Observations on the Mussulmauns of India by Mrs. Meer Hassan AliDescriptive of their manners, customs, habits, and religious opinions made during a twelve years’ residence in their immediate society.

Proofreaders from images provided by the Million Book Project 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 by MRS. MEER HASSAN ALI Second Edition, Edited with Notes and an Introduction by W. Crooke 1917 WITH SENTIMENTS OF GRATITUDE
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Descriptive of Their Manners, Customs, Habits and Religious Opinions Made During a Twelve Years’ Residence in Their Immediate Society



Second Edition, Edited with Notes and an Introduction by W. Crooke








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.[1]

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 expected, unsuccessful.

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 Company.

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,[2] 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.'[3] 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.'[4]

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’.[5]

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 1863.

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'[6]–a true remark, but no defence for the conduct of the weak princes who did nothing to suppress corruption and save their subjects from oppression.

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.[7] 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. Tod.

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.[8]

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.'[9] 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?'[10] 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.'[11] 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.'[12] 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_.

[1] Col. H.M. Vibart, _Addiscombe_, pp. 39, 41, 42.

[2] _Diwan_, chief agent, manager.

[3] p. 208.

[4] p. 182.

[5] p. 290.

[6] p. 227.

[7] _Calcutta Review_, ii. 387.

[8] pp. 80, 422.

[9] Vol. i, pp. 230, 453.

[10] i. 391.

[11] i. 450.

[12] 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 slaves…Page 32


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 subject…Page 66


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 Chuckee…Page 98


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 Zeenahnahs…Page 163


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 Moosul…Page 195


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 described.–The Cuppers.–Leechwomen.–Ear-cleaners.–Old silver.–Pickles.–Confectionery.–Toys.–Fans.–Vegetables and fruit.–Mangoes.–Melons.–Melon-cyder.–Fish.–Bird-catcher.–The 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 ‘Goolistaun’.–Haafiz.–Mahumud Baarkur.–‘Hyaatool 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 enumerated…Page 304


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 Monkey…Page 324


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 fruit…Page 370


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 remarks…Page 400

INDEX…Page 427


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.




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’.[1] 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 a fellow-creature.

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[2] (Meers[3]) 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[4] (usury for instance[5]), 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[6]). 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[7] (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 judgment.

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 when relieved.

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,[8]–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[9] (netting) for courties[10] (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,[11] Bahadhoor,[12] Nuwaub,[13] &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,[14] 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;[15] and Hosein, the last sad victim of the family to the King Yuzeed’s[16] fury, suffered a cruel death, after the most severe trials, on the plains of Kraabaallah,[17] 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 guilty.

Yuzeed, the King of Shawm,[18] it appears, was the person in power, amongst the followers of Mahumud, at that early period of Mussulmaun history. Of the Soonie sect,[19] 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'[20] (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,[21] 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 their leader.

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 partizans.

The unfortunate agent of Hosein had confided the charge of his two sons to the Kauzy[22] 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,[23] 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,[24] fell in with Hosein’s camp, one day’s march beyond the far-famed ground, amongst Mussulmauns, of Kraabaallah, or Hurth Maaree,[25] as it was originally called.

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 unmolested.

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,[26] was the affianced husband of Hosein’s favourite daughter, Sakeena Koobraah;[27] 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[28] (Euphrates) being blockaded by their enemies, they suffered exceedingly from thirst. The handsome Abass,[29] 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,[30] 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,[31] 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[32] (a reed, or grass, resembling bright straw) erected by the road side of the Mussulmauns’ houses; they are called saabeels,[33] 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[34] 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 denominated Sheahs.

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 Letter.

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 bloodshed.[35]

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 proper place.

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 stages.

In the vicinity of Koofah[36] stands Mount Judee[37] (Judea), on which is built, over the remains of Ali, the mausoleum called Nudghiff Usheruff.[38] 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 deposited.

Here, too, it is believed Noah’s ark rested after the Deluge. When pilgrims to Mecca make their zeearut[39] (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’.[40]

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,[41] the revered father of my excellent husband; who having performed the Hadje[42] (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.

[1] ‘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).

[2] _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.

[3] _Mir_, a contraction of _Amir_, ‘lord’.

[4] _Koran, Qur’an_.

[5] ‘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.

[6] _Begam_, feminine of _Beg_, ‘lord’, used to denote a Sayyid lady, like Khanam among Pathans.

[7] Here, as elsewhere, _zenanah, zananah_, Persian _zan_, ‘woman’.

[8] 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).

[9] _Jali_.

[10] _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.

[11] _Khan_, ‘lord’, ‘prince’, specially applied to persons of Mughal or Pathan descent.

[12] _Bahadur_, ‘champion’, a Mongol term; see Yule, _Hobson-Jobson_[2], 48 ff.

[13] _Nawab_, ‘a deputy, delegate’: the Anglo-Indian Nabob (ibid., 610 ff.).

[14] _Muharram_, ‘that which is forbidden’, the first month of the Musalman year, the first ten days of which are occupied with this mourning festival.

[15] By his wife Ja’dah, who was suborned to commit the deed by Yazid.

[16] 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’.

[17] Kerbala, Karbala, a city of Iraq, 50 miles south-west of Baghdad, and about 6 miles from the Euphrates.

[18] Syria.

[19] _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, v ff.

[20] _Imam._

[21] Muslim.

[22] _Qazi_, a Muhammadan law officer.

