When a poet, architect and an aesthete supervises the building of a city, beauty, balance and symmetry are to be expected. What leads romance to the city of Hyderabad, is the love story of a young prince and a village belle that resulted in its very foundations being laid.
There is a love story related to the founding of the city of Hyderabad. As a young prince, Muhammad Quli fell passionately in love with a maiden from Chichlam village across the river Musi. He would even venture to cross the river in spate to keep his tryst with his beloved. Ibrahim Qutb Shah, his father, built a bridge on the river so that the crown prince did not endanger his life. When he ascended the throne, Muhammad Quli built a grand structure, the Charminar, at the site of the village. The city was called Bhagnagar to appease his beloved, Bhagmati. Later on it was called Hyderabad. Bhagnagar means city of good fortune. Farkhunda Buniyad, the Persian chronogrammatic name of the city yields the same meaning.
Hyderabad was modeled after Isfaan in Iran and built under the supervision of the prime minister Mir Momin, a poet, architect and an aesthete-like his master. He tried to create a replica of Paradise itself to suit Muhammad Quli’s status as the greatest of the Qutb Shahi rulers. The city was completed in 1592. It has a grid plan of two broad intersecting streets with the Charminar as a kind of triumphal arch at the center. The French traveler, Tavernier in 1652, compared Hyderabad to Orleans ‘well built and opened out’ and in 1672, Abbe Carr was much impressed by the city as the center of all trade in the East.
Aurangzeb died in 1707, seven years after the death of the last Qutb Shahi ruler, Abul Hasan Tana Shah in prison in 1700. The Mughal governor of Hyderabad, Mir Kamruddin Khan, titled Nizam-ul-Mulk, declared independence and started the Asaf Jahi dynasty. The waning Mughal power found itself helpless against forces of disintegration. But the Nizams were fabulously rich and stories of their hordes of gold, diamonds and pearls spread far and wide. Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam before Hyderabad merged into the Union of India, was among the world’s wealthiest individuals. Prior to their treaty with the British, the Nizams had good relations with the French. Monsieur Raymond, a French adventurer and commander of the Nizam’s troops, earned great respect of the people. A 23-feet-high granite obelisk inscribed JR stands on a hill in Saururnagar in memory of this trusted lieutenant of the Nizams, who couldn’t stand the growth British influence.
Hyderabad is among the few Indian cities which has a well preserved cultural heritage. Very much like the Nawabs of Lucknow and of Awadh (in U.P.), Hyderabad invokes nostalgia among old residents for its culture, fine arts and a certain sophistication in manners. Much more than anything, Hyderabad presents a true picture of secularism. “There is no difference between Islam and Kafir for me”, declared Muhammad Quli, “because the basis of all religions is love”. This secularism and its composite culture, in due course created the ethos of Hyderabad. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru described Hyderabad as a “microcosm of Indian culture” and the famous poet Faiz compared Hyderabad to the “Garden of Eden”.
Charminar, the hub of the city, has four wide roads radiating in the four cardinal directions. The four minarets command the landscape for miles. The structure is square, each side measuring 100 feet, with a central pointed high arch at the center. The whole edifice contains numerous small decorative arches arranged both vertically and horizontally. The prominently projected cornice on the first floor upholds a series of six arches and capitals on each façade, rising to the double-story gallery of the minarets. The projected canopy, ornamental brackets and decoration in stucco plaster add graceful elegance to the structure. On the upper courtyard, a screen of arches topped by a row of square jall or water screens lends a fragile charm to the sturdy appearance of Charminar. This courtyard was used as a school and for prayers at the mosque. The minarets, their domed finials rising from their lotus-leaves cushion, rise to 180 feet from the ground. An interesting 17th-century description of the monument comes from Thevenot: “That which is called the four towers, is a square building, of which each face is ten fathom broad and about seven high. It is opened on the four sides by four arches…”.
