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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ghazi Mian's Urs -- Ismat Chughtai

From The Heart Breaks Free, Ismat Chughtai, Translated by Tahira Naqvi, 1993, published by Kali for Women    pp. 10-14

There was an Urs at Ghazi Mian's shrine every year. Qawwali singers and others came from far and wide. People of every religion and caste, old and young, children, women and men, all made the pilgrimage to the shrine, offered vows and receiycd answers to their prayers.

Every Thursday the dancing girls from the town and its neighbouring districts arrived with their offerings. They sang thumries, dadras and ghazals in honour of Ghazi Mian. When a dancing girl was about to surrender her virginity she would first sing and dance at Mian's shrine. A fair was held during the flame-ridden heat of May and June and the faithful came months ahead of time and set up camp. Such enormous crowds gathered during the actual days of the fair that you couldn't find an empty spot anywhere. Stretched in front of the main entrance to the shrine was an over-sized marquee on which the arriving pilgrims threw garlands, sweetmeats and money
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Flags were transported here from neighbouring towns  and districts. There were sixty-foot high bamboo poles with clusters of black or white hair attached to the top, while just below them hung streamers made from rupee notes. Anyone whose wish was granted offered the standard at the shrine. Dancing and leaping to the beat of kettle-drums, the men arrived at the entrance of the shrine and formed a circle; a muscular man built like a wrestler, balancing the standard, stationed himself in the middle of the circle; in order to keep the banner steady, to prevent it from tipping, four other men held on to'ropes extending from the spire of the standard. Then, lifting up the standard, the man danced and executed tricks with it. Sometimes he'd place the base of the standard on his forehead and wriggle his body, at other times he'd catch it between his teeth and sway. Finally, when everyone began sweating, or maybe when the group ran out of time (there were other groups with standards waiting their turn), the weary flag was furled around the pole like a sail tied to its mast, hitched on shoulders and carried into the shrine through the tall entrance-way. And then another flag dance began. At the end of the fair days all the flags were auctioned off.

Our mother bought flags every year for use as floor cloths - these were the best examples of tambour-work. Embroidered on the rough cotton fabric were colourful designs in the shape of elephants and horses. Here you could see whole armies on the march with their spears hoisted, there a caravan of camels; in another corner were flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cows, along with groups of men and women exchanging secrets. We would roll around on the divans all day long, observing the scenes below us, never tiring of what we saw.

Besides the flags, those whose prayers had been heard also offered, in accordance with what they had promised, gold and silver figurines, tables, chairs, beds, and pots and pans. All this was followed by Ghazi Mian's wedding ceremonies. A kettle-drum was placed at the entrance. Early in the morning the playing of the drum commenced to one's annoyance and continued late into the night. All day one group after another came and surrounded the drum players, and sometimes one or two men broke into sad songs about lost love. As soon as one group had exhausted itself another took its place. Women possessed by evil spirits came to Mian's door to be rid of them; they loosened their hair and shook their heads rhythmically from side to side, and when the person chanting holy verses blew smoke over them, they screamed and fainted. But it wasn't long before they re­gained consciousness and started swaying again. If the spirit were a stubborn creature it would not budge for days; red and green clubs were used to punish it and only then, after a terrible struggle, did it depart. Happy and contented, the women who had been healed then made offerings at the shrine and went their way.

On the fifth of the month came the ceremony of the fan, on the seventh the sandalwood ceremony and on the ninth, the henna ceremony. At night on that day Ghazi Mian's kurta, on which the Quran was etched in its entirety, was brought out for viewing. Frenzied crowds engulfed it. On the eleventh, the ceremony marking the readying of the marriage procession took place.

A long time ago, Radha Bai,alias Zehra Bibi, a child widow from a family in Raduli, lost her heart to Mian. Ghazi Mian appeared to her in a dream and accepted her love. She made her home in his shrine. She was known to wash the tomb with her tears and sweep the floor of the shrine with her hair every day. Her father was an oil merchant. He forcibly dragged her away from Ghazi Mian, but Radha refused to give in. All girls with the name 'Radha' are stubborn; boldly and fearlessly they announce their love, suffer every dishonour and stigma happily, and put life and soul on the line. And the dice rolls in their favour. Unfa­vourable winds are compelled to give in when confronted with the ardour of their love, people begin to worship them, sing songs about them, and finally worship them as god­desses.

Ghazi Mian's Radha also had to walk on coals. She too had to drag herself through thorns. Her mother beat her senseless, her father whipped her with moistened rope and tied her to a peg in the cow shed. And the whole village spat at her. In the middle of the night, when poor Radha, starving and thirsty, weary from her wounds and splattered with cow dung, was taking her last breath, Ghazi Mian came to her. He washed her wounds with his tears, clasped her to his sacred chest, and dipping his forefinger into his heart's blood he made the bridal mark in the parting of her hair.

When the demented Meera fell in love with her Girdhar Gopal the world let vipers loose in her life and gave her a cup of poison to drink and then - Krishan Murari's flute came to life and the viper turned into a garland of flowers, the cup of poison brimmed over with the elixir of life.

The next morning the inhabitants of Raduli awoke to the sounds of temple bells and the azan echoing from the minaret of the mosque. Immersed in the fragrance of san­dalwood, dressed in majestic clothes, Radha lay on a bed of flowers in everlasting sleep. There was not a single scratch on her, her body glowed like burnished gold, her hair shone with sindbur.

People in Raduli were thunderstruck. A meeting of the village elders was called. It was decided that the girl now belonged in another's house, there was no reason for her to stay in her parent's home. So she was delivered to her groom's dwelling.

The Hindus called her Radha, the Muslims referred to her as Zehra Bibi. Her plain, unpretentious grave sat at the foot of Mian's tomb. At one end of her grave grew a tamarind tree whose bark was known to exude the fragrance of sandalwood when burnt.

Since Radha's death the Raduliwallahs had been bringing an offering of Mian's barat to the shrine every year. Children were put to bed early so they could be aroused around three o'clock at night to witness the arrival of the wedding pro­cession. As soon as the familiar sound of trumpets was heard everyone was awakened. Quickly splashing some water on our faces, we all ran up to the roof to see the wedding procession enter the village.

It's been so many years, but to this day my eyes are blinded with the memory of that barat. A white steed in front, heavily laden with silver and gold ornaments, covered with flowers, the silvery strands of the sehra kissing the hooves.

     "Look, there's Bale Mian!" We thought we could really see him seated on the horse.            .

Behind the horse was a palanquin with fine red muslin curtains and inside it was the Quran with a candle burning alongside it.

"The bride, the bride!" We were spellbound. The trem­bling flame of the candle behind the red muslin curtains appeared to take the form of a shy, reticent bride. Following the bride were the wedding guests carrying tiny umbrellas. These were decorated with small stars between embroi­dered bands and beaded silver and gold tassels hung from their edges. Twirling these umbrellas like reels, swaying, dancing, the members of the wedding procession filled the streets. It was a dazzling sight. For days afterward little. umbrellas continued to dance in my vision.

Sometimes when you see something very beautiful you feel a lump in your throat. Aunt Qudsia always had a lump in her throat and all she needed was an excuse to start weeping. Resting her head on the window sill, she shed voluminous tears; seeing a wedding procession always cut her to the quick. But everyone was saddened by this barat. Was it a barat or a funeral? Life's doors are shut on a young, frail girl, she wants to create a world of dreams and open a small window in it. But the stupid people around her don't allow it because she threatens their beliefs. And what happens? She shatters all their beliefs and turns away from them.

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