Muharram in 19th-Century India and Singapore

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Muharram festival (1830-1840, British Library Add.Or. 401)

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Painting, Singing, and Telling Muharram in 19th-century India and Singapore

Explore the Shia festival of Muharram and its many transformations under European colonialism in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

The commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain culminating in the processions of tazi‘ah or tomb effigies on Ashura, has undergone many transformations, perhaps none more substantive than those wrought on it under European colonialism in South and Southeast Asia. In such contexts, strategies of artistic (self) representation shed critical light on claims to authority within 19th-century Islamic practice. 

This paper will focus several examples of such representation: several examples of art works from India in the British Library collections; the ‘Muharram processional scroll’ painting from around 1840 Madras now in the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore; and the Syair Tabut, a 146-quatrain Malay narrative poem from 1864 Singapore, and read these instances of aesthetic presentation in the context of contested claims to authentic religiosity and indeed the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion as they saw fit. It will explore how such representations can be viewed when situated in the context of colonial-era contests over public space and access to it, as well as knowledge regimes that sought to produce detailed knowledge of colonial subjects and put such at the service of the state. 

David Lunn is the Simon Digby Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS, University of London. David received his PhD from SOAS in 2012. His research interests span the literary, cultural and intellectual history of South and, increasingly, Southeast Asia.

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Name: Muharram in 19th-Century India and Singapore
Where: Foyle Visitor and Learning Centre
The British Library
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London
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