Thursday 30th of March 2023
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The Battle of Karbala

The Battle of Karbala

A Marthiyaa of Anis, translated into English verse by David Matthews, Rupa Co. The sun had run his journey o'er the night; Unveiled, the Dawn revealed her glorious face. The King who rides the heavens saw her light And called his brave companions to their place. 'The time has come at last; to God give praise; Arise! In fitting prayer your voices raise.

Brave hearts! For strife and slaughter dawns this day; Here the blood of Muhammad's race will flow.' Zahra's darling, honoured, seeks the fray; The night of parting fades 'neath union's glow. 'We are those for whom the angels weep; To live this day we sacrificed our sleep.

This morning brings an evening ever blessed; We who depart for Paradise will slake Our thirst by Kausar's spring, and there find rest. May God exalt our names for honour's sake.' Unequalled, each of them to joy gave birth. 'Let martyrs rise in glory from this earth.'

At this the faithful friends rose from their beds, And donning glorious raiment combed their hair; Then tying turbans on their noble heads, They faced the peerless Lord and gathered there. Wrapped in coloured cloaks, their fear grew less; Rose perfume, musk and civet filled their dress.

Brave warriors dwarfing heaven with their height, In battle Solomons, in Sheba lions; The bravest fighters bowed before their might; No pangs of hunger pained these stalwart scions. For their great hearts the world was less than nought; To the vastness of the sea they gave scant thought.

Their dry lips sang the praise of God; and light Shone on their faces; fear was put aside. No grief or panic clouded o'er their sight; They joked and laughed and shared their skills with pride. Their charming accents gladdened every ear; Each word they uttered was a joy to hear.

Beyond compare the figures of their speeches; Each point they made with rare magnificence. Their rhetoric the art that knowledge teaches; Their dry tongues shed the honey of eloquence. Arabian poets marvelled at their art. Lips like pistachios gently prized apart.

Laughing voices, faces like the rose, Their bodies smelt as sweet as Joseph's cloak; Devout, abstemious; their saintly pose In Heaven's slaves would servitude provoke. Such rubies are not found, such pearls are rare. 'They are angels', cried the Houris, 'born of air.'

There was no water for the heavenly crowd; Before the prayers they washed in shining sand. Their faces gleamed like sunrays through a cloud. Sons of the Father of the Dust, this band Became as radiant as the silver moon; Their faces mirrors in a hazy noon.

The kinsmen of the King stepped from their tent, Fatima's darlings all of beauteous face; Qasim the fair and Akbar heaven-sent, Aqil and Muslim, Ja'far's valiant race. Their countenances lit the sky around. The flower of eighteen suns stood on the ground.

That morning 'neath the shadow of the stars! If Moses, who called God on Sinai, Had seen their light that with the vision jars, He would have swooned. Celestial majesty Was echoed by the birds' song in the bowers Of the desert valley filled with fragrant flowers.

That dancing brilliance wafted by the breeze! The russet satin sky was put to shame. Rosy dew-drops hung on swaying trees; Diamonds were abashed and pearls found blame. Each bush was crowned by glittering diadems; The leaves of every tree wore precious gems.

How fine the art of the Creator's pen! On every leaf embellishment was shown; A skill beyond accomplished poets' ken, Which to the simpler mind remained unknown. All stood in awe of the Lord of Servants' craft; Enamelled richness o'er the valley laughed.

The light, the fresh, cold desert and the sky! The pheasant, quail and peacock made their call; The sweet-voiced birds intoned their plaintive cry; The morning breeze brought coolness to the soul. Red petals clothed the trees and sought their arms Then gathered in the- ditches round the palms.

The desert and the morning breeze that blew Amid the branches swaying in the bowers, Scattering on the blooms rare drops of dew; One nightingale addressed a thousand flowers. The primroses of Zahra's garden drank The dew, collected on the rosy bank.

The ring-doves gathered round the cypress tall; The pigeons cooed: 'The Lord alone holds sway!' Then came the cry: 'Our God is blessed by all.' The birds pursued their worship in their way. Not only flowers sang their adulation; The tongues of thorns gave praise in exultation.

Lifting up its hand, the ant cried out: 'Oh Cherisher of the weak, who rule our fate!' 'Eternal One! Almighty!', came the shout, 'There is one God, and He alone is great.' The deer called in the woods, the birds in the air; The jungle lions roared within their lair.

