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Role of Holy Shrines and Spiritual Arts in People’s Education about Imam Mahdi

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro
Head of Development Studies, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) Islamabad

Vol. 5, No. 2, 2015, Download PDF Version


The idea of education or educating the masses is a vital force in bringing change in any society of a country. In broader perspective education is considered as an essential instrument in transforming the very basis of society in terms of creating opportunities, and awareness among the people. This paper is the first-ever exploration of a unique way that helps people’s education about Mahdism faith, and its requirements. That is, construction of Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubarak (a replica of Imam Husain’s shrine of Imam Hussain a.s. Imam Ali a.s and other Aemma a.s) in Khairpur and Hyderabad districts of Sindh, Pakistan. The study uses multiple research methods to collect the data which include review of unpublished data and literature, and photography of the holy shrines and places of spiritual importance. Besides these tools, a questionnaire is administered to collect key information regarding the perceptions, practices and outcomes of the visitors (zaireen) of these holy places where any Zareeh or Shabeeh has been constructed. The study explores how the visitors receive any explicit or implicit education about the 12th Imam ajj. when they visit these places. The study also explains how a Zareeh or Shabeeh or other holy place also acted as institute where a series of lectures and training were provided to both Shias and Sunnis to understand the message of Imams of Ahlebaiyt a.s. and how this serves as formal and informal training center. It is also traced that construction of one Zareeh and Shabeeh resulted in the creation of many such Zareehs and Shabeehs through Zaireen (visitors).

Keywords: Mahdism,  Holy Shrines, Spiritual Arts, Zareeh , Shabeeh , Education 

Fig.1 Shabeeh (replica) of Imam Hussain’s a.s shrine at Hyderabad,Sindh
Fig. 1 Shabeeh (replica) of Imam Hussain’s a.s shrine at
Hyderabad, Sindh

Introduction

Sindh is a host to a number of religious buildings. Almost every important town and village has holy shrines associated with both Shias and Sunnis. They are frequented by people on a number of occasions to seek the blessings and pray for their wishes being fulfilled. This paper investigates the role of holy shrines to educate people about Imam Mahdi a.s. This research is based on my fieldwork which I conducted in the months of October and November 2014. However, I have been doing research on these holy shrines associated with Shia faith since 2008. Anthropological research tools were used to get information from the respondents regarding the perception, rituals and outcomes of the visitors to the Zareerh and Shabeeh Mubarak (holy shrines) in the districts of Khairpur and Hyderabad. Zareeh and Shabeeh are replica of the holy shrines of Imam Ali a.s, Imam Hussain a.s and other Imams a.s. Prior to discussing the role of these Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak in educating people about the Twelve Imams a.s, It is necessary to have an insight into the historical development of these Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubaraks in Sindh. The first Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak (replica of Imam Husain’s shrine at Karbala) was constructed at Tando Agha in Hyderabad. It is believed to have been constructed by Mir Fateh Ali Khan Talpur in 1785. Mir Fateh Ali Khan Talpur was the founder of the Talpur dynasty, a dynasty which followed the Shia faith. Another Zareeh Mubarak was constructed at Tando Noor Muhammad in Hyderabad. Apart from these, Shabeeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain’s a.s shrine was made at Tando Mir Muhammad in Hyderabad which was made of wood (Fig.1). However, Shabeehs at Tando Agha and Tando Noor Muhammad were made of gold which were provided by the Talpur rulers of Sindh (Hami 1994: 126). The Talpur rulers of Sindh constructed Zareehs and Shabeehs for the poor people who could not visit the holy shrines of Imam Hussain at Karbala, Imam Ali at Najaf and Imam Ali Reza at Mashhad. Few People started visiting these shrines at the beginning. But within a few years this number increased to a great extent and few more Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak were constructed by Talpur rulers in other towns of Sindh. These replicas of the holy shrines of Imams a.s served two purposes at the beginning. The first, these acted as symbolic representations of the original shrines at Karbala, Najaf and Mashhad where people came to visit daily and the second religious lectures were arranged regularly to educate the people about the religion. Therefore, these Zareehs served both functions of shrines and to some extent of madrasa. This continued up to 1980. After this, a new trend was taking place when Zareehs, Shabeehs and madrasa were separately built. Earlier as discussed above Zareehs served both purposes of holy shrines and madrasas. This does not mean that special lecture series ceased in these Zareehs. A new style of architecture emerged. Earlier a square building mainly comprising two square rooms were built over the Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak. In the first room there was a Zareeh and Shabeeh and the second contained the valuable gifts given by the Talpur rulers to Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak which were displayed on special occasions of Muharram or on the visit by the foreign guests. These square buildings were replaced by rectangular buildings in which more rooms were added. One such rectangular building over a Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain a.s. was constructed at Khairpur (Fig.2 & 3). This Shabeeh Mubarak was constructed by the last ruler of Khairpur State. It is believed to have first built in 1953 and later renovated by the same ruler in 1970 (Hami 1994:242).

