Tiddley-Bits tea

Tiddley-Bits tea

Sunday, 13 January 2019

{postcards from India-Hyderabad}

{Paigah tombs}
I had always wanted to go to Hyderabad ever since I read William Dalrymple's White Mughals when I was an undergraduate Art Historian in my early 20s. So when we were planning our trip to return to India in 2018, I said we must go! It is exactly a year ago today that we were exploring the lovely city, and so I felt it was time to get back to blogging about my Indian journey!

I have always been interested in moments in history where things are slightly different than we're meant to expect...or when there's a glimpse into the past that reveals that things could've gone slightly differently than they did. It was the case in places like Hyderabad in the eighteenth century, when the boundaries of empire could be pushed, or when the rules had not yet been set in stone. It was in Hyderabad that James Achilles Kirkpatrick, an agent for the East India Company, famously fell in love with a Hyderabadi princess, Khair-un-Nisa Begum (a great-niece of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, Mir Alam).

Throughout the eighteenth century the East India Company formed political and diplomatic relationships with many of the state polities in India, particularly in the South and in Bengal. During the latter part of the eighteenth century a series of wars resulted in British dominance—the elimination of the French in South India, the Mysore Wars including the famous defeat over Tipu Sultan, and finally the Maratha Wars—which gave Britain control over many states, although a few independent Indian states still survived. This new domination called for a re-organisation of the East India Company. From 1770 to 1825 new positions were created in both civil and military realms for Company servants. Residents were sent to the courts of independent states, such as Lucknow (another one of my favourite cities) and Hyderabad, while other officials sustained central administration in the Presidency towns. The British Government in England realised the need to install a form of legalised government and in 1773 the Regulating Act was drawn, beginning a constitution for India and appointing a Governor General to employ authority over all British possessions in India. Even though this control in the Presidency towns was seen in the building of European edifices, the construction of roads, the implementation of British administrative practices, and the beginning of topographical and ethnological surveys, the Residencies, still homes to the Nawabs (or Nizams in the case of Hyderabad), retained their culture and withstood much ‘Britishisation.’ Many of the British residents at these courts embraced the Nawabi culture and some even went so far as to become what many British saw as ‘Indianised.’ 

So it was with great anticipation that we went to Hyderbadad. To be honest, the city itself was disappointing. Now a tech centre, the city has been so built up with concrete it's hard to find much of the old charm and most of the day you are stuck in traffic, BUT the historic sites are still very much worth a visit! ...and for me, the highlights were some of the most amazing examples of Islamic architecture I have ever seen, a nod to the prosperity and refined culture of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the late fifteenth century and later the Nizams of the seventeenth.

We started our journey at an old English church, and then made our way to the Residency (1803-6), where Fitzpatrick lived. It is a neo-classical building, that is now part of the University College for women (Koti). We had a very good guide, Sai, who has done tours for diplomats and movie stars, and he was able to get us into the building that was undergoing renovation and restoration.
{British Residency now a women's college}

{my sister in the famous stairwell of the Residency: to think of what parties this hall has seen!}

{restoration work}

While Kirkpatrick's story is the most famous, it wasn't the only one. Studies of Bengali wills of British men shows that bibis or Indian wives appear in one in three wills between 1780-5, however this was soon to decline, and between 1805-10, bibis appear in one in every four wills, by 1830 they have diminished to one in six, and by the middle of the nineteenth century they had completely disappeared. So the story of Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nisa for me, has always marked an important moment in time, when an element of 'hybridisation' or cultural mixing was allowed and even celebrated.

Kirkpatrick, for instance, ensured Khair-un-Nissa was provided with a zenana where she could continue to live in purdah. He built Khair the Rang Mahal (Palace of Colours), a large and luxurious complex that he adorned with paintings and fountains in the Mughal style and which included the Begum’s Garden. Here she lived in the zenana as she would have if she had married a Muslim nobleman. Kirkpatrick converted to Islam, undergoing a formal ceremony to marry Khair, and their marriage resulted in two children.