And here amid the thorns the Prophet's flowers Imparted fragrance to the desert lands; The house of Fatima faced its last hours In the garden planted by Muhammad's hands This garden cut down in those ten sad days, By traitors wasted, cruelly set ablaze.

Ah God! The autumn and the flowers of spring! Muhammad's sons could scarcely hold their breath. Like bridegrooms they had dreamed of joy to sing; But their red garlands were the blooms of death. Awake all night, their eyes were drunk with sleep. Their perfumed smiles caused closed bud's' hearts to leap.

The glory of that russet-coloured tent! A fresh sky o'er the earth had been unfurled. To the canopy no pole's support was lent; This ancient house! Faith's pivot in the world. For Allah's loved-ones dwelt beneath this sky Like stars in the empyrean on high.

The desert land smiled mocking at the skies; The seventh heaven thought it dwelt above. Its curtains were the veils of beauties' eyes, And heaven plucked its stars from it with love. The morning thought the sun a wretched sight When it compared it to that desert's light.

Then suddenly the dawn's white light came in; To lead the prayer the King came from his throne. All stood behind the Lord of Men and Jinn; Ali Akbar called the prayer in Hasan's tone. The eyes of everyone were filled with tears. As if the Prophet's voice fell on their ears.

The birds fell silent; trees in ecstasy Rocked to an' fro; their buds and fruit sang praise. The towns and deserts joined in harmony, And ocean-beasts emerged to hear their lays. The darling of Shabbir to all lent weight; O'er land and sea they cried: 'Our God is great!'

The women of the King wept hitter tears; While Bano of renown stood silently, Zainab repeated blessings with her prayers: 'My muezzin, I give thy life to thee! They call in praise of God; oh, hear their joy! As beautiful as Joseph is my boy.

He reads from the Quran; what majesty! His grandsire once for speaking held the prize. Ah, may his voice remain eternally! The strains of David, who was called The Wise! Those melodies like petals of a flower! A nightingale chirps in the Prophet's bower.

Let someone take these blessings on my part; May God protect him from the evil eye! His eloquence would capture any heart, Although for two long days his throat is dry. In foreign lands misfortune strikes Husain. Three days of hunger torment him with pain.'

'Make ready for your worship!', came the cry. 'The King of all Creation leaves his seat. In ranks of light the Leader passes by; Salvation's path bows down to touch his feet. His radiance in the highest heaven will reign.' The Quran became a prayer-mat for Husain.

The company's prayers were verses from that age; Like bismillah the King stood at their head; The ranks were lines of writing on the page, And proudly stood behind the one who led. The dawn blinked at the whiteness shown between The rows of words that Ali once had seen.

They magnified the Lord in glorious tune; All heaven's angels blessed them for their sake. In faith their faces shone bright as the moon; In fear of God their limbs began to quake. Their necks were bowed in humble adulation. Like the crescent moon they folded in prostration.

Haidar's scions, Muhammad's noble kin, Eighteen brave young men stood in one place; All peerless, righteous, humble, free of sin, The friends of the Imam in wisdom's grace. Theirs the praise of God in all directions. Theirs the beads that told their benedictions.

They stood, then bowed; their prayers flew to the sky; To the One Existing Lord they showed devotion. Prostrate upon the ground, their time passed by; Their hands, their arms, their feet betrayed no motion. But of their own dire plight. they made no word. They prayed beneath the shadow of the sword.

They raised their heads and pointed to the air; The gates of heaven received their adulation. Their hands, the pinions of the bird of prayer, To the trembling sky sped on their supplication. In humble pose they fell upon the ground; In Gabriel's domain their words passed round.

The prayer of the King of Men was now complete; His thirsty friends came forth to shake his hand. One kissed his cheek, another touched his feet; What stalwart spirits had this hungry band! His soldiers pledged their faith with every breath; Embracing on the feast-day of their death.

Here one fell upon the ground in thanks; Here the Quran was read in doleful strains. Praise of the Prophet echoed in their ranks; Here power to the Almighty 'mid their pains. Husain cried out: 'Have pity on our plight; On us who thirst and hunger in our flight!'

Here sad laments and pleading supplication; But there oppression, cruelty, wicked deeds. Umar, son of Sa'ad cried, 'Keep your station! Watch the river, guard the banks and meads ! Husain is without water for two days. Let him not drink a drop until he pays.'