Fig.2 An impressive building over Shabeeh and Zareeh of Imam Hussain at Khairpur, Sindh
Fig. 2 An impressive building over Shabeeh and Zareeh of Imam Hussain at Khairpur, Sindh
Fig.3 A devote at the Shabeeh of Imam Hussain in Khairpur, Sindh
Fig. 3 A devote at the Shabeeh of Imam Hussain in Khairpur, Sindh

Holy Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain’s a.s Shrine at Khairpur    

This replica of Imam Hussain’s shrine is a rectangular building which was constructed by the last Talpur ruler of Khairpur state. There are three elegant porticoes to enter into the building. The main gate which opens to the west is named after Imam Ali (Fig.4). A beautiful wooden painted gate, known as Imam Hussain Gate, opens to the Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain. This is the Shabeeh (replica) of Imam Hussain’s a.s shrine at Karbala. Near the Shabeeh Mubarak is located a hall where sermons and lectures are delivered to the faithful.

Fig.4 Imam Ali Gate of Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain at Khairpur
Fig. 4 Imam Ali Gate of Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain at
Khairpur

According to the royal family of Talpurs of Khairpur, Mir Murad Ali Talpur, the last ruler of Khairpur State sent two of his masons to Karbala in 1953 to visit the holy shrine and imitate it at Khairpur. It is believed that when they came back after pilgrimage from Karbla, they began constructing the building in the same year. The building and replica was made by these two masons. The façade of the building is flanked by two minarets resembling with the holy shrine of Imam Hussain.

Many people visit Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak daily. Some people come from Khairpur and neighbhouring villages and towns and the others come from far-flung villages and towns of different districts of Sindh. This Shabeeh and Zareeh are greatly venerated by people. They believe that their visit to this holy place redress their everyday problem. This belief increased their visits to the holy place of Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubarak. Most of the people bring their ailing children to the holy place of Zareeh Mubarak which they believe that their children will heal quickly as soon as they touch the replica of Imam Husain’s shrine. Not only the parents of ailing children visit the holy place, but those parents who wish for children also visit the Zareeh Mubarak. The main rituals performed at the holy place of Zareeh Mubarak are the prayers (namaz) Manat (wish). In order to their wishes being fulfilled by Imam Hussain a.s, devotees knot the threads at his Zareeh Mubarak. Apart from these rituals, or the ritual of Areezon is also performed on the auspicious day of 15th Sha’ban. On this day people write Areezon (pleas or requests) to Imam Mahdi a.s and leave their pleas written on the paper near the replica of Imam Hussain’s shrine.

The timings of Ziarat of Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubarak are from 8:00 a.m to 5:00 pm. usually, there is a lecture in the evening on different aspects of religion. Both Shias and Sunnis attend these lectures. On every Thursday and Friday evenings, especial lectures are arranged on the Twelve Imams a.s for which religious scholar is always invited to give a talk on the lives of the Twelve Imams a.s. The basic idea behind these lectures is to educate the people who do not know much about their religion. In this age of globalization, many people are more prone to entertainment programmes on the electronic media. In order to create awareness among the people, the caretakers of Shabeeh and Zareeh hold lectures on different aspects of religion.

