Hyderabad – A City that Carries Forward the Cultural Heritage of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty

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For many, Hyderabad is the city of dreams. The city, being the capital of Telangana State, is a cosmopolitan place. Thousands of people from across the country migrate to Hyderabad every year in search of jobs and for pursuing education.  

However, the city that attracts the millennial population as well as the younger adults of today has a deep-rooted, fascinating, and dynamic history. The story of the Qutb (Qutub) Shahi dynasty and its influence on the development of this vibrant city is one that must be told. Some of the most eminent historical structures that the city hosts were built during the days of the dynasty. The Qutb Shahi rulers had a refined taste in art and culture. This helped in building Hyderabad into what it is today. With so many heritage sites to uncover, this city is an intriguing place that one must visit! 

Establishment of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty

The Qutb Shahi dynasty was also known as the Golconda (Golkonda) Sultanate and it had an intrinsic connection to Persian culture. This dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk, who had migrated from Persia ( modern day Iran) to New Delhi, during the early years of the 16th century. Later on, he migrated to the Deccan region of India and served Mohammad Shah, the Bahmani sultan. The Bahmani Sultanate disintegrated into the five famous Deccan Sultanates, soon after which, Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk conquered Golconda. After the successful invasion, he declared the independence of Golconda from the Bahmani Sultanate, adorned the title of Qutub Shahi, and established the Qutb Shahi dynasty. 

Formation of Hyderabad

Hyderabad was founded by the fifth sultan of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (1565 – 1612). The city was established 1591 in the central part of South India along the southern banks of the Musi River.  Hyderabad was built and named as we call it in respectful memory of Ali ibn Ali Talib who was considered to be the successor to Prophet Mohammed and is revered as the first Imam of Shia Muslims.

Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah was a scholar who excelled in three distinctive languages – Persian, Arabic, and Telugu. Thus, even today, due to his lingering influence, these languages are considered to be an essential part of Hyderabadi culture. 

Hyderabad in the Present Day

Over the years, the city started exposing itself to and imbibing different cultures, yet keeping its uniqueness in place. In the present day, the majority of the locals  are equipped with the knowledge of more than two languages. Hindi, although not widely spoken in many regions in the southern part of India, is a common language in Hyderabad. This can be attributed to the influence of the Urdu-speaking rulers of the past. The city has a widespread influence of Persian culture in terms of food habits and certain practices. Today, Hyderabad is divided into two prominent areas that lie within the city – the old city and the new city. Both these areas carry the reminiscences of the past. The city is characterised by some of the most prominent structures that were built during the Qutb Shai era, namely, Golconda Fort, the Charminar, Mecca Masjid, and the Qutb Shahi tombs. 

Golconda Fort

Originally known as Mankal,  Golconda  Fort was initially built during the 13th century by the rulers of the prominent Kakatiya dynasty  in southern India. The name, Golconda, means shepherd’s hill.  Golconda  Fort and the city within the walls were built entirely on a vast region of granite hills. The Kakatiyas had built the fort city as a part of their defence strategy, and had numerous battlements that surrounded the area. 

After a number of notable incidents, in 1364, the fort was given away to the Bahmani Sultanate as a part of a treaty that was signed. Later, the Qutb Shahi dynasty took over the Golconda region and made it the capital of the kingdom. Much of what is seen at the fort today is a result of the fortification within the walls by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. During the 17th century,  Golconda Fort became a central point of the diamond market in India as the region was a popular mining spot. The Kollur mines were known for giving way to some of the most precious gems discovered in the region. These mines were the core revenue generators for the Qutb Shahi rulers. 

Golconda Fort. Image Source: https://www.cleartrip.com/

One of the most precious yet controversial diamonds in the world, the Kohinoor, is native to Golconda  Fort. Before the fort was vandalised in 1687, the Kohinoor diamond was stored inside a special vault within the fort. The Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, had laid siege on the fort for about eight years before it was finally taken over. 

