Going past the Salar Jung Museum on the banks of the Musi in Hyderabad, you will see another heritage structure on the horizon. The 55-year-old Aza-Khana-Zohra, one of the city’s numerous ashoorkhanas, will soon take over prominence from the Museum itself, as the holy Islamic month of Muharram begins on October 14.
During this month, ashoorkhanas like this one see the faithful gathering to listen to scholars and preachers from across the world, to commemorate the period of fasting and mourning, especially the 10th day of Muharram that also sees a procession that’s considered the “perfect example of communal harmony” in the city.
However, heritage structures like the Aza-Khana-Zohra, the 400-year-old Alawa-e-Sartoq and the Bibi-ka-Alawa, whose maintenance costs are supposed to be borne by the government, have seen little support.
“We receive Rs 5,000 from the Nizam’s Trust,” says Aliuddin Arif, whose family has taken care of the Bibi-ka-Alawa for 11 generations, “That money only buys us two buckets of whitewash and two bottles of paint thinner. That’s all we can afford with that.”
The Rs 5,000 is huge in comparison to the grant that the ashoorkhana receives from the Telangana state government — Rs 62.27, an amount that was set by the Nizam VII a few years after he built the structure in the early 1920s.
Aliuddin says that the amount is so little that even the clerks at the pension office, where he collects the money, are embarrassed to hand it to him.
Mir Firasath Ali Baqri, general secretary of the Hyderi Educational and Social Welfare Society (HESWS), adds that numerous requests and assurances from and to the government have been long forgotten.
“We had asked the Hyderabad district collector to sanction `20 crore more than a month ago, but we haven’t heard from them,” he says, “What they do on the last days of Muharram is smoothen the roads. None of the programs that they’ve said they would do in the past few years have been implemented as yet.”
But, thanks to the efforts of HESWS, money has been coming as donations from the community. Mr Baqri, talking about the procession says, “Hindu women come in early in the morning, barefoot, for this. It’s the perfect example of communal harmony.”
“It’s great when the community contributes as there is a sense of belonging,” says Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’s Anuradha Reddy. “The government needs to give funding for structures, which do not fall under the purview of the ASI, Department of Archaeology and such.”