Spread across Hyderabad, there are several ashoorkhanas that turn into pilgrimage sites during Muharram. An oldest alam on display near Mir Alam Mandi and belongs to a family which traces lineage to the Sayyid Brothers of the Mughal Empire.
Hyderabad’s oldest Ashoorkhana is the one on top of the Maula Ali hillock built in 1578.
It’s most resplendent Ashoorkhana is the Badshahi Ashoorkhana with brilliant tilework built in 1591, and the annual procession on the tenth day of Muharram from Bibi ka Alawa in Dabeerpura built in 1784 is the most moving one.
But beyond these three Ashoorkhanas and the alams that are displayed during Muharram, Hyderabad has a long intimate association with the battle standards that are part of the Muharram observances. “This is the alam my grandfather planted on the edge of the Musi River during tughiyani (great flood of September 28, 1908) and the water passed 10 feet from it,” informs Talib Ali, about one of the alams installed at his home in the Langar Houz area.
The door has the name of Late Mir Iqtadar Ali, inside there are 32 alams, some with their missing pairs. “During partition some of our relatives went away to Lahore in Pakistan and so we have one instead of the pairs that were created by our ancestors,” informed Shoeb Ali in another house in Langar Houz.
Inside Aun Mehdi’s palatial house in Langar Houz are the alams that once used to be belong to his ancestor Prime Minister Mir Alam. The alams carry a tale of strife as the Shirdals that were part of the alams are now replaced by a non-figurative geometrical pattern.
“Scattered across the city, there are many ashoorkhanas. While many think there is only on Badshahi Ashoorkhana there are in fact two. There are two Hussaini Alams. This is one of them,” says Mubbashir Ali Khan as he opens a small doorway in the Chota Bazaar area of Golconda. Under a low-roofed arch are the alams whose replicas are now housed in the Hussaini Alam Ashoorkhana. The alams share space with a disused scooter in what used to be part of the Naumahalla complex in Golconda Fort.
On the other side of the Musi River are Ashoorkhanas whose construction style shows European influence in the arches and decorations on arches. A lane through which only a single person can pass leads to the Ashoorkhana that used to be part of Mahlaqa Bai Chanda’s devdi near the complex where nobility like Mir Momin used to live in a different era. The Ashoorkhana has a miniature masjid similar to the one near the foothill of Maula Ali hillock. As children wander about, men and women come and offer flowers reverentially touch or kiss the alam and move on.
The buzz on the street in Hyderabad is about the 38-year-old elephant Madhuri brought from Kolhapur will be used for the ceremonial procession of alams on the 10th day of Muharram on August 20. But till then, old city comes alive with marsiyas, nohas at majlis being marked at homes and ashoorkhanas.