Poetry of Sorrow, Verse of Grief
Each language has its own relationship with pain. And when sorrow exceeds the limits of what can be expressed emotionally, it often takes the form of poetry. Marsiya is that poetic form of grief in Arabic and Urdu.
The marsiya is an elegiac poem recited to express emotions on the death of a person or to commemorate a tragic event in Islamic tradition.
Associated with Muharram, in which the glories of Hazarat Imam Husain in the battle of Karbala (Iraq) are recited, the marsiya writers amplified and elaborated on this incident of religious and moral significance for the Islamic world.
Almost all Urdu marsiya poets use Karbala to symbolize great tragedy or epic battle between good and evil.
Marsiya originates from the Arabic word risa (praising the dead in a funeral oration and weeping), and Soz in Persian means lamentation. And Sozkhwani is the musical rendering of religious dirges or elegies in sad and melodic tunes.
Here is an example of marsiya recited by ZA Bokhari and written by poet Mir Anees. Mir Babar Ali Anees was a renowned Urdu poet in India, who wrote prolonged marsiyas, which was a custom of his times.
It is the tradition that when marsiya is recited, men weep openly. The narrative of these verses recreates events, making listeners emotionally charged and moved to tears. In fact, marsiya is not merely a poetry form but performance art.
Mir Anees’s marsiya has also been rendered by Noor Jahan, a famous Punjabi playback singer and actress.
Historians of literature believe marsiya existed in the pre-Islamic days (Daur-i-Jahili), and many poets were writing risa poetry at that time. However, records say that poets in Iran were practising the literary and musical conventions of marsiya much earlier.