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Qutb Shahi Style (mainly in and around Hyderabad city)


The first Qutb Shahi mosque of Hyderabad is the Masjid Safa at Golconda. Built in 1518 AD, this is 75 years older than the Charminar. The mosque is a well-preserved structure and is very much in use. But little known to outsiders. The benedictory verse fixed in the prayer niche of the mosque expressed a hope of the founder of the kingdom Sultan Quli Qutbul Mulk, that his descendants would be honourable. In this mosque, 25 years after its erection Sultan Quli was assassinated by Mir Mahmud Hamadani, Qiladar of Golconda at the instigation of the heir apparent Yar Quli Jamshid.

Jamshid, the second king built for himself a very beautifully proportioned tomb, one of the most beautiful structures in the whole Qutb Shahi tombs complex.

Qutb Shahi rule at Golconda began with the assumption of virtual independence in 1518 AD by the Bahmani Governor Sultan Quli Qutb Shah. Till then, Golconda was under the Bahmanis (1347-1518).

The Bahmanis had Gulbarga as their capital till 1424 and thereafter shifted the capital to Bidar. After 1518 the Bahmani kingdom disintegrated in to five independent kingdoms: the Adil Shahi at Bijapur, Baridi at Bidar, Nizam Shahi at Ahmed nagar, Berar at Ellchipur and Qutb Shahi at Golconda.

There is a fundamental difference between Islamic Architecture in northern India and in the Deccan which includes the Qutb Shahi style. Unlike other parts of India, a unique building style developed here based more on the development of overseas ideas than the evolution and adaptation of local architectural tradition to Islamic needs. The links of Deccani kingdoms with Persia, Turkey and Arabia were very close and the great fortress cities of Deccan; Bidar, Bijapur, Golconda and Gulbarga were not built around existing centres of Hindu culture. Philip Davies, in the Penguin Guide to Monuments of India commented ‘As such they tended not to use salvaged temple masonry buildings, with all the structural and artistic compromises which this entailed. A vigorous architectural style and an alien new culture were injected in to the conservative heartland of Hindu India.’

The Qutb Shahis ruled from 1518 to 1687. This approximately coincided with the reign of the great Mughals (1526-1707) that built Humayun’s Tomb (1565), Fatehpur Sikri (1571-1580) and finally the Taj Mahal (1631). During the same period the Bijapur Sultans built Gol Gumbad (1656) and the Barid Shahis built several exquisite tombs (1543-1591) at Bidar. The architectural ancestors of the Qutb Shahis were naturally the Bahmanis. Evolution of Deccani architecture amalgamated the early Tughlaq influence, the intermediate appearance of Persian forms and motifs and the lasting mark of meticulous workmanship of local craftsmen.

The earliest Bahmani mosque; the Shah Bazaar Mosque at Gulbarga built around 1367 and the late Bahmani Jami Mosque at Bidar (early 16th century) provided the model for almost all mosque construction in the Deccan. Sultan Quli’s Masjid Safa, mentioned earlier and situated just north of Habshi Kamans at Golconda, is strikingly similar to the Jami Mosque at Bidar.

The early Bahmani Tombs are simple square domed chambers characterised by low flattish domes, corner finials (a formal ornament at the top of a canopy, gable, pinnacle, etc) and sloping walls similar to the Tughlaq tombs. Later Bahmani architecture can be found in Bidar in the form of Tomb of Mahmud (died 1518) which has triple tiers of arched recesses and plain merlons (alternating raised portions in a battlement, also called crenellations) without any decorations. The first Qutb Shahi Tomb at Golconda, that of Sultan Quli (died 1543) is also an austere structure similar to Mahmud’s tomb in Bidar.

Qutb Shahis therefore began with Bahmani moorings and proceeded to evolve an individual style that culminated in architectural marvels like the Charminar and other landmarks. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the 5th Qutb Shahi King built Charminar and shifted his palaces from Golconda fort to the new quarter North West of the Charminar. Therefore he is known as the founder of Hyderabad though he is not the founder of the dynasty.

Qutb Shahis built with massive granite walls. Granite and lime mortar are the chief ingredients of Golconda Fort, the Royal Tombs, the Charminar and the innumerable Qutb Shahi mosques. The Mortuary Bath in the Qutb Shahi Tombs complex has rugged arches in Bahmani Style. The tombs are typically square buildings with arched lower storeys supported on massive plinths, some of which have arcades. The lower storeys are surmounted by crenellated parapets with small bulbous minarets, protruding at each corner. The domes are supported over tall drums, which may be arcaded and balustraded. They are slightly bulbous in contours rising from a base of petals or trefoil merlon motifs. The granite is usually covered with stucco and with coloured tile work. Projecting cornices are encased in plaster designs as well as miniature and arcaded galleries encircling the corner minarets. The construction of the massive domes speaks for the structural expertise of the Qutb Shahi master builders and craftsmen.

