Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A multi-faceted prince

A multi-faceted prince
By Narendra Luther

The founder of Hyderabad, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah (b.1565; d.1611) was a prince, poet, lover, and a builder. He ascended the throne in 1580 at the age of 15 and ruled for thirty-one years.


As a young prince he fell in live with a Hindu maiden, Bhagmati by name. In 1591 he founded the new city 6 kilometers from Golconda across the river Musi and after his beloved, called it Bhagnagar. Its chronogrammatic title which yields the year of its completion, was Farkhunda Buniyad which in Persian means ‘of fortunate foundation’ – the equivalent of the name Bhagnagar.

It was one of the first elaborately planned cities anywhere. The Sultan wanted it to be ‘unparalleled in the world and a replica of heaven itself’. The inspiration for its architectural plans and layout was drawn from Iran – and in particular the then new city of Isfahan.


First of all, the Charminar was built as the city centre. Four roads were made to radiate from it in the four cardinal directions. Fourteen thousand shops, houses, inns, baths, schools, and mosques were built as part of the original plan. Amongst the original public buildings was the Dar-ul-shifa or the general hospital. Some of the buildings including this hospital still stand today. However, none of the dozen-odd palaces, which were constructed by Mohammed Quli, has survived the ravages of the Mughal invasion and subsequent neglect. Some had as many as nine storeys. Aurangazeb, on his inspection of the city after the Mughal victory in 1687 was surprised to see such tall and magnificent structures.

The city had extensive gardens both within and without it and the name of some localities still carry the prefix or suffix of bagh (garden). The French traveller, Thevenot noted the garden-city character of Bhagnagar and wondered how the arches of mansions supported the weight of terrace-gardens. Tavenier, Barnier, Ferishta, Abbe Carre and other foreign visitors in the 17th century and subsequently sang paeans in praise of the city. Many believed that it was bigger and better than the Mughal cities of the day like Agra and Lahore!

Mohammed Quli was as great, if not a bigger builder than Shah Jahan the Mughal was. A recent study by a German architect has tried to prove with reference to the verses in the holy Quran that Mohammed Quli’s injunction about the new city was not a mere figure of speech. The city was in fact laid on the pattern of the Garden of Eden in its essential features.


Mohammed Quli was a prolific and a versatile poet. He wrote nearly 1,00,000 lines of poetry in Persian, and in every genre of what was later to be called Urdu.

Before him Dakhni poetry had been largely religious. Quli introduced the secular element into it. He talks of nature in its variegated aspects, seasons of the year, flowers, fruits, vegetables, gardens, social life, customs, and festivals. He sings of the pleasures of physical love with a rare candour and abandon. For him there is no difference between a Hindu and a Muslim:

Kufar reet kya hor Islam reet
Har ek reet mein hai ishq ka raaz

(What is the heathen’s creed -- and the Muslim’s.
Every practice is based on the secret of love.)


Main na janun Kaba o but khana o maikhana koon
Dektha hoon par kahan diktha hai tuj mukh ka safa

(I don’t know the holy Kaaba, the idol’s temple or the tavern,
I look everywhere but can’t see a face as clear as yours)

On love he has some observations of universal truth:

Suno log meri prem kahani
Keh peela hai rang ashiqui ki nishani

(Listen folks to my tale of love,
A palate complexion signifies a lover).

Figures of Speech

Quli often employs the devices of alliteration and onomatopoeia very effectively. Note the following:

Piya soon rat jagi hai so dikthi hai sudhan sarkhush
Madan sarkhush, sayan sarkhush, anjan sarkhush nayan sarkhush

(Oh lady, you have kept the whole night awake with your lover.
Cupid is happy, so are the couch, the collyrium - and your eyes)

Dandana garja joban badal niman
Kangana jhalkar minj sunao tum

(Youth thunders like a cloud.
Let’s hear the jingle of bangles).

Unfortunately, the rhythm and internal rhyme abounding in his poetry can’t be put across in translation adequately.

Hindi element

Quli had a sound and extensive knowledge of the Hindi ragas. He mentions Asavari, Dhanashree, Gauri, Malahar, Kalyan, Basant and Ramkali in his poems. He declares his preference for music in the following couplet:

Mere sang mil bajaati sankh gaati, Sankhara abhran
Sriraga jo gati istri to mujko bhati hai

(She who plays the conch with me and sings Snakhrabhram,
The one who sings Sriraga -- that woman I like).

Quli’s choice of subjects was unlimited. He covered the entire range of life in its variations. His idiom sprang from the soil and his language was the one spoken by the common people in their daily lives. He has been compared to Nazeer Akbar Abadi of Agra (1740-1830) as a people’s poet. But Nazeer was a plebian, whereas Quli was a ruler.

His range

Quli is a poet of sight and sound, of relish and savour, of fragrance and redolence, of spice and flavour, of sunrise and daylight, of rhyme and rhythm, of dance and music – of the celebration of life. His poetry glorifies all phases of biological existence. He rejoices in seasons of the year, the rhythmic succession of which makes the sum of our life-spring, monsoon, and winter, summer. He celebrates festivals, birthdays, weddings, New Year Days. On each topic, there is not one poem, but many. As life’s cycle goes on, he reverts to each of these recurring events with renewed vigour. He doesn’t get bored with life, because every aspect of it excites him. There is no pessimism or cynicism in him. He is an extrovert whose reaction to events is always positive. He gloats on being the favourite ‘servant’ of the Prophet and the Imams, which made him a favourite of Fate. He glories in being a ruler and living a life ease and sensuality. A pure sense of life pulsates through his writings.

A Misconception

Some people say that Mohammed Quli was also a poet in Telugu. No such claim has been substantiated. I have been able to find only three words of Telugu in his entire anthology – ‘Em Mari em’.

His invocation at the inauguration of the new city of Bhagnagar, has become famous:

Mera sheahar logan soon mamoor kar
Rakhya joon tun darya mein min Ya Sami

(O God, fill my city with people, as you have the river with fish)

Obviously this prayer was heard and the city now suffers from over- population. It has one of the highest rates of growth in the country!

For his legendary love for Bhagmati, and his rich and enchanting poetry, Mohammed Quli has won a permanent place in the hearts of the people of the city. An annual festival is held to commemorate him. Generations of singers have sung his poems. Amongst them the most popular is:

Piya baj pyala piya jai na; piya baj ik til jiya jai na
Kate hain piya bin saburi karo; kaha jai amma kiya jai na
Nahi ishq jis woh bada koodh hai; kadi us say mil baisa jai na
Qutb Shah na do mujh divane ko pand; diwane ko kuch pand diya jai na.

(Without the lover one cannot drink the cup!
Without him one cannot live for a moment.
They counsel patience in the absence of love.
Ah! It is easier said than done.
One unacquainted with love is a half-wit!
Don’t ever have anything to do with him.
Don’t give me any advice to a lunatic like me
You can’t din sense into an insane person).

Mohammed Quli is regarded as the first Urdu poet with an anthology to his credit. Dr.Zore edited his anthology for the first time in 1940. Professor Syeda Jaffar brought out a more extensive volume in 1985. Such is the liberal use of Hindi expressions and idiom in his works that, but for the script, he might even be considered a poet of Hindi.

No wonder that of all the rulers of the Deccan, no one is remembered more fondly than this versatile man. He is commemorated every year on a befittingly grand scale.

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1 comment:

Jawad1.ali said...

Dear Luther, I am not sure on your authority in this subject, but calling it a misconception( that quali qutub shah was a telugu poet) on the basis that you have not found much of his work is very immature.

Please read his urdu deewan, you will find his own statement that he is a poet of farsi, urdu and telangi.