THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF POPULAR SHI'ISM IN AWADH
Shi'ism and Muslim Social Groups
The origins and social composition of the Shi‘i population in Awadh are central questions for the social historian of religion, albeit questions difficult to answer. The flowering of Imami Shi‘i popular ritual, and the spread of formal Imami religious institutions in the nawabi period took place, not in a vacuum, but against a background of folk beliefs now difficult to recover. The Shi‘i notables that flocked to the nawabi court, many from Iran, Kashmir, and Delhi, are easier to trace than the partisans of ‘Ali in the small towns and in the bazaars. Nevertheless, nineteenth-century British census takers and administrators collected information useful for a reconstruction of the social origins of Awadh's Shi‘is, and local and family histories sometimes also contain relevant data.
This survey of Shi‘i influence on the major Muslim social groups in Awadh will look first at the "noble" (ashraf ) castes, most of them rural gentry, urban administrators and tax-farmers, or merchants. Since these groups often cannot be precisely identified by social class, they will be discussed as status groups, in the Weberian sense. Then the little available information on Shi‘ism among artisans and craftsmen will be presented. Finally, there will be a discussion of links between Shi‘ism and north Indian Sufi brotherhoods, religious organizations that often had mass followings. Shi‘is always remained a small minority in Awadh, but their influence with the nawabi court gave them an importance out of proportion to their numbers, so that they profoundly influenced Awadh culture.
Shi'is and the Census
The north Indian Shi‘i population in the eighteenth century can only be guessed at, and not until after the fall of the Awadh kingdom do population
statistics become available for the area. Tables, as of 1881, give Sunni and Shi‘i population figures in each district of the combined British administrative unit of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh (an area nearly equivalent to the Greater Awadh ruled by Shujacu'd-Dawlah in the eighteenth century). But census takers did not divide Muslims by sect when they recorded their occupations. We thus know the number of Muslim weavers in Lucknow district, but not how many of them were Shi‘is.
Without census statistics for the occupations of Shi‘is and Sunnis as separate groups, the question of the specific niches in society filled by Shi‘is cannot be answered. Nevertheless, it must be bound up with the social position of the Muslims in general. Even here the British census figures, frustratingly incomplete, have the disadvantage for the period under study of originating late in the nineteenth century. The census of 1891 first gave tables showing caste and occupation by religion in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, and Crooke's classic Tribes and Castes supplemented it for ethnographic information, making it, for all the problems mentioned above, a good analytical starting point.
The census for the area of concern here covered two late-nineteenth-century administrative divisions. The first, the North-Western Provinces, constituted areas the British conquered north of Awadh, as well as provinces they annexed from Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan of Awadh in 1801. The second, "Oudh," was the British name for the area of Awadh that remained under the rule of the nawab after he ceded half of it to the British East India Company in 1801. The British later annexed "Oudh" itself in 1856.
The British census takers extensively employed the category of "caste" (jat ), even for Muslims, and preferred this category over occupational ones, creating conceptual problems in their collection of data. A weaver (julahah ), displaced by the influx of cheap British textiles, who began working as a bearer might give his caste as weaver without mentioning his occupation. Census takers created an even more serious problem for historians by recording high-status "caste" groups such as Mughals and Sayyids only under those rubrics, assigning them no occupation. A Shaykh who wove for a living but simply reported his ethnic identity would be included in the Shaykhs rather than in the weavers.
This confusing procedure has left us with over two million Muslims, 37 percent of the Muslim population in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, classified only as Mughal, Pathan, Sayyid, or Shaykh, all groups being opaque as to actual occupation. Many high-caste Muslims may have been reluctant to admit to being employed, aspiring to at least the appear-
ance of being gentlemen of independent means. Although most Mughals probably owned property and land, and many Sayyids held land, large numbers of Pathans and Shaykhs almost certainly worked as skilled artisans, owning little or no land. On the other hand, the landholding elite no doubt contained numerous Shaykhs and Pathans.
The "Noble" Castes
Although the statistics concerning the "noble" (ashraf ) castes therefore tell us little about social classes, they tell us much about status groups. Max Weber's conception of status groups (Stande ) terminologically derives from the preindustrial European division of society into "orders" based on function and privilege. In the industrializing Germany of the early twentieth century Weber appropriated the word "order" (Stand ) to a new use, in English rendered by "status group." In Weber's exposition, social classes are determined by their economic position and by market forces, whereas status groups are culturally determined bodies with a more ambiguous relationship to economic position. Status groups depend on honor and on a style of life, and the group's solidarity is often reinforced by marrying only within it (endogamy).
Weber gave as an example of status groups American clubs, in which persons of various social backgrounds might meet. He was aware that the variation tended not to be extreme, and that status groups were linked with social classes in many ways. In the long run, he noted, property is always recognized as a status qualification. But then, so might be the lack of property, as in the case of wandering holy men. Status groups tend to monopolize a set of ideal and material privileges. But material privileges are not solely determinative, and a newly wealthy family might be excluded from a wealthy status group because it is seen to lack the ideal qualifications for membership. Weber also pointed out that status groups could evolve into castes, who religiously felt that contact with persons outside their caste defiled them. Status groups become castes when they involve underlying differences that are held to be ethnic.
A Weberian approach to the Muslim ashraf groups solves many conceptual problems, since Weber saw status groups and castes as similar phenomena on a continuum, beginning with purely conventional clubs and ending with full-blown Hindu-style castes. The Muslim noble groups certainly began as status groups, and through endogamy and declarations of common ancestry moved toward becoming castes. Caste formation in their case seldom achieved the completeness witnessed among the Hindu groups.
For instance, not all members of the Muslim noble castes would see contact with a common Muslim as ritually polluting. Many anthropologists of India have seen the Muslim "castes" as "caste-analogues," social formations that imitated the pure Hindu castes. Weber's approach allows us rather to see them as consequences of status-group development along ethnic lines. Thus, the Sayyids, or putative descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, would be "castes" in the Weberian sense in many parts of the Muslim world, and not only in India. This fact in itself brings into question the necessity of seeing Indian Sayyids as a "caste-analogue" created by the influence of a Hindu environment. The genuine influence of Hindu conceptions on Muslim status groups in transition toward becoming castes can hardly be denied, but influence differs from causation.
The highest status group among Muslims, the Sayyids, included a quarter of a million persons in the area under study, constituting only about 4 percent of the total Muslim population and 10 percent of the noble castes taken as a group. The Sayyids asserted their descent from the Prophet Muhammad or from one of his close relatives. This link to the holy and revered person of the Messenger of God gave Sayyids special status and privileges within the Muslim community. Many who declared their Sayyid descent in India did so as a means to or statement of upward mobility, and lineage claims must be
N-W. P. & Oudh
% of Ashraf
% of Muslims
% of Pop.
% of Ashraf
% of Muslims
% of Pop.
treated with circumspection. But the biological reality of such sources of family honor is sociologically irrelevant when the public generally accepts the lineage as authentic. A little over 10 percent of noble Muslims living in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh were Sayyids, whereas in Oudh the percentage was twelve. This slight disproportion may represent Sayyid families attracted to Awadh during the rule of the nawabs, themselves Sayyids, and who, as Shi‘is, guaranteed a special place in their dominions for members of the Prophet's family.
Awadh's Sayyids divided themselves genealogically into many subgroups, the most numerous being those asserting descent from the Prophet through his daughter, Fatimah, and her husband, ‘Ali. For extra honor, or to stress their Shi‘ism, some emphasized descent from ‘Ali and Fatimah through one of their descendants, most often one of the Twelve Imams revered by the Imami Shi‘is. Over a quarter of Awadh's Sayyids asserted descent from Imam Riza, the eighth Imam, and almost 10 percent from Imam Husayn, the third Imam. Another 10 percent reported their lineage as going back to Zayd, another ‘Alid. Altogether, those asserting descent from Fatimah and her descendants, including the Twelve Imams, constituted 67 percent of the Sayyids. The rest gave their forebear as another relative of the Prophet, such as his uncle ‘Abbas, or identified themselves according to Sufi order (Chishti, Qadiri, Jalali Suhravardi) or place of origin (Baghdad, Bukhara, Sabzavar).
A powerful link existed between Sayyids and Shi‘i Islam. Since the majority of Sayyids emphasized descent from an Imam revered by the Imami Shi‘is, they often sympathized with Shi‘i figures against their foes, the latter often portrayed as heroes by Sunnis. Though most Sayyids remained Sunnis, even they tended to have pro-‘Alid sympathies. The Sayyids were particularly susceptible to the Shi‘i ideas filtering into the Mughal Empire from Iran after 1501. A sociologist who studied Shi‘i marriage customs found that, in a sample drawn from middle- and upper-class social networks in several geographical locations, fully half his respondents said they were Sayyids. A strong Shi‘i presence among Sayyids appears in other sources, many Sayyid families in the upper Doab, for instance, being Shi‘is. Such data, admittedly impressionistic, nevertheless give a strong and consistent impression.
Nearly a quarter of Awadh's Sayyids late in the nineteenth century lived in Lucknow district, and another 12 percent dwelled in Faizabad district. Bara Banki, Gonda, and Hardoi also possessed large Sayyid populations, but all the other districts of Awadh had only three to four thousand Sayyids each. The privileges, patronage, and charities bestowed on Sayyids in the nawabi
centers of Lucknow and Faizabad acted as a magnet for them. The rural Sayyids congregated, not in the very small Hindu villages that accounted for most human habitation in North India, but in large villages or small towns (qasabahs ), where they formed part of the landholding class.
In the qasabahs , local trade depots with small permanent bazaars, landholders built forts, water tanks, mosques, and irrigation facilities. Despite their rural setting, these islands of semiurban settlement fostered some literate culture among the Muslim gentry based there, allowing them to send some of their sons to the imperial court as civil servants and religious dignitaries, and so to maintain links with the cosmopolitan center. Indeed, both rentier and courtly service status were crucial to the qasabah elite families, and if both were not maintained, their fortunes could easily decline.
The small landholding families based in the provincial towns originally were of several types. The Mughal monarchs often granted revenue from land (madad-i macash ) to religious scholars, mystics, and Sayyid or other noble families. The Mughal rulers did not thereby alienate the land and could resume the grant at any time. A more permanent form of landed wealth was the zamindari , and old provincial zamindar families built up hereditary estates. As Muzaffar Alam has shown, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the Delhi court treated holders of madad-i macash favorably in tax assessment, encouraging their power as a balance to the increasingly insubordinate old zamindari families. Many learned and Sayyid families holding revenue grants used their wealth to purchase zamindaris . In the nineteenth century some small landholding (zamindar ) houses built up estates consisting of hundreds of villages, becoming very large landholders (tacalluqdars ). Despite their sometimes positive role in keeping up irrigation facilities and in providing security through their forts, many zamindars , whether Muslim or Hindu, preyed parasitically on the labor of the Hindu peasants who worked their estates and lived outside the fort's protecting walls.
Insights into the Sayyid gentry can be gained from considering the histories of some prominent families. In the Akbarpur parganah of Faizabad district twelve Hindu and twelve Muslim landed houses predominated from medieval times. One of the Muslim houses, whose numerous nineteenth-century members were Shi‘is, asserted their descent from Sayyid Taj, said to
have emigrated from Arabia in the mid-fourteenth century. Another family traced itself back to Sayyid Ahmad, also from "Arabia," through the medieval magnates Sayyid Phul and Sayyid Piyare, the Hindi names perhaps indicating Hindu background masked by later usurpation of Muslim noble status.
