The Polyvalent Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī In Hyderabad, Sindh – III

A Preliminary Study in Relics, Political Power, and Community Setup

During Tālpūrs’ rule, there was only a short procession starting from the dargāh of Ashrāf Shāh and ending at a place named Fāqir jo Piṛ.

By Michel Boivin

Polarization and Network: The Qadamgāh and the Shiʿi Processions

The Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī plays a pivotal role in main Shiʿi events, especially during the four main processions that are organized throughout the year: the 10th Moḥarram for ʿAshūrāʾ, the 20th Safar for Chehlum, forty days after ʿAshūrāʾ, the 8th Rabīʿ al-Awwāl for Chup Taʿziya, and the 13th Rajab for the Yawm-e ʿAlī, commemorating ʿAlī’s birthday. During Tālpūrs’ rule, there was only a short procession starting from the dargāh of Ashrāf Shāh and ending at a place named Fāqir jo Piṛ. Today, many different processions are organized in Hyderabad throughout the liturgical year, under the aegis of two leading associations (anjumān): the Anjumān-e Imāmiyya Sindh, founded in 1908, and the Anjumān-e Hyderī, founded in 1949. The first Anjumān is dominated by the Sindhis, while the second was created by the Mohājirs soon after they migrated from India to Pakistan. It is now mixed with Sindhis, Mohājirs, Punjabis and others, and the president of the Anjumān-e Hyderī is Nawāz Bhuṭṭo.

Both associations have been given permission by the Awqaf Department to organize the processions, and they have divided it accordingly; the Anjumān-e Hyderī organizes the ʿAshūrāʾ and Chup Taʿziya, while the Anjumān-e Imāmiyya Sindh organizes Chehlum and Yawm-e ʿAlī. There are many other local anjumāns operating in different neighborhoods (moḥalla or pāṛo) of the city. At the Qadamgāh, some processions start from the site, while others end at it. But there are local processions that do not include it in their itinerary, or it is peripheral. For example, on the 7th of Moḥarram, a procession starts from Imāmbārgāh Anjumān-e Safīna that reaches Fāqir jo Piṛ. It was on this day that Husayn and his companions were deprived of water, but in South Asia the wedding of Qāsim b. Hasan with Fāṭima Kubra b. Husayn is commemorated. The Qadamgāh is not included in the itinerary, but many devotees collect mendī at Gul Shāh Piṛ to bring it to the Qadamgāh. In South Asia, the mendī or henna is the very symbol of wedding.

On the 10th Moḥarram, or ʿAshūrāʾ, three main processions are organized. The first one starts from different areas in the city, such as Latifabad, Qasimabad, Makrani Paro, Husaynabad and Wahdat Colony. At 7:00 AM, they join the main procession that starts from the Qadamgāh. From there, they walk to Karbala Dadan Shah, named after the second president of the Anjumān-e Hyderī, following the same itinerary of the other processions. The second procession begins at Imāmbārgāh Gul Shāh and terminates at the Qadamgāh, thus following a different itinerary than the first one. The third procession starts at Syed Imām ʿAlī Imāmbāṛā and ends at the dargāh of Ashrāf Shāh, nearby the Pakka Qila. In all these processions, Ẕūl Jinnah and the ʿAlam Pak, ʿalam of ʿAbbās, are exhibited, and the devotees perform the ritual flogging (mātam) at different stations along the road, but many go to the Qadamgāh to perform mātam.

For the Chehlum of ʿAshūrāʾ, on the 20th of Safar, a procession is organized that starts at the Qadamgāh and ends at Karbala Dadan Shah. Interestingly, during the procession, thousands of women pay homage at the Sarfarāz Kalhoṛo’s shrine, before returning to the procession. After a short rule of only three years, Sarfarāz was martyred in 1775. The itinerary of the three processions is unchanged. From the Qadamgāh, the procession reaches Station Road before entering Khokhar Mohallah and then taking Lajpat Road, Saddar Bazar and Mohammad Ali Johar Road. Finally, it ends at Karbala Dadan Shah. Ẕūl Jinnah and replicas of coffins (tābūts) are carried around during the procession.

For the Yawm-e ʿAlī, which is the commemoration of ʿAlī’s birthday, the procession starts from the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī. It then follows Station Road, Lajpat Road, Risala Road before entering the Karbala Dadan Shah. It is thus restricted to the old town between the Pakka Qila and the Kalhoṛo cluster. The different areas it crosses reveal the diversity of the population: the Khokhar Mohallah, from a Punjabi community, the Bohra Mohallah, from a Gujarati Ismaʿili Shiʿite (non Aghā Khānī) community, and others. As in the Moḥarram processions, the sacrality of the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī goes beyond the Shiʿite referent. The visitors belong to all the diverse communities that make modern Hyderabad: Sayyids, Shidis, Sunnis, and Hindus, as well as Christians.