Locally available granite, sand and lime were used in the construction of Qutb Shahi monuments including Charminar. Lime used for the plaster seems to have been specifically ground and treated to give durable stucco. Generally shell, lime, jaggery, white of egg etc are known to enhance the binding property of lime. The Sio2 /CaO ratio in Charminar’s mortar and plaster (1.61-2.25) indicates that the engineers at that time were probably aware of the necessity of having a higher Sio2 content but were not sure of the optimum value (presently the common practice is to have 3.0) at which the maximum strength of lime cement could be obtained.

Built during 1591-92, to a height of 56.7meters ( 186 feet), on a square base of 31.5meters (100 feet), Charminar is said to be a prototype of Tazia, representation of the tomb of Imam Husain. It is said that during the Mughal Governorship between Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi rule, lightning destroyed the South Western minaret which ‘fell to pieces’, but ‘it was forthwith repaired at a cost of Rs 60000’! Charminar was plastered in 1824 at a cost of Rs 100000.

During early Asaf Jahi rule, Deccan was the scene of intense rivalry between the British East India Company and the French. Other active players in the region were the great Marathas. In 1756, French forces entered Hyderabad in order to install an Asaf Jahi Ruler of their choice. In the end, it was the choice of the British that prevailed. Meanwhile in 1756, French General Monsieur Bussy had occupied the Charminar for a few days.

In their construction technology, selection of building materials and in artistic excellence Qutb Shahi architects and engineers reached a high degree of proficiency. Eminent historian H.K. Sherwani opined that in the later Qutb Shahi period, dressed stone began to be used for facing the frontage of larger structures instead of stucco. Mecca Masjid is an example of this. The Qutb Shahis also used the facade of Mughal cusped arches in conjunction with the typical Qutb Shahi pointed ogee arch as seen at Jama Masjid, north east of Charminar and also on the facade of the mosque on the uppermost storey of Charminar. This could either be due to Mughal influence as held by Sherwani or a later imposition when most of the important Qutb Shahi mosques were restored or renovated.

A detailed discussion on Qutb Shahi town planning principles is not within the scope of this article. It may however be interesting to note that Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth king and Hyderabad’s founder planned Hyderabad as an ‘open city’. It was to have no walls. The Walled City of the eighteenth century was a creation of the Mughal rulers. The Qutb Shahis already had their well-fortified Golconda Fort to fall back upon at times of need. The last Qutb Shahi king, Abul Hasan Tana Shah in fact was forced to spend the period from 1656 to 1687 in Golconda Fort and was taken prisoner from there after the Mughal conquest.

After the fall of Hyderabad before the Mughals, the city walls were started by Mubariz Khan, the Mughal Governor (1724) and completed by Asaf Jah. I in 1740 to keep the Marathas away.

The city was planned around two focal points: one, the Charminar and the other, a vast central garden around a fountain with the main thoroughfares following a regular geometric pattern. Jan Pieper a well-known German Town Planner and others have opined that this was an attempt to create a replica of Paradise.

The grid of the two principal intersecting roads meeting at Charminar, the Pathar Ghatti- Shahali Banda road and the Laad Bazaar road, is tilted at a distinct 10 degrees angle with the north -south axes. This is perhaps due to the compulsion of placing the Charminar with its roof- top mosque in such a way that the mosque could face the exact direction of Mecca as geographically aligned with reference to Hyderabad. Most mosques of Hyderabad are oriented in this manner. Originally the intersecting roads passed under the Charminar. There old width, say of the Laad Bazar road, even today corresponds to the 11meters ( 36 feet) span of the four arches of Charminar. If Charminar is tilted in relation to the cardinal directions, then the intersecting roads passing underneath have little choice to do otherwise.

Rest of the streets of Qutb Shahi Hyderabad also followed a regular grid. During the Asaf Jahi period, the quarters within the regular blocks developed with an organic and irregular system of lanes and bylanes.

The road pattern inside the Golconda Fort that pre-dates Hyderabad is irregular and in parts governed by the terrain with the main streets encircling the walls of the inner fort situated on a hillock. Ruins of Golconda contain fragments of earthen pipes used for water supply. Golconda Fort is perhaps one of the least explored heritage sites of India. There are strange figures and animals worked out of stone and stucco on the walls of the outer fort facing the Naya Quila, waiting to be studied by art historians and archaeologists.