Also of note were the progeny of Sayyid Sulayman Nishapuri, who settled in Awadh in 1403 and married into the family of the aforementioned Sayyid Ahmad. He acquired a huge estate, and even in the nineteenth century believers venerated his tomb by an annual ceremony. His descendants, Shi‘is, are numerous. They include the Pirpur and Kataria tacalluqdar landholding houses, which produced great-estate builders in the nineteenth century. Shaykh Ahmad Qattal Luristani, said to have come from Iran, arrived in tile early 1400s. At one time eleven distinct branches of his family owned land in Akbarpur parganah, but these villages were absorbed into the tacalluqah estates of Pirpur and Samanpur. Luristani's putative descendants are Shi‘is. In the Birhar parganah, the Sayyids of Nasirabad asserted their descent from Sayyid Nasiru'd-Din, said to have fled Iran during the disruptions caused by Timur's military campaigns. Akbar granted the family revenue-free holdings, although these were partially confiscated by Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan in the nineteenth century.
In Bara Banki, Muslim Shaykhs and Sayyids owned almost half the villages, though they constituted only 2.6 and 0.6 percent of the district's population, respectively, in the late nineteenth century. In some small towns, Sayyids exercised unquestioned dominance. The Shi‘i Sayyids of Zaydpur had ten mosques and seventeen imambarahs in the late nineteenth century, but permitted no Sunni mosques or Hindu temples. In Kintur, Bara Banki, Sayyids held two-thirds of the village lands, including a number of rent-free (mucafi ) grants. The Sayyids there asserted their descent from the brothers Sayyids Sharafu'd-Din and Muhammad of Nishapur, said to have forsaken Iran for Awadh in the time of Hulagu the Il-Khanid Mongol ruler. The Nishapuri Sayyids of Kintur produced several outstanding Shi‘i religious scholars in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Sayyid landholders exerted great social and cultural influence from tile small towns they helped create in Hardoi, as well. In the nineteenth century a thousand Sayyids owned half the land in parganah Bilgram, saying they were descended from Sayyid Muhammad Wasiti, who conquered it in A.D. 1217. (He is also held to be the progenitor of the Barhah Sayyids in Muzaffarnagar
north of Awadh.) In the time of Shah Jahan, Sayyid Ismacil Bilgrami adopted Shi‘ism. Even in the heavily Sunni atmosphere of Awrangzib's India, Bilgrami Sayyids wrote elegies for members of the Prophet's family, such as ‘Ali, thus exalting their own genealogy. Some prominent Bilgram Sayyid families embraced Shi‘ism in the late eighteenth century. Their putative cousins. in Barhah, of course, became Shi‘is centuries earlier, and they wielded paramount influence at the Mughal court in the first two decades of the eighteenth century. The Sayyids were also important in Sandila, another renowned qasabah of Hardoi, where they owned 8 percent of the surrounding villages in the nineteenth century.
The Sayyids of Ja'is and Nasirabad in Rai Bareli district further exemplify the pattern of early settlement, imperial land grants, and later adoption of Shi‘ism. They hold themselves to be in the line of Sayyid Najmu'd-Din Sabzavari, who they say accompanied Salar Mascud Ghazi on his eleventh-century expedition into North India. (Their own genealogies belie such antiquity, going back, at 24.1 years per generation, only to the fourteenth century.) The Sayyid qasabah at Ja'is split seven generations after Sabzavari's arrival when Sayyid Zakariyya moved three miles away, founding a new settlement inside a fort at what became Nasirabad. The Sayyids of Ja'is and Nasirabad held land grants from the central government, dominating surrounding villages, but coming into sanguinary conflict with Hindu martial clans, often having to submit to powerful rajas. They benefited from the trade between Delhi and Allahabad, and, later, from the area's thriving textile trade. One of their number tutored Bahadur Shah (r. 1707-12). During his reign, a time of great Shi‘i influence at court, a few Sayyids in Nasirabad embraced Imami Shi‘ism. Later, Shi‘i nawabi rule in Awadh accelerated the adoption of Shi‘i beliefs. Nasirabad produced an important Shi‘i cleric, Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali (1753-1820), whose career will be described in later chapters.
In Jarwal, Bahraich, the Sayyid line derived from Sayyid Zakariyya, who fled Iran during the Mongol invasion by Genghis Khan, obtaining a 15,000 bigha grant from the Delhi sovereign, Ghiyathu'd-Din. In 1800 the Jarwal Sayyids, some of them Shi‘is, displaced the Ansari Shaykhs and came to hold 276 out of 365 villages in the parganah, although their holdings thereafter de-
clined rapidly to (a still formidable) 76 villages in 1877.
The ‘Alid genealogies of all Sayyids, and the pro-Shi‘i sentiments of many, led them to develop origin myths that tied in with the tragedy of Karbala (where the Prophet's grandson Husayn b. ‘Ali died fighting the Umayyad government in A.D. 680). One Sayyid author from Ja'is wrote of the Awadh qasabahs in the nineteenth century that most of their headmen were Sayyids or Shaykhs because these groups, having supported ‘Ali and the Imams against other claimants to rulership of the Islamic Empire, fled the central Islamic lands for fear of their lives when the holy figures met defeat. They made their way through Afghanistan down to North India, settling in Ja'is, Nasirabad, Manekpur, Salon, Bilgram, Sultanpur, Sethan, Rudauli, Amethi, and so forth. Through royal edicts, they became rent-free landholders (jagirddars ) and middle landlords (zamindars ).
This myth held that Sayyids and some Shaykhs toiled as Muslim pioneers in an alien and hostile Hindu environment because of the same injustice that struck down ‘Ali and Husayn and denied the Prophet's immediate family
political power after his passing. Even in their exile, he wrote, the Sayyid and Shaykh partisans of ‘Ali found themselves pursued by fanatical Sunnis, such as the Pushtu-speaking Afghan immigrants to North India. The Afghans, antagonistic toward the Sayyids, refused to give them their daughters in marriage. Families declaring themselves Sayyids often competed for land with Shaykh houses tracing their descent from Abu Bakr or ‘Umar, and Shi‘ism had the ideological advantage for Sayyids of rendering the Shaykhs' ancestry a source of shame rather than pride. Shi‘is held that the caliphs usurped rights belonging properly to the family of the Prophet.
Sayyids also pursued trades in urban centers. In the eighteenth century the Sayyid artisans of Amroha were renowned for their gilded pottery decorated with colorful floral designs. In Lucknow, Sayyids engaged in all professions and arts save trading. Mrs. Ali, who lived among Lucknow's Shi‘is for a decade in the early nineteenth century, wrote of the urban Sayyids: "They rarely embark in trade, and never can have any share in banking, or such professions as would draw them into dealings of usury. They arc chiefly employed as writers, moonshies, maulvees, and moolahs, doctors of the law and readers of the Khoraun; they arc allowed to enter the army, to accept offices of state." She noted that a special charity existed among Shi‘is for indigent Sayyids, pious believers giving one-fifth (khums ) of certain kinds of income to them in charity. Mrs. Ali reported that no self-respecting Sayyid with sufficient means of support would accept this charity. Moreover, she indicated that many Sayyids refused gifts if they suspected that the donor gained the money through usury.
Among the Sayyids, the conflict between status and class can be clearly discerned. Mrs. Ali said that conscientious Sayyid families always regarded birth before wealth in contracting marriages. Some poor Sayyid families preferred that their daughters remain spinsters rather than marry into rich families not of Sayyid background. Since the father's need to provide a costly trousseau (jahiz ) for his daughter posed a major obstacle to marriage for the poor, one form of charity consisted in a well-to-do Shi‘i presenting an indigent Sayyid father with such a trousseau.
Mrs. Ali described a poor Sayyid household with unmarried girls. Highly educated, they could read the Qur'an in Arabic and its commentaries in Persian. This family preferred that the girls spend their days performing needlework rather than wed a wealthy non-Sayyid. Those in this situation attempted to maintain their status honor by upholding social conventions of
hypergamy (where the daughter marries a social equal or superior) and by engaging in a style of life not incompatible with their status pretensions. Although Mrs. Ali said that "conscientious" Sayyids followed this behavior, less strict Sayyid families sometimes traded their high status for increased economic security by marrying their girls to well-to-do non-Sayyids. Also, no doubt some risked their honor by claiming the "share of the Sayyids" (sahm-i sadat ) even though they were not particularly indigent.
At the nawabi court in Lucknow, courtiers took respect for Sayyids seriously in social intercourse. For instance, in military parades the Sayyid regiments marched ahead of the others. Relevant anecdotes on this theme were recounted by Mir In-sha'a'llah Khan, a Sayyid whose family said they immigrated to North India from Najaf in Iraq, and a respected poet and boon companion of Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan (1799-1814). Once in a conversation with the nawab, by a slip of the tongue he referred to a garden called "Imambagh" (the garden of the Imam) as "Imambap" (the father of the Imam). This unintended allusion to the Prophet would ordinarily have been a serious breach of etiquette, but Sacadat ‘Ali Khan grinned and excused the poet on the grounds of his own Sayyid origin. Once the powerful eunuch Afarin ‘Ali Khan had an altercation with Mir In-sha'a'llah Khan. Later at a salon, the poet quoted a verse in which he satirically pronounced imprecations upon himself. Afarin ‘Ali Khan pounced on the opportunity to second the sentiments. The poet angrily replied that a non-Sayyid who curses a Sayyid is himself accursed. The nawab, upset at any hint of disrespect for the House of the Prophet in his court, begged forgiveness for Afarin ‘Ali Khan. Upon seeing that his foe had lost face, Mir In-sha'a'llah pardoned him.
Sayyids enjoyed ceremonial marks of honor at court and in polite Muslim society, but their position was hardly unassailable. Although Sayyid-oriented philanthropies acted as a safety net, members of this group could become quite badly off. Further, they did not necessarily enjoy political privileges. When Sacadat ‘Ali Khan agreed to cede half his dominions to the British in 1801 to pay off debts that the governor-general maintained the previous nawab had incurred, he grew reluctant to make any more grants of state land to traditional recipients such as Sayyid families. Indeed, he resumed former Sayyid grants in such areas as Birhar, Faizabad, and Sandila, Hardoi.
The Sunni-Shi‘i schism caused problems for Sayyids, for although both branches of Islam respected the descendants of the Prophet, they revered
only those adhering to their own branch. For instance, the chief mujtahid of Lucknow from 1820 to 1867, Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, ruled that if a Sayyid does not have real faith (i.e., if he is not a Shi‘i), then his being a Sayyid does him no good whatsoever. A Sayyid family wishing to maintain high-status honor among both Sunni and Shi‘i neighbors would face difficulties. Ultimately such a family might have to choose which community it desired honor from, and the wealth of Shi‘i notables and patrons in nawabi Awadh helped attract Sayyids to the Imami community.
The Mughals often possessed greater wealth and held higher office than the Sayyids, though they, had lower status. Indians applied the term "Mughal" (mughul ), literally meaning "Mongol," indiscriminately to all immigrants from central Asia, including Iran. These Iranians and ethnic Turks generally filled high-ranking posts with the government or served in the cavalry. Though they frequently received land grants in remuneration for their services, they were most often absentee landlords, remaining out of touch with the provincial, rural Muslim elite in the qasabahs . Some Mughals also came to India as long-distance merchants.
The Mughal Empire employed Persian both for administrative purposes and as the polite language at court. This meant that educated Iranians immigrating to wealthy India possessed special advantages in procuring positions as administrators, bureaucrats, and men of the pen. Since the Safavid regime in Iran presided over a mass conversion to Imami Shi‘ism, immigrants during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often brought with them a Shi‘i identity. Nor were the numbers of such settlers small. The French jeweler and merchant Chardin gave as one reason for Iran's under-population in the late seventeenth century the exodus to India. In fact, it seems unlikely that enough Iranians left for the subcontinent to affect Iran's population, but Chardin's observation underscores the large number of Iranians he saw in India. In the 1660s, most of these immigrants must have been Shi‘is. During the early reign of the Mughal emperor Awrangzib, 1658-78, out of 486 high-office holders 136, or 28 percent, were Iranians. These mostly Shi‘i Iranians often hid their beliefs at the Sunni Mughal court. If one added to the Iranians the number of Indian Shi‘i officeholders (e.g., the Barhah Sayyids), the proportion of Shi‘i nobles would reach one-third. Moreover, nearly half of the fifty-one highest-office holders were Ira-
nians. The conflict between the Shi‘i Iranians and the Sunni central Asian Turks along religious and ethnic lines much influenced court politics.
