URDU Marsiya - By Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed
Urdu Marsiya (the verse written to remember the martyrs of Karbala) was an effective source of depicting the passions of people, passing through miserable conditions, created by feudal lords in the past. In comparison to Ghazal it is more collective and broad in its expressions. Marsiya on the one hand represents people's religious faith and on the other portrays the calamities of their psychological and emotional life. Its range of experience is more wider than of the Ghazal. Mir Anis and Mirza Dabir have richly reflected in their Marsiyas every pain felt even by commoners belonging to their age. Quite contrary to simple and general styles prevalent in many other forms of poetry, Marsiya contains dramatic voices and epic dimensions. Poets express in Marsiyas the saga of objective oppression experienced by great martyrs of the Islamic world. Why it always remained popular among readers and listeners in spite of its mournful and gloomy effects? Because this form of poetry highlights bravery, boldness, spirit, courage, sacrifice for righteousness, and losing ones social position and life career for the advancement of truth. Muslims related to various periods of Islamic history always idolised these morals. The poets who write Marsiyas interpret Karbala's mournful incident and cries and sufferings fraternal to it in such a way that they work wonder in bringing changes in human conscience.
Every period in human history necessitated the emergence of fighting spirit against tyrants. Marsiya writers virtually fulfil this requirement. The critics who assess various matters carelessly think that the form of Marsiya takes into focus only shrieks, cries, and weeping and it has nothing to do with hope and positive approach. This proposition is not fair at all. Marsiya writers motivate human beings to adopt the passion of sacrifice. When this passion becomes a part of human consciousness it uproots all the tendencies of lust, selfishness and greed ripened in it. On the level of passion they reflect human pains, sufferings, troubles, .and miseries and on the frequency of consciousness they prevent
them from accommodating greed, fear and horror. In the past Marsiya incorporated all the spirits of all the wars fought for righteousness.
Our national freedom movements have always been benefited by the great traditions of sacrifice existing in the background of Muslim culture. Although the heroes of Marsiyas are tragic yet they have no connection with the situations spoiling humanity such as cowardliness, submissiveness, passivity, refuge and powerlessness. These heroes remain unaffected by struggle and practice. Their spirit carries them through all the difficulties in the course of achieving their ideals. They become the torchbearers of great collective sacrifice for the objectives. Marsiya in the initial stage could not achieve its literary standard. So poets were reluctant to adopt it. Later when Mir Taqi Mir and Muhammad Rafi Sauda wrote Marsiyas this form became popular and superior poets began to express their views in it. Mir Zamir sublimated it with his artistic skill Mir Anis and Mirza Dabir took it to its height. Their artistic and ideological fixations were so strong that their poetic expressions and ideas governed Urdu poetry for about a century.
Anis and Dabir dawned on the horizon of Urdu poetry in early 19th century. This era belongs to the decline of Mughal empire in
India. But as far as Urdu poetry is concerned it safely could be said that it was a rich period in terms of its creative development. Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi, Insha Allah Khan Insha, Qalandar Baksh Jura't, Momin Khan Momin, Shah Naseer, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, Ibrahim Zauq, and Bahadur Shah Zafar were shining brightly in the sky of North Indian Literature. In this period the introduction of a new political system was in the air. The replacement of old feudalism was inevitable. New Western feudalism was taking its place. Muslims were in great trouble. They wanted to get rid of the real rulers, the traders associated to East India Company. It was high time to remember the great heroes of Karbala. So Marsiya became popular. Local kings and Nawabs were adopting the policy of compromise at the cost of their freedom. People wanted to remember those heroes from the history of Islam who fought for freedom and secured their national and personal honour. So apart from many other religious and non-religious reasons they remembered Imam Hussain's sacrifice which reminds us that instead of compromising with Yazid (the symbol of tyranny) Hazrat Imam Hussam chose death, and as the great mystic Khawaja Moeen-ud-Din Chishti said, Imam Hussain understood deeply the authentic meaning and the basics of Kalama-e-Tauheed. Analysing Urdu Marsiya in the period of Anis and Dabir, Dr Muhammad Sadiq in
his book 'A History of Urdu Literature' says, "Some Marsiyas emphasise the heroism of the protagonists and are on the epic
plane. Others stress the generosity,forbearance, and forgiveness of al-Hussain, and are ideal in character; while others still are marred by tearfulness and self-pity."
We should admit that Marsiya writers in this age were not philosophers. They expressed their passions which obviously were charged with feelings and imagination. Where even the kings were passing through the invisible stages of self-pity and tearfulness how could commoners express the views fraternal to courage, hope and combativeness. In spite of the grievous situations faced by people, poets tried to portray the feelings concerning bravery, righteousness, resistance and struggle.
"Don't call the rulers nawabs,
Englishmen have made them prisoners.
They speak their language,
they are like a starling from Bengal."
and Mushafi wrote
"Non-Muslim Englishmen have pocketed all the wealth
and splendour of India by virtue of their policies."
And remembering the bravery of Hazrat Imam Hussain the famous Marsiya writer Mirza Dabir says:
With the appearance of the King of Martyrs
enemies are disillusioned.
It is not the Imam but Hazrat Suleman is coming,
opponents are horrified behind their shields.
Moses has come for destroying the progeny of pharaohs.'
Marsiya is a social form. It is written for reading in Majalis (Meetings to remember Hussain's martyrdom) basically. In Majalis it is used for religious purposes. It also could be used for the development of political and social consciousness in and outside Majalis. Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Akhtar Hussain Jaffery, Josh Malihabadi, Iftikhar Arif and many other poets used the metaphors related to the tragic incident of Karbala for the development of political and social consciousness.
Putting aside the opinions of religious or non-religious critics about Marsiya we can easily claim that it arouses the passion of sacrifice.
Dr Sadiq and critics like him have ignored the fact that the existence of cries and elegies in the form of Marsiya do not motivate people to weep but they provide them courage to face the tyrannical and severe realities of life. Marsiyas remind people that worrying from the inconsequential problems of life is not adequate. Remember the difficulties and sufferings of the family, massacred in Karbala and get the courage to live for the glorification of some sanctimonious cause. Be ready for sacrifice.
Mir Anis writes in a Rubai:
Shah (Imam Hussain) used to say, "I am the beloved of God"
I am the schedule of the empyrean
Listen 0, army men from Syria
I am the star which provides light to the world.