GRIEVING TOGETHER: How Muharram poetry creates liminality, allowing women to grieve

Date
2024
Authors
Jeraj, Alia
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Stirr, Anna
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Asian Studies
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Abstract
In this thesis I examine the role of poetry in allowing Indian Shi’a Ishnaa’ashri women to grieve in observation of Muharram. During these majalis (gatherings), Ishnaa’ashri women come together to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhamad. Within these rituals they weep and wail, loudly performing their grief as they listen to and recite poetry. I note that because of histories of state and religious suppression of women’s performances of grief, this ritual provides one of the few, if not only, spaces where women can loudly, physically grieve. Following performance theorists including Dell Hymes (1981), Richard Schechner (2004), Richard Bauman (1975), and Charles Briggs (1992; 1990), I examine the words and performances of the poetry through textual analysis and ethnographic research to demonstrate how they allow Shi’a Ishnaa’ashri women in northern India to perform grief in ways that are not allowed in other social contexts. Further, I argue that this poetry allows women to express their grief for things beyond the stated and conventionally-accepted reasons provided by Muharram. This argument provides a deeper understanding of the poetry recited during Muharram, and particularly of women’s roles in these rituals. It also sheds light on the potential power of rituals of grieving together by showing how the ritual space can create strengthen feelings of community, shared identity and memory, and solidarity.
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South Asian studies, Islamic studies, Grief, Muharram, Ritual, Shi'a Islam
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110 pages
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