The lecture series has left a positive impact on both sects Shias and Sunnis. The first important thing is the tolerance. Both tolerate each other and share the same space discussing the host of issues on the Twelve Imams a.s. Interestingly, some people who are poets have composed poetry on the twelve Imams a.s. This is unpublished literature that a very few people are familiar with. In the past during the reign of the Talpurs these Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubaraks provided a space to the poets who after attending the series of lectures which were then arranged by the royal family of the Talpurs, composed poetry on the Imams a.s. Themes of this poetry were Imam Husain a.s and Karbala, Imam Ali a.s and his bravery, and Imam Mahdi a.s and his appearance.

This tradition still continues but is not organized or systematic as it was during the reign of the Talpurs and even in the British period. The poetry on the Imams a.s is still being composed. These holy places of Zareeh and Shabeeh play dual roles, 1) it provides a space to the visitors for Ziarat and 2) and at the same time, it educates people about the religion which is peculiarly of holy spaces in Sindh only. Normally, this only takes place in the Madrasa where religious education is imparted to the students but it also being taught through a series of lectures at the holy places of Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak in different towns of Sindh.

Explicit and implicit Education about Imam Mahdi a.s at Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak

Those who visit the Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak of Khairpur and Hyderabad also get educated about Imam Mahdi a.s. Usually people go to the caretaker of the Zareeh and Shabeeh (shrine) who is also a very knowledgeable person. If anyone interested to know more about Imam Mahdi a.s, he/she is educated about Imam Mahdi a.s. Moreover, interested people are given booklets to read them. He/she is also told about the lecture series on the twelfth Imam a.s which is arranged by the caretaker of Zareeh Mubarak. The basic idea of arranging lectures on religion especially on the Twelfth Imam is to educate the young generation who are more prone to entertainment like movies etc. The audience comprises both Sunnis and Shias. Another idea is also to educate the Sunnis who do not know much about Imam Mahdi a.s. Every Sunni visiting the Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak has a very inadequate knowledge about Imam Mahdi a.s. In a religiously tolerant society of Sindh both Shias and Sunnis attend the lectures together. Therefore, holy spaces act as both a shrine and an institute. This identity of the shrine as institute led to a growth of many small and large Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubaraks in different towns of Sindh. However, a large number of Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubaraks were constructed in Khairpur, Sukkur and Hyderabad districts. These replicas of holy shrines educate people about Ahlebaiyt a.s. Moreover, people also get an education about Imam Madhi as at various shrines of sacred prints of Imam Ali a.s (Qadimgah Imam Ali a.s). The prominent Qadamgah Imam Ali a.s is located at Hyderabad. These footprints were brought from Iran to Hyderabad during the reign of Mir Fateh Ali Khan Talpur who was a friend of Fateh Ali Qajar of Iran. According to family history of the Talpurs, sacred foot prints of Imam Ali a.s was given by the Iranian King to Mir Fateh Ali Talpur (1783-1795). Mir Fateh Ali Talpur kept them at Hyderabad and built an impressive building over them.

The ruler built a special room inside Pakka Qilla (fort) for these holy foot prints beside a mosque for Ziyarat. After namaz (prayers) on Thursday night the women of the Talpur family used to worship these footprints. The common people had no chance to see them except on Eid of Noroz .

The last ruler of the Talpur dynasty in Sindh Mir Naseer Khan Talpur (1829-1843), on the request of the people, built a shrine of footprints of Imam Ali a.s and kept these stones in it, where people could see them. This shrine was open for the general public. Before the partition of Indo-Pak, this place was known as “Shah ja Qadam” (footprints of Shah) but with the   passage of time it became known as “Qadamgah Imam Ali a.s”.

The visitors and devotees come not only from Pakistan but from India, Afghanistan and many other countries, for paying tribute to the hero of Islam. All the devotees come to pray and to seek their heartily wishes. Their wishes are based on their devoted beliefs about Qadamgah (Fig.5 & 6).