In 1891 nearly half of all the Mughals in the North-West Provinces and Oudh resided in the comparatively small area of Awadh (Oudh) proper. Although they constituted only 3 percent of the noble castes in the whole area, they were almost 6 percent of the ashraf in Awadh. This without doubt reflects the employment opportunities offered them by the Awadh state during the nineteenth century, as the British abolished the old Muslim bureaucracies in Delhi and Bengal.
More than 50 percent of the Mughals in Awadh resided in Lucknow and Faizabad districts, the two great administrative centers of the region, over 40 percent dwelling in Lucknow alone. The only other major Mughal population center was Sitapur district; but Mughal immigration there was probably spurred by the post-annexation splendor of the Mahmudabad estate and most likely did not represent a feature of nawabi Awadh. Two-thirds of the Mughals were not classed under any ethnic subdivisions in the census, but large numbers were Shi‘i Iranians. The remaining third fell into three groups: Chaghatai Turks, Turkman, and Qizilbash. Of the three, the Qizilbash constituted the smallest group, with only 1,237 listed. All Shi‘is, they played an important role in establishing Shi‘ism both in Iran and in the subcontinent, and most of them lived in Awadh proper.
The Qizilbash, originally a federation of Turkish-speaking tribes in Anatolia, moved east in the fifteenth century because of increasing Ottoman control over their grazing lands. They lent their aid in the establishment of the Shi‘i Safavid state in Iran. Over two centuries later some served in Nadir Shah's army, playing a central role in the invasion of India and in the sack of Delhi in 1739. The second nawab of Awadh, Safdar Jang (1739-54), made it a point to employ Iranian Mughals for his cavalry, as well as Kashmiri Shi‘is who imitated the Iranians in speech and dress. He hired away six or seven thousand Qizilbash warriors from Nadir Shah's army. Their subsequent career was checkered, and after the defeat of his forces at the hands of the British at Baksar in 1764, Nawab Shujacu'd-Dawlah dismissed many of them and even razed some of the Mughals' houses. Nevertheless, the Iranian traveler Shushtari found large numbers of Qizilbash notables in Lucknow in 1796. Many Qizilbash cavalrymen may have sunk into the laboring classes in Faizabad and Lucknow, losing their original identity, and the confused lineage of Mughals, owing to their tendency to intermarry with other groups,
including Hindus, may have caused their reported numbers to be low. On the other hand, the Qizilbash would have taken local wives and raised substantial numbers of Shi‘i children. Some Rajput converts to Islam attempted to create a Mughal identity for themselves, which may often have involved affecting Iranian, Shi‘i ways.
Although most of the Turkish Mughals adhered to Sunnism, even they sometimes, like others in the upper class, adopted Shi‘ism in the eighteenth century. An example is the family of Khwaja Musa Khan, a professed descendant of the Sufi leader Baha'u'd-Din Naqshband. Emigrating from central Asia to India early in the eighteenth century, he married into the Mughal royal family. Under the influence of Burhanu'l-Mulk, the first nawab of Awadh, he became a Shi‘i. His son, Madaru'd-Dawlah, refused to practice dissimulation in Sunni-dominated Delhi, openly mourning the Imam Husayn during Muharram. His daughter married Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan of Awadh, and his son-in-law granted him a huge rent-free holding worth Rs. 60,000 per year. This Turkish family with staunch Sunni origins employed its adherence to Shi‘ism as a means to cement relations with rising Shi‘i powers, such as the nawabs of Awadh.
By far the most numerous of the ashraf groups were the Shaykhs and Pathans. Over half of the "noble" caste members in North-Western Provinces and Oudh were Shaykhs. In Awadh the proportion was slightly less, about 46 percent. Most asserted their descent from the first three caliphs or from other companions of the Prophet. The upper-class Shaykhs, often middle or large landholders in the districts, dwelt in qasabahs alongside the Sayyids. But many village and urban artisans and skilled laborers said they were Shaykhs, which accounts for their huge numbers. Shaykhs tended to be Sunnis, though some became partisans of ‘Ali and his eleven descendants. Many Sunni Shaykhs did commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn, though they frowned on the violent self-flagellation of the Imamis and could not abide the Shi‘i practice of pronouncing imprecations on the first three caliphs.
Pathans, descendants of Pushtu-speaking tribesmen, roamed down into North India from Afghanistan and the area around Peshawar throughout the medieval period. The eighteenth century witnessed a particularly great influx of Pukhtun tribesmen, who in their Indian environment became "Pathans" if they were accepted as noble, but remained known simply by their tribal names (e.g., Ruhilah) if such pretensions were rejected. The 700,000 of them in the province in the late nineteenth century constituted a third of the members of the "noble" castes. Earlier in the century many of
them roamed as pastoral nomads, some settling as landlords and warriors in the fortified qasabahs . Many became artisans and skilled laborers before the 1891 census. Rajput converts often attempted to usurp Pathan status.
Pathans, mostly originally Sunnis, generally retained their ancestral faith in North India. Some few may have been Persian-speaking Shi‘i Hazaras who joined Pukhtuns in southward migrations, or Shi‘i Afghans from the Upper Bangash. Elphinstone, who visited the Peshawar region in 1808-9, found Afghans extremely hostile to Shi‘i practices. Many Pathans in North India did take up the practice of commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, though in the middle of the nineteenth century some abandoned the rituals under the influence of Naqshbandi revivalism.
The piety and spiritual feelings of those who adopted Shi‘ism cannot be glibly explained by the social scientist on an individual level. But the spread of religions among large groups of people does often present patterns amenable to sociological analysis. From the above discussion, it seems clear that noble castes or status groups reacted to Shi‘i ideology differently according to its implications for their own honor and specialized traditions, and for their economic position. Sayyids, as descendants of the Imams revered by the Shi‘is, gained ideologically by embracing Shi‘ism, and in Shi‘i-ruled nawabi Awadh they could often benefit materially from such a move. They received special charities from the believers, as well as gaining favor with the ruling class. Still, the vast majority of Sayyids remained part of the Sunni community, within which they also had great honor. Mughals were Shi‘i when they were from Iran, strong Sunnis when they were from, say, . In the atmosphere of nawabi Awadh, even Sunni Turkish notables of Mughal status sometimes adopted Shi‘ism. Since Mughal status usually required specialization in the higher levels of administration or in the cavalry as military men and officers, Mughals associated closely with the court and came under special pressures to adopt Shi‘ism.
Shaykhs largely remained Sunni, perhaps partially because most dwelt in provincial cities and towns away from the influence of the Nishapuri court. Moreover, for this group to adopt Shi‘ism required them ritually to curse their own putative ancestors, the caliphs and companions of the Prophet who competed with ‘Ali. This requirement posed no insuperable problems to the adoption of Shi‘ism, but may have slowed the rate at which proud Siddiqi, Faruqi, and ‘Uthmani qasabah elites became partisans of ‘Ali. Pathans, with their strong Sunni feelings, seldom embraced Shi‘ism and more often competed with the established Sayyid families in Awadh for land and power.
Artisans and Craftsmen
Many members of the four ashraf groups just discussed came from landholding and military families. In the province under study, Muslims were proportionately represented in these rules. They very seldom, however, labored in the countryside, constituting only about 3 percent of the agricultural work force. The Muslim laboring classes worked far more often as village or urban petty artisans and entertainers than as farming peasants.
Muslims were particularly well represented in some occupations. For instance, of 1.8 million weavers almost half were Muslims, though in the general population Muslims constituted about 13 percent. Large weaver conversions to Islam were typical of North India. Indeed, weavers, with 12 percent of the Muslim population, formed the largest Muslim occupational group. Only Shaykhs (21 percent) were more numerous, but the latter is an ethnic rather than an occupational category. In fact, many Skaykhs actually worked as weavers, depending on agriculture part of the time.
Weavers in their urban and semiurban settings strongly felt their Muslim identity, the British ethnographers describing them as "factious and bigotted." Weavers often knew enough of Islamic law in the late nineteenth century to follow the Islamic Law (sharicah ) in matters of marriage and inheritance. But Muslim weavers in small villages sometimes revered local gods. To some extent their anti-British feelings reflected their competition with European textiles and the adverse impact on them of British commerce even from the eighteenth century.
No overall estimate of the number of Shi‘is among the weavers can be given. In the extremely important textile center of Tanda, thirty-six miles east of Faizabad, Shi‘is represented 3 percent of the Muslim population. This accords with other estimates of Shi‘is in the general population of Awadh, although no conclusions can be drawn from one city. Moreover, the small number of persons identifying themselves explicitly as Shi‘is may be misleading, since they often practiced dissimulation out of fear of Sunni neighbors. Shi‘is had great influence even where their numbers were small.
Tanda had forty-four mosques, thirty-four imambarahs for the commemoration of Imam Husayn's martyrdom, and nine Hindu temples. Clearly, in their devotional lives even the Sunnis included mourning for the wronged family of the Prophet.
A methodological question arises when one speaks of Sunnis and Shi‘is among the artisans and laborers. A revealing passage in the 1891 census suggests that rather inadequate criteria were used to distinguish the two groups: "For the less instructed of Muhammadans and especially amongst Sunnis, the difference between the two sects is little understood, and the enumerator had in general to ascertain the sect by a question as to how the hands were placed in prayer. Sunnis pray with one hand placed over the other in front of the body, Shias with both hands depressed by the sides."
For the many laboring-class Muslims who did not say their daily prayers, such criteria would have been meaningless. Even for those who did, the Shi‘i willingness to compromise out of fear made members of that group less likely to insist on performing rituals in their own way. Those who reported themselves as Shi‘i were therefore much more likely to be literate and well-off, laboring-class Shi‘is being undercounted.
Other Muslim occupational groups with large numbers included barbers, oil-dealers, tailors, butchers, water-bearers, washermen, and blacksmiths. These seven groups together with the weavers accounted for more than a quarter (26.5 percent) of all Muslims. Other, smaller, such occupational castes brought the total in the category of skilled and specialized workers to 37 percent. Given that many Shaykhs and Pathans also worked as artisans, one receives the impression that most Muslims formed part of a premodern petty bourgeoisie. The successful traders, shopkeepers, owners of small workshops, and skilled artisans among these nonlanded Muslims often had some appreciation of the requirements of scriptural religion, as the ethnographic reports make clear. Low-caste and unskilled groups, and recent converts from Hinduism, tended to practice many Hindu usages.
Muslims were far more likely than Hindus to live in urban settings. The 1881 census showed that only 7 percent of Hindus lived in towns and cities, whereas 25 percent of Muslims did. Since over 96 percent of agricultural laborers were Hindus, the Muslims who did not live in towns dwelt in large rather than small villages, where they could pursue their skilled crafts. Of course, the very large proportion of Hindus in the population (87 percent in 1891) meant that they constituted a majority in most urban settlements. They also dominated commerce. Bayly has insightfully described the rural and urban relations of Hindus and Muslims as a mirror image. The qasabah-
based Muslim landholders employed Hindu peasant labor on their lands, whereas the urban Hindu merchants and traders employed Muslim craftsmen.
One traditional explanation for Hindu-Muslim conversion has been that low-caste groups or those who lost their caste standing attempted to take themselves out of the Hindu system to remove the stigma. Conversion, however, also clearly followed patronage networks. Indeed, one explanation for the high number of Muslim weavers in North India may lie in the production of such groups for the Muslim landed classes and for Muslim rulers. The links built up between the weavers and their Muslim patrons facilitated conversion to Islam, especially in a society where people felt strongly about purity and pollution in something as personal as clothing. Likewise, Muslim water carriers (bihishtis ) served Muslim households.
