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In search of Imambargahs in the Walled City of Lahore

 Recently, I and my friends had a chance to visit the Walled City of Lahore as we wished to take a look at city’s old Imambargahs.

So, as a part of our journey, we entered the small streets of the Walled City, leading to Mohallah Shia.

The area is known for its Imambargahs, Shia community and culture. One can find Nisar Haveli, Sajda Mubarak Haveli, Alif Shah, Babul Hawaij and Maatam Siraai and many more. Within these areas, a large number of Shia community members are living comfortably.

Inside Mubarak ‘haveli’ imambargah-photo by Abdullah Khan

The word Haveli is derived from the Arabic word “Havali” and Persian “Hawli”, meaning “a huge enclosed place”.

These havelis are known for the religious processions during the month of Muharram. If ever there were a Haveli that could be labelled among the oldest and the finest, without doubt one of those would be Haveli Mubarak. Just to highlight for our readers that exiled Afghan king Shah Shuja and his wife Begum Wafa lived in this haveli for years and during their stay Mahraja Ranjheet Singh trained them. During their stay at Haveli Mubarak, Begum Wafa handed over the Koh-e-Noor diamond to Mahraja Ranjheet Singh on June 1, 1813. In Persian, Koh-e-Noor diamond means “Mountain of Light”.

Inside the Nisar haveli ImamBargah. —Photo by Abdullah Khan

These above mentioned havelis are one of the most respected havelis in the Walled City as they hold Muharram and Safar processions. The processions from 7-10 are lead out of these Havelis. Within these havelis, we can see hundreds of mourners in Muharram and Safar

Even though Mubarak haveli and Nisar haveli lie adjacent to each other and were once owned by a single family, they are now under the ownership of two separate members of the same family.

Mubarak haveli was constructed by Nawab Ali Raza in 1863. Today, the haveli is looked after by Mr Mansoor Ali Qazalbash, his great grandson.

The passage way leading to the courtyard in Mubarak ‘haveli-Photography by Abdullah khan

Mr Qazalbash told us, “Nawab sahab had come from Azerbaijan to Lahore through Afghanistan and settled here. At that time, Mohalla Shia’an Kashmirian was already a predominantly Shia community, but gradually, this haveli attained the status of the main gathering place for all of them.”

In his ancestors’ times, there was an ardent ritual of frequent pilgrimages to Najaf, and some of his forefathers had breathed their last in Najaf.

In my search for another renowned imambargah, I discovered the Maatam Siraai Imambargah, where the custodian, Mr Jafar Ali Shah, received and greeted me. He told us that his forefathers were Syeds from Kashmir and had migrated to Lahore.

Maatam Siraai is 500 years old, which makes it the oldest imambargah in Lahore. Shia devotees coming from Kashmir to Najaf used to stay here on their way, thus giving it the name Maatam Siraai.

While in Mohallah Shia’an Kashmirian, I couldn’t help notice the cleanliness in the streets, which is an uncommon thing in the old city. I was told that it was made possible by the combined efforts of the local government and people, who wanted a clean area for Moharram gatherings.

Agha Zulfiqar, an elderly man of the area, told me, “Shias and Sunnis have always lived peacefully in this area”.

When I asked if there had been any change in that culture, he replied, “There has not been any change of the slightest kind. Shias and Sunnis attend majalis together. Sunnis used to bring the ta’zia and still do, as the martyrdom and sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain is revered by all.”

Security has never been an issue here, as all the people live in complete harmony. The streets are divided in the middle by a rope, one side for the men and the other for women mourners. Many imambargahs are managed by women, where women and children are the attendees of the majalis.

All majalis have a culture of cooking special dishes (Niaz) for Moharram. Shias and Sunnis alike make special dishes like saag biryani, daal chawalkoondayand zarda. Free food and fruits are also distributed among the mourners.

The art of making ta’zias and shabeehs, flourishes in the Sooa Bazaar during Muharram. The cost of a ta’zia ranges from as low as a few thousands to as high as a crore. ‘Zuljinna’, the horse, which symbolises the horse of Imam Hussain, is taken care of by well-to-do Shia families throughout the year.

As the ninth and tenth of Moharram approaches, these imambargahs receive Shias from all over Lahore and other places. They become the beacon of Shia spirituality; the guardians of Shia tradition, standing as a symbol of the unparalleled sacrifice and historic martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain.

It reverberates and resonates in the symbolic alamsshabeehs and sorrowful chants of the mourners.

This culture is the proud ownership of the people of Lahore. As important cultural and religious monuments, the imambargahs are in need of upkeep. The residents of the walled city would like to preserve them and need the government’s support for that.

This diversity, which is the hallmark of Lahore, should be upheld and promoted.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent ARY policies or opinion.