The Shia Muslim community in Hyderabad is all set for the annual processions to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, a grandson of Prophet Mohammed, at Karbala, on the 10th day of Muharram –the first month of the Islamic calendar. The tradition to bring out the processions in Hyderabad is as old as the over four-century-old city itself.
While an 11-km long procession will take off with Alam from Ashoorkhana Nal-e-Mubarak in Pathergatti near Charminar Monday night, another procession from Ashoorkhana Bargah-e-Hazrat-e-Abbaz in Diwan Devdi, also near Charminar, will commence early Tuesday morning. At the culmination of this procession and after special prayers, the main 9-km-long procession with Bibi-ka-Alam carried on an elephant will start from Ashoorkhana Bibi-ka-Alawa around 1pm and end at Masjid-e-Ilahi in Chaderghat. Lakhs of faithful take part in the procession which is also characterised by self-flagellation or ‘khooni matam’ to remember the sacrifice of Imam Husayn.
There are about four lakh Shia Muslims in Hyderabad. According to the Shias, Imam Husayn, who stood up against Yazid, a self-proclaimed caliph, was travelling to Kufa with his 72 family members and supporters when he was stopped at Karbala. After three days of no water or food, the Imam was martyred in the battle on the 10th day of Muharram.
“Remembering this injustice meted out to Imam Husayn, we set up water camps (sabeel) all across the old city during the month to serve food and water. In the evenings, we conduct ‘majalis-e-aza’ (mourning congregations) at all Ashoorkhana,” says Syed Ali Jaffery, secretary of Shia Companions Organisation.
“Around two lakh people participate and flagellate themselves during the procession to remember the sacrifice of Imam Husayn and show that if they had been in Karbala, they would have also been fighting against tyrant ruler Yazid,” he notes.
An Ashoorkhana is a place of mourning for them to observe the Imam’s martyrdom. There are close to a hundred and fifty such places of mourning in Hyderabad, many of them three to four centuries old, and 11,834 Wakf-notified big and small Ashoorkhanas in Telangana. An Alam refers to a sacred battle standard made of metal with intricate engravings placed at the Ashoorkhana.
According to Syed Abbas Moosvi, the ‘mutawalli’ (custodian) of Badshahi Ashoorkhana, one of the oldest in the city, has been observing 68 days of annual mourning during Muharram and Safar for over 400 years. “We were the only city in the world other than Karbala in Iraq to take out a mourning procession in the middle of the pandemic in 2020,” he says. The Badshahi Ashoorkhana was built in 1594, three years after Charminar.
The Bibi-ka-Alam was installed by Hayat Bakshi Begum in Golconda over four centuries ago. She was the daughter of Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad and the fifth Sultan of the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golconda. Later, during the rule of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, the Alam-e-Mubarak was moved from Golconda to Ashoorkhana Bibi-ka-Alawa in the old city by sixth Nizam Mir Mahabub Ali Khan, while seventh Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan donated priceless diamonds that are placed in pouches on the Alam during the procession.
“Bibi-ka-Alam is a standard in the name of Bibi Fatima Zehra, the daughter of the holy Prophet, and inside the Alam, there is a piece of wooden plank on which Bibi Fatima was given her final shower. That piece came from Madina to Iraq to Iran to Adil Shah of Bijapur and then the Qutb Shahi rulers of Hyderabad Deccan about 600 years ago,” says Syed Ali Jaffery, speaking on the historic significance of Alam.
Similarly, he adds, the Alam at Ashoorkhana Nal-e-Mubarak in Pathergatti carries a piece of the war helmet of Imam Husayn from Karbala and the Alam at Ashoorkhana Bargah-e-Hazrat-e-Abbaz carries a piece of the metal war jacket of Imam Husayn. Interestingly, the procession has been state-funded from the times of Qutb Shahi rulers to Asaf Jahi rulers and during the times of the erstwhile government of Andhra Pradesh and now the government of Telangana. The elephant for Tuesday’s procession, Madhuri, was brought to Hyderabad from Kolhapur in Maharashtra after the state government passed a special government order.
Syed Hamed Hussain Jaffery, the president of the Telangana Shia Conference, says people of all communities regardless of their faiths have been taking part in prayers and mourning processions for centuries. The Imam’s martyrdom is commemorated as ‘Peerla Panduga’ across Telangana by Hindus and Muslims. “As per our data, mourning processions are held in 31 districts of Telangana and 12 districts of Andhra Pradesh where we have a sizable Shia population. It signifies the tradition of communal harmony that has been followed since the Qutb Shahi era,” adds Syed Hamed Hussain Jaffery.
“The corruption and attacks on the basic tenets of Islam continue today just as they did during Imam Husayn’s time,” says Moosvi, who is also state president of Ashoorkhana mutawalli’s association. “This is why mourning during Muharram is all the more relevant today to bring Muslims closer to Islam,” he concludes.