The same principle of conversion along lines of patronage applied to the spread of Shi‘ism. With a rising Imami regional court in eighteenth-century Awadh, the patronage of Shi‘i notables became a major input into the economy. One finds groups servicing the elite split into Sunni and Shi‘i factions, which often became endogamous. An example is the bards and storytellers (naqqals ), Sunnis except in Awadh urban centers, where they became Shi‘is. Members of the two sectarian divisions did not intermarry. Likewise, the dyer caste, which dyed cloth, divided into endogamous Sunni and Shi‘i groups. In the upper Doab, servants and peasants of Shi‘i Sayyid proprietors became Shi‘is under the influence of their masters. This phenomenon occurred widely in Awadh as well. Many artisans had reason to be grateful for Shi‘i rituals, such as parading replicas of the Imam Husayn's tomb, which generated work for them and even brought into being new crafts, such as that of the ara'ishvalas who constructed the cenotaphs. Cenotaph construction became a major craft in Awadh, and the makers of these ritual props took their place in the bazaars beside the butchers and greengrocers.
Courtesans (tava'if ), another lower-class group dependent on patronage, became Shi‘is in great numbers. About 85 percent of the courtesans counted by the British were Muslims, many of them Shi‘is. Originally mostly low-caste Hindus, often these women came from the ranks of widows. The men of the caste married, and their wives remained faithful, being purchased from other castes. The women born into the caste became dancing girls and often prostitutes. Girls began to be educated in the appropriate arts at age eight, at which time their parents offered sweetmeats at the local mosque, to be given
to the poor. Shi‘ism attracted this group, since its law permitted temporary marriage (mutcah ), an institution that provided limited legal protection to the courtesan, which simple prostitution did not. Shi‘ism also provided a link of identity with the propertied classes, who patronized and exploited the courtesans, a bond that might have proven especially useful to the men of the caste, who acted as pimps. In the rural areas zamindars often assigned lands to Muslim dancing girls and prostitutes.
Among Sunni groups that did not embrace Shi‘ism, Shi‘i figures and holy days had an impact, though often in a transformed manner. Sunni shopkeepers of the Ranki caste cornmemorated Muharram, the Shi‘i month of mourning for the Imam Husayn, by getting drunk. The Sunnis of Dalmau held a fair at Muharram, which 6,000 people attended annually. Days that might for strict Shi‘is be a solemn period of bereavement, in which they pursued no economic activity, became for Sunni villagers an occasion of gaiety or an opportunity for trade. This implied no hostility to Shi‘ism, since all honored the Imam Husayn. It did represent a more typically Indian response to the sacred time of Muharram than the austere mourning rites that Imamis imported from Iran.
Shi‘ism among artisans and laborers went through various permutations, partially because they had little personal contact with the literate of their own branch of Islam, often not having close links with the high ulama identified with the court. The grain parchers (bharbunja ) included Muslims who, when they married, called a Hindu pandit first, then a Muslim mawlavi. 57 Indigent Muslims could not afford the services of the official qazis and ulama, resorting instead to the unofficial "mawlavis" of the Dafali caste. Muslim beggars and musicians devoted to the cult of Salar Mascud Ghazi centered in Bahraich, they officiated at the weddings and funerals of the poor.
A devotion to the family of the Prophet existed among Muslim artisans and laborers, but this seldom involved a willingness to curse the caliphs. The nawabi high notables and the Shi‘i clerics sought to play on pro-‘Alid sentiments among the popular classes so as to mobilize them into a scripturalist Imami Shi‘ism that did include ritual imprecations on the first three caliphs. The Shi‘i notables' attempt to bring the popular classes into Imami Shi‘ism
succeeded most fully when these artisans and laborers worked for a Shi‘i patron. On the one hand, Imami religious ideas spread along patronage networks among the poorer classes; on the other, artisans and laborers clearly created their own religious culture, devoting themselves to the family of the Prophet for their own reasons. The sense of oppression and martyrdom that pervades Shi‘i stories of the Imams no doubt aroused the sympathies of people themselves oppressed by North India's prebendal feudalism.
Sufism and Shi'ism
In addition to the Dafalis a huge. number of Muslim holy men wandered North India, many of them holding the Shi‘i Imams in special reverence and helping spread Imami ideas among laborers and artisans. The holy men (faqirs ) of the largest of the mass orders, the Madariyyah, did not strictly follow the prescriptions of scriptural law. The 150,000 holy men of the Madariyyah in late-nineteenth-century North India constituted 2.3 percent of the Muslim population. The number of lay devotees must have run into the millions. The Madariyyah cult centered on the shrine of Shah Madar at Makanpur, a saint who arrived in India from Aleppo, Syria, in the fifteenth century. The Madari holy men imitated the Hindu holy men (sanyasis ), seldom prayed or fasted, and used bhang (akin to hashish) freely. Some were settled family men; others wandered about. They revered in particular four sacred personages: Muhammad, Imams ‘Ali and Husayn, and Hasan al-Basri. The emphasis on ‘Ali and Husayn, rather than on Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, represented a proto-Shi‘i devotion to the family of the Prophet.
Other, much smaller unorthodox (bi-sharc ) orders included the Qalandar, Azad, Bi-Nava, and Sain groups. The literate, urban orders of the Qadiriyyah, Chishtiyyah, and Jalaliyyah Suhravardiyyah averaged only four or five thousand faqirs each. Although almost all historiography of Islam in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North India has been locked into a fascination with the Delhi-based Naqshbandiyyah order, it was clearly not very important in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, where census enumerators found only 658 Naqshbandi faqirs. If one takes the number of faqirs enumerated as an indicator of popular support, it is clear that only the Madariyyah was a truly mass order. As such, it was most influential, though it has been greatly neglected in the historical literature. Among the literate
orders, the Chishtiyyah often showed a tolerance of Shi‘ism. Shirvani, who visited India early in the nineteenth century, found that members of the Jalali Suhravardi order considered themselves Shi‘is and cursed the Sunni caliphs. Many of these dervishes, he reported, neglected orthodox rituals and used drugs. The thousands of members of the Jalali order in North India no doubt helped spread Shi‘i ideas among the popular classes.
Imami Shi'ism existed in Awadh as a popular and not just a ruling-class cultural force. Admittedly, its most powerful proponents were the ethnic Iranians in the upper echelons of government administration and the middle landholding Sayyids. Among some other groups, including the semiurban and urban artisans and laborers, a cult of the Prophet's family existed, although the status of some of these persons as Shi‘is remains unclear. Early in the eighteenth century most of these popular-class believers probably saw no contradiction between devotion to ‘Ali, his wife Fatimah, and their descendants, on the one hand, and honoring the first three caliphs, on the other. As the nawabi state and its clerical clients began promoting Shi‘ism as an exclusivist ideology, some artisans and laborers made a choice for the family of the Prophet and against the caliphs. The group that was mobilized into exclusivist Shi‘ism grew throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. The majority of the Muslim population, however, continued to honor both the family of the Prophet and the caliphs.
The centers of Shi‘i population, as revealed by the 1881 census, show a barbell stretched across the North-Western Provinces and Oudh from Muzaffarnagar to Ghazipur. Ironically, aside from those in Lucknow and Faizabad districts, most Shi‘is lived in the upper Doab and in Banaras division. Nawab Shujacu'd-Dawlah had controlled these areas, but the nawabs gradually ceded them to the East India Company in 1775-1801. In the north, the number of declared (and therefore probably only the literate) Shi‘is approached or exceeded 10,000 in Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr, and Moradabad, with Bijnor at nearly 6,000. In the southeast the districts with about 10,000 included Allahabad, Jaunpur, and Azamgarh. At the center of the Shi‘i demographic map stood Lucknow district, with 34,550 Imamis, the only district where they exceeded or even approached 5 percent of the population, being 30 percent of the Muslims there. Faizabad had over 11,000 Shi‘is, and Bara Banki over 5,000. The rest of Awadh proper had few Shi‘is.
This pattern suggests that, although the nawabi court encouraged conversion in, and attracted Shi‘is to, its administrative centers, in several districts outside their dominions in the nineteenth century Shi‘ism formed a popular movement independent of the nawabs. The great numbers of Imamis in Lucknow and Faizabad also represent to some extent the amount of talent attracted to the nawabi centers, not only from Awadh, but from the upper Doab and Banaras and Allahabad divisions. Although the census revealed a relatively small number of Imami Shi‘is in northern India, about 3 percent of the Muslims, the movement extended over large areas geographically and attracted adherents from all social classes and status groups. For the reasons discussed above, the census probably undercounted Shi‘is. Whatever their numbers, the Imamis represented a vigorous and influential subculture in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century northern India.
The account of the Awadh Shi‘is' social origins in the preceding chapter explains why scattered Shi‘i lineages existed to support the Nishapuri nawabs and to benefit from their rule. But it does not explain how these Shi‘i or proto-Shi‘i groupings developed into a community. In the Mughal period, and especially under Awrangzib, Shi‘is had no public rituals separate from Sunnis which could serve as the matrix of community formation. Religious identity and social networks within a genuine religious community could only grow up around a set of uniting public rituals. Under the patronage of the nawabs and their Shi‘i courtiers and notables, such public rituals developed in Awadh.
The Shi‘is of nawabi Awadh created a distinctive set of practices and rituals. Many new believers in the Imams entered the fold in this period, making their own contributions. Their rituals changed over time, shrines grew up, and lay believers of various classes and both sexes practiced their faith in their own ways, sometimes in opposition to the strictures of the growing corps of scripturalist ulama. Large numbers of Sunnis and Hindus were drawn into participation in the mourning rites for the martyred Imam Husayn, bringing their own influence to bear. Yet popular Shi‘i practices most often resulted from the cultural dynamism and creativity of ordinary laborers, artisans, and shopkeepers, themselves partisans of ‘Ali, rather than de-
riving from "corruption" by Hinduism. As Turner argues, popular religion involves a specialization of religious services for different lay markets.
The rites of popular Shi‘ism in early-nineteenth-century Awadh had two conflicting effects. On the one hand, widespread urban participation in Muharram rituals helped integrate, through a central ritual, the nawabi cities' diverse and growing populations. Lucknow's patron saint became the Imam Husayn. On the other hand, the divisive nature of some Shi‘i practices, especially cursing the caliphs honored by Sunnis and forbidding Hindu celebrations during Muharram, encouraged the growth of an incipient communalism.
The Nawabi Transformation of Lucknow
Under the nawabs, Lucknow became the Realm of the Shi‘ah (Dar ash-Shi‘ah). There, artisans and laborers who newly adopted the faith of the Twelvers inventively honored the Imams. The nawabs' administrative and architectural transformation of the city formed a crucial prerequisite for this development. Nawab Asafu'd-Dawlah (1775-97) moved the Shi‘i nawabi court from Faizabad to Lucknow in 1775. Already more than a small town then—indeed, a major textile-producing center—it had often served as the region's administrative capital. Nevertheless, the 1775 move marked the beginning of a new era.
When the nawabs lived primarily in Delhi they could change the provincial capital according to their perception of military and security needs. From the last quarter of the eighteenth century, however, they found themselves increasingly boxed in by the British. Unchanging territorial boundaries after 1801 and a stabilization of revenue collection within them brought into existence a fixed capital wherein the service elite congregated. For several decades Faizabad, with its begams, large landholders, and tax-farmers, continued to compete with Lucknow. But the capital soon grew so large that it constituted the only true metropolis in Awadh and one of the great cities of the subcontinent.
The huge expenditures by the notables based in the capital supported tens of thousands of artisans and attracted merchants "of large property" from all over India. The substantial textile and horse trade between Kashmir and
Bengal passed through Lucknow, and the town increased rapidly in extent and population. In 1799 Tennant put the city's population at half a million (probably an exaggeration) and marveled at the wide-ranging architectural works undertaken under Asafu'd-Dawlah. "There are," he wrote, "perhaps no buildings in Britain equally brilliant in external appearance as the palaces of Lucknow." But he also remarked on the city's great poverty, filth, and vice, and on the large number of idle workers and artisans.
