The first thing I noticed about Hyderabad, a 400-year-old city on the banks of the River Musi in the Deccan, was the colour of its grass. It is a deep shamrock green awash with light. I had not seen such a green elsewhere in my travels.
I wonder if Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty [also known as the Golconda Sultanate], felt the same way when he founded the city of Hyderabad way back in 1591. Did the green charm him as much as it did me?
Avid builders and equally avid poets, the Qutb Shahi dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk, Governor of Telangana under the Bahamani court. As was the norm back then of setting up sovereign states, once the last Bahamani ruler died followed with the disintegration of his empire, Quli Qutb ul Mulk declared Golconda an independent kingdom and himself its Sultan.
Builders of the gigantic Golconda Fort perched atop a hill, the iconic Charminar in the heart of Hyderabad’s Old City, and the nearby Mecca Masjid said to be built with bricks made of clay all the way from Mecca, the Qutb Shahis were Turkmen from Central Asia.
In the beginning, when they started off as rulers of the Deccan in 1518, the Qutb Shahis veered towards all things Persian in reminiscence of their roots. But over time, things changed. They started adopting the indigenous Deccan culture and language to the extent that they earned themselves the moniker “Telegu Sultans.” It is said it was the Qutb Shahis who christened the dance form Kuchipudi based after the village where it originated from.
After ruling for 169 years over a territory spanning Telangana, Andhra, and parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra, the dynasty, and with it Golconda and Hyderabad, fell to the Mughals in 1687 when Aurangzeb conquered the region.
Safe and untouched from pillage, seven Sultans of the Qutb Shahi dynasty lie buried, but forgotten today, in a series of crumbling bulbous dome-topped mausoleums just outside Golconda Fort. The official burial ground, the tombs are scattered amidst unkempt jewel-like blades of green grass and towering trees heavy with foliage, the gravestones covered in silken cloth placed by the faithful. Mosques, pavilions, baths, and stepped wells surround the tombs. There is an uncanny silence except for a few birds chirping.
Made of grey granite with stucco ornamentation in a combination of Persian and Hindu architectural styles, the site is unique for having an entire dynasty, except for one, buried in a single place. The last and 8th Qutb Shahi Sultan, Abul Hasan Qutb Shah [popularly referred to as Abul Hasan Tana Shah] was taken prisoner by the Mughals and imprisoned in Daulatabad Fort where he died after 12 years in captivity. He is buried in a modest grave near Aurangabad.
In an effort to avoid further deterioration of the royal cemetery, an ambitious conservation and restoration project is currently ongoing funded by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust & Allied Trusts. The 10-year project, encasing ten tombs one by one in their original lime plaster facades, is working towards creating a heritage park of international stature. The tombs of the 1st to 5th Sultans being restored at one end of the burial ground look lovely. Like a fairytale.
But I prefer the versions nestled in the wilderness and my solitary walks through them—past the regal tombs of Sultans and their queens, of favourite nautch girls [dancers] and singers, of hakims [physicians] and commanders, with flaking plaster and shrubs growing through the bricks.
They feel more true to reality. Of a past that lives on like a hazy sweet memory wrapped in a blanket of light and green. ❤
Coming back to my blog, and the present … What do you feel about conservation projects? Do you like them all recreated to spanking new versions, or are you like me, a romantic, revelling in the mysteriousness of the forgotten? 🙂
Resting places for the Qutb Shahi royal women: Fatima Sultana’s tomb with Hayat Baksh Begum’s tomb in the background.
Mohammed Qutb Shah built this intricately decorated tomb [of a set of two] for his favourite physicians, Hakim Nizamuddin Gilani and Hakim Abdul Jabbar Gilani. Each twin tomb has a gravestone in an octagonal chamber supporting the dome.
Main doorway and gravestone of the 6th Sultan Mohammed Qutb Shah’s tomb [1593 (b) – 1626 (d)]. Once decorated with glazed tiles, its architectural plan and details were so popular it became the model for the dynasty’s later tombs.
Hayat Baksh Begum’s tomb is the largest in the complex [3 February 1667 (d)]. She was the daughter of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah [5th Sultan], wife of Mohammed Qutb Shah [6th Sultan], and mother of Abdullah Qutb Shah [7th Sultan].
The splendid Grand Mosque was built by Hayat Baksh Begum in 1666, during the reign of her son Abdullah Qutb Shah. Two inscriptions on the facade read: “Hasten to say your prayers, lest ye miss them” and “Hasten to repent, lest ye perish.” Still relevant. 🙂
Present and past: Local Hyderabadi women with their children at the Hayat Baksh Begum’s tomb.
A quaint little mosque buried in the thickets. There are over 70 structures in the burial ground comprising mausoleums, mosques, step-wells, a hamam [bath], pavilions, and gardens; all built during the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
In one corner of the ground are two identical tombs. One is dedicated to Pem Mati and another to Tara Mati. Pem Mati was Sultan Abdullah Qutb Shah’s favourite dancer. An inscription on the sarcophagus and door-frame dated 1662 reads: “From all eternity, Pem Mati was a flower of Paradise.” Tara Mati meanwhile was the favourite singer of Sultan Mohammed Qutb Shah. She died in 1625.
Grand and elegant, Abdullah Qutb Shah, the 7th Sultan’s tomb [1614 (b) – 1672 (d)] is a replica of his parents’ tombs. Whilst seven Sultans lie buried in the site, still in full stateliness, the last and 8th Sultan sleeps in a modest grave five hundred kilometres away.
Restored tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, the 5th Sultan [1566 (b) – 1612 (d)] funded by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust & Allied Trusts. It is a complex tomb made of two terraces and 3 projecting galleries placed one on top of the other. The Sultan’s name is inscribed in Persian on the sarcophagus inside.
This is how the Qutb Shahi royal tombs looked like over 400 years ago. ❤