Historical Photo Essay: The Ismaili Connection with the Town of Amir Pir in Sindh, Pakistan
Text by: Gulshan Chunara
Photos by: Salina Hasan
The Pivotal Role of the 46th Ismaili Imam, Shah Hasan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I
This vintage engraving depicts the portrait of Aga Khan I (1804 – 1881), the 46th Imam of the Nizari Shia Ismaili Ismaili Muslims. © iStockphoto.com
Amir Pir, a minor town with indefinite boundaries is located in the interior Sindh Province in Pakistan. It is situated on the banks of Kinjar (commonly known as Kalri) and Sonari lakes, and lies approximately 130 kilometres from Karachi. The Ismaili connection to the town of Amir Pir goes back more than 170 years, to the time when the 46th Ismaili Imam, Shah Hasan Ali Shah (Aga Khan I), was forced to leave Iran in 1840. He was accompanied on his eastbound journey by many of his faithful followers and Shiite soldiers. Upon the Imam’s arrival in Sindh, Sir Charles Napier, the then British governer, asked him to be stationed at nearby Jerruck with a mission to secure communications and restore peace between Karachi and Hyderabad. However, a certain Baluchi leader at the time, Mir Sher Muhammad Khan attacked Imam Hasan Ali Shah ‘s soldiers, and the Imam was forced to fight against overwhelming odds. In the skirmish, the Imam fell from his horse and was wounded, and transported to Hyderabad for treatment.
(Text continues after photos of Imam’s Jerruck residence)
The Jerruck Residence of Shah Hasan Ali Shah (Aga Khan I)
A wall inside the residence of Imam Shah Hasan Ali Shah
In need of repairs – a section of the interior of the 46th Imam’s residence
A close-up of the pillar shows the much-needed restorative work required on this important historical site – once the residence of the 46th Ismaili Imam, Shah Hasan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I
Exterior of Jerruck Jamatkhana today
A section of the interior of Jerruck Jamatkhana, which is a few miles from the town of Amir Pir
Shah ja kadam and the Alam
Soon after the battle at Jerruck, while the Imam was still in Hyderabad, the Imam’s soldiers were attacked again by Baluchis between Jhimpir and Kotri. In the ensuing battle there were fatalities and casualties among the Imam’s troops, and the dead were buried at a location around Amir Pir.
When Imam Hasan Ali Shah returned to Jerruck from Hyderabad, he visited the location with his troops and followers. Crossing shallow waters of Sonari and Kinjar Lakes on his horse, he dismounted at the hilltop and offered fatiha at the gravesite of his loyal Shiite soldiers. His followers noticed the marks left by the Imam’s footprints, and built walls around these. These footprints are known as Shah ja Kadam and an alam (a standard) was placed there to commemorate his visit to Amir Pir.
(Text continues after Alam photos)
Interior photos of Amir Pir (above and below)
A November 1951 plaque in Gujarati recognizing the contribution made for repairs to Shah Ja Kadam by Tajdinbhai, in memory of his father Mohamadbhai Kurji.
The visit to Amir Pir brought satisfaction to Imam Shah Hasan Ali Shah. He found the climate suitable and decided to purchase the hilltop. On his return to Jerruck he announced to his Jamat from Muscat, Gwadar, Kutch and Gujarat that they should hold an annual gathering at this place, although by this time the Ismailis from Sindh had already begun a pilgrimage. The Imam intended such a gathering for scattered Ismailis to come together and to discuss and solve their social, matromonial and religious issues. This was the beginning of the Jhimpir Mela in 1851. However its name was formally changed to Amir Pir Mela (lit. a fair or a gathering).
IMAM SHAH ALI SHAH
Imam Shah Ali Shah (1830 – 1885), Aga Khan II, 47th Imam of Ismaili Muslims
Imam Hasan Ali Shah’s son and successor to the throne of Imamat, Shah Ali Shah had often visited lower Sindh on hunting expeditions from Karachi paying homage to Amir Pir Mela, staying for days at his hilltop palace, which he commissioned to be built in 1853. The Aga Ali Shah Palace, as it is known, is built in colonial style. At its one side, a Jamatkhana was built in 1920, on the orders of the 48th Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (1877-1957). The Old Majalis Hall existed before the present Jamat Khana, and near it, a dargah (shrine), where visiting Ismailis used to say their morning and evening dua still stands today
The Palace of the 47th Ismaili Imam, Shah Ali Shah, Aga Khan II
Residence of 47th Ismaili Imam, Shah Aly Shah
A close-up of the exterior of Imam Shah Aly Shah’s (Aga Khan II) residence
The exterior of the Old Majalis Hall
The entrance to the dargah is announced by the ritual of ringing the bell
On route to the dargah, one often sees fakirs (Sufi ascetics) begging for money (bakshi) from passersby, a custom which is found in many historical sites worldwide to this day. There is no shrine (tomb) inside the dargah, but there is an opening to a cave where pilgrims recite the fatiha or pay their respects. It is a place where many come for a blessing of sorts and different observances are practiced. Many kiss various articles laid on and around inside the dargah. One enters the chamber in sitting position, and crawls forward through it. Before exiting the cave, they are given a sacred white thread, a piece of coconut and a shard of sugar (misri).
