Funerary architecture of Muslim Deccan is intriguing and fascinating.
A graveyard, the Daira-i-Mir Momin, known in better terms as a necropolis, is not just historic but has a historical past that is woven closely and intimately with political powers that made Hyderabad what it is today.
Daira i Mir Momin situated near the Mir Jumla Tank at Sultan Shahi in the Moghulpura area of the Old City of Hyderabad, was built around 1621. It is a graveyard of history, in literal sense. It is required to be decoded rationally to understand the intersectionalities between the Qutb Shahis and Asaf Jahis.
When we reconstruct the history of the Daira-i-Mir Momin, we naturally get a glimpse into the life of Mir Momin and his contribution and achievements in the Qutb Shahi sultanate of Golconda. Mir Momin belonged to an eminent family of Moosavi Syeds of Astrabad in the Gilan province of Persia. When he migrated from Persia to Golconda in 1581, he made a mark in the Deccani sultanate as an alim, an authority in knowledge. Based on his religiosity, he was made the peshwa by sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. This is a significant development as from then onwards, the position of peshwa started to be held by an alim for a long time.
When the first plan for the new city of Haidarabad was drawn, it was Mir Momin who undertook this colossal task with the Charminar as the central point in the chaubara, with bazaars, palaces, the Badshahi Ashurkhana, and also a graveyard which later came to be known as the Mir Momin ka Daira. Mir Momin had close links with Shah Abbas Safavi of Persia and was recognised as an alim not just in Golconda but also in Persia. This could perhaps be the reason why he was among the very few dignitaries who could enter the Qutb Shahi royal palace in a palanquin while the others had to alight at the main entrance and walk in. Other than him, his disciple Allama Ibn-i-Khatun, the next peshwa was also accorded this honour.
Sadiq Naqvi in his book The Iranian Afaquis Contribution to the Qutb Shahi and Adil Shahi Kingdoms quotes from two farmans and a mahzar from the reigns of Abdullah Qutb Shah and Abul Hasan Qutb Shah, the copies of which are preserved by the mujawwar of Mir Momin’s tomb – “Many villages were allotted as jagirs to Mir Momin such as Sayedabad, Meerpaith, Zillulaguda, Rao Rial, Kangra, Jerlapally and Mallepalli.” He developed his jagirs in many ways by constructing mosques, madrassas, sarais and ashurkhanas. But the tangible heritage associated with Mir Momin that is still available to see is that of the graveyard known as Daira-i-Mir Momin. Sadiq Naqvi says, “Mir Momin’s tomb is situated in the centre of the daira but not inside the graves chamber. The central grave is that of his son Mir Mujahiduddin Muhammad who died during his lifetime. Mir Momin’s grave is beside the grave of his son.”
Syed Ali Asghar Bilgrami in his book Landmarks of the Deccan says that Shah Charagh, a holyman from Najaf in Iraq and later Nurul Huda, another pious man from Iran had their graves at this site which later became the necropolis of Mir Momin Astrabadi. These religious clerics brought with them holy relics from Iran, which they presented to the Qutb Shahi sultans. Mir Momin after buying this land bequeathed it for the free burial of the dead. Some quantity of soil was brought from Karbala and laid in this graveyard by Mir Momin giving it a special sanctity in Shiite Islam. A bath and a well were also built there. Mir Momin also built an ashurkhana at the entrance of the daira.
Shah Charagh, Mir Momin and Nimat Khane Ali and many others are interred in this graveyard. Near the steps of the mausoleum of Mir Momin there is an oblong polished stone of black basalt which is Mirza Ahmad Nimat Khane Ali’s grave who was a satirist, poet and superintendent of the kitchen of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Other political personalities who were notable Shia nobles in the early nineteenth century buried in this necropolis are Mir Alam (Diwan from 1804-8), his son-in-law Munirul Mulk (Diwan from 1809-32), Munirul Mulk’s son Sirajul Mulk (Diwan from 1846; 1851-53), Munirul Mulk’s younger son Mir Yousuf Ali Khan Salarjung I (Diwan from 1853-83) and Yousuf Ali Khan’s son Mir Laik Ali Khan Salarjung II (Diwan from 1883-87). It is also the resting place of Abul Qasim Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the famous Hindustani classical music singer.
S A A Bilgrami goes on to say in the same necropolis, is the grave of Khadija bibi the daughter of Mir Ali (probably who was Nimat Khane Ali) of Astrabad whose grave has a polished black sacrophagus with inscribed Quranic verses in thulth style of calligraphy in Shiite durud that refers to Nade Ali in chapter XXXIII, verse 56. Khadija Bibi’s grave is in a domed building while the graves of Shah Charagh and Mir Momin are in roofless enclosures.
The black basalt inscribed slabs are the integrating factor through all the graves. A mosque at the rear side of the daira credited to the ghassalan, who bathed the female dead, has a particular inscription in a prayer niche that gives the date of construction of this mosque as 1034 A.H./1624. This mosque was situated adjacent to the grave of Khadija Bibi who died in 1621. It is believed that Khadija Bibi was the aunt of Abdullah Qutb Shah.
The most important inscription seen in the graveyard on another tomb is that all the inscriptions and the tombs of Shah Charagh, Nurul Huda, Mir Momin, Nimat Khane Ali and Khadija bibi should be protected.
The daira is not maintained properly. It is in bad shape, especially taking note of the contribution, labour and love that Mir Momin had for Golconda-Haidarabad. Other than the annual Urs which is held on the 26th and 27th of the holy month of Shaban in of Islamic calendar in the name of Mir Momin with the sandal procession starting from the Gulzar Hauz to the Mir Momin ka Daira, there is nothing else noteworthy of being mentioned now. After all, the daira gave space for the burial of dignitaries from not one but two important sultanate states—the Qutb Shahis and the Asaf Jahis—which were the catalysts in evolving Golconda and Hyderabad as a glorious space of cosmopolitanism and aesthetics not just in India alone but in South Asia which remains the main reason why Western scholars take such a keen interest in this region.
Salma Ahmed Farooqui is Professor at H.K.Sherwani Centre for Deccan Studies, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. She is also India Office Director of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies (ASPS).