The King’s Court

The marthiya, like drama, is a composite art. It consists not only of composition, it is also performance. The poet's art of poetry, the reciter's art of presentation (the reciter may be the poet himself, or someone else, but reciting the marthiya is an art in its own right), attuned to the devotional spirit animating the congregation and the solemnity of the place and the occasion, cumulatively produce the desired effect and fulfil the marthiya. The Imam Bargah is the King's Court, the court of Shah‑i Kar­bala'. All the pervading influence and the presiding presence is the Lady of Light, Fatima Zahra, the mother of the Imam Husayn. The Prophet and the Family and the angels of God are here‑all sharing and watching. The majlis is the Darbar‑i `Amm, the King's audience of the populace. And for every gesture and every movement, the proper etiquette is described, to which it must conform. The poet is the court poet, the bard. The reciter is the court herald. His performance is neither sing‑song recitation, nor histrionic representation of the stage, nor rhapsodical abandon. Such things would be too vulgar. And yet the reciter has to present the whole variety of situations, from the holiest and the purest to the most execrable, and lead his audience through the whole gamut of human moods from highest exaltation to deepest pain, and through the whole range of emotions, love and devotion, joy and pride, hatred and anger. He has to give full weight and value to every word of the poet‑and he does that just with a restrained movement of his hand, eyebrows, the expression of his face, a change of tone or accent, with an undertone of reverence throughout, controlled by a sense of solemnity. Until he brings the congregation to the appointed tryst, the sacred conclave of grief where full vent is given to the pent‑up pathos, and tears are turned into screams. No trace of despair or depression is left. There has been a washing of the heart and the soul. The sinner feels so light. A sort of communion has been established between him and those who sacrificed their all for men, and whom God has invested with authority, and out of this communion springs eternally the hope and certainty of redemption and felicity, a catharsis of a deeply mystical quality.