The Shiites pp 79-82 | Cite as

Shiite Shrines of the Old City

  • David Pinault


The city of Hyderabad in southern India, in what is today the state of Andhra Pradesh, has for centuries been one of the major Shiite population centers in the subcontinent. This Shiite presence can be traced back (as I noted in part I) to the Deccani Bahmani kingdom and the sixteenth-century founding of Hyderabad by the Shiite Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golconda. But even under the Asaf Jahis, Sunni successors to the Qutb Shahis, ministers of state gave public support to the great Shiite shrines in the city and patronized the religious liturgies held in connection with Muharram.1 Hyderabad, once the capital of an independent princely Native State in the time of the British Raj, dwindled in power after absorption into post-independence India in 1948; but even today it remains one of the best localities in India for observing Shiite rituals surrounding Muharram. Despite this, relatively little has been written on the subject of Muharram in Hyderabad and still less on the Shiite men’s guilds of Hyderabad.2 In Hyderabad the men’s associations are identified by the terms matami guruh (“lamentation guild,” plural matami guruhan) or anjuman (“association”). While residing in this city during the Muharram seasons of 1989 and 1991, I became acquainted with members of six guruhan; this led me to investigate how they help arrange the liturgies and rituals culminating in Ashura. Since in what follows I make some distinction among the types of worship found in various localities in Hyderabad, I will begin by discussing briefly the Shiite neighborhoods of the city. I then describe the ashurkhanas or shrines where liturgies are celebrated and thereafter focus on the men’s associations themselves and their function in the observance of Muharram in Hyderabad.


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  1. 1.
    For the Qutb Shahis and the early history of Hyderabad, see John N. Hollister, Islam and Shia’s Faith in India (New Delhi: Taj Publications, 1989), 120–125; Akbar S. Ahmed, “Muslim Society in South India: the Case of Hyderabad,” in Hyderabad: After the Fall, Omar Khalidi, ed. (Wichita: Hyderabad Historical Society, 1988), 173–187, offers a useful summary of early Hyderabadi history. For state patronage of Muharram ceremonies under the Asaf Jahi Nizams, see Hollister, op. cit., 169–171, and Census of India 1971, Series 2, Andhra Pradesh: A Monograph on Muharram in Hyderabad City, ed. T. Vedantam (Delhi: Government of India Press, 1977), 12–13.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Census of India, 50–53, has a brief discussion of Shiite men’s associations in Hyderabad; and the Rev. D. T. Lindell’s article “Muharram in Hyderabad” in al-Basheer: the Bulletin of the Christian Institute of Islamic Studies 3, no. 1 (Hyderabad, Jan.–Mar. 1974), 24, refers in passing to “associations of young men, each group identified by its own banner, who perform a special kind of matam” Ja’far Sharif, Islam in India or the Qanun-i-Islam, G. A. Herklots, trans. (London: Curzon Press reprint, 1972), 151–185 passim, cites Hyderabad occasionally in his description of Muharram in India. A useful description of the most prominent places of worship and relics associated with Muharram in Hyderabad is given by Sadiq Naqvi, Qutb Shahi ‘Ashurkhanas of Hyderabad City (Hyderabad: Bab-ul-Ilm Society, 1987), 1–78.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Naqvi, op. cit., 19–56.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Nadeem Hasnain and Abrar Husain, Shias and Shia Islam in India (Delhi: Hamam Publications, 1988), 146–148.Google Scholar

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© David Pinault 1992

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  • David Pinault

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