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India / Meer Hassan Ali



Meer Hassan Ali


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


Kings and Nuwaubs keep the festival in due form, seated on the throne ormusnud, to receive the congratulations and nuzzas of courtiers and dependants, and presenting khillauts to ministers, officers of state, and favourites. The gentlemen manage to pass the day in receiving and payingvisits, all in their several grades having some inferiors to honour themin the presentation of offerings, and on whom they can confer favours and benefits; feasting, music, and dancing-women, filling up the measure of their enjoyments without even thinking of wine, or any substitute strongerthan such pure liquids as graced the feasts of the first inhabitants ofthe world.

   The Nautchwomen in the apartments of the gentlemen, and the Domenie in the zeenahnahs are in great request on this day of festivity, in everyhouse where the pleasures and the follies of this world are not banishedby hearts devoted solely to the service of God. 'The Nautch' has been, sooften described that it would here be superfluous to add to thedescription, feeling as I do an utter dislike both to the amusement andthe performers. The nautchunies are entirely excluded from the femaleapartments of the better sort of people; no respectable Mussulmaun wouldallow these impudent women to perform before their wives and daughters.

But I must speak of the Domenie, who are the singers and dancers admittedwithin the pale of zeenahnah life; these, on the contrary, are women ofgood character, and their songs are of the most chaste description,chiefly in the Hindoostaunie tongue. They are instructed in Native musicand play on the instruments in common use with some taste,--as thesaattarah (guitar), with three wire strings; the surringhee (rude-shaped violin); the dhome or dholle (drum), in many varieties, beaten with the fingers, never with sticks. The harmony produced is melancholy and not unpleasing, but at best all who form the several classes of professors in Native societies are indifferent musicians.

 Amateur performers are very rare amongst the Mussulmauns; indeed, it isconsidered indecorous in either sex to practise music, singing, or dancing;and such is the prejudice on their minds against this happy resourceamongst genteel people of other climates, that they never can reconcilethemselves to the propriety of 'The Sahib Logue',--a term in general usefor the English people visiting India,--figuring away in a quadrille orcountry dance. The nobles and gentlemen are frequently invited to witnessa 'station-ball'; they look with surprise at the dancers, and I have oftenbeen asked why I did not persuade my countrywomen that they were doingwrong. 'Why do the people fatigue themselves, who can so well afford tohire dancers for their amusement?' Such is the difference between peopleof opposite views in their modes of pleasing themselves: a Nativegentleman would consider himself disgraced or insulted by the simpleinquiry, 'Can you dance, sing, or play?'

   My last Letter introduced the Soofies to your notice, the present shallconvey a further account of some of these remarkable characters who haveobtained so great celebrity among the Mussulmauns of India, as to form thesubjects of daily conversation. I have heard some rigid Mussulmaunsdeclare they discredit the mysterious knowledge a Soofie is said topossess, yet the same persons confess themselves staggered by the singularcircumstances attending the practice of Soofies living in their vicinity,which they have either witnessed or heard related by men whose veracitythey cannot doubt; amongst the number I may quote an intimate acquaintanceof my husband's, a very venerable Syaad of Lucknow, who relates ananecdote of Saalik Soofies, which I will here introduce.

   'Meer Eloy Bauxh, a Mussulmaun of distinguished piety, who has devoteda long life to the service of God, and in doing good to his fellow-men,tells me, that being curious to witness the effect of an assembly ofSaalik Soofies, he went with a party of friends, all equally disposed withhimself to be amused by the eccentricities of the Soofies, whose practicethey ridiculed as at least absurd,--to speak in no harsher terms of theirpretended supernatural gifts.

   'This assembly consisted of more than a hundred persons, who by agreementmet at a large hall in the city of Lucknow, for the purpose of"remembering the period of absence", as they term the death of a highlyrevered Soofie of their particular class. The room being large, and freeadmittance allowed to all persons choosing to attend the assembly, MeerEloy Bauxh and his party entered, and seated themselves in a convenientplace for the more strict scrutiny of the passing-scene.

