Living Hyderabad History & Culture

A time to remember

The crescent moon of Muharram marks the beginning of New Year in Hijri calendar followed by Muslims. In Hyderabad, which was founded at the beginning of the Islamic millennium of 1/1/1000 which would be October 19 1591, Muharram is the time to remember the Battle of Karbala where 72 people held off the might of the Ummayad Caliph Yezid before being slaughtered.

Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad, identified himself as a Shia and turned Muharram into a state symbol of piety and mourning. Though Charminar and the Charkaman archways are well known as having been built to by Muhammad Quli, a much more stunning example of the king’s contribution to the city is the Ashoorkhana called Badshahi Ashoorkhana near Madina area of the city.

A time to remember

Ashoora or tenth day of Muharram is when the key battle of Karbala took place. People wearing black robes, vegetarianism, fasting and recitation of marsiahs (elegies) show a slice of faith in precincts around Purani Haveli, Hussaini Alam and Dabeerpura during the month. But when it was built, the Badshahi Ashoorkhana was the hub of mourning for the Shia community.

The number of mules and horses bringing toddy from the surrounding areas of the city were turned away. Even chewing of paan was prohibited. Muhammad Quli who was known for his love of good life shunned even wine. In the evening, he would walk barefoot to the Ashoorkhana and light 10,000 lamps on each day. On the tenth day of Muharram, one lakh lamps would be lit around the Ashoorkhana creating a magical twilight.

According to chroniclers, the lamps would be installed in the niches in the walls around the complex. Sadly, only a few arched niches survive to this day. How they might have looked can be guessed from the existing ones at the Ashoorkhana near Hayat Bakshi Begum Masjid in Hayatnagar.

Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad, also known as Aurangzeb, conquered Hyderabad and renamed the city Dar-ul-Jihad (‘House of war’) but during one of his walks in the city he asked why the streets were not lit. He was told that it would be easier to build another city rather than lighting up the existing city.

No celebrations
  • Chennai celebrated Madras Day on August 22 to mark its founding 378 years ago. Kolkata marks it birth on August 24, 1690. But Hyderabad which is much older than either of the two cities remains immune to the celebration of its founding though the millennium album in British Museum links it to the grand celebration of second millennium of Hijri calendar.

The niches are gone and the oil lamps have been replaced with electric lights, but the magical western wall remains intact to a fair degree.

The aubergine, blue, green, yellow, black and white tiles are a success story of mastery over chemistry. Built in 1611, the western wall’s haft rang tiles were created around the same time as the tiles of Imam Masjid in Isfahan and the tiles of Marium Us Zamani Begum in Lahore. Most of the tiles have survived while the chipped portions have been painted over to look like the original. Along with the vegetal patterns and geometrical lines, the tiles incorporate the tree of plenty theme which is a common occurrence in many temples in Hyderabad including that of Jham Singh Temple in Karwan and Sita Ram Bagh Temple near Goshamahal.

A time to remember

During one of his visits to the city, traveller and gem trader Jean Baptiste Tavernier wrote about walking into the Qutb Shahi tombs complex where carpets were laid out and whoever walked in was served pulao. A similar scene plays out at the Ashoorkhana during the observance of Muharram with visitors being served food irrespective of the religion or community from which they hail.

But for the faithful who walk in wearing black as they touch the alams installed at the Ashoorkhana, the faith remains the same as was experienced by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah 426 years ago.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 8:46:12 PM |

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