Networks of trade, scholarship, and pilgrimage have traditionally connected Muslims transregionally, yet these very networks draw into dramatic relief the significance of the local in defining Shi'i religious practices and worldviews. The Shi'i community in the South Indian city of Hyderabad, an important location within the Shi'i cosmpolitan, has strongly resisted campaigns launched by the religious elite of Iran and Iraq to homogenize its “vernacular” Muharram ritual-devotional practices. This article examined the contested nature of the mehndi ceremony of Qasem, who was married and martyred at the battle of Karbala in 680 CE. The mehndi ceremony, or majlis, is steadfastly observed on 7 Muharram by Hyderabadi Shias in defiance of pressures from the ulema in Iran and Iraq to eliminate practices deemed to be unauthentic and un-Islamic. Drawing on archival and ethnographic data, I argue that the participation in the mehndi ki majlis narrates a worldview connecting Hyderabad's Shias to the cosmopolitan Karbala through the vernacular ecology, aesthetics, and values of the local Deccani culture.

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