A last point that should be highlighted is that the visitation to the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī has been inserted into the Sufi pilgrimage circuit of the city of Hyderabad. As in most cities and towns of Sindh, all Sufi dargāhs form a kind of network, in which the dargāhs are classified according to a hierarchy derived from the order in which they are to be visited. In this respect, the Qadamgāh is connected by a narrow lane to an important dargāh: that of Pīr ʿAbd al-Waḥab Jīlānī. As his name reveals, he was a Qādirī, and the shrine was built in the time of the the Kalhoṛās, in the seventeenth century. It is customary that believers who plan to go the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī first go to Pīr ʿAbd al-Waḥab Jīlānī to recite a fātiḥa. Today, his nickname is Mohājir kā pīr, or the pīr of the Mohājirs. It means that the dargāh should have been controlled by the Mohājirs.

The same custom should be followed for the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī. Although it was probably installed after the dargāh of Pīr ʿAbd al-Waḥab Jīlānī, it started a conversation between the two repertoires of Sufism and Shiʿism. The study of the processional pathways clearly shows how the Qadamgāh is geographically enshrined into a network of piṛs and dargāhs.

Mawla ja qadam between Aniconicity and Iconicity

We have now been able to retrace the different transformations of the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī, and its very specific position between Shiʿite and Sufi religiosity. We will continue with a more focused analysis of qadam as a religious object, and try to situate it in the debates on the construction of religiosity, particularly in South Asia, where all the major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, practice the veneration of footprints. After my proposition for a typology of footprints in Sindh, I will address a few main issues and explain how they are approached by scholars of Hinduism and Buddhism. It will allow me to summarize the issue of the qadams by locating them in the general grammar of Muslim devotion, and it allows me to highlight what is shared between and what is specific for pādukās and qadams. In other words, I will gauge to some extend the qadam encounters of the Indic religious setup.

Two issues have our special attention. On the one hand, there is the question of the sensorial experience: does the qadam cause some specific sensorial experience? Or is this an experience similar to those caused by other relics? On the other hand, there is the question of the exact status of the qadams, in other words how they are relics and what kind of relics are they? Here we must consider the position of the qadams in relation to the question of iconicity and aniconicity. Jacob N. Kinnard, a specialist of Buddhism, has suggested that footprints could represent the unfinished transition between aniconic and iconic representations. According to Albertina Nugeteren, Vishnu’s pādas replace statues, and they are both absence and presence, as well as form and formless. It is another interpretation of the presence in absence. Finally, she states that the footprints are semi-iconic. But before addressing these issues, I want to propose a tentative classification of the footprints in Sindh.

The Footprints in Sindh: A Tentative Classification

In Sindh, the veneration of footprints involves three sacred figures: ʿAbd al-Qādir Jīlānī, ʿAlī, and Prophet Muhammad. We already know about the importance of Jīlānī in Sindh, as well as that of the Qādiriyya. In the town of Hala, the footprints of Pīr Jīlānī can be found. This is interesting as Hala was a leading center of the Suhrawardiyya from the sixteenth century onward. It contains the dargāh of Makhdūm Nūḥ (died circa 1592), a Suhrawardī Sufi. We can propose the hypothesis that the creation of the Pīr Jīlānī jā Qadam may have been a response of the Qādirīs to the development of the Sohrawardis, through the radiation of Makhdūm Nūḥ. Consequently, the Qadam would function here as an instrument in the competition between two Sufi brotherhoods.

One last category of prints should be mentioned: those of the hooves of ʿAlī’s horse. In a qadamgāh near Kashan, in Iran, dated 1311, hoof-prints of ʿAlī’s horse and camel, can be found, represented in earthenware. As we have seen before, horses are also venerated, especially those of ʿAlī and Husayn, named Duldul and Zūl Jinnah, as indicated by the many posters representing them. In Sehwan Sharif, where Lal Shahbaz retired, the chillagāh contains the tracks of the hooves of ʿAlī’s horse. Notwithstanding, the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī of Hyderabad stands out from all the others located in Sindh. For a long time, it was indeed the only one that was sheltered by a real mausoleum, and the other qadams are open spaces, generally established near the Sufi or Ismaʿili dargāhs.

In the case of the Qadamgāh Imām ʿAlī, one can hardly make out the footprints, because there is only a vague form, which is said to be a footprint. A main characteristic is the size of the qadam: they are very big, maybe one meter long, which suggests that ʿAlī was a giant. Of course, it is said that the size of ʿAlī’s footprints is a metaphor of his human qualities. The qadam in Makkli belongs to the third category. Here, the size is human, while the shape of the feet is well designed. Scholars classify the authenticity of qadams according to their shapes. The more shapeless the qadam is, the more authentic it seems to be, and the more stylized the qadam is, the more inauthentic it is considered to be. In this case, it means that the footprints were carved, more or less recently, and that they are clearly the work of an artisan. (Continues)


About the Author

Michel Boivin is the author and editor of fifteen books. His most recent book is entitled The Sufi Paradigm and the Makings of a Vernacular Knowledge in Colonial India: The Case of Sindh (1851–1929) (New York, Palgrave McMillan, 2020).

Courtesy: Brill

Originally published in Journal of Material Cultures in the Muslim World- Online Publication Date: 09 Feb 2021

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