“Rudyard Kipling on the Shi’a Muslim Festival of Ashoura”


(Rudyard Kipling)

The famous British poet and author Rudyard Kipling, who lived in Lahore (now located in modern day Pakistan) in the 1880’s, watched many of the Shia Muslims biggest festival of the year, the festival of Ashoura. Kipling wrote about them in his gazettes. These observations formed the basis of his 1888 short story “On the City Wall“, which was set during one Ashoura. He captured the spirit of the feast and the religious passions that it could unleash in the following words:  

“All the processions – there were two-and-twenty of them – were now well within the city walls. The drums were beating afresh, the crowd were howling ‘Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!’ and beating their breasts, the brass bands were playing their loudest, and at every corner where space allowed, Mohammedan preachers were telling the lamentable story of the death of the Martyrs. It was impossible to move except with the crowd, for the streets were not more than twenty feet wide … As the first tazia,  a gorgeous erection, ten feet high, was borne aloft on the shoulders of a score of stout men into the semi-darkness of of the gully of the horseman, a brickbat crashed through its talc and tinsel sides … Then, without any warning, broke the storm … the tazias rocked like a ships at sea, the long pole-torches dipped and rose around them … the fight became general. Half a mile away where the tazias were yet untouched the drums and the shrieks of ‘Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!’ continued, but not for long.”

-Rudyard Kipling 


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