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Haven for healing


The Dar-ul-Shifa was a world-class hospital and the country's first with an in-patient treatment facility

Photo: Mohd Yousuf

AFTER INFORMATION technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, Hyderabad is known for its corporate hospitals offering state-of-the-art medicare, a preferred destination even for foreign patients. "Health capital of the country" is how the Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, had been marketing the city of late.

Not many may be aware that Hyderabad since medieval times had a legacy of extending the best of healthcare facilities. The city had among its prized possessions, the Dar-ul-Shifa, a world-class hospital and the country's first in-patient treatment facility, four centuries ago. In the late 16th century, it was considered among the three best teaching hospitals in the world, the other two being in Bukhra and Baghdad. If the Qutub Shahis had Dar-ul-Shifa, the Nizams had to their credit Nizamia Tibbi and the Osmania Hospitals.

Located a few yards across the old Municipal Corporation Office in an area named after it, Dar-ul-Shifa, was built in 1595, by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah just four years after founding the city. The location itself needs a specific mention. It speaks of planning, vision and care taken by the Qutub Shahi rulers in creating the best of amenities for the citizens, though unani medicine was the only system of treatment available at that time.

Woven around the belief that northerly winds had curative powers, the spacious rooms of the double-storied secular structure, built in the Qutub Shahi style of architecture, were constructed on a north - south axis, to tap the breeze blowing across the river, Musi. It may look implausible now, with so many buildings such as the Aza Khana-e-Zehra and the Salar Jung Musem having come up between the hospital and the river.

The scale of the hospital spread over all of 6000 square yards and its symmetrical arched structure standing around a quadrangular courtyard, looks stupendous. In the days when the hospital was functioning , there were numerous gardens around it. The 408-year building is still intact but the rooms, meant for the treatment of patients and for boarding and lodging purposes and the hamams, have been sadly taken over by a plethora of shops selling naan and furniture, others having been converted into workshops, godowns and scrap shops on the ground floor, while a school is being run on the first floor.

This has been done after closing the arches opening into the courtyard, with brick walls. So what you now see from the inside is a mere outline of these arches. Quite unfortunate as the place has immense potential to be promoted as a spot for "health tourism". Where else can one get to see a medieval building where hundreds of patients were treated with specialised care? Leaving encroachments aside, as you step into the vast courtyard through a huge gateway, you are overtaken by the serenity of the place, notwithstanding the incessant drone of the heavy traffic that passes on the abutting road and the gaggle of school children parroting the lines religiously taught by their teachers.

"There is something special about this place. People still have immense faith in its divine and healing powers. They come to circle the Ashur-khana, pay obeisance before the alam and leave. It is also a place for majlis, a congregation to pray for the dead", says Y. Hussain, a regular visitor to the shrine. In his local Hyderabadi lingo he spews venom on present day doctors. "They look more like butchers and tailors, cutting and sewing body parts" and compares them with the wholesome ilm (knowledge) of the hakims of yesteryear.

The Ashur-khana standing in the middle of the courtyard is a later addition built by the VII Nizam , Mir Osman Ali Khan. It houses the famous Alawa-sur-tauq having remnants brought from Karbala, that was believed to have curative powers. The Ashur-khana was shifted from a small and dark corner to the centre of the courtyard on the instructions of the Nizam. The hospital complex, along with the nearby mosque that has glittering, enamelled tiled medallions decorating the three arches, is listed as a Grade 2 religious building , "an ancient hospital of great repute" for preservation.

Books on the history of unani medicine in the city, record that the building had eastern, western and southern wings with twelve double rooms on the ground floor and the same number on the first floor. The northern side had the gateway, in which there were eight double rooms on the ground floor and the same number on the first floor. These chambers were used as "in-patient" wards. The outpatient wards were located adjacent to the northern gate. A staircase leads to the first floor from where convalescent patients could breathe in fresh air and get a full view of the nascent capital, this being the only double storied building in the area at that time.

The hospital was utilised from the Qutubshahi period down to the reign of the first Nizam, Nizam-ul-Mulk. But it was closed down during the time of the II Nizam and it became the headquarters of the Sarf-e-Khas. The armaments were stored here, which were later shifted after the police action in 1948.

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