There are two galleries in it, one over another, and all over a terrace that serves for a roof, bordered with a stone balcony. At each corner of the building there is a tower about ten fathom high, and each tower has four galleries with little arches on the outside. It is vaulted underneath and appears like a dome. There is a large table raised seven or eight feet from the ground with steps to go up to it. All the galleries of that building serve to make the water mount up, that so being afterwards conveyed to the kings palace, it might reach the highest apartments. Nothing in the town seems so lovely as the outside of that building; nevertheless it is surrounded with ugly shops made of wood and covered with straw, where they sell fruit which spoils the prospect of it. The thriving market still lies around the Charminar attracting people and merchandise of every description. In its heyday, the Charminar market had some 14,000 shops, a unique conglomeration of a grand oriental bazaar. The whole market around the Charminar is crowded with shops which sell glass bangles in rainbow colors. Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, mauve and pink-or whatever shade of fancy.
Near the Charminar stand four magnificent arches called Char Kaman, which served as the gateway to the Zilu Khana (ante chamber) of the royal palace and are named Machli Kaman, Kali Kaman, Sher Gil Ki Kaman and Char Minar ki Kaman. The Char-su-ka-hauz, a cistern with a fountain in the center of the arches is now called Gulzar Hauz. The royal residential palaces stood around the Charminar. Of the Qutb Shahi royal palaces in Hyderabad nothing of importance has survived; not even the Qutb Mandir, the pleasure of which admitted only Muhammad Quli and his female companions. The gardens have simply vanished. The mosques have been however spared.
Near the Charminar stands the Mecca Masjid, begun by Muhammad Qutb Shah in 1617 and completed by Quranzeb in 1693. It is a grand edifice with a huge courtyard which can accommodate nearly ten thousand men at prayer. Tavernier has provided a graphic description of the mammoth boulders cut to size and carted for use in the building of the mosque. The minarets look rather stunted in comparison with the grandeur of the whole massive structure. But it looks more Mughal then Qutb Shahi in its perfect granite finish and vast courtyard. A particular stone brick in the mihrab is believed to have been brought from Mecca.
The other two mosques the Jami Masjid and the Toli Masjid are small and modest structures. Muhammad Quli Shah built the Jami Masjid in 1592, after founding Hyderabad. Musa Khan, a supervisor of works at the Mecca Masjid, levied a damri for every rupee spent on the building of the Mecca Masjid. With these collections he built the Toli Masjid, near the Purana Pul. Two buildings, the Badshahi Ashur Khana and Darul Shifa built in 1594 are much dilapidated and in need of large scale repair.
- The Nizams did not build any great mosques or palaces. The last Nizam built the Falakuma palace which housed the most expensive art objects, tapestries and carpets, in addition to the largest single-man collection of diamonds. Here the Nizam had received their Majesties, the late King George V and King Edward VIII of England. The Chowmukha palace, built after the Shah palace of Teheran, is closed to visitors. The Regency Mansion, built in 1803 by James Kirkpatrick, married a Hyderabadi girl and built for her Rang Mahal, a suite of rooms in the native style. Of much interest to visitors is the Husain Sagar Lake, a large artificial lake lying between Hyderabad and Secunderaad. It was built by Ibrahim Qutb Shah around 1550, in gratitude to Husain Shah Wali, who had cured him of a disease. A tourist spot affording lovely views of the city is the Naubat Pahad, a hilltop crowned by the Birla temple. In old days royal firmans (announcements) were read to the people to the beat of drums. The Bagh-I-Aam stretches below this hillock where stands the State Legislative Assembly building. Among the newer additions to Hyderabad’s grand buildings are the Osmani University, the high court and the Osmania General Hospital.
The city straddles the Musi river which, in 1908, had caused much destruction by flooding the city. Under the supervision of India’s greatest engineer Sir M.Vishweshvarayya, two large reservoirs, Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar were constructed to save the city from devastation by floods in the future. If there is some time left, a visit to the Nehru Zoological Park is recommended for a short lion safari and observing the wild beasts moving about freely in their expansive compounds. The crocodile hatchery is very informative for the young and the curious. One of the most visited places in the city is the Salar Jung museum.
