ḤEJLA, a bridal chamber (ḥejla-ye ʿarusi) built generally in the shape of a curtained canopy by a ḥejla-sāz (Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, s.v.). A small portable ḥejla is used to commemorate the death of a young bachelor and has been connected to the legend of the betrothal of Qāsem b. Ḥasan to Imam Ḥosayn’s daughter Zobayda (also called Faṭema Kobrā) at Karbalā, just before his martyrdom. Such ḥejlas could be carried on the head by a man, with a small child sitting upon it. This kind of ḥejla (also called ṭabaq), richly adorned with mirrors, feathers, lamps, flowers, and curtains, was used in processions at Qom until the late 1950s (Faqihi, p. 279, with illustration).
An early form of these ḥejlas was seen by Olearius at Šamāḵi in March 1637, during the festival of Ḡadir Ḵomm (q.v.; see Calmard, pp. 154 f., 183). This larger kind of ḥejla (also called ḥejla-gāh), shaped as a tabernacle or cenotaph, was carried in the procession by four men. A young man, lying before the cenotaph, was the “impersonator” (šabih) of Qāsem’s corpse (Faqihi, p. 280). Many adorned coffins and cenotaphs were seen by European travelers in Safavid Persia, from the mid-16th century onwards, usually involving much mimicry and simulation of corpses.
Although Qāsem and his bride were most probably represented by young boys during such rituals, no clear identification has been provided (see Calmard, pp. 156 ff.; Tableau, pp. 178 ff.). Qāsem’s marriage during Mo-ḥarram commemorations, reported by W. Francklin at Shiraz (1786-87), has been considered as the turning point when rituals evolved into ritual drama (Chelkowski, p. 258). Audiences in Qājār times were seen becoming totally absorbed by the display of Qāsem’s tragic fate, produced by his love, courage, defeat, and sorrow, and with the ḥejla a part of the scenography (best described by Berezin, pp. 320 ff.). The Shiʿite ulama have correctly considered Qāsem’s marriage at Karbalā as a tale with no basis in history (Faqihi, p. 280). Its representation nonetheless remained very popular.
The “Bridegroom of Karbalā” was celebrated with much ceremony and pageantry in India. With the shouts “Dulha, Dulha!” (Bridegroom, Bridegroom!) the Indian equivalent to the ḥejla, called “mayndhi” (or mendhi), of Ḥażrat Qāsem was carried in procession on the 7th of Moḥarram (Hollister, pp. 169 ff.). Qāsem’s banner (see ʿALAM) was carried by a man on horseback (Šarif, p. 161). The ceremonies performed on Mayndhi night could sometimes resemble the solemnization of an actual wedding, with money being distributed to the populace (Mrs Meer Hassan Ali’s Observations, p. 46). This spectacular Mayndhi procession continued to be held at Hyderabad in the Deccan until very recently, during which Qāsem’s bannerwas adorned like a bridegroom (Pinault, pp.132 ff.).
I. N. Berezin, Puteshestvie po sever-noĭ Persii (Travel in Northern Persia), Kazan, 1852.
J. Calmard, “Shiʿi Rituals and Power, II. The Consolidation of Safavid Shiʿism: Folklore and Popular Religion,” in C. Melville, ed., Safavid Persia, London, 1996, pp. 139-90.
P. J. Chelkowski, ed., Taʿziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran, New York, 1979.
ʿA. A. Faqihi, Tāriḵ-e maḏhabi-e Qom I, Qom, 1350 Š./1971.
J. N. Hollister, The Shiʿa of India, London, 1953.
Ṣ. Homā-yuni, Farhang-e mardom-e Sarvestān, Tehran, 1348-49 Š./1969-70, pp. 402 f. (with illustration).
Mrs Meer Hassan Ali,Observations on the Mussalmauns of India, revised ed. by W. Crooke, repr., Karachi, 1978.
D. Pinault, TheShiites. Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community, London, 1992.
Jaʿfar Šarif, Islam in India or the Qanun-i-Islam, ed. and tr. G. A. Herklots, revised ed. by W. Crooke, New Delhi, 1972.
Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 22, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XII, Fasc. 2, pp. 143-144