Asafu'd-Dawlah implemented an extensive building program, tearing down old buildings to landscape spacious gardens in the Persian style. Indeed, the city grew so fast in the 1770s and 1780s that Azfari found it "unbalanced" (na-mawzun ). The: building program was given added impetus by the drought years of 1784-85, when, even in Awadh, no rain fell for an entire year. The areas to the west were even more badly hit, causing a great influx of refugees into Lucknow. Laborers and peasants suffered terribly, many being sold as slaves, and the price of wheat in the capital went up to an astronomical nine or ten sers to the rupee. Sayyid ‘Abbas Ardistani's grandfather could remember the drought and told him that people were reduced to eating animal dung.
Asafu'd-Dawlah, Hasan Riza Khan, and Tikait Ray, in response to this crisis, initiated construction projects on an almost pharaonic scale as a means of absorbing the influx of laborers thrown off the land and of avoiding urban food riots. In 1785 several large works began, including a market, Tikaitganj; a huge gate, the Rumi Darvazah; and the Great Imambarah. Thousands of workers labored day and night on these projects for several years. Tradition has it that even men of respectable family worked incognito at night to earn food. The nawab-vizier spent a million rupees a year on buildings, and his many projects fueled a spiraling inflation rate as construction materials and food soared in price.
Lucknow's population may have increased in the period 1775-1800 from two hundred to three hundred thousand. In about 1805 Shirvani estimated that the city had 100,000 dwellings, 30,000 shops, 2,000 taverns, and 1,000 mosques. The expansion was spurred not only by government-sponsored employment and markets and the famine but also by a spurt in the growth of
the textile trade with Calcutta. The resulting influx of uprooted Muslim and Hindu laborers and artisans into the city created new social networks and cultural traditions. Because of the pervasive influence of the Shi‘i ruling class in the capital, they often adopted some Imami practices even where they retained a formal adherence to Sunnism or Hinduism. Urban immigrants held Shi‘i-style mourning sessions for the Imam Husayn, and Muharram processions, organizing them on a neighborhood basis.
The Institution of the Imambarah
The need for a physical site where the partisans of Imam ‘Ali could publicly mourn his martyred son, Husayn, brought into being the Great Imambarah and smaller similar structures. Nawab Safdar Jang raised a building for this purpose in Delhi, though the term imambarah (Urdu for house of the Imam) had not then come widely into use. During Shujacu'd-Dawlah's reign ,Aqa Baqir Khan constructed an imambarah in Lucknow for his nephew, a high Mughal official, and the edifice served as a model for the Husaynabad Imambarah almost a century later. The north Indian imambarah of the eighteenth century may have been influenced by the Iranian Husayniyyah , or takiyyah , and by the south Indian cashur-khanah .
The court invited architects to submit designs for the Great Imamabarah, the winner being the Delhi architect Kifayatu'llah. Because neither the Mughal emperor nor the nawab-vizier controlled Rajasthan any longer, the sort of marble used in the facade of the Persianate Taj Mahal proved unobtainable, and Kifayatu'llah was forced to have his engineers fall back on more native Indian techniques. They used clay bricks and stone, with ingenious mud molding that allowed the architect to achieve an immense, unsupported ceiling "more durable. . . than our most scientific Gothic vaulting."12 Mashhadi estimated the cost of the building at half a million rupees, but the Iranian traveler Shushtari put the Imamabarah and mosque complex with its lavish decorations at a million rupees.
Isfahani also attested to the huge expenditures made by the nawabi court on the Imambarah and its ornamentation. He said that even after the building's completion in 1791 (A.H. 1205) the nawab spent four or five hun-
dred thousand rupees on its decoration annually. Hundreds of gold and silver replicas of the Imam Husayn's tomb in Karbala were placed in the edifice as offerings to the Imam, along with innumerable glass chandeliers and candelabra. These offerings left no room for spectators and mourners to sit in the main hall. Valentia wrote that the Imambarah was stunningly illuminated with candles during the month of Muharram, and that in various parts of the building believers said prayers. He remarked that "every evening all unbelievers and followers of Omar, Othman, and Abu Bakr were anathematised, to the edification of the Hindoos, who, on this occasion, crowded there in great numbers."
Asafu'd-Dawlah's courtiers emulated his construction program in their own areas, so that in every neighborhood they put up new mansions, imambarahs , and mosques. Hasan Riza Khan built an imambarah and a mosque, and as soon as his mosque was ready he transferred Friday prayers there from his palace. Later they were held in the large mosque Asafu'd-Dawlah constructed next to the Great Imambarah. Most of Lucknow's Shi‘i grandees, the likes of Afarin ‘Ali Khan, Tahsin ‘Ali Khan, Ramadan ‘Ali Khan, and Tajammul Husayn Khan, built imambarahs in this period, as did many Sunnis and Hindus. In the early 1800s some 2,000 large imambarahs and 6,000 smaller tacziyah-khanahs embellished Lucknow. The eminent Shi‘i cleric Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali Nasirabadi constructed an imambarah in the early 1790s, which became a major center of religious culture and a burial site for many Shi‘i ulama. For the notable class, imambarahs performed many functions. They served as places for ritual mourning and worship, as literary salons, as personal monuments, arid as family cemeteries. Increasingly the endowment (waqf ) of such buildings became a secure means of passing on wealth to future generations, since they could not then be sold and any income associated with them could be assigned to descendants as remuneration for supervision. This institution also provided employment to subaltern ulama, who served as caretakers and read Qur'an verses for the deceased.
Notables spent much less on such buildings than did the nawab and his immediate circle, however. For instance, Mirza Jangali had a monthly allowance of Rs. 3,000 from his brother, Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan. He bought a
piece of land in Patna toward the end of his life for Rs. 3,000 and built a mosque and an imambarah on it. He appointed Rs. 50 per month for a manager, a caretaker, and the expenses of Qur'an readings and prayers. When the Mirza died he was buried on the grounds of this complex. Later nawabs continued the pension to his descendants, including the money for the upkeep of the imambarah and the mosque, but the British cut it off because of the family's involvement in the 1857-58 rebellion. In contrast to Iran, such endowments rarely came under the supervision of the high ulama. In the case just cited the deceased's own sons supervised the endowment.
The elegiac poetry that dominated the religious culture of the imambarahs gave more public exposure to poets and reciters than to the staid ulama. Asafu'd-Dawlah's court attracted numerous poets and reciters of elegies (marsiyyah-khvans ), who came to hold an important place in public life. Mirza Muhammad Riza, a friend of Hasan Riza Khan's and the greatest reader of elegies in his day, used to chant from the Qur'an at the commemorations of Nawab Shujacu'd-Dawlah's passing held by his widow in Faizabad. Elegy reciters, such as Mulla Muhammad Shushtari and Shah Husayn Vilayat, came to Lucknow from Iran, and found appreciation at the nawab's court. Asafu'd-Dawlah appointed Shushtari, a poet and rawzah-khvan with some clerical training, to recite elegies in the Great Imambarah. An expert in music (an art forbidden by the legalistic ulama), he had a beautiful voice, which could melt peoples' hearts.
Poets, such as Mirza Raficu'd-Din Sawda and Mir Taqi Mir, began making their way to Lucknow from fading Delhi, where they often turned their talents to religious elegiac, or marthiyyah , poetry. Some, such as Miyan Sikandar, Gada, Miskin, and Afsurdah, began specializing in the marthiyyah . In the late eighteenth century poets replaced the four-line form of the Urdu elegy, favored in the Deccan, with a more reflective six lines, beginning a transition to the almost epic feel of the mid-nineteenth-century elegies- of Imam Husayn.
The poetry had both a literary and a ritual purpose. As ritual, reciters read it at mourning sessions as a means of making present the eternal, sacred time of ‘Ashura', when the Prince of Martyrs redeemed Muslims with his
blood. The rhythmic character of poetry lent itself to this task better than prose, the mourners working the rhythms into their fiagellations. The symbolic appeal of Husayn for the Shi‘is of Awadh, who felt themselves to be in exile from Arabia or Iran, is well demonstrated by one of Mir's verses. Imam Husayn stands facing his bloodthirsty foes after the loss of most of his supporting troops, holding his infant son, ‘Ali Asghar. He addresses the Syrians, saying:
I now swear to you an oath
that I shall restore my honor
I shall go elsewhere, having left this Arab
army; I shall make India my abode.
Even Sunni scholars, such as Mawlavi Mubin Farangi-Mahalli (d.1810), made contributions to devotional literature mourning the Imam Husayn. Shi‘i ulama worked the events of Karbala into their sermons, and produced studies of the tragedy based on Arabic oral reports from the Imams.
The development of the imambarah as an architectural form under the patronage of the nawabi court and courtiers provided a crucial meeting place for Shi‘is. The Shi‘i community, previously scattered and reticent, could now come out in public to commemorate the death of its Imams. Although the notable classes met in salons in any case, Shi‘i tradespeople and laborers might otherwise have had no place to make one another's acquaintance. The imambarahs and smaller buildings, as well as the homes of believers, became centers of new Shi‘i social networks and places where displaced Sunnis and Hindus could adopt Shi‘ism.
The Shrine to the Standard of Hazrat ‘Abbas
Popular religion in northern India often centered on the tombs of holy men, and Shi‘is no doubt yearned for a like institution within their own branch of Islam. In the late eighteenth century such a shrine grew up. One Mirza Faqir Beg returned to Lucknow with a relic from the shrine city of Karbala in
Mamluk Iraq during the reign of Asafu'd-Dawlah (1775-97). He said that a dream helped him unearth the rectal crest that had surmounted the banner of ‘Abbas, the Imam Husayn's half-brother, at the battle of Karbala. He kept the crest. at his home in Rustamnagar, where people began bringing offerings (sing. nazr ) and giving them into his care. The building at first consisted of four bare walls, an unadorned roof, and a small courtyard. The site's growing popularity attracted Nawab Asafu'd-Dawlah's attention, and he built a dome for the dervish's house, rendering it a proper shrine. The place became popular for the little people in search of healing, sons, and spiritual blessings, and flower and sweets merchants began doing a booming trade in front of the gate. Brigands and ruffians also began gathering in that part of the town, attracted by the new wealth the shrine brought to Rustamnagar.
A turning point came when Nawab Sacadat ‘Ali Khan fell seriously ill, in about 1801, making a vow to construct a splendid new building for the standard should he recover. Restored to health in 1803, he took out a magmficent procession with his courtiers to the shrine of ‘Abbas, distributing money along the way to the thronging multitudes lining the streets. At the shrine he said a prayer of thanksgiving, then ordered that a new edifice, with an impressive gilded dome, be raised on the site. He established a fund to cover the shrine's expenses, and people began gathering there regularly on Thursday evenings.
As members of the notable class gradually appropriated the shrine to themselves, it became necessary to provide more security. The nawab stationed patrolling police in the vicinity, with a daroghah over them, who cleared out the ruffians. Mrs. All reported that during Muharram "by the condescending permission of the Sovereign, both the rich and the poor are with equal favour admitted," implying that during other months access for the poor was more restricted. Ever more precious offerings were kept at the shrine, including a collection of fifty-two priceless jewels. A woman's quarter was added so that females of the notable class could pray in private. Notable-class women took out processions to the shrine, with great pomp and parade, after giving birth to a male child and after his circumcision. Female relatives and friends, as well as domestics and eunuchs, accompanied them, with the men riding behind and helping guard the sanctuary while the women were inside. Similar processions were taken out by both men and
women of the upper classes on their recovery from illness or their preservation from possible danger.