Tombs of seyeds inside the dargah
A cave like entrance in the dargah leads to a room of takhats (traditionally a takhat, a four-legged wooden seat, was used to symbolize a throne). One of the takhats in the room is shown below.
There are other practices that can be seen around the dargah to this day: newlyweds coming to untie the chera chori (a knot tied to the bride and groom’s wedding clothes) and hurl coins in the air; mothers bring their newborn babies here to tie on them a necklace made of white thread, and to have their first hair shave by barbers as good omen. Other reasons for coming to Amir Pir Mela include prayers for the recovery of the seriously ill. Tombs of sayeds/sayedas (revered men and women) covered with coloured sheets and topped with garlands also lie around the dargah.
The Amir Pir Mela is celebrated and rituals and festivities continue through the course of a month.
Walled courtyard next to the dargah where rituals takes place
In olden time people travelled by horse and cart, on camel, bullock cart and donkey cart. Later trains arrived at Jhimpir station, and people came carrying with them ‘everything but the kitchen sink’. Today visitors journey by coach, mini van or by car. In the 1880s, the old musafarkhana (hostel) was demolished and a new musafarkhana was built, most probably in the 1930s. Travelling pilgrims rented the hostel. A row of individual rooms (kotris) with a tiny bathroom, was available for those unable to rent space at the hostel. Rows of latrines (kakus) sit facing across, and are still in use, as is the hostel and kotris. But most families stayed in jute tents (boongas), which were either free of charge or rented for a few rupees. Today they have been replaced with small cottages.
Mini-vans bring visitors to Amir Pir
There was no running water until 1996; instead, water was brought by sindhi water carriers from the lake, in earthen pitchers or cowhide bags. There were makedo dabhas – village cafe made from jute (gooni) similar to a hut – with wooden tables and benches (bankras) where people had breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chai huts played old songs at full volume, and remained open at all hours. Evening entertainment included ‘black and white’ Indian and Pakistani movies. The dhabas and chai huts have been replaced by more solid buildings and the old songs and black and white movies have given way to a modern genre (21st century). Children and adult alike still take a dip in the lake and, over the decades, many have lost their lives therein. Boating in the evening is usual on Kinjar Lake during the Mela. Colorful market stalls sell sweetmeats (methi)and savoury snacks(chat/samboosa) and for those who preferred to cook for their own families, food provisions could also be bought locally. Local sindhi people come as their forbearers did before them, to sell their fresh milk, butter, fish and meat, from farms around Amir Pir. One also finds hundreds of souvenirs to take home, such as sindhi pottery and dolls, ajrak chadar, susi cloth, sindhi arts and crafts sold by the local sindhi people a couple of miles away from Amir Pir.
The new hall where the jamat is served lunch consisting of Biryani, zarda and katchumbar
On the second last day of Amir Pir Mela Mela, a deg ( food made for hundreds in huge steel pots) was served at lunchtime in Jamatkhana; it consisted of Biryani, Zarda & Katchumbar. Today deg is served in a dining hall.
Amir Pir has been renovated several time over the years and there now is running water for drinking and other usage as well as the use of electricity and gas. The rituals are probably just as strong as they were once for some people, but for others it is simply “getting away from it all” even for a day trip or for a picnic.
Date posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Photo credit: Salina Hasan. Copyright. Please visit her photo albums by clicking https://picasaweb.google.com/salinahasan/
Profile of Gulshan Chunara at Contributors.
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Does anyone have old pictures of Amir Pir? Please notify me at email@example.com! I am working on Amir Pir!
This is our tradition. I don’t know why councils won’t allow people to go n visit. Even Hazir Imam wants us to restore our historical places. Good work and good effort.
Thanks to all those who have contributed in this very good informative article which I have read only just now. As regards Amir Pir, I wish to inform all readers that Amir Pir Mela was officially every year from 14th of November to 19th, when on the last day Deag was served among the faithful. As far as Amir Pir Melo is concerned I wish to inform readers that my father who was in police department used to be head of security and for almost forty five years our family was regular in attending this mela (Fair). What a great week it used to be when winter season used to be in full bloom, people shivering, volunteers performing their duties with over coats around, and the younger generation enjoying Indian movies, early morning faithful enjoying morning walk along the protective wall ( Bund) and watching the splendid Sun rise over Keenjar Lake.Truly it was a magnificent experience and wish if same activity can be held every year. Besides Amir Pir, Shah Trail is one another place where Ismailis gather as well, but sadly today we are not encouraged by our institutions to visit these places and in a way this has resulted in a “ban” of holding of these fairs. I sincerely hope it is revived!
Thank you for sharing such rich, historical and memorable moments. May Allah bless you and your families with lots and lots of barakat. Ameen. After reading this article and the comments, Inshallah, I will visit Amir Pir.
