Saturday, June 1, 1996

The First Salar Jung

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad - 14

The First Salar Jung
by Narendra Luther

Mir Turab Ali Khan became `diwan' (prime minister) of Hyderabad at the age of 23 in 1853 and continued in that office till 1883 through the reigns of three Nizams (4th to 6th).

He was given the title of Salar Jung and he was the first of the three with that title - all prime ministers in their own time. The British knighted him.

In 1869 he led Prince Mehboob Ali Khan who was only 2 1/2 years old to the masnad of Hyderabad to become the sixth Nizam.

Salar Jung stayed in a palace called the `Diwan Deodhi'. It was located on a sprawling site on the left as one crossed the Naya Pul. For quite some time it housed the Salar Jung Museum (established by his grandson) before it was moved to a new building. The `Diwan Deodhi' was demolished about 30 years ago. The City Civil Courts are located in the area now.

Sir Salar Jung was a man of regular habits. He rose early and after his ablutions and morning prayers, he would make his appearance on the balcony of his palace. By that time the servants, guards and officials of his palace would line up below. The chobdar a mace bearer - would announce the appearance of the diwan and all the men below would bow their heads and in salutation. After this the diwan would go to his garden where Tippu Khan, the master of the stables, would be ready with some horses, each held by its syce. Some of the his favourite companions would be present there in formal dress. His two sons also joined him off and on. This was the time when some supplicants were allowed to see him. Now and then Salar Jung would go for a ride towards Sarurnagar but would always be back by sunrise.

On return, he would come and hold his darbar. A stream of officials, nobles, petitioners and others would have an audience with him mostly by prior appointment.

His chief usher was a black old man, called Fakir Muhammad. He wore a turban and held a staff in his hand which he did not hesitate to use in order to correct a waiting visitor's posture or any other breach of manner of which he was the sole judge. Once he rebuked a high officer of the Irregular Troops, because while waiting in the hall, he had the temerity to remove his turban for a while. The officer was rudely reminded that he was in the palace of the prime minister and not in his grandmother's house !

A visitor when ushered in had to present five rupees on a handkerchief as a nazar to the diwan. He would then be motioned to sit and make his submission. After a reasonable gap which varied from person to person depending upon their status, one of the attendants would shuffle the bolsters on the masnad. This was a signal that the audience was over. The visitor would then get up, make his bow and leave.

Many visitors resented the overbearing attitude of the chief mace-bearer. But he enjoyed the absolute confidence of the prime minister.

When Salar Jung went out of his `Deodhi' to the royal court, to meet the Resident, or call on one of the nobles, he went in a regular procession.

The convoy was lead by eight to ten camel-riders in red uniform. They were followed by the cavalry unit in red livery with a pennant and trailed by about a dozen drummers and hundreds of Arabs with muskets on their shoulders. Then came the diwan's close companions like Mir Tehwwar Ali, Junaid Khan Jamadar and some other dignitaries mounted on steads flanked and followed by men with silver lances and matchlocks. If the diwan sat on an elephant, spear-bearing livery covered both his flanks.

Occasionally, this procession would be met by a similar procession of a noble coming from the opposite direction. The question of precedence in the narrow lane would cause a problem. Salar Jung, very gracefullly would often ask his people to make room for the other party. Needless to say, unless it was a Paigah, the others generally gave the diwan's train the right of way. Incidentally, the Paigah family, which constituted the highest order of nobility, outranked the diwan. That was the only family with which the Nizam's familiy inter-married.

The diwan was a lavish entertainer. At his dinner parties, there used to be separate arrangements for the English guests and Indian invitees. The baradari was tastefully illuminated with lamps of different colours. Salar Jung was a connoisseur of food. His chef served English, Mughlai, Hindustani and Dakhni dishes. When the time came for the guests to depart, Sir Salar would stand near the exit door and offer long bottles of Indian scent (attar) to them as parting gifts. The number of bottles varied from one to a dozen depending upon the importance of the guest.

Sir Salar Jung was the greatest prime minister of Hyderabad. More about his contribution in the next issue.


Archived by