After Mirza Faqir Beg's death his son Fath-‘Ali succeeded him as caretaker of the shrine, which in the 1820s yielded great amounts of cash and clothes, some of which the guardian of the shrine distributed to the poor in charity if he was "a good mart." Finally, the shrine was integrated into the mourning rites of Muharram in Lucknow, a process discussed below. A Sufi Shi‘i whom the ulama would have excoriated as a heretic founded the shrine of ‘Abbas, a purely folk phenomenon. It remained under the supervision of the founding family. Some ulama cast doubts on the authenticity of the crest of ‘Abbas's standard, which the shrine allegedly housed, and this may indicate their own frustration at having so popular a religious phenomenon outside their control. This expression of skepticism had no discernible effect upon the great numbers frequenting the shrine. The notable class made a more successful attempt to assert control over the spiritual resource, and by their patronage they gradually made it and its environs so wealthy that the area had to be strictly policed. The notable class partially restricted the access of the common people, whose creation the shrine had been, so that their ladies might safely visit it.
The shrine was only one manifestation of popular love for the family of the Prophet and belief in the efficacy of supplicating its members. In the event of sickness or loss of property Shi‘is called upon the particular Imam whose characteristics made him suited to deal with the problem. On Fridays believers wrote supplications to the Twelfth Imam, who they thought to rule the world from a supernatural sanctuary until his millennial advent, folding them up and placing them in the Gomti River, certain that they would reach the Imam Mahdi.
Some Shi‘is drew pictures of the Messenger of God and the Imams, based on what they knew of their virtues and appearance, and set them up as household shrines, to which they performed visitation (ziyaral ). When informed of this practice. Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali ruled that drawing living things large enough to have a shadow was strictly forbidden in Islam, and that the "visitation" of such images had no meaning.
Another indication of popular beliefs diverging from the mujtahids' orthodoxy was the widespread existence of millenarian expectations among Awadh's Shi‘is. Mrs. All reported that many north Indian Shi‘is believed that the Twelfth Imam would return in A.H. 1260 (A.D. 1844), and that "'When the four quarters of the globe contain Christian inhabitants, and
when the Christians approach the confines of the Kaabah, then may men look for that Emaum who is to come.'" The Imam, they believed, would be accompanied by Jesus Christ, and together they would purge the world of wickedness so that" 'all men shall be of one mind and one faith.'"
The Shi‘is of North India keenly felt that they were encompassed by Christian power, which had effectively penetrated their quarter of the globe. The insecurity and cognitive dissonance produced by the extension of East India Company rule were involved in the sentiments expressed to Mrs. All that the old world order was about to be rolled up in 1844. Such millenarian expectations devalued existing institutions, posing. a threat to Establishment figures like the mujtahids.
Household shrines to images of the Imams, and the shrine of ‘Abbas's standard made the sacred, manifested for Shi‘is in the Imams, present to the ordinary folk of Lucknow. Yet the sacred, like material goods, became the object of a struggle for control by various social groups. As the shrine to ‘Abbas's standard drew multitudes, including neighborhood toughs running protection rackets, its prestige caused the court and notables to invest it with wealth and with their own aspirations. This patronage in turn made it necessary for the state and the notables to assert control over the shrine through police and restricted access for the public, who had created the shrine by their hopes. In times of large-scale public ritual performances the notables allowed greater access to the shrine. At the same time, scripturalist ulama attempted to discourage such practices as keeping household shrines to the Imams, with their decentralizing implications for religious authority, and beliefs like millenarianism that undermined faith in the Establishment. Nevertheless, the popular classes in Awadh appropriated the Imams for their own devotion.
Observance of Muharram
The story of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn and his family, and the ritual observances Shi‘is developed to commemorate it, proved central to the formation of a Shi‘i community in Awadh. This central story, called by Fischer the "Karbala paradigm," communicated profound existential truths about justice and injustice, life and death. The distinctive manner in which Awadh Shi‘is, as well as Sunnis and Hindus, responded to the mourning month of Muharram merits investigation in its own right. But their response is all the more important in that it had implications for communal relations.
Extravagance marked the observance of the month of ritual mourning, Muharram, during the Asafu'd-Dawlah period. In 1784 the nawab beat himself so violently on the tenth of that month that he bled profusely, falling seriously ill after accompanying representations of the Imam's tomb to the river, into which they were thrown at the end of the day. The nawab's officers followed his example in demonstrating particular munificence during the mourning session. Khwaja ‘Aynu'd-Din, the tax-farmer of Bareli as of 1779, used, "every year, after the 10th of Muharram, to scramble his household furniture, and refuse no one who asked him for a present."
Sacadat ‘Ali, Asafu'd-Dawlah's British-imposed successor, set a rather more restrained tone. Because of his territorial, and hence financial, losses to the British, he pursued greater economy, melting down several of his predecessor's gold ornaments for bullion and spending far less on Muharram ceremonies. Although the scale of expenditure for the ceremonies never again matched that of Asafu'd-Dawlah's days, it remained far from inconsiderable. Roberts, expecting a "fast of the most mournful kind," remarked with surprise that it was "accompanied by so much pomp and splendour that strangers are at some loss to distinguish it from festivals of pure rejoicing." Believers manifested the impulse of generosity in many ways. To commemorate the thirst Imam Husayn and his companions felt when denied water by their tormentors, Muslims in Lucknow distributed rose water. Some ladies gave out milk in the streets, and often people erected stands beside their houses where passersby could quench their thirst.
In the early 1800s, only the high notables had their own imambarahs , whereas the middle notables held mourning ceremonies in their large homes. In the 1820s, when Mrs. All lived in the capital, many more of the wealthy had built imambarahs . They erected them on the public, male (mardanah ) side of the house, designing them as square buildings with cupola tops. Their size depended on the wealth of the builder, and they often served also as family mausoleums. Guests sat on a calico covering overlaying a cotton carpet on the floor of the imambarah . Its walls boasted many mirrors, intended to multiply the candles and reflect the brilliance of the chandeliers, and the notables competed in decorating their imambarahs with great splendor.
Two ritual props graced the room, a stairway-like pulpit (minbar ) and a replica of the tomb (zarih or tacziyah ) of the Imam Husayn in Karbala, both facing Mecca. The pulpit, constructed of silver, ivory, ebony, or other fine materials, often matched the cenotaph. The reciter of elegies sometimes sat,
and sometimes stood, on the steps of a pulpit covered with gold cloth or broad cloth (green, if owned by a Sayyid). On each side of the cenotaph were ranged banners of silk or with gold or silver embroidery and fringes, hanging from staffs topped by crests with outspread hands whose five fingers represented the "five pure souls": Muhammad, Fatimah, ‘Ali, Hasan, and Husayn. At the base of the cenotaph the host arranged objects that might have been used by the Imam, such as a fine sword and belt, set with precious stones, a shield, bow and arrows, or a turban.
Believers fashioned the cenotaphs from all sorts of materials, from pure silver. to paper and bamboo, depending on the wealth of the owner. Different styles of cenotaphs developed in Lucknow, Delhi, Calcutta, and Hyderabad. In the Great Imambarah stood fourteen tombs of pure silver, one for each of the Twelve Imams, the Prophet, and Fatimah. The tomb replicas designed for an imambarah or a private residence were often made of ivory, ebony, sandalwood, or cedar. Mrs. Ali saw some wrought in silver filigree, and admired one the nawab had made in England of green glass with brass moldings. The inexpensive cenotaphs, made in the bazaar from bamboo and colored materials, ran from two to two hundred rupees in price. The laboring and lower middle classes set these up in their homes during Muharram and carried them in street processions.
The imambarahs of the notables inspired wonder in the artisans and laborers, who visited them in the early evening before the services began. However, notables did not allow the popular-class pilgrims to remain during the mourning sessions in the imambarahs , to which they invited only their friends and relatives and their servants. The imambarahs made statements not only of piety but of wealth, power, and status. They constituted an interface between the wealthy and the poor who honored Husayn. But they also served to demarcate social lines, since the participatory mourning sessions held in them were very exclusive affairs.
The upper-class form of mourning spread from Lucknow into the rural provinces through the influence of the prestigious nawabi court at Lucknow. The nawabs of Farrukhabad became Shi‘is in the late eighteenth century. In Awadh, the great landholder Imam ‘Ali Khan of Bhatwamau (d. 1815) was the first Sunni tacalluqdar to become a Shi‘i and begin mourning practices in his provincial seat of power. Some Shaykhzadah leaders in Lucknow had
converted to Shi‘ism under Safdar Jang, maintaining marital links with the Sunni rural magnates. Muhammad Imam Khan (d. 1760s) of the large Mahmudabad estate in Sitapur married a Shi‘i Shaykhzadah woman. One of their sons, Muhammad Mazhar ‘Ali Khan (d. 1790s), under the dual influence of his mother and the Lucknow court, converted to Shi‘ism, inheriting the smaller portion of the estate in Belehra, Bara Banki. Although his conversion gave him an entiée into the ruling circles in Lucknow, he faced a great deal of hostility from his father and other relatives.
The larger Mahmudabad portion of the estate remained under the control of Mazhar ‘Ali Khan's Sunni brother, Ikram ‘Ali Khan (d. ca. 1775). One of Ikram's sons, Musahib ‘Ali Khan, ruled tile Mahmudabad estate 1805-19, ruthlessly building up his holdings to a huge 232 villages and establishing good relations with the Awadh court by supporting it against rebels. Although he remained a Sunni, he initiated mourning rites for the Imam Husayn in a building inside the fort at Sitapur. He had no male issue, and in 1836 his widow adopted a son of the Shi‘i Belehra branch of the family, Raja Nuvvab ‘Ali Khan, who had lived long in Lucknow and become close to Nasiru'd-Din Haydar's court. From his accession, Mahmudabad, one of the largest rural estates in Awadh, was Shi‘i-ruled. Even the Sunni Raja of Nanpara kept Shi‘i ulama, many of them from Kashmir, at his provincial seat to read elegies for the Imam Husayn.
The accounts of European travelers make it very clear that the poor as well as the wealthy commemorated Muharram. Even in villages, Shi‘is during that month marked their homes with the spread-hand symbol. Although notable Mughals and Sayyids may have been most prominent in promoting Shi‘i practices. many of the popolino , the little people of Awadh's urban centers, enthusiastically embraced the cult of the Imam Husayn during Muharram. Roberts wrote that "every person who has a small sum to spare subscribes, with others of the same means, to purchase the necessary articles for the purpose." The public processions in the streets, where mourners displayed bamboo cenotaphs, banners, and parasols, were easier for the popular classes to participate in, as they did not require ownership of a large room. Persons of all classes took out processions for the Martyr, filling the streets, some effusing pomp and splendor, and "others content with a very humble display."
Since the lower-middle-class mourners could not afford to build a separate imambarah , they decorated the best room in their dwelling as a substitute. The
banners about the cenotaph in these humble homes were of coarse materials, tinsel or dyed muslin, with cheap metal staffs. Where mirrors proved too expensive, they resorted to oil-burning lamps of various shapes, brightly painted and decorated with cut paper.
Oil for the lamps came dear to people on the edge of subsistence, and many families of lower-middle-class means scrimped and saved all year so that they could put on an extravagant show for the Imam (and for their neighborhood). Such zeal denoted not only piety but something of the same striving for status through lavish expenditure that characterized Awadh's magnates. In this practice as in the extravagant expenses associated with weddings, the artisan and laboring classes attempted to usurp status by emulating the lifestyle of the notables, an emulation financially ruinous for classes more often exploited than exploiting. Only through collectivism, pooling their resources to share in the paraphernalia of Muharram, could many laborers participate in the commemorations at all.
The Mourning Session
Two central rituals for Shi‘is dominated Muharram: the mourning session (majlis ), held in an imambarah or a private dwelling, and the procession. The procession, by far the more ancient of these rituals, originated at least by the time of the Shi‘i Buyid dynasty in early-tenth-century Iraq. The stylized mourning session developed during the Safavid period in Iran, though gatherings to mourn the martyred Husayn had more ancient antecedents. In Awadh in the early nineteenth century, notables held mourning sessions in their imambarahs twice a day during the first ten days of Muharram. The evening sessions, with their dazzling lighting derived from myriads of candles, mirrors, and chandeliers, were the best attended. The host and his male relatives sat on the carpeted floor near the cenotaph, the guests crowding in wherever they found room. The host hired a mawlavi to read that day's passage from a Persian prose text that described the sufferings of the Imam Husayn and his supporters and family in their struggle against the Umayyads. Among the Persian-educated notable class in Awadh, such readings could be extremely effective, particularly if the mawlavi wept and groaned with great sincerity from his minbar.