Out of this world; thank you for sharing
EXxcellent and wonderful.
I love Amir Pir more than any place; I have been visiting it since childhood and make it a point to visit it every year. It is really a peaceful place and I thank the author for sharing this historical information. And thank you Mawla Bapa for everything and all the blessings you bestow upon the jamat.
Exactly 40 years ago I was in Amir pir with my wife for Chera Cheree upon my mother’s Sukha after my marriage in 1975. My last visit to Amirpir was in 2013 after 23 years. A very nice place which I shall remember for my whole life.
Chicago, USA, 2015
Mere dil ko sukoon mila….
Thank you for this wonderful information. May Mawla bless you all. Amen
I have never come across such pictures in my entire life. These are a must see and should be remembered by all of us as we who were born in Karachi or Sindh must have visited some of these historical sites during our younger days.
Barkat Ali Moosa
After good 17 years I had the opportunity to visit this great historical monument just today and trust me it feels as good as it felt back then. The Bhawras (Natives from nearby village), hot parathas for breakfast, sparkling lake water, sandy fields and scorching April sun, a typical and worthwhile lifetime Ameer Pir experience. I think bidding Karachi goodbye is going to make me cry again 😦 A WONDERFUL CITY.
Thank you very much for sharing this amazing historical information!
Very well done research and write up of our history going back to Imam Hassanali Shah. During His Imamat my great grand father Somji Khakhuani left Kutch for the shores of East Africa and settled in Bagamoyo, Tanganyika (Tanzania)
Very good information. I still remember those days when I visited Amir Pir mela and stayed there 5 days. What wonderful days those were.
Very good information. I love to go Amir Pir mela. Still remember those days when we stayed at Amir Pir for 5 days.
This piece reminds me of my last trip there with my dad just before his passing. We have a very strong connection with Amir Pir as our great great great grandfather was with the Imam when he came from Iran and lived right next to the Imam’s Bunglow, which I visited a few years back thanks to my cousin from Karachi. Thank yu so much for bringing this story, which I can now share with my chidren who are now in their 40s and did visit Amir Pir when they vere around 10 and 12 in 1972. Thank you again and again.
Jinny from Calgary Canada
I loved to visit Amirpeer.. Really an amazing place of heritage..thanks for sharing the pics 🙂
Very interesting and I wish I could visit Amir Pir mela and all the surrounding buildings of the past. Well done.
Amir Pir was developed by Seth Maherali, son of Mukhi of the Jherk Jamat in 18th century. This Jamat of 200 people were converted by Fatehali Shah (Fatishah) who wrote the Ginan “Navroz na din sohamana…” in the days of Imam Khalila Ali, 47th Imam. His grave is also there. I am also a descendant of that Jamat.
What a journey, it most definitely my childhood memories. Used to go there every November. I truly hope to see one more time. Thank you for the presentation, very well done.
It feels great to learn about the history of Amir Pir. I went there during winter when I was in school and would like to visit it again with my family. There are numerous myths and legends about this place and the cave related to Hamzah. I thank the writer as well as the photographer for this amazing historical piece.
Excellent! It was an eye opening as well as educating us on our Imam’s history.
Mahashallah—-A very interesting piece of information about Amir Pir Mela. Thanks to Gulshan Chunara, Salina Hassan and Simergphotos.
Thanks for the wonderful and informative presentation. I used to live in Hyderabad and we used to go there every year, and did it for many many years and every time we went, we used to go for 2 or 3 weeks and lived in Bongas which if I remember correctly we called Jugi. If time and circumstances permit I would like to go once again.
This reminds me of the time when I actually visited the Amir Pir ka Mellah almost 47 years ago it was a wonderful trip we stayed tents made from gunny sacks. What a memory!
Lived in Karachi for 22 years BUT never had the opportunity to go to AMIR PIR. Inshallah, Mowla ka Hukam next visit to Karachi will make an effort to go there. Thanks to ALL Gulshan Chunara and Salina Hasan, not forgetting Malik for sharing.
An interesting insight into a memorable segment of history. We are indeed grateful to the team at SIMERG for revealing these pictorial evidences.
Alhamdulillah! What a beautiful piece and addition. A huge contribution! One big thank you to
Gulshan Chunara, Salina Hasan and, of course, to you Malik for sharing.
Excellent presentation and very well defined but the origination of Dargah and the cave is not mentioned.
Amir pir mela reminds me of my young age when I used to take my wife and children for a two to three week vacation in November every year. We enjoyed by staying in Landi, sometimes in Bhoonga. We recently enjoyed a day trip, and it is always worthwhile for us to visit our historical sites.
Yaa Ali Madad – Truly a beautiful journey – awesome
Mahashallah…..beautifully walked through the history lane….
This is wonderful!!! You bring information and visitation right into our homes…and we learn so much. Thanks to the photographers, the travellers and Simerg.
Excellent reminder of our history.