Among the cities of India, Hyderabad, has one of the richest and most colourful histories, accentuated by magnificent architecture and a rich culture. Several influences for the past 400 years has molded it into the A-1 status city it is today. History of Hyderabad is inextricably linked with the rise and fall of various kingdoms, Qutb Shahi to Asaf Jahi (Nizams), which flourished in the Deccan region during the medieval and modern times.
It was the famous Qutb Shahi’s rule that opened a glorious chapter in the chronicles of Hyderabad.
Before the city’s actual historical rise, the area where Hyderabad would ultimately be established was under the rule of several kingdoms, including those of Buddhist and Hindu royalty. It came under rule by the kings of the Chalukya kingdom, whose feudal chieftains, the Kakatiyas, splintered off to create their new kingdom and established it around Warangal. In 1321 AD, the Sultanate of Delhi under the command of Muhammad bin Tughluq brought Warangal to its knees, resulting in anarchy in the whole region. The next few decades saw the battles for supremacy for the region among the Bahmani Sultanate, the Masunuri Nayakas, and the Vijayanagara Rayas, which finally ended with the Bahmani Sultanate exerting control by the middle of the 15th century.
Qutb Shahi Kings – Rulers of the Deccan (1518 – 1687)
The Qutb Shahi Kings were rulers between 1518 and 1687. As the monuments of their time reveal, they were great builders, lovers of architecture and patrons of learning. The greatest and the most popular edifice of the time is the Charminar. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, inherited a rich legacy – a prosperous and large kingdom with the densely populated capital of Golconda.
The birth of a city
Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, a ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, was the founder of Hyderabad City. In the year 1591, when the Moon was in the constellation of Leo, Jupiter in its own abode and all celestial planets favourably placed, he laid the foundation of a new city which he called Bhagyanagar after his beloved queen ‘Bhagmati’. Bhagmati embraced Islam and took the name Hyder Mahal and consequently Bhagynagar was renamed Hyderabad after her.
The fourteen year old crown Sultan of Golconda, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah was madly in love with beautiful Hindu courtesan ‘Bhagmati’, a local dancer. Every evening, the Prince of Golconda would ride to the village of Chichlam across Musi river, to meet his beloved, for he couldn’t live without watching her dance, and listening to her soulful voice.
Legend has it that once heavy rains and thunderstorm lashed Golconda and the city was devastated. Flood water of the Musi river destroyed many homes and lives.
Young Sultan of Golconda, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah was worried for Bhagmati, so he decided to cross the flooded river to meet her. His Royal guards tried to stop him as it was very dangerous for the young sultan, but in vain. Prince rode to the shore of the Musi river. He coerced his horse to step into the river and as soon as it did, a furious current nearly swept it away. It was a miracle that both survived and reached the other end.
After crossing the Musi river, Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah rode towards the Chichlam village; he found many homes and lives were destroyed, he was searching for Bhagmati all the way and was praying for her safety.
Prince of Golconda found Bhagmati alive and felt happy after meeting her. After storm subsided, Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah and Bhagmati left for Golconda.
When Sultan Ibrahim, the father of the young Sultan heard this tale of dangerous passion, he was alarmed and forbade Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah from meeting Bhagmati. Young Sultan was miserable without her. Beautiful women from Armenia, Persia, Arab and different parts of India were brought to entertain the prince, but none could attract his attention away from his beloved ‘Bhagmati’.
Sultan Ibrahim found that his son loved only Bhagmati and no one else, no matter how beautiful she was. After seeing so much love for Bhagmati, Sultan Ibrahim constructed the Purana Pul (Old Bridge) – a massive stone bridge across the Musi River, to make it easy for the young Sultan to reach Chichlam to meet his beloved.
The romance of the crown Prince with a dancer evoked great curiosity and controversy in Golconda. The fact that the Bhagmati was a Hindu courtesan and much older than the prince, created quite a uproar in the court. The orthodox society was not ready to accept her as queen of Golconda. After ascending the throne, Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah defied all traditions, married Bhagmati, and made her his queen. He re-christened her Hyder Mahal, and named the city Hyderabad in honour of her.
