By Arshad Abbasi
Hussain Agahi is the oldest bazaar of Multan pointing to the antiquity of the city as well as its builders. This bazaar was named after a Muslim Sufi Syed Hussain Shah, commonly known as Peer Hussain Agahi. Hussain Agahi bazar is the hub of Multani culture and local traditions which are still present in it. The bazaar is located in the heart of the old Multan city which was initially a gated community.
The city was surrounded by six gates which have been preserved to connect the modern Multan city to its past. These six gates namely Borh Gate, Lohari Gate, Pak Gate, Harem Gate, Delhi Gate and Doulat gate encapsulate the Bazaar and its adjacent living area.
There is pathway called Alang which serves as a connecting lane among these gates and the Bazaar and the residential colony. But the outgrowth of the city with the passage of time shaped and reshaped the old city and the Hussain Agahi Bazar.
The bazaar presents a familiar look of its South Asian prototype. Blind alleys filled with people and vendors. Food carts also add to the mix of buying and selling. Bikes push around freely making things difficult for the pedestrians who tolerate them with usual grim looks, muted curses and name-calling.
There are eateries serving and selling traditional street food of Multan. The bazaar, however, predominantly deals in clothing and other items in this range. Madni a shopkeeper tells the story that the bazaar predates the independence of Pakistan a commonplace phenomenon of history told by a common man.
The typical feature of Hussain Agahi bazaar is that it offers the traditional handicraft embroidery on male and female dresses. Having talked to the shopkeepers it was learnt that the embroidered cloths land in the bazaar from the nearby villages. This points to the cottage industry in the neighbouring rural areas where mostly women use their skill to make these embroidery designs. The worrying aspect is that this industry is declining due to various reasons.
The fast-changing trends and fashions among the urban women make it tough for the rural women to catch up thus reducing the demand of their handmade traditional embroidered cloths. Another crucial element is the use of mechanical tools which are far faster than the use of hands albeit putting quality behind quantity.
The Bazaar is the most favourite place for the people who want to do shopping in bulk for weddings. This bazaar provides the locals and outsiders an easy access to the things they want as this bazaar offers vast variety with low price.
The level of bargaining is very high; one can easily get things on his own desired price after much haggling. In this respect, people from the outskirts and the surrounding villages throng to this Bazar.
According to Madni, the retailers from all over the country come here and shop in wholesale for onward retail selling.
In Hussain Agahi bazaar, located on chowk bazaar, there is an ancient mosque named “Masjid wali Muhammad”. With eye-catching architecture, the mosque reflects the old traditions of how a mosque used to be the centre of the community interaction in old times. The mosque is having a madrassa as well where students come for the religious education. The Khadim/caretaker of the mosque told that the seminary teaches almost fifty students and is not a residential one.
The centrality of the bazaar in the ancient Multan city is illustrative by the fact that the most of the shrines of the city are just at a stone’s throw away from the bazaar. Multan’s famous Ghanta Ghar is also in the neighbourhood of the bazaar which points to the nucleus of the old city. Within this bazaar, there is a market of dry fruits named Gurh Mandi. Nuts and other dry fruits are available in this section of Bazar catering to the whole city.
The general outlook derived from the visit to the bazaar is indicative of prevalent economic and security environment. The shopkeepers miss the days of the past when the number of buyers was higher and so were their sale and profit. The load shedding in the summer makes it difficult even for the sellers to sit in their shops let alone the customers coming for shopping. The visitors come to this Bazar not only for shopping, but also its tourist value on account of its historical significance.