Hyderabad: The mood, attire and ambience turn sombre with the dawn of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Dar-ul-Shifa in the old city presents a picture of grief and gloom. The numerous Ashoorkhanas in this Shia dominated locality echoes with sounds of mourning. Shias living in Noor Khan Bazar, Irani Galli, Yakhutpura, Mandi Mir Aalam indulge in 'matam' like never before. Even a casual visitor can't miss the grief-stricken atmosphere here. For a large number of Shias here it is time for 'tark-e-lazzat' (abstinence) and a halt for culinary delights and celebrations.
Dar-ul-Shifa, of course, remains the hub of activity with the historic 'Bibi Ka Alam' procession passing through this area on 'Yume Ashoora', the 10th day of Muharram on Tuesday. Interestingly not many are aware of the historical importance of this area and how it got its name. As far back as 1595 AD, it boasted of a medical facility. Dar-ul- Shifa was the place where the first hospital came up in Hyderabad. Meaning the 'Door to Cure', it was set up by the city founder, Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, to take care of the sick.
Today Dar-ul-Shifa has turned into a centre for spiritual solace and care. Though a significant locality has emerged after its name, the common man knows it as the place of mourning for Shias. During the Qutb Shahi era, this double-storeyed building served as a hospital cum residential college of Unani medicine. Physicians came from as far away as Greece, Italy and Persian Gulf to attend the sick. But they did not charge anything. The medication was dispensed freely to 400 patients at a time, it is said.
A Sarai and bath were also attached to the building. The Sarai served as the resting place for patients who were on the waiting list and couldn't be admitted immediately. Now there is no trace of these facilities. However, the Dar-ul-Shifa Jama Masjid built by the Qutb Shahi king still exists. The mosque bears the distinct Qutb Shahi architecture.
The concept of 'Dawa and dua' ( medicine and prayer) was kept in mind by Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah while constructing the hospital and the mosque nearby. Dar-ul-Shifa served as a medical facility even during the Asif Jahi period. But when other hospitals came up, it gradually lost its importance. During the Qutb Shahi period itself 'Alams' were installed in the corner of the building but the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, brought them out. For some time the irregular forces of the Nizam were also stationed here.
The central quadrangle of Dar-ul-Shifa now has the 'Sar Tauq' Alam, a steel standard containing a holy relic of Hazrat Zainul Abideen, the fourth Imam of Shias. Many miracles are believed to have manifested here during the Qutb Shahi and Alamgiri period. No wonder devotees flock here in large number.
The surrounding areas such as Noorkhan Bazar, Dabeerpura and Purani Haveli have a sizeable Shia population. They get chock-a-block on Tuesday when the Bibi Ka Alam procession is taken out.