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KARACHI, Oct 27 Scholars highlighted the finer points of marsia writing and its elevated position in Urdu literature at a seminar titled 'Marsia aur adab-i-aali', organised by the Urdu department of Karachi University in its arts auditorium on Tuesday.

Former chairman of the Urdu department Dr Waqar Ahmed Rizvi presided over the event.

The seminar began with the welcome address by the current chairman of the Urdu department, Dr Zafar Iqbal, to the participants and audience of the programme. Introducing the seminar's topic, he said marsia-writing was an important part of Urdu literature.

Dr Iqbal said that since Lucknow's culture was no longer in vogue, modern linguistic trends must be kept in mind while writing marsias. He said that non-serious criticism of marsia-writing was another matter that needed to be looked into.

Dr Taqi Abidi, who is settled in Canada, was the keynote speaker. His impassioned talk kept the audience glued to their seats. Dr Abidi spoke at length on the subject and quoted many a couplet and stanza from Mir Anees and Mirza Dabeer, eliciting applause from the audience.

Tracing the history of elegiac verse, Dr Abidi said Sohrab's mother wrote a marsia after her son was murdered; Amir Khusrau composed one on Multan's destruction; Umrao Qais dabbled in it too. All of this indicated that there was a rich tradition available to us.

He said in Urdu literature marsia revolves around the tragedy of Karbala. He lamented that this form of writing had not been given its due status, and told the audience that Mir Taqi Mir wrote more than 34 marsias, and Mir Anees over 213.

Dr Abidi said marsia-writing contained many essential elements of nearly all poetic genres - it had ghazal's sonority, masnavi's flow and even certain elements of an epic poem. He severely criticised those who never took such poetry with the seriousness it deserved.

In this regard, Dr Abidi quoted Altaf Husain Hali's Muqaddama-i-Sher-o-Shaeri in which the author had attached great importance to the genre. This made him pose a question “Why haven't experts on the subject followed that line and why haven't institutions done enough to undertake research on the topic?”

Dr Abidi claimed that Mir Anees and Mirza Dabeer had used more words in Urdu poetry than any other poet. He said Nazir Akbarabadi had written 8,500 couplets, whereas Dabeer's tally was 120,000, and Anees's 86,000.

Dr Abidi educated the students present in the auditorium on the poetic tools employed in poetry, and praised Anees and Dabeer's remarkable use of metaphors and similes.

He talked about one of Dabeer's marsias in which the poet had come up with seven metaphoric arrangements, without making them clash with one another. He said it was disheartening to know that marsia-writing was associated with only one religious order, and added that since the genre had been ignored by scholars, the institution of Imambargah had kept it alive.

Dr Abidi also spoke on the moral lessons marsia embodied, which was why its message was relevant in modern times and would remain relevant for all times to come.

Dr sahib was unhappy with Shibli Nomani's thesis Muwazna-i-Anees-o-Dabeer, saying Shibli had done grave injustice to Dabeer in it.Dr Shamsuddin, dean of the arts faculty, thanked the scholars and students who had gathered to take part in the seminar.

Dr Shabihul Hasan's paper was read out by the Urdu department's teacher Rahat Afshan because he could not make it to the seminar. The essay pivoted around the high moral values spread through marsia-writing. The genre originated in the subcontinent, and once Lucknow was the hub of all cultural activities in India. Then times changed, and so did literary trends.

Anees and Dabeer belonged to the Lucknow tradition. The 20th century saw the disintegration of society, and uncertainty was rife in every sphere of life. It also had its effect on literature. The marsia writers who came after Anees and Dabeer helped connect poetry to society rather than individuals. Iqbal, Safi Lucknavi, Ali Sardar Jaffery, Josh Malihabadi and Jamil Mazhari brought into the genre the issues that concerned them; Naseem Amrohvi experimented with its structure. And contemporary marsia writers brought forth political and social issues.

Dr Hilal Naqvi's paper carried profundity that everybody sensed and learned from.

He said the history of mankind was full of gory incidents. Writers tried and expressed it in their own way, but very seldom truth was represented the way it should.

He also lamented that marsia-writing had been limited to only one section of society. He said when the young ones studied it, they moved away from the genre because it was portrayed as the kind of poetry in which dead people were discussed, while ghazal was defined as conversing with a (beloved) woman and qasida was known as a poetic piece written in praise of somebody.

Dr Naqvi asked why the culture of keeping one's head high in the face of adversity was not encouraged in our society. He said man's relation with other men, with the universe and with God was the basis of marsia.

He illustrated the point by saying that today cloning, computers and nuclear technology dazzled our eyes. Man was being de-linked from civilisation and culture, and his mind was getting increasingly wayward. People were being killed in the name of religion. In such a situation marsia-writing could help mitigate the problem.

Speaking on the subject Prof Sahar Ansari said marsia had all the attributes of sublime or great literature. Karbala was a bouquet of metaphors, so much so that it had now become a metaphor itself.

He claimed that Urdu marsia had originated from Urdu poetry. He said the tussle between good and evil existed from the very beginning. Just like thesis and antithesis resulted in synthesis, Karbala too was a synthesis. He praised Mir Anees and Mirza Dabeer's intelligent use of words and said marsia-writing contained elements of epic poetry.

After the papers were read, a question-answer session was held in which Urdu department students put quite a few questions, mainly to Dr Taqi Abidi.