Eight Qutb Shahi Rulers
I. Sultan Quli Qutbul Mulk – 1518 – 1543
II. Jamsheed Quli Qutb Shah – 1543 – 1550
III. Subhan Quli Qutb Shah – 1550
IV. Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah – 1550 – 1580
V. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah – 1580 – 1612 (Founder of Hyderabad City)
VI. Muhammad Qutb Shah – 1612 – 1626
VII. Abdullah Qutb Shahi – 1626 – 1672
VIII. Abul Hasan Tana Shah – 1672 – 1687
The Mughal Empire
Hyderabad’s fame finally caught the attention of the Mughal prince Aurangzeb, who laid siege on Golconda in 1686. Aurangzeb had been spending most of his time in the Deccan establishing and enforcing the Mughal superiority and sovereignity. When Shah Jahan finally died in 1666, Aurangzeb consolidated his power as Emperor and he spent most of it trying to expand his empire beyond that of his predecessor, Akbar the Great. His target was Hyderabad, at that time one of the richest cities in the area, and was reportedly impregnable because of the protection of Golconda Fort.
Aurangzeb’s initial sieges were failures and he had to leave in frustration. However, he came back and it wasn’t until a nine-month long intensive siege in 1687 when Golconda finally fell. Legend has it that the fortress would’ve held on if it wasn’t for a saboteur who was bribed by Aurangzeb to open the gates at night. Sultan Abul Hassan Tana Shah, the seventh and last king of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, was imprisoned soon after Golconda fell. Hyderabad’s importance declined, its flourishing diamond trade was destroyed, and the city fell into ruins. Aurangzeb’s attention, itself, was focused on the other parts of the Deccan shortly after, especially with the Marathas steadily gaining ground, albeit slowly, against the reigning Mughals.
Rise of the Nizams (1724 – 1948)
In 1724, Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqi, was granted the title of Nizam-ul-Muk (meaning Administrator of the Realm) by the Mughal emperor as viceroy tasked to oversee parts of the Mughal empire in behalf of the emperor. He intermittently ruled under the title of Asaf Jah and defeated a rival official in order to establish control over Hyderabad. During this time, viceroys and governors of Hyderabad have gained a considerable autonomy from the seat of power at Delhi and, when the Mughal empire finally crumbled down in the mid 18th century, the young Asaf Jah declared himself independent and the dynasty of the Nizams was established.
It would not take long before the Nizams quickly surpassed the Mughals in the domination of the southern parts of India, with their dominion hitting as high as 125 million acres (roughly 510,000 square kilometers). In the two centuries that the Nizams ruled over Hyderabad, there were a total of seven Nizams, excluding the 13 years where the three sons of Asaf Jah 1 ruled after him; the three sons were not officially recognized as rulers (and thus, did not get the title of Nizam). During these two centuries, Hyderabad saw immense growth again, both culturally and economically. It finally became the capital with the old one, Golconda, becoming all but abandoned. Hyderabad’s cultural glory was again established, especially since the Nizams themselves were great patrons of literature, art, architecture, and food. The Nizams themselves were counted as among the wealthiest people in the world; in fact, the last Nizam is ranked as the fifth wealthiest people in the history of the world today, with his fortune at its highest pinned at US$225 billion, adjusted to today’s value.
Seven Asaf Jah Rulers – Seven Nizams
I. Mir Qamaruddin Chin Qilij Khan – Nizam I
1724 – 1748
II. Nizam Ali Khan – Nizam II
1762 – 1803
III. Mir Akbar Ali Khan Sikander Jah – Nizam III
1803 – 1829
IV. Mir Farkhunda Ali Khan Nasir-ud-Daula – Nizam IV
1829 – 1857
V. Mir Tahniat Ali Khan Afzal-ud-Daula – Nizam V
1857 – 1869
VI. Mir Mahboob Ali Khan – Nizam VI
1869 – 1911
VII. Mir Osman Ali Khan – Nizam VII
1911 – 1948
Hyderabad History during India Independence
End of Asaf Jahi Dynasty
On the 10th of July 1947, the ‘Declaration of the Indian Independence’ bill was introduced by Harold Macmillan. To the Nizam’s dismay, no mention or decision was taken regarding the state of Hyderabad.
All princely states were given the option to either join India, Pakistan or remain independent. All states that would join the Indian Union would have to surrender their sovereignty and their right to collect taxes. All princely states large and small agreed to join the Union of India, except Hyderabad. In June 1947, the Nizam issued a Firman or a proclamation declaring independence from the Indian Union.
On the 15th of August 1947, India attained independence from the British, but Hyderabad stood defiant as an independent state. On 29th November 1947, the Nizam signed a ‘standstill agreement’ with the Indian Union for a period of one year.
