain the bodies of the martyrs, but now being empty the Tázías become mere ordinary frames and can be destroyed. Qánún-i-Islám, p. 146.