Hyderabad’s chief claim to international fame rests on two things, the Charminar and the pearl market. Both the Qutb Shahi rulers and the Nizams loved pearls and diamonds. They patronized this trade in a big way. The Asaf Jahi Nizams not only wore ropes of pearls studded with diamonds as part of state regalia but also used paste for crushed pearls as beauty aids. The princesses were covered with pearls and weighed against pearls on their birthdays. Osman Ali, the richest of the Nizams stored pearls and diamonds in sacks in basement chambers. At one time pearls were imported from Basra; now Japan is the chief supplier of raw material. The flourishing trade in pearls at Hyderabad attracts tourist and connoisseur alike.
Hyderabad is also famous for Bidriware, a type of encrusted metalwork where one metal is inlaid or overlaid on another metal. It looks similar to damascene work (koft gari) with gold or silver. Originating from Bidar, this art achieved perfection in Hyderabad. The design is inlaid by hammering in strands of wire in engraved grooves in linear design or pieces of chiseled out pattern in metal are inserted in exact cut out surface and then hammered in. Later, a permanent black color is imparted to the alloy surface by chemical process which leaves the inlaid designs brilliant and unaffected. Lastly the object is washed, dried and given an oil massage for finish. Bidriware derives its beauty from the contrast created by the inlaid metal-gold silver or brass against the black background.
For women, Hyderabad holds yet another shopping opportunity—those irresistible late saris in striking colors. The patterning is done by resist-dyeing or tie-dyeing the yarn before it is put on the loom for weaving. It requires precise measurement of designs and patterns-birds animals or diamonds cut motifs. The other popular variety of saris is from Siddipet, Dharmavaram, Narayanpet and Gadwal. These forms of weaving require experience since patterns are created by changing the color of the yarn during weaving and by elaborate forms of placement of the warp and weft for creating different motifs. Also typical of the state is Kalmakari—the hand painted fabric, and Nirmal painting, using dyes to create memorable scenes from the Mahabharat and the Ramayana.
Hyderabad has a typical cuisine which combines the tastiest recipes of the south with the northern Mughlai. The most popular is the birani or pulao. It is the aromatic long grained basmati rice cooked with mutton or chicken pieces. These meat pieces add a flavor of their own to the preparation. The kababs are barbecued meat, hot and succulent, they are irresistible in taste and do not require a well laid table for fear of spilling the curry on one’s clothes. One can also try haleem —a preparation of pounded wheat with tender portions of meat, garnished with crispy fried onion rings. Nahari sheep trotters and spices stewed overnight over a slow charcoal fire, and eaten with hot bread cakes, is yet another of Hyderabad delicacies. Two dessert items deserve special mention-the rich creamy sheer birinj flavored with crushed almonds and garnished with rose petals and Shahi Tukre topped with a fine sheet of edible silver foil. Of course, one can never forget that Hyderabadi grapes have a taste of their own.
On lonely roads, on barren hillsides or crowded city markets-ever one can notice troops of nomadic gypsies, whose womenfolk wear loads of chunky silver and ivory jewelry on gorgeous black skirts an tops embroidered with mirror pieces, leading children and cattle by the hand while balancing huge baggage bundles on their heads. They are the Banjaras. They belong to one of the oldest nomadic communities highly organized and with a language of their own called gar boli. Homeless, they wander from village to village. Descendants of Mola, of the Yadav community and friends of Lord Krishna and Radha- these banjaras adopted a nomadic life. Historically they were traders in salt in Rajasthan. Their present name lambadi means lavana or salt in Hindi. Yet another name, Sugali in Telegu means cowherds men. They had helped Alexander the Great in carting away the treasures plundered during his north Indian campaigns. Later the Mughals used the banjaras as guides on the roads and carries of their baggage towards the Deccan. That’s how they reached these distant lands. Banjara is a derivative from vanijayam, meaning trade, their original profession. The heavy jewellery, which Banjaran women wear, can weigh anything up to four kilograms. Silver and ivory are being replaced with aluminum and plastic. The married women wear anklets, hair ornaments, and bangles above the elbow. They have made tattooing limbs a fine art of bodily ornamentation. Their marriage rituals are quite modern and dowry is out of the question. Only recently has their traditional mirror embroidery caught the fancy of fashion of fashion designers and slick boutiques.