Hyderabad was founded in 1591. Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah (1580-1611 CE), the fifth sultan of the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golconda, laid the foundation of its iconic Charminar to symbolize the founding of Hyderabad. Hyderabad was intended as a citadel of Muslim power in the Deccan. Qutb Shah was an accomplished poet and wrote his poetry in Persian, Telugu, and Urdu. His famous ghazal “piya baaj pyaala piya jaye na, piya baaj ek din jiya jaye na” is still a favorite in soirees today.
In 1589, CE Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah married a Hindu woman, the courtesan Bhagmati, and remained with her as his Queen till his death in 1611 CE. The sultan bestowed the title of Hyder Mahal on Bhagmati and hence the name of the new city came to be Hyderabad. Faizi, the elder brother of Akbar’s historian Abu-Fazl, who visited the new city soon after its founding, was scathing on this and condemned the naming of the city after Bhagmati who he described as a “hardened whore”.
The RSS is now trying to create a myth that the city was named after a Hindu goddess called Bhagyalaxmi and have inflicted a temple dedicated to her on the south-east corner of the Charminar.
The city he built is today India’s fastest-growing metropolis and a dominant center for Information Technology, Medicine, Pharmaceuticals, and Defence R&D. The Hyderabad urban sprawl now covers 650 sq.kms and houses over 10 million people. The city was the milch cow that gave the composite state of Andhra Pradesh most of its tax revenues and continues to be so now for Telangana. It will be interesting speculation to wonder what expectations Quli Qutb Shah would have had for his brainchild?
Muslim power came to dominance in the Deccan after the defeat of the Vijayanagar forces under the septuagenarian King Rama Raya at Talikota in 1564 by an alliance of the sultanates of Ahmednagar, Bijapur, and Golconda. In the next few decades, Golconda emerged as the most powerful sultanate in the Deccan and was the last to fall to Aurangazeb in 1687.
After the death of Aurangazeb in 1707 and as the Moghul Empire weakened, the Viceroy of the Deccan, Mir Qamruddin Siddiqui assumed the title Nizam-ul-Mulk in 1724 and declared independence. He founded the Asaf Jah dynasty that extended from the Narmada in the north to Trichinopoly in the South and Masulipatnam in the east to Bijapur in the west.
Both the Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi kings employed Hindus in important positions in their courts. Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah notably employed the brothers Akkanna and Madanna as his viziers. The two brothers employed their nephew Kancharla Gopanna, better known as Bhakta Ramadasu, as the Tehsildar of Palavancha Taluq in the present-day Khammam district of Telangana.
Ramadasu was a devotee of Rama and expended large sums mulcted from the sultan’s treasury to expand and endow the historical Rama temple at Bhadrachallam on the north bank of the Godavari. For his pains, he was rewarded by incarceration at the dungeons of the Golconda fort. With plenty of time on his hands he composed the kirtanas he is now famous for.
These kirtanas were mostly lamenting to his chosen God about his plight owing to his devotion and commitment to glorify him. In one famous kirtana “Ishvaku kula tilaka” Ramadasu actually lists out how much he spent on every construction and item of jewelry to adorn the deities. The Ramadasu story ends with a fable. The deity one night appeared before the Qutb Shah urged him to release Ramadasu, which the entranced Sultan promptly did.
This and the fact that his beloved Bhagmati, later on, Queen Hyder Mahal, as well as the favorite courtesans of his grandson Abdullah Qutb Shah being two Hindu ladies called Taramati and Premamati helped persuade him. Taramati and Premamati who are now immortalized each with a dancing pavilion and mosque named after them gave the Qutb Shahi kings a reputation for cultural and philosophical syncretism. The Muslim nobility however was mostly of Persian origin Shias.
The early Asaf Jah kings were made of sterner stuff in keeping with the traditions established by Aurangazeb. They came to rely more on Sunni noblemen from the north who found their way to the Deccan escaping the ruins of the great Mughal Empire and later from the dwindling fortunes of the rulers of Oudh.
