A setting of peace, beauty, and historical significance, Hasanabad is a hidden gem. In the cool shade of its carved arches, visitors are transported to a different time, far from the web of high-rise buildings, apartment blocks, and mosques that surround this structure.
Hasanabad’s historical significance as the final resting place of Imam Hasan Ali Shah is well documented. In the year 1846, Imam Hasan Ali Shah, a resident of Iran, arrived in Mumbai, officially establishing the Seat of Imamat in India after seven centuries in Persia. He travelled from Iran to Central Asia and eventually to India at the dawn of the modern era in history, accompanied by relatives and courtiers, to join many followers who had found refuge in South Asia. Maintaining the tradition of Iranian nobility, Imam Hasan Ali Shah kept excellent stables in India. His 64-year Imamat has been extensively documented in the Ibrat-Afza, recently translated by The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS). Offering an autobiography of the Imam, this publication provides an important primary source on the life and early career of Aga Khan I, including his life in Persia, his relations with the Qajar rulers in Iran, and his eventual settlement in India.
In April 1881, Imam Hasan Ali Shah passed away after a long and eventful Imamat. His son and successor, Imam Aga Ali Shah was in Karachi when his father passed and was informed about his demise via an urgent telegram. On the 1st of July 1881, several months after his death and after all the administrative formalities had been completed, his body was buried in Mazgaon, Mumbai. A foundation was laid which would later become the centre of the dargah around which the permanent mausoleum was built. It is said that the monument was built at an expense of three hundred thousand rupees and that it would have cost more, had it not been for the Ismaili men and women who participated in its construction.
The year 1891, 10 years after the death of Imam Hasan Ali Shah, marked an important period in the history of the monument. An Ismaili individual by the name of Abba Nasru from Zanzibar offered 1,000 tolas (one tola is equivalent to 10 grams) of pure gold which was formed into the building’s domes upon fulfilment of a vow. Abba Nasru vowed that if his failing business improved he would make an offering at the Hasanabad dargah. Eventually, when his business recovered, Nasru kept his promise. This tradition of fulfilling a vow continues today with a cultural ritual of placing a coconut on each step of the stairs of the dargah, as a means of fulfilling one’s vow. Similar to other shrines, Hasanabad also has an annual commemoration of urs and other rituals which are common practice at many other shrines.
Inspired by the design of the Taj Mahal, Hasanabad’s architectural elements are iconic. There are three domes at the top of the structure along with intricately crafted minarets that flank the corners. The tallest of the central and eastern domes that were donated are 16 feet high and weigh approximately 1,300 kg. Bathed in the aura of the evening sunset, Hasanabad’s golden minarets evoke memories of the magnificent Islamic monuments of old Delhi and Hyderabad. The entire structure evokes emotions of devotion, dedication, and reverence, a visual treat for urban eyes weary of the busy landscape around it.
Today, the Hasanabad dargah overlooks a playground and shares space with an Ismaili Jamatkhana and a housing society. The co-existence of the dargah, a commonplace Sufi space of congregational gathering, and the Jamatkhana on the same plot of land is testimony to the evolution of sacred spaces in Islam. Across almost all cultures that have embraced Islam, a plurality of sacred spaces has been facilitated. Whilst mosques are the central house of worship for a majority of Muslims, many Muslim communities have developed their own distinctive religious spaces. These complementary spaces serve the different groups, cultures, geographies, and interpretations of Islam that continue to enrich the Muslim tradition.
Irfan Haslani is a graduate of The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, and currently works as a Research Associate with ITREB India.