Itihaas
Month,  date, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

City of Fortune

 

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it is curious that an Indian shop should describe Paris as the 'Culture Capital of the World.'

 

 

The distinction of being the culture capital of the world is normally reserved for one's own native city.

 

 

 

The architecture of Bhagnagar/Hyderabad is in no way “inferior” to what one sees in Paris.

 

It is not curious that an Indian shop should organise a sales promotion campaign in which the first prize is a trip to Paris. The bait for “free” travel is unexceptionable. The description of Paris as “The Culture Capital of The World,” however, requires attention.

The distinction of. being the culture capital of the world is normally reserved for one’s own native city or city of nativity. The culture fracture caused by alien rule for 200 years is responsible for the “slave” mentality manifest in the advertisement. Perhaps, as the “event” is Hyderabad based we should remind our readers of the great and abiding romance connecting Hyderabad/Secunderabad with the original city, town or settlement.

This habitation was called “Bhagnagar.” It honoured “Luck,” “Chance,” as well as “Love” and “Romance.” “Bhag” means fortune. “Soubhagya” or “Good fortune” for those who have access to Sanskrit learning or “High” Hindi. The name “Bhagnagar” honours a rural (she would today be called “tribal”) beauty who captivated a Prince of the Qutub Shahi dynasty ruling from the Golconda Fort. Her name was “Bhagmati.” Bhagnagar can mean either “the City of Fortune” or “the City of the Lady Bhagmati.” The story of this great and fabled love has passed into the legend and folklore of India.

The poet Makhdoom Mohiuddeen has written a luminous lyric in honour of the lady, the love and the city which we can attempt to translate for the delectation of our readers at an appropriate time.

First the story. The lover prince Muhammad Quli was not the eldest son of his father the Sultan. He was the third eldest. “Quli” means slave and his name made him a slave of the Prophet (On Whom Be Peace!). Although the Qutb Shahis were of Central Asian Turki origin, their residence in India had made them “native” in a most cultivated and cultured manner.

Muhammad Quli’s own father, Ibrahim, had fled Golconda when his brother, Jamshed slew their nonagenarian father to usurp the throne. He sought and was given shelter in the neighbouring realm, the Empire of Vijaynagar.

This exile was spent in great comfort and luxury as the Rajas of Vijaynagar practised “Sharanaagat Koa Abhaya!” (The one seeking shelter must be made so comfortable as to feel safe and without fear). Ibrahim lived like any Prince of the Vijaynagar house would have done.

This meant that he was exposed to all the cultural influences which made Vijaynagar into a fabled land.The learned and the creative, the performers and the poets, the dancers and the musicians, the architects and the painters, each vied with the other for the attention of the royal guest and treated him to the choicest morsels of his or her discipline and calling.

No Central Asian before Ibrahim enjoyed this great good fortune. Having been born in India and having grown up in Golconda he knew Telugu and the language that was coming into being in the great melting pot where Persian Turki and Arabic shared the echoes and the cadences of Sanskrit Marathi and Tamil.

This was to become “Dakhkhini” or “Reykhtaa” and storm North India in times to come. The nobles ultimately grew tired of the parricide and invited Ibrahim to return and be Sultan. The Ibrahim who returned was a truly cultured, cultivated and mature prince.

The music, dance, poetry and myth of the Deccan was part of his being and his ladies were adept and accomplished in the areas of his interest. The mother of Muhammad Quli is likely to have been exceptionally gifted as she had a hold and power over her husband which made her someone to reckon with and her son a favourite for succession. As he approached manhood and while still in his adolescent teens, Muhammad Quli was to be seen frequently sallying forth from the Fort of Golconda to indulge his passion for hunting.

The plains below the fort were watered by the Musi (Moosee) river and had scrub and bushes alternating with dense forests. Game birds and deer abounded in the area and the boy came home with his bag which he displayed with neo-manly pride to his mother and other inmates of the palace.

One day an exceptionally fleet gazelle had Muhammad Quli gallop his horse most furiously in the chase for such a long time that the guards, companions and courtiers were left far behind.

The prince found that he was well and truly lost. Worse, he was thirsty and his horse all lathered with sweat and winded. There was nothing to it except to climb a tall tree and look around to find some sign of habitation where water and help would be available.

As he scanned the various directions Muhammad Quli saw that evening was approaching. In the direction of the setting sun he saw what could be a copse or a cluster of huts. He climbed down and rode in that direction. Soon he came to the outskirts of a village.

A few paces further, he saw a well where someone with their back to the direction in which he was approaching was busy drawing water and filling a whole row of freshly shone brass and copper vessels.Muhammad Quli approached near and found that the person drawing water was a lady.

He got off his horse and led it up to the platform of the well and asked for water. He stood with lowered eyes and head bowed in supplication awaiting the cascade of life renewing water to fall into his cupped hand. As the stream descended upon his hand he looked up to adjust the receptacle so as to prevent the water splashing onto the ground.

As he looked up he was struck dumb and inert by the spectacle of beauty that met his gaze. His hand became limp and the water fell on the ground and the mud splattered his clothes.Muhammad Quli found his way home but was to return every day to catch a glimpse of the fair Bhagmati.

When the rains came and the river flooded over in a wild spate Ibrahim was greatly worried about his darling son’s safety. Most urgently the Sultan had a bridge constructed to span the river. The prince brought a great pageant of a procession to wed Bhagmati.

Her home and its surroundings were jazzed up by the Sultan for this most auspicious occasion. The fates smiled on Muhammad Quli. He succeeded his father as Sultan and then proceeded to immortalise his love by building a new city where a village had once stood.

The architecture of Bhagnagar/Hyderabad is in no way “inferior” to what one sees in Paris. The Char Minar (Chaar Meenaar) is quite a unique building and the concept of that whole area including the Char Kaman (Chaar Kamaan) is dazzling to behold. Unfortunately the road has risen and risen until the elevations are lost.

The care, love and concern that those in authority should have for the heritage is missing. The culture fracture makes educated Indians prefer the vast mounds of flesh painted by Titian and Reubens to the lissome and lithe ladies one sees in the Muraqqas like the Album presented by Dara Shikoh to his wife Nadira in the tenth year of their marriage. Or the beauties of the Golconda School of Deccani painting.

We need a renaissance of the spirit to get out of the slough of despond in which eight generations or 200 years of slavery has relegated us.

 

Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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