Even though several Hindu courtiers reached high positions in the Asaf Jah dispensation they were exceptions. The Deva Raya kings of Vijayanagar and the Maratha courts too had Muslims hold high offices, but they too were exceptions. The point here is that despite the extravagant talk of “Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb” that suffuses the hindsight view of this period, the two communities were largely apart. Where the rulers were of one the other was the subject community.
At the time of India’s independence, Hyderabad was the largest Indian princely state in terms of population and GNP. Its territory of 82,698 sq. miles was more than that of England and Scotland put together. The 1941 census had estimated its population to be 16.34 million, over 85% of who were Hindus, and with Muslims accounting for about 12%. It was also a multi-lingual state consisting of peoples speaking Telugu (48.2%), Marathi (26.4%), Kannada (12.3%), and Urdu (10.3%).
Its diversity and broad heritage could be seen in the historical monuments at Ajanta, Ellora, and Daulatabad in Marathwada, Bijapur, Bidar, Gulbarga, Anegondi, and Kampili in Karnataka, and Warangal and Nagarjunakonda in Telangana.
Hyderabad, not only had its own Army but also had its own Railways, Airline, Postal Service, Radio Broadcasting network, and Currency. The Nizam and his court ruled over it with the British Resident keeping a close and watchful eye over everything. The British Army also had a permanent garrison, just in case the “faithful ally of the King-Emperor” was found lacking in faith.
As can be imagined it was a Muslim dominated state. Typically in 1911, 70% of the police, 55% of the army, and 26% of the public administration were Muslims. In 1941 a report on the Civil Service revealed that of the 1765 officers, 1268 were Muslims, 421 were Hindus, and 121 others, presumably British, Christians, Parsis, and Sikhs.
Of the officials drawing pay between Rs.600 –1200 pm, 59 were Muslims, 38 were “others”, and a mere 5 were Hindus. The Nizam and his nobles, who were mostly Muslims, owned 40% of the total land in the kingdom. Quite clearly it was too much of a good thing for so few and the time for its end had come.
By Mohan Guruswamy
If Hyderabad was to be a citadel of Muslim power in the Deccan, that ended in September 1948 when the Indian Army quickly scattered the ragtag forces opposing union with India and with dreams of hoisting the Asafia flag on the ramparts of the Red Fort.
This is the first time in over 350 years Hyderabad and the state that bore its name came under the non-Muslim rule.
My father who joined the civil service in the early 1930s in the Hyderabad Civil Service and then joined the Indian Army to serve in the war returned to the bureaucracy as a member of the new national elite, the IAS. When he joined the Hyderabad service he had to perforce wear a sherwani and fez for all official functions.
The official languages were Urdu and Persian. I recently found an old official photograph in the formal attire of the revenue officers serving in the Warangal division. My father is third from the left in the second row. He was the only Hindu in the photo. When he returned to the civil service after the war the bush coat and solar topee were in vogue for the new elite. The government was now conducted in English.
But that changed in 1956 when trilingual Hyderabad state was dismembered following the re-organization of states. Hyderabad became the capital of a composite state of the Telugu-speaking people. It was several centuries before the power of the Telugu people that was lost at Orugallu (Warangal) and Vijayanagar returned to them.
Hyderabad now began to lose its Muslim character and the culture, which its Muslim elite fostered and cherished, and gave the city its unique identity. Along with the change of guard, the city lost more. It lost its clean streets, the skyline of elegant buildings, and a genteel lifestyle. It grew pell-mell to become India’s fifth largest metropolis and fastest-growing urban area in India. Many people miss the old Hyderabad. But most didn’t even notice.
If Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah were to visit Hyderabad he would not recognize the city of fountains, gardens, palaces, and music he envisioned. He would almost certainly be appalled by the temple that has sprouted a couple of decades ago on the south-eastern corner of his Charminar. The clocks on the Charminar do not tell the time anymore, but the growing temple tells us how the times have moved on.
Mr Mohan Guruswamy, served as an advisor to Ministry of Finance and hold three decades of experience in government, industry and academia. An alumni of Osmania University-Hyderabad; John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Guruswamy is a policy analyst studying economic and security issues.