[23] _Karwan_, a caravan.

[24] al-Hurr.

[25] 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.

[26] Qasim.

[27] Sakinah, Hebrew Shechinah; Koobraah, _Kibriya_, ‘noble’.

[28] The Euphrates is called in Sumerian _pura-num_, ‘Great water’, whence Purat, Purattu in Semitic Babylonian; Perath in Hebrew; Frat or Furat in Arabic.

[29] ‘Abbas, son of ‘Ali.

[30] _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._]

[31] _Kora_, the fresh juice of _Aloe vera_, said to be cathartic and cooling.

[32] _Sirki_ (_Saccharum ciliare_).

[33] _Sabil_: see Burton, _Pilgrimage_, Memorial ed., i. 286.

[34] Shimar, whose name now means ‘contemptible’ among Shi’ahs.

[35] 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).

[36] Kufah, four miles from Najaf, the capital of the Caliph ‘Ali, which fell into decay when the government was removed to Baghdad.

[37] Confused with Al-judi, Mt. Ararat, on which the Ark rested.–_Koran_, xi. 46.

[38] Najaf al Sharif, or Mashhad ‘Ali, 50 miles south of Karbala, the tomb and shrine of ‘Ali.

[39] _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.)

[40] The grave is said to be nine yards long: according to others, much longer. See the flippant remark of Burton, ibid., ii. 273 ff.

[41] Mir Haji Shah.

[42] _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[1] 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 Hosein.

The word Tazia[2] 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[3] (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,[4] 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[5] (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[6] (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 ignorant.

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[7] (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[8] (mourning assemblies). It would be esteemed indecorous or disrespectful to the Emaums, if any one in error called these assemblies Moollakhaut,[9] 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[10]) 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,[11] 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 to himself.

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,[12] 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[13] of the age is engaged to recite the particular portion appointed for each day, from the manuscript documents, called Dhie Mudgelluss,[14] 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!'[15] for ten minutes, and occasionally during a longer period, in that part of the service called Mortem.[16]

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[17]–the green leaf in general use amongst the natives–has been introduced, consisting of dried coffee, cocoa-nut shreds, betel-nut, cardimuns,[18] dunyah,[19] and a proportionate quantity of tobacco-leaf and lime; these are mixed together and handed to the visitors, on small silver trays. The hookha[20] 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[21] 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[22] (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,[23] 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),[24] without even the usual additions to make it palatable ketcherie,[25] 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.[26] The truth is, their health would suffer from any long disuse of tobacco-leaf, lime, and a bitter gum,[27] 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[28] and jhaumdanies.[29]

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[30] (nose-ring) of gold wire, on which is strung a ruby between two pearls, worn only by married women; the joshun[31] (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[32] and deputtahs[33] 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.[34]

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[35]), 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.[36]

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[37] (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;[38] 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 attachment.[39]

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.[40]

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 ungovernable sorrow.[41]

I have observed that the Maulvees, Moollahs,[42] 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.[43]

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’.[44] 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.’

[1] _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.

[2] _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.

[3] _Abrak_, tale.

[4] From Karbala, the place of pilgrimage.

[5] _Mardanah_.

[6] _Maqbarah_, ‘place of graves’.

[7] _Shatranj[-i]_, a chequered cloth, from _shatrang_, the game of chess.

[8] _Majlis_.

[9] _Mulaqat_.

[10] _Mimbar_, sometimes a wooden structure, sometimes of masonry.

[11] 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).

[12] 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. [_Author_.]

[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.]

[13] _Maulavi_, a Muhammadan doctor of law, a judge.

[14] 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_, i. 74.]

[15] Corrupted by Anglo-Indians into _Hobson-Jobson_, the title of Sir H. Yule’s _Anglo-Indian Glossary_.

[16] _Matam_, ‘mourning’.

[17] _Pan_, ‘betel leaf’.

[18] Cardamom.

[19] _Dhaniya_ (_Coriandrum sativitm_).

[20] _Huqqah_, ‘a water tobacco pipe’.

[21] _Marsiyah_, ‘a funeral elegy’.

[22] _Palang_, a more pretentious piece of furniture than the _charpai_, or common ‘cot’.

[23] _Masnad_, ‘a thing leaned on’, a pile of cushions; the throne of a sovereign.

[24] _Khichar_.

[25] _Khichri_, the ‘Kedgeree’ of Anglo-Indians.

[26] _Gota_.

[27] Catechu, Hindi _Kath_.

[28] _Batua_.

[29] _Jamdani_, properly a portmanteau for holding clothes (_Jama_): a kind of flowered cloth.

[30] _Nath_.

[31] _Joshan_, an ornament worn on the upper arm.

[32] _Pa[~e]jama_, ‘leg clothing’, drawers.

[33] _Dopatta_, a sheet made of two breadths of cloth.

[34] 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.

[35] [~A]y[~a], from Portuguese _aia_, ‘a nurse’.

[36] 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_.]

[37] _Butkhanah_.

[38] 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_[2], 453.

[39] 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.

[40] Persian _ustad, ustadji_, ‘an instructor’.

[41] Lamentation for the dead was strictly prohibited by the Prophet; but, like all orientals, the Indian Musalmans indulge in it. (_Mishkat_, i, chap, vii.)

[42] _Mulla_, the Persian form of Maulavi, ‘a doctor of law’.

[43] 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.

[44] The Prophet was obliged to make some compromise with idolatry, as in