History of Marsiya
Deccan has been an important centre of Azadari since the medieval times. It has its roots in the times of the Bahmani Kingdom which was founded in the year 747 H. This family of rulers lasted till 900 H. The Shia rulers of the Bahmani kingdom promoted the tradition of Azadari with ardent interest. The Kingdom disintegrated and got fragmented in the year 901Hijri. The result was the proclamation of five different independent kingdoms in the area. Among these the Adil Shahis and the Qutub Shahis patronized the growth of the Deccani culture and simultaneously they strived hard to spread the message of the great Martyrs of Karbala throughout their realms. These dynasties span the period from 901 to 1098 H. In this period of almost two centuries several great poets lived who specialized in writing Marsias ( Requiems) on the Tragedy of Karbala. Some of the Kings too were poets of high calibre. The history of Urdu literature recognizes Quli Qutub Shah as the first poet who worked on this branch of poetry. He was also the first poet of the language whose poetic works were compiled. He was the founder of the city of Hyderabad as well.
In the year 988 H the tradition of Azadari in Hyderabad got its firm roots and the norms of the observations during the mourning period got established. Quli Qutub Shah, the Monarch, was a great admirer of Hussain Ibne Ali. When the city of Hyderabad was inhabited in the year 1005 H he constructed the Badshahi Ashur Khawna, where highly artistic Alams studded with precious stones were installed. During the first ten days of Moharrum he organized regular Majlis gatherings from morning till night. The King used to regularly attend the gatherings in the evenings.
During these gatherings Marsia Khawns with mellifluous voices used to render the requiems written by several poets of high repute. The marsias penned by Quli Qutub Shah himself were recited when he attended the gatherings. Although Persian was the official language Urdu was receiving maximum patronage. There cannot be a better evidence of this that the King himself was a reputed exponent of Urdu poetry. Because of the Royal patronage the language progressed by leaps and bounds. During the period 988 to 1098 H, the period spanning the realm of Quli Qutub Shah to that of Abul Hassan Tana Shah the art of Marsia Khawni got well entrenched. The Qutub Shahi and Adil Shahi dynasties fell during the years 1098-99 H. Aurangzeb occupied the Deccan and made his utmost attempts to destroy the cultural values which were nursed by the previous rulers for centuries.
The Moghul dominance was very short lived. Asaf Jah 1 declared himself independent in the year 1136 H and cut himself away from the Moghuls,
During the time of Asaf Jah the cultural values of the Deccan revived once again. One could associate the renaissance of the Azadari tradition of the Qutub Shahi period during the reign of the Asaf Jahs. This family had great devotion for the Martyr of Karbala. The Second Asaf Jah shifted the capital from Aurangabad to Hyderabad in the year 1284 H. This proved a good omen for the City of Hyderabad. Nizam Ali Khawn, .the Nizam, was ardently devoted to The Martyr of Karbala. One proof of this is that he gave one of his sons in adoption to his Shia vizier, Arastu Jah, with the permission that he was free to bring up the child in his faith. He also betrothed Sikander Jah to the grand daughter of Arastu Jah.
During the time of Asaf Jah, due to the efforts of Nawazish Ali Khawn Shaida, the Badshahi Ashur Khawna was renovated and restored to its former glory. Aurangzeb had converted the Ashur Khawna into a parking lot for the horse carriages.
During the later Asaf Jahi period the traditions of earlier Qutub Shahi period was revived. Thus Marsia Khawni became a hereditary avocation for certain families. If any other person recites Marsias he is considered casual novice.
The style of Marsia Khawni in Hyderabad is distinctly different from that in other places. The experts have devised tunes which don't come under the purview of the musical compositions and at the same time succeeded in enhancing the feelings of pathos in the audience. One name which conies to mind amongst these masters is that of Khush Hal Khawn. Besides him there have been two other Marsia Khawns of Hyderabad who made a distinct niche for themselves with their compositions. They were Wahid Khawn and Hassan Khawn. The tunes set by these persons are still followed by the Marsia Khawns in Hyderabad. These are the tunes which the scholars and Faqihs have no objection too.
Marsia Khawni is an important part of the Azadari movement. The Marsia Khawns have played a very important role in spreading the message of Karbala. There sprang up a distinct class of Marsia Khawns from the early Qutub Shahi period. If there was any lull in the activity of this group it was restored back from the reign of the Second Nizam. Mir Nizam Ali Khawn. There were about 17 Jamats of Marsia Khawns attached to the court of Arastu Jah. The Jamat in the court of the Second Nizam numbered 20 the chief of whom was Nawazish Ali Khawn Shaida who was also the Master of Ceremonies in the Nizam's Court.
The Marsia Khawns always strived to keep their renderings within certain norms of style and rhythm so that they had the maximum impact on the listeners. They selected the works of poetry with great care. They were adepts at selecting verses from various Marsias and combine them with such mastery that the rendering had the maximum impact and the continuity of the narration was maintained. This practice might have created some resentment, naturally, in the poets but the combinations definitely had the desired impact on the audiences. Such combined Marsias were termed as 'Chune Huwe' or 'Chakida' Marsias.
This practice of the Marsia Khawns also indicated that they were not only adepts at the art of rendering the Marsias but they also have deep understanding of the nuances of poetry that they were able to cull the most suitable pieces from different Marsias and blend them into a harmonious combination.
The salient feature of the Hyderabadi tunes of Marsias is that the stress on the prolongation of delivery of words is limited to the points where maximum effect on the feelings of the listener is desired. Normally Marsias with six lines in each passage are in vogue. In every passage the fourth and the sixth lines generally carry the message for the audience. The Marsia Khawn uses all his skill in rendering these lines to perfection. The accompanists too repeat these lines. Sometimes the entire passage communicates the extreme of pathos. The Marsia Khawn gives special treatment to such passages along with his accompanists and the audience responds appreciatively. The attempt of the Marsia Khawn continues to create the feeling of sadness among the audience. To this end they modulate their voices suitably and they make the appropriate gestures with their hands and faces. Sometimes they remove their head-gear and read and repeat the passages.
Marsia Khawni is also done from the Pulpit as we find from the literature on the Majlis gatherings of the Qutub Shahi period. It is difficult to say when the tradition of keeping a cushion in front of the Marsia Khawns started. In the early period the Marsia Khawni and oratory used to be done from the pulpit only. In the Qutub Shahi period we don?t find any reference to Jamaats of Marsia Khawns or any other phrase to connote groups of Marsia Khawns. Perhaps those days rendering of Marsias was done individually from the Pulpit.
The Marsias are selected to suit the occasion or the Martyr whom the gathering is got together to commemorate. The Marsia Khawn renders the verses selectively and it is not necessary to deliver the entire poem. In certain Majlises they render only the verses which are sublime in their contents to give rise to the feelings of pathos. During these renderings the Marsia Khawn stands up to render the most effective line of the verse repetitively and conclude his rendition. Like, on the day of Ashura, the 10th of Moharrum, they would stand up at the rendering of the following line of the verse
'Seenay pey bhala rakh kay giraya Hussain ko
'Hussain was pushed down from his steed by putting the spear on his chest.'
This would have a profoundly saddening effect on the knowledgeable gathering which is well schooled in the events of Karbala. Similarly on the other occasions the marsia Khawns are able to motivate the feelings of sadness in the audience by their masterly selection and rendering of the verses.
In the end it is worth mentioning that our forbears have perfected the tunes for rendering the Marsias after great efforts. The ancestral Marsia groups have different tunes for particular Marsias .