Since this role only required some Persian education, the mawlavi could be one of the subaltern ulama or even relatively untrained in specialized religious sciences. High ulama often held their own sessions, where they tied their recitations of the martyr's sufferings more closely to Arabic oral reports from the Imams, a style known a hadis-khvani . One of his students described Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, then Lucknow's chief mujtahid, reciting oral reports from the Imams with translation: "I found him on the tenth of Muharram in the mourning session mentioning the calamities that befell the Martyr at Karbala, weeping violently, as was his audience. Then he descended from the minbar, barefoot, bareheaded, tears streaming from his ruddy cheeks. This was always his wont on such days. He thereafter went home and people gathered there."
After the Persian reading, called the "ten sessions" (dah majlis ) because the works read from had ten chapters (one for each of the first ten days of Muharram), came an intermission during which servants handed around sweetened rose water to the gathering of mourners. Devout Shi‘is in the 1820s refrained from chewing betel leaves during Muharram, so servants passed about an assortment of spices on small silver trays. The highest-ranking members of the assembly smoked water pipes during the intermission, though the rest of the guests, of even slightly lower rank, dared not join them.
After the refreshments, specialized reciters chanted elegiac poetry in Urdu. Even the illiterate could understand this part of the session, which must have formed the core of popular mourning sessions. Some of the verses had refrains, and the whole assembly often joined in. In the early nineteenth century some reciters of such poetry employed a vocal technique that approximated singing. Readers presented verse works commemorating the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn in various rhetorical styles. The ulama favored the straightforward reading of the poetry (tahtal-lafz-khvani ), similar to that practiced by poets in secular poetry readings. Another style, antedating in India the rise of Shi‘i culture in Awadh, involved the chanting (suz-khvani ) of elegies. In Asafu'd-Dawlah's time Haydari Khan, a great singer, further innovated in this field, teaching Sayyid Mir ‘Ali, a highly respected performer at the court of Sacadat ‘Ali Khan. In such performances the musical modes (raginis ) could be emphasized or played down, according to taste. Women, and artisans and laborers, whether Shi‘i, Sunni, or Hindu, greatly loved the more musical styles. At the time of Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar (1814-27) people came from all over Awadh to Lucknow during Muharram in hopes of hearing the courtesan Lady Haydar sing elegiac lyrics mourning
the Imam. Women commonly sang marthiyyahs in public, though the ulama condemned such mixed meetings.
Some of the more strict, legal-minded Shi‘is questioned Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali Nasirabadi about the singing of elegiac poetry. He replied that listening to elegiac verses for the Imam Husayn, weeping for him, and mourning him all have great rewards. If read with a sorrowful and pained voice, they presented no difficulty at all. But he disapproved of chanting marthiyyaghs with remodulation (Persian tarjic , Urdu katkar ) as being too close to music, promising that anyone who avoided listening to such performances would be spiritually rewarded.
After the mourning verses the entire congregation rose and enumerated the legitimate successors after the Prophet Muhammad according to Shi‘is, the Twelve Imams, asking blessings upon them individually. Then they repeated the names of the early caliphs, whom Shi‘is regard as usurpers, pronouncing imprecations on them. These two rituals consisted of taking an oath of allegiance (tavalla ) to the Imams and pronouncing imprecations (tabarra ') on the caliphal usurpers. The mourning session concluded with a frenzied period of self-flagellation called the obsequy (ma'tam ). Even Shi‘i notables practiced it, Mrs. All reporting of upper-class ceremonies: "I have even witnessed blood issuing from the breast of sturdy men, who beat themselves simultaneously as they ejaculated the names 'Hasan'! 'Hosein'! for ten minutes, and occasionally during a longer period, in that part of the service called Mortem."
Again, the ulama disapproved of flagellation. Mrs. All wrote that "Maul-vees, Moollahs, and devoutly religious persons" never joined in beating their breasts, although they were present in the audience while others thus violently expressed their grief. The ulama carried on their own mourning practices for longer than most believers in the 1820s, for a full forty days. They apparently did not participate in the mourning processions. Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, asked about self-flagellation in the 1820s or 1830s, replied that wailing and healing one's chest over the calamities that befell the family of the Prophet was only permissible if one lost control of one's self.
Women also commemorated Muharram, though only a few princesses and wealthy courtesans had their own imambarahs . Almost all the hostesses made their best room in the ladies' quarters into a temporary imambarah , allowing only females in. Mrs. All thought the grief of women during the first ten days of Muharram greater than that of men, such that pious women
would neglect their private sorrow during that period. In Hyderabad, Shi‘i women beat their breasts in self-flagellation, just as did men. In Lucknow, women gave up betel leaves, the wearing of jewelry, and bright (especially red) clothes, instead loosening their hair and garbing themselves in dark colors. Some even mortified themselves by wearing their mourning clothes in torrid, sultry Lucknow for ten solid days. Mrs. Ali's serving-maid went the entire time without drinking water during the day. Every evening the ladies gathered about the cenotaph they had set up. with female friends, slaves, and servants surrounding the hostess.
As elsewhere in the Shi‘i world, educated women presided at these distaff sessions. In Awadh they derived for the most part from indigent Sayyid families that lacked the dowry to attract a high-status Sayyid groom but refused to accept one from a less prestigious caste, in accordance with the hypergamy (marrying up bu?? not down) widespread among Indian Muslims. They often served as Qur'an teachers for the daughters of notable families. Hostesses hired them for the first ten days of Muharram, presenting them in remuneration not only with a fee but with fine gifts as well. They read both the Ten Sessions in Persian and the elegiac poetry in Urdu.
The mourning sessions held in homes during Muharram and during other months of the Shi‘i sacred calendar provided crucial opportunities for the development of social networks among Shi‘is, whether male or female, notable or commoner. Mourners went from session to session, spreading news and giving Shi‘is of one neighborhood or village a sense of unity with their coreligionists elsewhere. Lucknow became a place where Shi‘is from all over Awadh could meet at Muharram and thus overcome their sense of being isolated minority communities through congregation in the Realm of the Shi‘ah. The sessions reflected in their social composition the class and status of the host, with tradespeople excluded from notable gatherings. But within social classes and neighborhoods, the sessions did much to foster a sense of community identity.
The mourning sessions held in homes or imambarahs , although public, largely reflected kin and friendship ties in their composition. The truly civic rites, the
processions, brought together in the streets persons from all over each major city, as well as many visitors from nearby villages. With the development of processions, Shi‘ism came into its own as a religion in Awadh. No longer the furtive creed of isolated Sayyid communities in the service towns, it blossomed as the court's favored rite, central to the ritual life of cities like Lucknow and Faizabad.
Particular activities marked each of the ten days of Muharram. At the end of the preceding month, Dhu'l-Hijjah, middle- and working-class men brought that year's bamboo cenotaphs home from the bazaar with great ceremony. Notable families with permanent cenotaphs prepared a room or an imambarah to receive guests for the mourning sessions. The first day of Muharram witnessed, not activity, but an eerie quiet as shops closed and families began mourning at home.
On the second day, the public marveled at the imambarahs of magnates and visited the cenotaphs of friends. The devout saw such visitation as a ritual obligation substituting for the expensive pilgrimage to Karbala itself. From this day multitudes crowded the streets and alleys, most on foot, but with some notables on horseback or in palanquins, making social rounds, visiting cenotaphs, and participating in the twice-daily mourning sessions. On the third day of Muharram women sent sweet dishes to friends and relatives, as well as to poor families, in remembrance of the Imam's passing, just as they would have on the third day after a loved one's death. They repeated this on the seventh and fortieth days after the first of Muharram.
On the fifth of Muharram believers took out processions throughout Lucknow to Rustamnagar, where they had their standards blessed at the shrine of ‘Abbas. Mrs. Ali witnessed a notable's entourage undertaking the trip. At the head of the procession walked a guard of soldiers around four elephants, which carried men and silk-and-gold banners. In the train of the elephants came a band playing Indian instruments, as well as trumpets. Next in order came a mourner holding a black pole from which two swords hung on a reversed bow. Behind him walked the owner of the banners, accompanied by reciters of verse elegies and a large number of friends. The verses chosen for the procession particularly concerned the sufferings of ‘Abbas. Thereafter came a horse, representing Husayn's steed, Duldul a fine white Arabian. His legs were stained with red, and arrows appeared to be stuck in various parts of his body. A turban rode on the tragically empty saddle. Friends of the family, servants, and private foot-soldiers brought up the rear.
Thousands of other, less affluent mourners also headed for the shrine with
their banners. They entered it by a flight of steps-from the courtyard. A shrine attendant took the banner of each person through the right entrance and touched it against the crest of ‘Abbas's own staff. Each mourner moved on after his banner touched quickly to the sacred crest. Mrs. All estimated that shrine attendants consecrated forty or fifty thousand banners in a single day. Whatever the number, the ritual demonstrates a rather high level of organization and corporate cooperation for a premodern South Asian city, given that neighborhoods of all religions and classes apparently took part.
The next big day, the seventh of Muharram, commemorated the battlefield wedding of Qasim, the Imam Husayn's doomed nephew, to the Imam's daughter. In Awadh, mourners remembered the wedding through the staging of premarital processions and formalities. Notables took out processions to the imambarah of a social superior, reproducing the pattern of hypergamy as practiced by Indian Muslims. At the imambarah the mourners reposited a model of Qasim's tomb. After the completion of prenuptial ceremonies for Qasim and his bride, notables distributed money to the poor, just as they would have at a real wedding. Middle- and laboring-class people also commemorated the ill-starred wedding, but did so at home rather than with costly processions. Elsewhere in India mourners introduced variations on this ritual. In Hyderabad to the south, a man sometimes impersonated Qasim and was prepared for burial at the imambarah . On the seventh of Muharram in that city mourners painted a representation of the Imam's horse made of wood and decorated it with jewels.
The climax of the mourning period came on the tenth day, the anniversary of the Imam Husayn's own martyrdom. Participants rose in the early hours of the morning and began preparing for the procession, women sometimes lighting candles at the cenotaph before dawn and making requests. At dawn the mourners set out for a symbolic burial ground on the outskirts of the city, called a Karbala. In Safavid Iran, the laboring classes participated in street processions; the wealthy favored the mourning sessions inside. In Awadh, however, many notables joined the street processions with great fervor. The wealthy put together a military funeral parade, with elephants, bands, a bearer of the sword staff, banners, and a caparisoned and bloodstained Duldul with a royal umbrella above his head. Friends and family of the owner, elegy chanters, incense bearers, and the owner of the cenotaph display himself walked behind, often barefoot and with heads exposed
to the sun. Next came the cenotaph of Husayn surrounded by banners and covered by a canopy supported by silver poles, in the style of a Muslim funeral, then the cenotaph of Qasim and the wedding paraphernalia. Several elephants brought up the rear, from which servants threw money to the poor, who crowded behind the processions of the grandees. These not only sought money and blessed bread from the train of the notable's parade, but conducted their own humble processions in its wake, with their coarsely made cenotaphs held high. They thereby also sought security, since the wealthy had a guard of matchlock-men in case of trouble from brigands or Shi‘i-Sunni violence.
From time to time the procession halted, sometimes as often as every five minutes. Then the notables listened to the elegies being chanted, or mourners flagellated themselves to the accompaniment of drums. Although the laboring-class mourners could not compete with the splendid pageants of the notables, they could nevertheless gain divine rewards and social status among their peers through extreme breast-beating. In north Indian cities at this time, tens of thousands of people assembled in the streets. The processions often arrived after nightfall at their Karbalas, four or five miles distant, where mourners ritually interred the cenotaphs and performed the whole ceremony of a funeral. Tempers ran high on this day of collective grief, and Sunni-Shi‘i riots sometimes broke out among Awadh's habitually armed men.