Fig.5 View of under construction shrine of footprints of Imam Ali at Hyderabad
Fig. 5 View of under construction shrine of footprints of Imam Ali at Hyderabad
Fig.6 Interior view of Qadamgah (footprints) Imam Ali at Hyderabad
Fig. 6 Interior view of Qadamgah (footprints) Imam Ali at Hyderabad

There are many sacred places at Qadamgah Imam Ali a.s which include: shrine of the footprints of Imam Ali a.s, Alam Pak, Shabeeh of shrine of Hazrat Ghazi Abbas Alamdar a.s (Fig.7). All these sacred places are crowded with people who come to pray. Apart from these holy spaces, relics donated by different influential people have also been kept in one of the halls of the shrine which is open for the devotees. These relics include the glazed tiles, coverings of the shrines of Imams a.s and many others things.

Fig.7 A devotee at Zareeh Mubarak of Hazrat Abbas Alamdar in Qadamgah Imam Ali shrine, Hyderabad
Fig. 7 A devotee at Zareeh Mubarak of Hazrat Abbas Alamdar in Qadamgah Imam Ali shrine, Hyderabad

This is also a holy shrine for both Shias and Sunnis where they also get educated about various aspects of religion including the twelfth Imam, Imam Mahdi a.s. Today, this is one of the holiest shrines in Sindh where not only Muslim but also Hindus and Christians visit the shrine. The Hindus and Christians believe that Imam Ali is Wali (friend) of Allah and he would solve their problem that they visit the shrine regularly. This is one of the peculiarities of Sindhi society where people of different religion caste and creed visit the footprint shrine of Imam Ali a.s. The visitors tie pieces of cloth as Manat (plea) at the Zareeh Mubarak of Hazrat Abbas Alamdar. People also tie pieces of cloth at the Zareeh Mubarak and pray at Zareeh Mubarak. These people also attend the lectures which often are held at the Qadamgah Imam Ali a.s. According to the caretaker of the shrine through these lectures, many people have converted to Islam. The lectures include various topics on Islam. Some lectures on the twelve Imams a.s have also been held at the shrine. These Hindu and Christians believe that imam Mahdi a.s is real Messiah who will appear soon and will solve their problems. This has drawn many people to shrine to attend the lectures and subsequently convert them to Islam.

It was at this holy shrine of Qadamgah Imam Ali a.s that many eminent poets of Talpur period (1783-1843) composed poetry on Ahlebaiyt a.s. One finds a large number of poems being composed by Talpur period poets. Even in the British period (1843-1947), one finds several poets composing poetry on Imam Mahdi a.s.

    Many sacred things associated with holy shrines of Imam Ali a.s, Imam Hussain a.s, Hazrat Abbas a.s are kept in the separate rooms at the holy shrine of Qadimgah Imam Ali a.s. Some pebble stones of Samarra are also kept in the shrine. These things are venerated by people who visit Qadimgah. Apart from the footprints of Imam Ali a.s, replica of his Shabeeh Mubarak has also been kept in the shrine where people come to pay homage and pray at the Zareeh Mubarak. They come to get the blessings of Imam Ali a.s. Close to the Zareeh is kept jhoola (cradle) of Ali Asghar a.s (Fig. 8) which is made of metal. The wooden cradle of Ali Aghar a.s (Fig.9) is kept in the Zareeh (Fig.10) and Shabeeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain a.s at Kot Diji (Fig.11) which was made by the Mir Faiz Muhammad, the ruler of Khairpur State (Hami 1994: 245). There are some valuable objects kept at this Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak which were donated by the royal family of Talpurs. This is the second largest Zareeh Mubarak in Sindh after Khairpur. The Zareeh Mubarak and Shabeeh of Kot Diji are only visited by the royal family members of Talpur dynasty. This Zareeh Mubarak is close to the royal palace of the Talpurs. Due to security issues of the royal family, only the royal family members have access to visit the shrine. The general public can only visit the Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak at Khairpur which was also built by the Talpur ruler.