The Celestial King gave orders from his place, When arrows suddenly began to fall. Towards the evil foe he turned his face. Weighing his sword Abbas obeyed his call. Like moths around the torch of the Imam, They rallied to protect Husain from harm.

To Ali Akbar he made this behest: 'On treachery our evil foe is bent. Life of my soul, go where the women rest, And lead them from the forecourt to the tent. Through negligence let no child come to grief; For Asghar's neck is the target of the thief '

The Sky-Throned King had thus addressed his son, When Fazza cried from the porch: 'Behold our plight! Oh Lord, now where may Ali's daughters run? The children have been crying through the night. Suffocated by the heat they weep, But now in the morning breeze they go to

Baqir rests, Sakina is in a swoon; This feverish heat our babies has oppressed. In tears they sleep, their faces like the moon, Weak from hunger. Where to give them rest? Theirs is no fault. Why do these arrows rain? They seek the coolness of the breeze in vain.'

Hearing her voice, the Heavenly Lord arose; 'Neath shields his comrades took him to the porch. He cried: 'We part for battle with our foes. Prepare the horses. Light our righteous torch! May our hearts rejoice in Paradise today; Make haste to force this issue in the fray.

With these brave words, the King of Land and Sea Went over to the women. In the ranks His men prepared. Abbas, renowned and free, Paced to and fro, a lion with armoured flanks. The lightning of his face flashed on the sand; His shield aloft, his sword gripped in his hand.

Solomon's crown was humbled by his helm; The wings of Huma were envious of its plumes. His gauntlets would fair Victory overwhelm; God save us from his anger when it looms! When a brother wards off tyranny and wrong, Will not his brother's heart feel safe and strong?

The King beheld the womens piteous state; Their hair hung loose, their faces pale and white. Zainab made a prayer: 'Oh God Most Great! Save Fatima's darling in this awful fight. May Bano's crop be green and fresh with sap; And may she nurse new offspring in her lap.

At Karbala the traveller is undone! An assault upon a Sayyid, loved by all! In foreign lands can battle e'er be won? Have mercy on these babes so frail and small. They die of hunger; thirst has plunged its sword. They are Your Holy Prophet's family, Lord!

Neither Ali nor the Prophet has been kept To lead this house so cruelly laid to waste; For Fatima we mourned, for Hasan wept; Husain alone remains in kingship placed. Have mercy! Spare the Refuge of our band! Our company is lost without his hand.'

Drawing near, the Lord of Heaven spoke: 'Be not thou troubled. All thy prayers are heard. Our cursed foe all faith and pledges broke, And now they will learn justice at my word. This is no time, my sister, for thy tears. Bring forth the holy relics. Cease thy fears.'

Zainab brought the clothes the Prophet wore When he went to Heaven on that night. Husain put on his turban, and once more He donned the cloak to which he had the right. Those holy garments fitted perfectly; The scarf of Fatima, his legacy.

The glorious turban-flaps hung down unfurled; Like jasmine-perfumed locks they graced his race, And on his shoulders rested black and curled. Cathay and far Khotan renounced their place. Musk and ambergris could not compare With the scented spikenard twisting in his hair.

The Prophet's fragrance wafted from his train. No bridegroom knew such perfume from a bride. Haidar, Fatima, Hasan, Husain. The scent of the Holy Five on every side Was squandered on the vale; the swaying flowers! In Paradise Rizwan rocked in its showers.

The King of Time had donned this fine array; His sister, blessing him, began to weep: 'Ah Haidar, Hasan! Where are you today? We roam abroad; where does our mother sleep? My sweetest Joseph now from us will part; I die; ah, may the Prophet bless his heart!'

The box of arms was opened by the King; Zainab, chaste and holy, beat her breast. The armour wrought in heaven began to sing The prayers inscribed upon the Leader's chest. The beauty of its jewels shone out afar And every link was like a gleaming star.

When Zulfiqar, the mighty sword, appeared, The King of Heaven kissed its hilt with love. He weighed it in his hand, and Glory cheered: 'I bow to thy magnificence above. May victory be thy lot, may triumph flow, And may thy strike fall squarely on thy foe!'

He fixed the sword that he alone could wield; The crescent moon grew frantic in the sky; Up to his shoulder mounted Hamza's shield, Whose dignity increased when raised on high. The mark of Prophethood was its proud gain From being on the shoulder of Husain.

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