{George Chinnery, William and Catherine Aurora Kirkpatrick, Children of Lieutenant-Colonel James Kirkpatrick, 1805}

This portrait was painted by Chinnery around 1805, before the children headed off to England. They are dressed similarly to any royal Muslim child would have been at the time—in full Mughal dress, adorned with jewels, and in Indian footwear. In 1801 a British visitor to the Hyderabadi court described Kirkpatrick, as ‘a good-looking man […] his hair is cropped short, and his fingers are dyed with henna. [At the Durbar he] behaved like a native, and with great propriety.’  His two children, Katherine Aurora and William were both shipped off to England for their education in September 1805, and like many, they never saw their parents again. Their father died a month after their ship sailed, and their mother, now living in the increasingly discriminatory age of the nineteenth century, had no say in seeing her two children again.  

{the graveyard at the Residency}

We then made our way to the extraordinary Paigah tombs. The Paigahs were a noble family who were well ensconced in the Nizam's court. The stucco work on these tombs is simply outstanding as is the intricate marble tracery. There's a mosque on the premises, which rumour has it, is still maintained by the  descendents  of the Paigahs.

{Paigah tombs}

{stunning details}

{one of the tombs}
{look at that stucco detail}
{off to prayer}
{more amazing stucco details}
{marble tracery}

From the quiet of the Paigah tombs we faced the hustle and bustle of the Charminar (literally four minarets) from 1592; the first building to be constructed when Hyderabad was founded. It is still the epicentre of Hyderabad, where I felt the city really comes to life, as it is here that the numerous markets proffer anything from chickens to bangles! 
A taste of the hustle & bustle, and the call to prayer

{driving through the streets of old Hyderabad}

{vestiges of old havelis}

{murghis! chickens for sale!} 

{the chowminar stands out amidst the bustle}


{bangle wallah making bangles}

{bangle shopping}

Near to the Charminar is the Mecca Masjid from 1614, built in the reign of Muhammad Qutb Shah; it is the city's most important mosque. 
{Mecca Masjid}

That was a lot to fit into a day, but the next day we were up early and off to the Chow Mahalla Palace built in the 1760s and added to in subsequent centuries. Here you really get the feel of the opulence of the nizams, whose residence it was, with a number of buildings/palaces. The Khilwat Mubarak served as the durbar hall and is particularly outstanding with fabulous elaborate plasterwork and chandeliers that would fill my whole dining room! 

{the stunning plasterwork and chandeliers of the Khilwat Mubarak}

{the durbar hall}

{throne in the durbar hall}

{European interiors of the Afzal Mahal}
We also stopped off at the nearby Salar Jang Museum, which isn't particularly well maintained or displayed, but does hold a number of interesting miniatures, some of which record the presence of White Mughals, such as this one, of a European in Mughal clothing enjoying musical entertainment. 
{note the attention to the stucco work}

 For our final day, we drove to the Golconda Fort, one of the greatest medieval cities in the world. It was a fortified outpost for the Hindu Kakatiya Dynasty in the 12th-13th centuries, but Golconda is probably best known for its diamond mines and trading centre. In the 16th century, under the Qutb Shahi dynasty, it became a major city and the capital. While some parts are extreme ruins, others are fairly well preserved, with elaborate plasterwork still visible. The hike up to the top is rather tiresome in the heat, but there are good views...the way down, however, is a bit scary & steep!
{my parents before the long trek up to the top!}

{Golconda is an attraction site for a day out, here Indians dressed up in their finery}

{views from the walk up}

A quick stop nearby to the Qutb Shahi tombs, outstanding examples of funerary architecture. Mausoleums are marked with onion domes and once again, stunning plasterwork.

All in all, Hyderabad is a highly recommended destination: off the beaten track, you'll get insight into some of the most amazing architectural gems produced on the subcontinent and you'll also get a peak into a moment in history before colonial attitudes completely took over and changed the course of history.