Urs-e Sayyid Nuri

Early 20th century accounts of one of the annual urs ceremonies at Marahra in the Dabdaba-e Sikandari [newspaper] published in Rampur reveal that it was held in honor of Sayyid Nuri Miyan (may Allah be pleased with him) who had died in 1906. The urs lasted between 4-6 days and as Sayyid Nuri Miyan (may Allah be pleased with him) had no male heirs, he had appointed his young first cousin, Sayyid Ali Husain (may Allah be pleased with him), known as ‘Iqbal Hasan’ [1873-97], as his sajjada-nishin. When Sayyid Ali Husain (may Allah be pleased with him) died he chose Iqbal Hasan’s son, Hafiz Sayyid Aulad Husain, ‘Safi Miyan’ [1893-1910], for this position of honor.

Unfortunately Sayyid Aulad Husain (may Allah be pleased with him), who would have been a youth of 13 at Sayyid Nuri Miyan’s (may Allah be pleased with him) death, also died young, at the age of 17 or so.

In the circumstances, Sayyid Nuri Miyan’s (may Allah be pleased with him) urs was organized and managed by another first cousin, Sayyid Mahdi Hasan (may Allah be pleased with him) [b. 1870]. It is reported that he appeared to be an able organizer, and to have commanded great respect among the ulema.

Each year Sayyid Mahdi Hasan (may Allah be pleased with him) put a notification in the newspapers some weeks prior to the urs, extending a public invitation to all to attend, informing people of the location of Maraha on the railroad route, and assuring them that their food and lodging needs would be taken care of during the duration of the urs. If they informed him in advance, he indicated, they would be met at the railway station. As to the urs itself, he emphasized that it was always conducted with full regard for, and within limits of, the Sharia.

In the course of the 5 days of the urs, the first 2 were devoted to khatma [the reading of the Quran in a single night] of the Quran, recital of na’at verses in praise of the beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and sermons (bayan and wa’z) by well-known ulema. The highlights of the 3rd day, which was Sayyid Nuri Miyan’s (may Allah be pleased with him) actual death anniversary, were a khirqa-oshi ritual in which the sajjada-nishan [Sayyid Mahdi Hasan (may Allah be pleased with him, in this case] ceremonially wore Imam Ali bin Abi Talib’s (Radhiya Allah ta’ala anhu wa karrama Allah wajhah) robe (khirqa) and performed the fatiha ceremony at Sayyid Nuri Miyan’s (may Allah be pleased with him) grave, and a qul, a ceremony marking the exact time of death. The 4th day included, apart from Quranic recitals, na’ats, and sermons –all a daily occurrence during this 5-day period – a pilgrimage to the beloved Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) holy relics, as also to those of Imam Hassan (Alayhi as-salam), Imam Hussain (Alayi as-salam), and Shaikh Sayyiduna Abdul Qadir Jilani (may Allah be pleased with him). Finally on the 5th and last day, there was a ghusl, or ceremonial washing of the tomb.

It is noteworthy that the Urs-e Nuri (may Allah be pleased with him) was characterized by the restrained piety of nightlong Quranic recitals, and by sermons by the ulema, rather than by Sama [literally ‘hearing’, listening to music].

As Frederick M. Denny [Islamic Ritual: Perspectives and Theories] comments:

Reciting the Quran is akin to a sacramental act in that divine power and presence are brought near…. There is even a kind of ‘divine Magic’ to the Quran; [because its verses and formulas] come from God…they are rather like a talisman which protects and guides man.

It was this emphasis on Quran reading, together with the sermons of the ulema, that formed the basis for the claims of the Marahra Sufi Pirs – as also of the Pirs and ulema of Badayun and Bareilly – that they followed the sharia at all times.

Na’t-khwani (the recitation of poetry in praise of the Prophet), and qasida-khwani (recital of praise verse of religious figures generally) were also an integral part of these sharia inclined urs celebrations.

The scale of the organization on the part of the sajjada-nishin and his helpers appears to have been impressive. At arrival, each guest was met at the railway station. The road from the station to the Khanqah was especially lit for the occasion with gaslights. Police were deputed to keep law and order, and ensure nothing went wrong. The Khanqah was brilliantly lit with lights and mirrors. Each person who attended the urs, regardless of social standing, was given a straw mat (chattai) to sleep on, earthenware water containers (ghara, lota) for bathing or drinking, and food, drink, etc all delivered to the lodgings from the start of the urs until the very last day.

[Khanqah – Sufi hospice, usually a large compound where the Pir and his family as well as devotees live. Often a school, apublic kitchen and other facilities were attached.]

As might have been expected, given the above, the Barkatiyya Pirs were Sayyids of standing, the urs-e Nuri was attended my many people of distinction, apart from ordinary folk from the surrounding countryside. Amongst the nobility were, at least occasionally, a nawab or rais and ulema and Sufi Pirs from places as distant as Bombay, Calcutta, Bhopal, Ghalior, Ajmer, Pakpattan, and Bankipur, as also from districts in the North-Western Provinces themselves. The core group, however, consisted of men whose principal allegiance was to the Qadiri order.