Again he fell on his knees in devout prayer, from which he rose only to observe the first warnings of an approaching army, by the thick clouds of dust which darkened the horizon; and before the evening closed upon the scene, Hosein, with every male of his small party capable of bearing arms, had been hurried to their final rest. One son of Hosein's, insensible from fever at the time, was spared from the sacrifice, and, with the females and young children, taken prisoners to the King's palace at Shawm.
The account given by historians of this awful battle, describes the courage and intrepidity of Hosein's small band, in glowing terms of praise; having fought singly, and by their desperate bravery 'each arm (they say) levelled his hundreds with their kindred dust ere his own gave way to the sway of death'.
Amongst the number of Hosein's brave defenders was a nephew, the son of Hasan: this young man, named Cossum, was the affianced husband of Hosein's favourite daughter, Sakeena Koobraah; and previous to his going to the combat on that eventful day, Hosein read the marriage lines between the young couple, in the tent of the females. I mention this here, as it points to one particular part of the celebration of Mahurrum, which I shall have occasion to mention in due order, wherein all the outward forms of the wedding ceremony are strictly performed, annually.
During the whole of this terrible day, at Kraabaallah, the family party of Hosein had been entirely deprived of water; and the river Fraught (Euphrates) being blockaded by their enemies, they suffered exceedingly from thirst. The handsome Abass, another nephew of Hosein, and his standard-bearer, made many efforts to procure water for the relief of the almost famishing females; he had, at one attempt, succeeded in filling the mushukh, when, retreating from the river, he was discovered by the enemy, was pursued and severely wounded, the mushukh pierced by arrows, and the water entirely lost ere he could reach the camp.
In remembrance of this privation of the sufferers at Kraabaallah, every good Mussulmaun, at Mahurrum, distributes sherbet in abundance, to all persons who choose to accept this their favourite beverage (sugar and water, with a little rosewater, or kurah, to flavour it); and some charitable females expend large sums in milk, to be distributed in the public streets; for these purposes, there are neat little huts of sirrakee (a reed, or grass, resembling bright straw) erected by the road side of the Mussulmauns' houses; they are called saabeels, where the red earthen cups of milk, sherbet, or pure water are seen ranged in rows, for all who choose to call for drink.
Hosein, say their historians, was the last of the party who suffered on the day of battle; he was surrounded in his own camp—where, by the usage of war, at that time, they had no right to enter—and when there was not one friendly arm left to ward the blow. They relate 'that his body was literally mangled, before he was released from his unmerited sufferings'. He had mounted his favourite horse, which, as well as himself, was pierced by arrows innumerable; together they sank on the earth from loss of blood, the cowardly spearmen piercing his wounded body as if in sport; and whilst, with his last breath, 'Hosein prayed for mercy on his destroyers, Shimeear ended his sufferings by severing the already prostrate head from the mutilated trunk'.—'Thus they sealed (say those writers) the lasting disgrace of a people, who, calling themselves Mussulmauns, were the murderers of their Prophet's descendants.'
This slight sketch gives but the outline of those events which are every year commemorated amongst the zealous followers of Ali, the class denominated Sheahs.
The Mussulmaun people, I must here observe, are divided into two distinct sects, viz. the Sheahs and the Soonies. The former believe Ali and his descendants were the lawful leaders after Mahumud; the latter are persuaded that the Caliphas, as Aboubuker, Omir, &c., were the leaders to be accredited 'lawful'; but of this I shall speak more fully in another Letter.
Perhaps the violence of party spirit may have acted as an inducement to the Sheahs, for the zealous annual observance of this period, so interesting to that sect; whatever the motive, we very often find the two sects hoard up their private animosities and dislikes until the return of Mahurrum, which scarcely ever passes over, in any extensively populated city of Hindoostaun, without a serious quarrel, often terminating in bloodshed.
I could have given a more lengthened account of the events which led to the solemnization of this fast, but I believe the present is sufficient to explain the motives by which the Mussulmauns are actuated, and my next Letter must be devoted to the description of the rites performed upon the celebration of these events in India.
P.S. I have a memorandum in my collection which may here be copied as its proper place.
From Mecca, 'The Holy City', to Medina the distance is twelve stages (a day's march is one stage, about twenty miles of English measurement). From Medina to Kraabaallah there are twenty-one stages; this distance is travelled only by those who can endure great difficulties; neither water nor provisions are to be met with on the whole journey, excepting at one halt, the name of which is Shimmaar. From Kraabaallah to Koofah is two stages.
In the vicinity of Koofah stands Mount Judee (Judea), on which is built, over the remains of Ali, the mausoleum called Nudghiff Usheruff. On this Mount, it is said, Adam and Noah were buried. Ali being aware of this, gave directions to his family and friends, that whenever his soul should be recalled from earth, his mortal remains were to be deposited near those graves venerated and held sacred 'by the faithful'. The ancient writers of Arabia authorise the opinion that Ali's body was entombed by the hands of his sons, Hasan and Hosein, who found the earth open to receive their sire, and which closed immediately on his remains being deposited.
Here, too, it is believed Noah's ark rested after the Deluge. When pilgrims to Mecca make their zeearut (all sacred visits are so called) to this Mount, they offer three prayers, in memory of Adam, Noah, and All.
The grave of Eve is also frequently visited by pilgrims, which is said to be situated near Jeddah; this, however, is not considered an indispensable duty, but, as they say, prompted by 'respect for the Mother of men'.
These remarks, and many others of an interesting nature, I have been favoured with from the most venerable aged man I ever knew, Meer Hadjee Shaah, the revered father of my excellent husband; who having performed the Hadje (pilgrimage) three several times, at different periods of his eventful life—returning after each pilgrimage to his home in Lucknow—and being a person of strict veracity, with a remarkably intelligent mind and retentive memory, I have profited largely by his information, and derived from it both amusement and instruction, through many years of social intercourse. When he had numbered more than eighty years he dwelt with hope on again performing the Hadje, where it was his intention to rest his earthly substance until the great day of restitution, and often expressed his wishes to have me and mine to share with him the pilgrimage he desired to make. But this was not allowed to his prayer; his summons arrived rather unexpectedly to those who loved and revered him for virtues rarely equalled; happily for him, his pure soul was prepared to meet his Creator, in whose service he had passed this life, with all humility, and in whose mercy alone his hopes for the future were centred.