In the months following the signing of the Standstill Agreement, suspicion and misgivings between the Nizam and the Indian government grew. Relations between the two were far from amicable.
The Razakar Movement, supported by the Majlis Ittehad-ul-Musalmeen, supporting Islamic supremacy in southern India gained ground in Hyderabad. Led by the zealous Kasim Razvi, the Razakars compelled the Nizam to maintain his independence and not relent to pressure from the Indian government. Claiming his right to remain independent in accordance with the Indian Independence Act, the Nizam declared Hyderabad a free, self-governing independent state but the Government of India refused to accept his point of view.
Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the deputy Prime Minister of India insisted that the state had to merge with the Indian union and to further tighten the noose, an economic blockade was imposed on Hyderabad. On the 10th of September 1948, the Nizam sent Nawab Moin Nawaz Jung to the Security Council to represent Hyderabad’s case before the United Nations. This was the last straw. All channels of communication were severed and the Government of India contemplated military action against the defiant state.
On the 13th of September 1948, the Indian Army initiated its Police Action Against Hyderabad. The exercise was termed Operation Polo and for five days the Razakars and the Hyderabad army made a half hearted attempt to resist the Indian army. But their antiquated ammunition and ill equipped soldiers were no match to an entire armoured division of the mighty Indian army. A number of Razakars lost their lives in the battle and their feeble resistance was soon overcome.
Five days later, on the 18th of September, 1948, the Indian army entered Secunderabad Cantonment. Military rule was imposed.
A reluctant Hyderabad finally merged with the Union of India.
For a smooth transition and to placate the sentiments of the hurt Hyderabadis, the Government of India considered it prudent to appoint Osman Ali Khan as the Rajpramukh of Hyderabad state, a position that he held from 26th January 1950 to 31st October 1956.
Democracy had the whole world in its grip and how long could Hyderabad stay unaffected? The boundary of this region in the Deccan was redrawn on linguistic considerations. The Marathi speaking areas merged with Maharashtra, the Kannada speaking region with Karnataka and on 1st November 1956, the Telugu speaking areas along the region formerly known as Andhra formed the new state of Andhra Pradesh with Hyderabad as its capital.
Takht-e-Nishan (Royal Seat) in Durbar Hall of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad
Mir Osman Ali Khan withdrew completely from public life and choose to lead a quiet, secluded life with his family. He had wisely formed a number of trusts that took care of his family’s need and funded his various charitable institutions.
In 1967 Osman Ali Khan passed away and his eldest grandson, Mukarram Jah, became the new Nizam – a designation that had no meaning, no duties and no responsibilities any more.
In 1972, the Indian Prime Minister, Ms Indira Gahndhi abolished the ‘privy purse’ and monarchs and royal families lost all their privileges at one go. Prince Mukarram Jah migrated to Australia and while most of his estate is being managed by the trusts formed by his grandfather, some of it has been acquired by the government.
Thus an era became history and a Asaf Jahi dynasty spanning seven generations faded into the twilight leaving behind an indelible print on the sand of time.
Hyderabad is a unique and rich tapestry of cultures, cuisines and language. The Quli Qutb Shahis, then the Mughals, the Nizams, and the British have built numerous monuments around the city. My aim is to capture these Heritage structures and understand their significance. For the sake of convenience , the city was divided into 16 parts. Each part will be updated every month onwards.
I would like to thank Mrs Madhu Vottery who is guiding and helping be in this project. For a detailed understanding of the history and Heritage of Hyderabad consider buying her book(link given at the end of Post)
Part 1 : Secunderabad I
Part 2 : Secunderabad II
Part 3 : Secunderabad III
Part 4 : Begumpet
Part 5 : Rajbhavan Road, Punjagutta and Kukatpally
Part 6 : Koti
Part 7 : Abids
Part 8 : Moazazam Jahi Market
Part 9 : Public Gardens
Part 10: Nampally, Mallepalli& Aghapura
Part 11: Masab Tank & Lakdikapool
Part 12: Mehdipatnam
Part 13: Banjara Hills & Jubilee Hills
Part 14: Charminar
Part 15: Afzal Ganj & Begum Bazar
Part 16 : Dilshuknagar
Part 17: East Hyderabad(Uppal,Amberpet)
For Index of the contents and brief images click here.
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A Guide to the Heritage of Hyderabad