Fig.8 Jhoola (cradle) of Shahzada Ali Asghara.s at Qadamgah Imam Ali shrine, Hyderabad
Fig. 8 Jhoola (cradle) of Shahzada Ali Asghar at Qadamgah Imam Ali
shrine, Hyderabad
Fig.9 Jhoola(cradle) of Shahzada Ali Asghar at Shabeeh of Imam Hussain, KotDiji, Khairpur
Fig. 9 Jhoola (cradle) of Shahzada Ali Asghar at Shabeeh of Imam Hussain, Kot Diji, Khairpur
Fig.10 Zareeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain at KotDiji, Khairpur
Fig. 10 Zareeh Mubarak of Imam Hussain at Kot Diji, Khairpur
Fig.11 Shabeeh (replica) of Imam Hussain’s Roza at KotDiji, Khairpur
Fig.11 Shabeeh (replica) of Imam Hussain’s Roza at Kot Diji, Khairpur

All these Zareehs, Shabeehs and sacred spaces associated with footprints of Imam Ali a.s served as informal training centres to the Zaireen (visitors). Over a period of time, these holy places of Zareeh resulted into numerous small and large Zareehs at various places in Sindh. These Zareehs and Shabeehs of Imam Husain’s a.s shrine provided spiritual links between Imams a.s and his followers. Through his Zareeh and Shabeeh, Zaireen spiritually felt to be at holy shrines of Imam Ali a.s at Najaf, Imam Hussain’s a.s shrine at Karbala and Imam Reza a.s at Mashhad.

The art of painting holy shrines also influenced the artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that they painted the holy shrines on walls of the tombs and mosques. The earliest mosque that depicts the holy shrines of Imams a.s is located at Qubo Shahdad in Sanghar district of Sindh. Apart from the mosque, one finds a number of tombs with the representations of the holy cities of Makkah, Madina, Karbala and Najaf in Kalhora (1700-1783) and Talpur period (1783-1843) tombs. This art of painting of holy shrines still continues. The more recent tomb, built in 2007 is that of Shadi Shaheed in Khairpur district which depicts important holy shrines and mosques of Islam. There are two rows of depictions of holy shrines and mosques on the domed ceiling of the tomb. The first row depicts the holy Kaaba, Masjid Nabawi etc.The second row depicts the shrines of Imam Ali a.s (Fig.12), Imam Hussain a.s etc.

Fig.12 Painting of Imam Ali’s Roza in the tomb of Shadi Shaheed (built in 2007) in Khairpur, Sindh
Fig. 12 Painting of Imam Ali’s Roza in the tomb of Shadi Shaheed (built in 2007) in Khairpur, Sindh

Conclusion

It is important to note that Shabeeh and Zareeh Mubaraks played a significant role in educating the people about the holy shrines of Imams a.s. Moreover, these holy places also serve as institutions where lectures are given on the different topics of religion. People get motivated by a series of lectures at these places. They get educated about the Twelve Imam a.s too. The institutes like Zareeh and Shabeeh are conduits for spreading the messages of Islam. The education element in these holy places has seen unprecedented construction of Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubaraks in small and large towns of Sindh. Almost every Imam Bara in upper Sindh houses a Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubarak. There are two main factors that led to growth of these holy shrines. Firstly, the greater Iranian influence on Shia community in Sindh has resulted into construction of more Zareeh and Shabeeh Mubaraks. The structures over these holy relics also resemble the Iranian architecture. The secondly, the rich Shia businessmen has also been contributing to this growth of the holy shrines in Sindh. The apparent motive behind these sponsorships is to build more holy shrines to impart religious education and subsequently convert non-Shia population.

References

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Hami, Atta Muhammad. 1994. Khairpur Je Miran Jo Adab, Siyast Ain Sakafat Men Hiso (Role of Mirs of Khairpur in Literature, Politics and Culture). Jamshoro: Institute of Sindhology.

Laghari, Abdul Jabbar. 1999. Sindhi Shairi Ji Makhtasar Tarikh (A Short history of Sindh Poetry). Shikarpur: Mehran Academy.

Parveen, Jaipur (2002). Talpur Rule in Sindh. Karachi: Ferozsons (Pvt).

Schimmel, Annemarie. 1986. “Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim Literature” In Al-Serat Vol XII, Harvard University.

Schimmel, Annemarie. 1986. Pearls from The Indus: Studies in Sindhi Culture, Jamshoro: Sindhi Adabi Board.

Sheedai, Rahimdad Khan Moulai. 2005. Talpran ji Mukhtasar Tarikh. Jamshoro: Institute of Sindhology.

The author is an Anthropologist and   Head , Department of Development Studies at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). He can be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail.com

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