Throughout the period during which the Qutb Shahi dynasty ruled from the Golconda region, the fort was built into a beautiful city filled with sprawling lawns, fountains, and numerous small markets.  The beautiful Nagina Gardens are part of what remains in the fort today, and are a must-see for tourists and visitors. . Another prominent sight within the fort is the Fateh Darwaza (victory gate), which was named so after Aurangzeb captured the fort. Some of the most important weapons of those days are also on display, although most of them were misplaced during the battle. It is said that sounds from the grand portico, under the dome, echo up to the Bala Hisar pavilion, which is approximately one kilometre away! 

Charminar

This grand structure is situated in the middle of a busy street in what is known as the ‘old city’ today. Charminar literally means four minarets. The Charminar was built in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah to mark the end of a plague that had crippled the area. This heritage structure is also known as the ‘Arc De Triumph of the East’.

The Charminar is made of granite and it stands on four grand arches that face the east, west, north, and south. The arches form the base of two floors of rooms, which are located upstairs. The minarets are about 24 metres tall. Each minaret was built on a lotus leaf-like base, which was a common characteristic among the structures built by the Qutb Shahi rulers. 

During the Qutb Shahi era, the first floor of the monument was used as a madrasa. On the  second floor, there was a prayer room (many liked to call it a mosque that was built within the structure). The archways on four sides of the monument have clocks above them, which were added later, in 1889. 

Each of the minarets has a narrow stairway that leads to the upper two floors. The famous Charminar marketplace can be viewed from there. The marketplace is, in fact, one of the major attractions for both locals and tourists. Although it was initially recognised as a monument, Charminar is now synonymous to the entire ‘old city area’ that consists of local shops, eateries, pearl dealers, perfume makers, and cloth weavers. 

Mecca (Makkah) Masjid 

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The idea of building  Mecca Masjid was formulated by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, during his reign over the Golconda region. He, in person, had laid the foundation stone for the construction of the holy site. However, the mosque was finally completed in 1694. This is one of the largest and most active mosques in India, which opens its doors to nearly 20,000 people. The mosque is located exactly at the heart of the ‘old city’, in close proximity to Charminar.  Mecca Masjid and Charminar are located diagonally adjacent to one another, amidst the bustling marketplace that is always filled with millions of shoppers from across the world. 

Mecca Masjid. Image source: http://www.journeyplanner.in

Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah had ordered that the mosque be constructed using bricks made from the soil transported from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest site of Islam. The central arch of the mosque was made from those bricks, after which the mosque earned its name –  Mecca (Makkah) Masjid. There are three arched facades within the mosque, which are said to have been made from a single piece of granite. It took more than five years to carve the piece of granite into three distinctive arches. 

The Nizams, who ruled over the city of Hyderabad, were ardent followers of Islamic culture. Except for the first and the last Nizam of Hyderabad, the other rulers were buried inside the premises of Mecca Masjid. Every year, millions of tourists and pilgrims, from across the world, visit the mosque. This mosque is said to have been the central point of focus, around which the development of the city was initially planned. 

Qutb Shahi Tombs 

The rulers of the Qutb Shahi dynasty were buried in the Qutb Shahi tombs, which were built during the 16th and 17th centuries in Ibrahim Garden near  Golconda fort. The tombs were built on a consolidated, high platform, on a carpeted ground, and were decorated with chandeliers. 

The tomb of the founder of the dynasty, Sultan Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk, set an example for the tombs of his descendants.  His tomb is situated on an elevated, vast, open ground. The chamber in the tomb is octagonal in shape, each side measuring approximately 10 metres. The entire area of the tomb is crowned by a grand circular dome. 

Qutub Shahi Tombs. Image Source: https://www.hyderabadtourism.travel

Built in a combined Persian-Indian style, the tombs of the sultans had golden spires fitted on them so that they could be distinguished from the other members of the royal clan. 

The tombs of the rulers were highly maintained throughout the Qutb Shahi dynasty until their rule faded away. It was only in the 19th century that Salar Jung III of Hyderabad commissioned the restoration of the Qutb Shahi tombs. Since then, Ibrahim Garden has been one of the monumental attractions of Hyderabad. 

Hyderabad – A Vibrant City 

A city so deeply engulfed in history, owing to the different dynasties and cultural influences, is one that one must be explored! All these monuments have a million stories to tell us. Be it walking through the ruins of the forts and palaces, offering your daily prayers, or enjoying wholesome meals in the oldest eateries in the ‘old city’, there is always something that is in store for you! 

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