The word ‘Marsiya’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘Risa’, meaning a great tragedy or lamentation for a departed soul. It was a common word, used for one and all. But after the major tragedy of Karbala, when on the 10th day of Moharram, Imam Hussain, (A.S.) the younger grand-son of the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.W.) was martyred, hungry and thirsty along with his 71 relatives and companions by the unruly and merciless hoards of the tyrant king Yazid, ‘Marsiya’ became a word used exclusively to describe the Events of the Battle of Karbala and the Tragedy of Imam Hussain(AS).
If we look at a Marsiya in the light of its subject matter, it is a poetry full of pathos, love, emotions, bravery, patriotism and the ultimate sacrifice. No other form of poetry gives the writer as much space to portray their creativity and knowledge as a Marsiya does.
It was this incredible talent, enormous vocabulary, unique mastry and commendable craftsmanship of Mir Anees that succeeded in making marsiya-goi the most creative form of poetry, adding beauty through perfectly balanced verses, simplicity, emotional painting, psychological treatment and last but not the least, depicting moral and human values, universally acknowledged and acclaimed.
Muhammad Husain Azad has said, “The late Mir Anees must certainly have composed at least ten thousand elegies, and salaams beyond count. He composed as easily and casually as he spoke.”
So impressed was Josh Malihabadi (Shaayar-e-Inqilaab or the Revolutionary Poet) by the marsiyas of Mir Anees that he went on to say:
Teri har mouj-e-nafas rooh-ul-amee’n ki jaa’n hai
tu meri urdu zubaa’n ka bolta Qura’n hai
Every breath of yours is the life of Gabrielle
You are the speakin Quran of the urdu language.
Some foreign writers have described Marsiyas or Epics in their own way.
Arther E Hudson in his book, Epics of the Western World, says:“An Epic is a poem embodying a noble story told in a noble verse. A more stringent definition is almost impossible; yet any attempt at such definition must use words like grand, noble, universal. Poetry to attain Epic structure, must possess above all else the qualities contained in these words and the Epic poet must tell of people, their actions and emotions, in such a way that his story expresses everything about the world. The material of the Epic poet, are the ideal customs, traditions and the moral values of the whole society.”
L.M. Bowra in his book, From Virgil to Milton, says:“An Epic is by common consent a narrative of some length and deals with events which have a certain grandeur and importance and come from a life of action, especially of violent action such as war. It gives a special pleasure because it’s events and persons enhance our belief in the worth of human achievement and in the dignity and nobility of man.”
The standard marsiya of Mir Anees is organized in six line stanzas and the rhyming pattern is aaaabb. It is called ‘Musaddas’ in urdu.