   'The service for the occasion began with a solemn strain by the musicalperformers, when one of the inspired Soofies commenced singing in a voiceof remarkable melody. The subject was a hymn of praise to the greatCreator, most impressively composed in the Persian language. Whilst theSoofie was singing, one of the elders in particular,--though all seemedsensibly affected by the strain,--rose from his seat, in what the Soofiesthemselves call, "the condition changed," which signifies, by what I couldlearn, a religious ecstasy. This person joined in the same melody whichthe other Soofie had begun, and at the same time accompanied the music bycapering and sobbing in the wildest manner imaginable. His example had theeffect of exciting all the Soofies on whom his eyes were cast to rise alsoand join him in the hymn and dance.

   'The singularity of this scene seemed, to Meer Eloy Bauxh and his party,so ludicrous that they could not refrain from laughing in an audiblemanner, which attracted the attention of the principal Soofie engaged inthe dance, who cast his eyes upon the merry party, not, however,apparently in anger. Strange as he confesses it to be,--and even now itseems more like a dream than a reality,--at the moment he met the eye ofthe Soofie, there was an instant glow of pure happiness on his heart, asensation of fervent love to God, which he had never before felt, in hismost devout moments of prayer and praise; his companions were similarlyaffected, their eyes filled with tears, their very souls seemed elevatedfrom earth to heaven in the rapture of their songs of adoration, whichburst forth from their lips in unison with the whole Soofie assemblage.

   'Before they had finished their song of praise, which lasted aconsiderable time, the chief of the Soofie party sunk exhausted on thecarpet, whilst the extraordinary display of devotion continued in fullforce on the whole assembly, whether Soofies or mere visitors, for manyminutes after the principal devotee had fallen to the floor. Water wasthen procured, and animation gradually returned to the poor exhausteddevotee, but with considerable delay. Meer Eloy Bauxh says he waited untilthe Soofie was perfectly restored to sense, and saw him taken to his placeof abode; he then returned to his own home to meditate on the events of aday he never can forget.'

   The Chillubdhaars are a well-known class of wanderers; their founderwas a Syaad, Ahmud Kaabeer, of whom many wonderful things are relatedsufficient to impress on the weak mind a belief in his supernaturalascendancy. His presumed powers are said to have been chiefly instrumentalin curing the sick or in removing temporal afflictions; but his effectualprayers in behalf of people in difficulty, they say, surpassed those ofany other of the whole tribes of devotees that have at any age existed.His admirers and followers speak of him as having been invulnerable tofire. In his lifetime he had forty disciples or pupils constantly with him;at his death these forty separated, each in the course of timeaccumulating his forty pupils, after the pattern of their founder, whoalso eventually became leaders, and so on, until at the present time, itis conjectured, there are few places in Asia exempt from one or moredetachments of these Chillubdhaar practical beggars who are much admiredby the weak; and although they profess the same tenets and rules of lifewith their founder, Syaad Ahmud Kaabeer, yet, I believe, no one gives theChillubdhaars of the present period credit for possessing either thevirtues or the power of that man who set them so many bright examples; nevertheless, they are applied to on emergencies by the ignorant and thecredulous of the present day, courted by the weak, and tolerated by all.

   They all practise one plan whenever called upon to remove the difficultyof any person who places sufficient confidence in their ability. On suchoccasions, a young heifer, two years old, is supplied by the person havinga request to make, after which a fire of charcoal is made in an open spaceof ground, and the animal sacrificed according to Mussulmaun form. The tender pieces of meat are selected, spitted, and roasted over the fire, ofwhich when cooked, all present are requested to partake. Whilst the meatis roasting, the Chillubdhaars beat time with a small tambourine to a songor dirge expressive of their love and respect
to the memory of thedeparted saint, their founder and patron, and a hymn of praise to theCreator.

   The feast concluded, whilst the fire of charcoal retains a lively heat, these devotees commence dancing, still beating their tambourines andcalling out with an audible voice, 'There is but one God!--Mahumud is the Prophet of God!' Then they sing in praise of Ali, the descendants of the Prophet, and, lastly, of Syaad Ahmud Kaabeer their beloved saint. Eachthen puts his naked foot in the fire: some even throw themselves uponit,--their associates taking care to catch them before they are welldown,--others jump into the fire and out again instantly; lastly, the whole assembly trample and kick the remaining embers about, whilst a spark remains to be quenched by this means. These efforts, it is pretended, are sufficient to remove the difficulties of the persons supplying the heifer and the charcoal.




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