On their return home the rich distributed food, money, and clothes to the poor. The horse Duldul and his expensive attire was donated to a poor Sayyid family. In the 1820s the mourning ceremonies were effectively over on the tenth of Muharram. On the third day after, men began shaving their beards again, women threw off their mourning vestments, bathed, and put on jewelry. The populace began chewing betel leaves once more. Only a few very devout persons continued to mourn for forty days.
Shi‘i ulama took a critical attitude toward some of the Muharram practices, incidentally reinforcing their own status as purists. In 1808 the Iranian immigrant scholar Aqa Ahmad Bihbahani endeavored to convince notables in Faizabad to give up the practice of beating drums to the accompaniment of their breast-beating. A believer in Lucknow asked chief Shi‘i cleric Sayyid Dildar ‘Ali Nasirabadi whether it was proper to employ drums and symbolic horses and camels on the tenth of Muharram. He replied that drums were a heretical innovation, but that using camels to evoke the cara-
van of the doomed Imam's family for the purpose of rendering hearts tender presented no difficulties. In later years camels draped in black were brought during the month of Muharram to the Nasirabadis' imambarah itself. Some later Shi‘i ulama condoned other folk practices. Mawlavi Abu'l-Hasan Kashmiri wrote in defense of even the use of drums in mourning the Imam.
Ende has discussed how some Arab ulama in the modern period have defended flagellation, suggesting that they felt it to be in their interest, pecuniary or otherwise, to encourage mass participation in Muharram rites. Since the Awadh ulama in the early nineteenth century received their patronage from the semifeudal notables rather than from the bazaar, they could afford in general to take a much more elitist approach. Even then, they often had to come to terms with the folk practices of the notables; Sayyid Muhammad's ruling allowed flagellation if the mourner forgot himself, providing a convenient out to those who wished to practice it. The ulama's exclusion of music, including drums, from Muharram practices derived from their greater scrip-turalism, but it had the effect of further differentiating them as a status group from their notable patrons.
In Iran very late in the eighteenth century a new practice associated with mourning the Imam grew up, the passion play (tacziyah ). From representational acts in the tenth-of-Muharram processions, wherein mourners poitrayed Husayn and his enemies, a tradition emerged of folk theater centered in a fixed playhouse. In Awadh, no such indigenous development occurred during the period under discussion. Shi‘i notables there did sponsor Hindu-style plays about Krishna, and perhaps these performances preempted the development of alternative theatrical traditions. Accounts by travelers in Bengal and Bihar reveal a higher level of playacting and representing during Muharram than existed in Awadh. Ulama in Awadh gave rulings against the use of tableaux or religious paintings as backdrops during mourning sessions.
The processions of Muharram filled the streets of Awadh's cities with flagellating mourners. The frenzied multitudes that so impressed Western travelers with their zeal hid, in their numbers and the seeming chaos of the
crowded streets, an underlying organization. Procession marchers grouped themselves by neighborhood, by patron, by status group. The degree of organization that must have been necessary to consecrate thousands of standards at the shrine to the standard of ‘Abbas bespeaks a vast increase in Lucknow's cohesion and a sophistication in Shi‘i and non-Shi‘i Muharram networks.
Non-Shi‘i Participation in Muharram
The culture of Awadh, a preindustrial society, demonstrated syncretic tendencies. Cultural mediators, such as Sufi pirs, drawing their clientele from both Muslim and Hindu, transmitted symbols from one group to another. Muharram rites in Awadh began to serve the same mediating function for some groups. Boundaries between religious communities existed, and riots occurred between Hindu and Muslim or Sunni and Shi‘i. But to a greater extent in the early nineteenth than in the early twentieth century, cultural mediators linked popular-class groups.
Sunni Muslims in Awadh in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also held mourning sessions, but frowned on the breast-beating and ritual cursing of the Shi‘is. Sunnis likewise participated in Muharram processions, but in various ways differentiated themselves from Shi‘is. For instance, although the latter held up five fingers to symbolize the Prophet's immediate family, the Sunnis would hold up three fingers, for the first three caliphs. For Awadh's Sunnis, ‘Ali and his sons were the rightful successors of the caliphs, not their victims. Although Sunni-Shi‘i violence frequently broke out on this occasion, it derived from a different conception of the caliphs, rather than from any sympathy for the Umayyad enemies of Husayn. After the 1820s some Sunnis began to speak well of the Umayyads, probably as a reaction against the Shi‘i atmosphere of Awadh. Only in the first decade of the twentieth century did the two communites became so estranged that even Sunnis who mourned Husayn began taking their model cenotaphs to different burial fields than the Shi‘is for interment.
The vast Hindu majority often also took part in the mourning for Imam Husayn, incorporating his cult into their ritual calendar as yet one more divinity in the pantheon. The Iranian traveler Shushtari saw Hindus com-
memorating Muharram all over North India in the late eighteenth century. He wrote that in Delhi wealthy Hindus with not the least trace of Islam about them went to great trouble to construct imambarahs . They fasted during Muharram, recited elegies for the Imam in Hindi, Urdu, and Persian, pelted each other with stones in mortification, and fed the poor. They constructed replicas of the Imam's cenotaph, bowed to them, and supplicated them for favors. After the tenth of Muharram they threw the cenotaphs in the river or buried them. Shushtari found some of the Hindu approaches to fasting and self-mortification during Muharram quite strange, maintaining that Indian Muslims copied them.
The Kayastha scribal caste in particular adopted Muslim customs, owing to their long association with Muslim rulers as secretaries and revenue-department civil servants. Many Kayastha notables built their own imambarahs . But Hindu popular-class participation in Muharram processions and attendance at public mourning sessions, such as those at the Great Imambarah, cut across caste lines. Roberts wrote, "Hindoos . . . are frequently seen to vie with the disciples of Ali in their demonstrations of grief for the slaughter of his two martyred sons: and in the splendour of the-pageant displayed at the anniversary of their fate. A very large proportion of Hindoos go into mourning during the ten days of Mohurrum, clothing themselves in green garments, and assuming the guise of fakeers."
Fanny Parkes's Hindu cook spent forty rupees on a bamboo cenotoph for the Imam, performed all the Muharram rites, and then resumed his Hinduism when he had interred his cenotaph with funeral offerings of rice, corn, flowers, and cups of water. In the Hindu-ruled provinces of central and southern India, as well, Hindus celebrated Muharram with processions and illuminations. Strict, scripturalist Brahmins often opposed this practice, but even some of them mourned Husayn. In Sunni-ruled Hyderabad riots would sometimes break out between Hindus and Muslims during Muharram, and the Hindus participating in the mourning rites would actually take the Muslim side against their coreligionists.
Hindus therefore not only widely participated in the Muharram rites but helped influence their shape in India by introducing practices that even high-caste Muslims adopted. Garcin de Tassy pointed out that Muharram, like
the festival for the Goddess of Death, Durga, lasts ten days. On the tenth day of Durga puja Hindus cast a figurine of the goddess into the river, paralleling the Shi‘i custom of often casting the Imam's cenotaph into the river on the tenth day of Muharram. The Muslims made the same offering to the Imam that Hindus proffered their sacred figures. Since high-caste Shi‘is and Hindus considered each other ritually impure and unbelievers, popular-class syncretism of this sort sometimes posed problems for strict Shi‘is. Someone asked the chief mujtahids in the early 1830s whether an unbeliever could properly give an offering in cash or kind to the Imams and distribute cooked food to poor believers during Muharram. The mujtahid replied that the most cautious course was for them to bring such food only if the host of the mourning session asked them to do so (ahvat ast kih bar tibq-i guftah-'i malik arand).
Widespread, though not universal, Sunni and Hindu participation made Muharram rites trans-communal. Sunnis in Awadh genuinely loved and supported Husayn, and the tears they shed for the Prophet's grandson helped soften hardline Shi‘i attitudes toward them. Hindus commemorated Muharram as well, adopting Husayn as a god of death, his bloodstained horse and his severed head lifted aloft on Umayyad staves presenting no less terrible an aspect than Kali Durga with her necklace of skulls. Syncretism and cultural intermediaries, such as readers of elegiac poetry, helped create a Shi‘i tinged traditional culture in a society where, among the popular classes, religious communal identity was still weak or at least not exclusivist in tone.
Muharram rituals constituted a complex of practices carried out on a mass scale. These rituals were highly ambiguous, both in regard to vertical stratification among religious communities and in regard to horizontal stratification within the Shi‘i grouping. Some of these practices, bearing an ecumenical aspect, were joined in by many Sunnis and Hindus. Others helped spread Shi‘i ideals among the masses and promoted social networks among believers, not only within city quarters, but between city dwellers and visitors from the qasabahs in the hinterland. More than anything else, the practice of cursing the caliphs helped erect communal barriers between Shi‘is and others, and the violence it provoked helped reinforce internal Shi‘i solidarity. Yet that solidarity did not completely obscure the social distinctions separating notables and commoners.
The Muharram commemorations, including the "pilgrimages" to the cenotaphs and the focus on death, demonstrate the coexistence of structure
and anti-structure. On the one hand, social distinctions temporarily broke down into liminality and a generalized feeling of leveled community (communits ), which the late Victor Turner found typical of such rites. The notables of both sexes demeaned themselves in bereavement for the Imam, men walking barefoot and bareheaded under Lucknow's harsh sun, and highborn ladies wearing the same sweaty clothes for ten days in a climate that called for frequent baths.
The mourning processions and the notables' distribution of largesse created a sense of solidarity among social classes. But in important ways mourners intensified structure, emphasizing distinctions of class and status in the exclusivity of the mourning sessions at imambarahs and in the primacy of notable pageants during the Muharram processions. Indeed, the processions constituted a microcosm of Awadh's prebendal hierarchical social structure. Muharram was a prime opportunity for the display of wealth and various sorts of expenditure that contributed to the expression of high status. Moreover, at the same time that the ceremonies drew together the participants from various classes and religious communities, they often sparked communal violence because some Sunnis and Hindus objected so strongly to them.
The mourners of Husayn in the bazaar or in the large villages worked their own genius on Muharram rites, such that they often created ritual forms later usurped by the notables, including veneration at the shrine of ‘Abbas. Although the notables excluded the popular classes from the services at their private imambarahs , and forced them to march behind their elephants in the procession, the popular classes in many ways led the way in venerating the Martyrs, expressing their grief in everyday ways that helped make the Imam and his family real to them. For they were, after all, the experts in what it meant to be oppressed.
The Shi‘i notable class, whose distribution of gifts and cash during processions helped ensure the participation of the poor, promoted the extensive mourning rites for Husayn. Fenced in by the East India Company, the notables had little opportunity to invest in territorial expansion, expressing their culture and prestige through religious architecture and patronage instead. In addition, informal laboring-class associations shared expenses and promoted the rites. In some places Sufi faqirs organized the ceremonies, during which they received offerings.
People used the story rhetorically and allegorically as well as ritually.
Some notable-class Shi‘is depicted the encroaching British as the evil Yazid in the 1857-58 rebellion. Among laboring-class devotees of the Imam the tax collectors and police of the Shi‘i government itself may have been seen at times as the real Yazid. Moreover, where Muslim villagers were a small minority surrounded by unbelievers, the Umayyad armies attacking Husayn came to be portrayed as Hindus.
The artisans, laborers, and peasants depended on the largesse of the Shi‘i rulers, and this link of dependency encouraged the little people to share with the rulers in their religious practices. In this way a general Shi‘i community came into being, still loosely organized, but enjoying new and wide-ranging social networks built around the sacred calendar of Imami mourning sessions and processions. In the early nineteenth century this calendar was also shared by many Sunnis and some Hindus. Yet some Awadh government policies helped make Muharram rites, at times, divisive of religious communities. When the early stages of political mobilization began late in the nineteenth century, Muharram processions and violence began serving a new purpose in creating communal identities, which grew into political ones in the twentieth century.