Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Legends Never Fade in the City of the Nizams

On traveling down south from the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai to the state of Hyderabad, it can be seen that the city of Nizam's essence is a culmination of multiple cultural offerings from all across India. Just like the myriad subtle flavorings of its internationally revered biryani, Hyderabad forms an eclectic mix of cultures and creeds from all over India while retaining,at the same time,its entity as one of India's major IT hubs.

What is Hyderabad without its thronged markets and dusty lanes that bind modernity to the antiquities and curiosities that stand testament to the eras that were once. Although the majority of the population is Hindu, there remains a significant Muslim, Christian and Buddhist presence in the city, and mosques, churches and many other such religious institutions are seen in abundance. So, I can safely assume that the city's population constitutes a healthy mixture of all communities. A local fakir is only too enthusiastic to reveal the tale behind name "Hyderabad" which has a very romantic origin. A young prince once fell in love with a girl called Bhagmati, and later, when he ascended the throne, he named the city that he built 'Bhangyanagar', to please his beloved Bhagmati. However, legend goes on to tell us that she changed her name to 'Hyder Mahal' after converting to Islam, and hence, 'Bhangyanagar' came to be known as ‘Hyderabad’.
The veracity of this and the countless other tales in circulation, however,is questionable at best and therein lies a charm of this land where its secrets are but fading whispers that resound through the corridors of time.
Another favorite of all the locals is the story of the origin of Charminar, the famous four towered mosque whose monolithic fa├žade dominates the strrets of Hyderabad. Legend has it that the young prince Muhammad Quti Qutb, in a prayer to Allah, promised that he would erect a huge mosque in that very spot if the almighty delivered his people from the plague. To keeping his end of the bargain, the prince built what would be one of the greatest Islamic monuments of the time.

The most striking features of the Charminar are the monument's adjoining minarets which rise well above the rest of the structure, and command the landscape for miles around. There are four 'minars', one on each side, and there are many theories on their purpose , the most popular of which says that they were built as a tribute to the first four khalifs of Islam. 149 winding steps later and I find myself in a different world: the bird’s perspective, the panoramic splendor of the surrounding landscape, with the Mecca Masjid directly in front, and the busy markets around.

There is also an obscure legend in and around Hyderabad, which speaks of the existence of an underground tunnel that connects the palace at Golconda to Charminar. This tunnel was built as an escape route for the royal family, in case their palace was invaded. To this day, the exact location of this fabled place is unknown. Unsurprisingly, every local still believes in its existence, despite there being no tangible proof of it. Such is the power of popular belief.

Lunch time! All the ingredients in a biryani come together to form a pleasing combination that tastes nothing short of exquisite, and yet not quite the same had one or two of the ingredients been excluded. This forms the unique Hyderabadi experience. Nothing is better than a visit to the golconda fort complex built in the 13th century by the Kakatiya kings; it is located on a hill about 400 feet above the surrounding plain (According to a legend, the fort derives its name from Golla Konda, which is a Telugu word for Shepherd's Hill) The present structure of the Golconda Fort owes its existence to the Qutub Shahi kings. It consists of four stately forts with a 10 km long outer wall making it one of the most magnificent ruins in India renowned in the bygone times for its diamond trade.

At night, as I gaze upon the starry heavens my mind lingers to a story…. In 1591 while laying the foundation of Charminar, the prince prayed: "Oh God, bestow unto this city peace and prosperity. Let millions of men of all castes, creeds and religions make it their abode. Like fishes in the water." True to the legend, the city has blossomed into a synthesis of many cultures.

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