Thursday, June 1, 1995

"A Replica Of heaven"

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad 2

"A Replica Of heaven"
by Narendra Luther

Last month we noted that Muhammad Quli had decreed that the new city, Bhagnagar, should be "unparalled in the world and a replica of heaven itself". Ordinarily such a decree would have been taken as a figure of speech, but in this case, it seems to have been taken literally. A German architect, Jan Pieper, has tried to show by quoting the chapter and verse of the holy Quran how the planning and architectural features of the new city corresponded to the mythical Islamic paradise.

Features of Paradise :

A reading, amongst others, of Suras 47, 14; 56;28; 7,47; and 55 of the holy Quran gives a composite picture of the Islamic paradise.

It is interesting to note first of all, that the word for paradise in Arabic is the same as for garden - `Jannat'. Note that paradise is also called the `Garden of Eden'.

At the centre of that garden there is a fountain. Four stream (of pure water, pure milk, pure honey and pure wine) flow from it. There are two types of trees in paradise - the thornless Sidr and the well ordered Talh. They have no exact counterparts on earth.

Now let us compare the features of the city with those attributed to the Islamic paradise.

A Garden City :

Bhagnagar was a city of less than 3 sq kms surrounded by gardens, covering an extent of about 23 sq kms. `Naubat Pahad' where the Venkateshwara temple is now located was originally called `Naubat ghat' - botanical hillock. From this point right up to `Koh-i-Toor' the hillock 3 kms north of Charminar on which now the Falaknuma palace stands was one unbroken stretch of greenery. Rafi-ud-Din Shirazi observed in Tazkura-Tul-Mubarak in 1608 that a "large city with magnificent mansions was founded everyone of which had a garden attached to it. Some of the trees of these gardens were so tall that they seemed to touch the sky. Both bazars and houses are so full of trees..." Thus gardens and vegetation were the principal feature of the new city.

The French traveller, Jean de Thevenot who visited Hyderabad in 1655-66 was surprised at the extent of greenery both in and around the city. He says, "There are many fair gardens in this town, their beauty consists in having long walls very kept clean, and lovely fruit-trees; but they have neither beds of flowers nor water-works and they are satisfied with several cisterns or basons (sic) with water. The gardens without the town are the loveliest, and I shall describe only one of them, that is reckoned the pleasantest of the kingdom ... It is planted with palms and areca - trees so near to one other that the sun can hardly pierce through them..."

Tavernier, a dealer in diamonds (1605 - 1688) says Bhagnagar was "previously only a pleasure resort where the King had beautiful gardens ..."

Ameer Ali, the thug in Meadows Taylor's novel published in 1839 saw from Naubat Pahad, white terraced houses gleaming brightly amidst "almost a forest of trees."

Architectural Features :

The city was built as a giant double-cross. Charminar, the city centre is a perfect square, each side being 18.26 metres. The four minarets rise to a height of 48.7 metres from the ground. They are divided into four storeys each and 146 steps lead upto the top storey. On the roof is a small mosque exactly facing Mecca. Its orientation to the Qibla direction is significant.

At a distance of 76 metres from Charminar was the central plaza known as Char Kaman or the `Four Arches'. It was originally called jilukhana or the guard's square. In its centre was an octagonal fountain called the char-su-ka-houz (fountain of the four cardinal directions). Four channels flowed from it. Near the fountain coconut and betel-nut palm trees were planted to represent the Talh and the Sidr tree respectively. The four arches were located about 114.3 metres each from the fountain. Each arch was 18.30 metres high. The western arch was the gateway to the palace area. Its gate was highly decorative. Made of ebony and sandalwood, it was adorned with precious stones and nails of gold. There was a screen of cloth-of-gold behind the shutters. On the eastern arch royal musicians sat and played shehnai and other instruments five times a day.

The two northern and southern arches - watch posts of the royal guards-represented the fierce Quranic "Men of the Wall". The area behind the cloth-of-gold curtain on the western arch contained fourteen palaces amongst which was one called `Qutb Mandir' to which only women were admitted, besides of course the Sultan himself. These and the shehnai players on the eastern arch with its `nasal' sound stood for the Quranic pleasures - "houris in flowing tents singing in nasal voices ..."

The reason for adopting the plan of the giant double-cross is also interesting and is explained by Pieper. Sura 55 tells us that there is not one paradise for all but a hierarchy of them. "There are two gardens yielding flowers and all sorts of luxury for a festive and representative life, while two others are filled with herbs and fruits and humble amenities of pleasureful civic household". These two gardens are reserved for those "who live in peace with their Lord." Behind the western arch lived the Sultan - the `lord', and in other quarters lived his subjects - "in peace with their lord."

The illustration on the cover page is based on my researches into the history of Hyderabad. My findings were rendered into an zaxonometeric drawing by S.P.Shorey and further made into an `artist's' impression through the courtesy of Neelamegham of Akshara. It would be of interest to readers to know that when the former Iranian Consul General in Hyderabad, Mujtaba Karami saw this plan about three years ago, he commented that Isfahan in Iran looked somewhat like that even today. How gratifying that without ever seeing Isfahan, we were able to recreate the likeness of the city on which Hyderabad was originally modelled!

The testimony of historians, writers, visitors, chroniclers over the centuries has testified to the beauty and grandeur of the city and one could say that it could indeed have been a city "unparalled in the world and a replica of heaven itself". At least a genuine, valiant attempt seems to have been made to execute the Poet - Sultan's orders.

And look at the city now ... !

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