Marsiya as a Medium of Reform – Part 2

The writer, Hasnain Walji (Dallas, Texas, USA) is an entrepreneur, investor, technologist, and a community volunteer

Marsiya Defined

Defining the marsiya, in the context of the Subcontinent, Dr. Muhammad Sadiq in his book A History of Urdu Literature, states: “A marsiya is a lament on the death of a friend, relative, or patron, especially a nobleman or a king. In Urdu, it is used in the specialized sense of an account of the tribulations of Imam Husain (AS), his family and followers, which culminated in the tragedy of Karbala”.

A typical marsiya is characterized by six-line verses (bands) in an aaaabb rhyme. A classical Urdu marsiya, usually includes:

  • Chehrah – a prelude of poems of praise, descriptions of the morning or night before the battle with reference the hardships faced by Husain; 
  • Sarapa description of the poem’s hero and his virtues; 
  • Rukhsat –  the departure of the warriors for the battlefield 
  • Aamad – the entry onto the battlefield 
  • Rajaz – an  affirmation of the hero’s soldierly dexterity 
  • Jang– description of  the actual battle 
  • Shahadat – the heroic  martyrdom 
  • Bain – the lament 

    Renowned Urdu poets such as Mir Taqi Mir (1722 CE-1810 CE) and Muhammad Rafi Sauda (1713 CE -1780 CE), all wrote marsiya, with renderings replete with the cultural imagery of the sub-continent.  Mirza Ghalib (1797 CE -1869 CE) too tried his hand. He wrote: 

The glory and jewel of faith, Hussein Ibn-e Ali,
who shall be called the candle of the gathering of grandeur.

The fountain of paradise (Salsabil) is in the path of those,
who call him the thirsty martyr of Karbala.

It is a strange occurrence that an enemy of Islam,
battles with Ali and is considered only to be mistaken.

After Ali there is Hassan, and after Hassan there is Hussein,
How can I exonerate any person who has mistreated them.

However, even as a classical poet, Ghalib knew his limitations in the art of marsiya writing and paid a glowing tribute to the two of the greatest marsiya writers ever:  “The Marsiya-poets like Mir Anis and Mirza Dabir will never be born again in Hindustan.” A far cry from the shallow lyrics penned by some modern aspiring marsiya writers where forced rhyme and rhythm override elegant pathos laden verse. 

Mir Anis describes  the ideal marsiya in the following verses:

qalam-e fikr se khincuun jo kisii bazm kaa rang

With thought’s pen, when I paint the colors of an assembly

shama‘-e tasviir peh girne lagen aa aa ke patang

May moths repeatedly dive into the picture’s flame.

dabdabah bhii ho masaa’ib bhii hon tausiif bhii ho

A  marsiya should have grandeur, ordeals, and descriptions.

dil bhii mahzuz hon riqqat bhii ho ta‘riif bhii ho

The heart should be made happy, and sad, and full of praise

Talking about the value of a Marsiya, Mirza Daber opines thus: 

Jab Tak Na Hue ilm Se Kuch Bahra Ay “Dabeer“,

Unless there is educational value (in a Marsiya),  O Dabeer 

Koi Na Daaley Marsiyaa Goii Ke Fan Me Haath

One should not try ones’ hand at the art of (composing) a marsiya

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