Heritage The Caravanserai in the Qutb Shahi era was a resting place as well as an important feature to help smooth the commerce of the land. Serish Nanisetti

T he Charminar is not just a centrepiece of Hyderabad's landscape. Its designers led by the redoubtable hakim Mir Momin Istrabadi wanted its four arches to point to the primacy of various functions of the state. One arch pointed to the port of Machilipatnam, another arch pointed towards the Golconda fortress, the third pointed to the palace complex of the Qutb Shahi empire while the fourth pointed towards Qoh-e-Tur (on which the Falaknuma palace has been built), the pathway to spiritual haven.

Just as the Qutb Shahi regime realised the importance of commerce, it paid attention to pathways and wayside resting places (serais). When the Flemish gem merchant Tavernier visited the Golconda kingdom, during one of his six sojourns, he stayed at Nemitullah serai. We could not trace it perhaps it was razed during the siege of Golconda by Aurangazeb. The only serai that's nearly intact and gives a glimpse of its glory days is the one that's attached to the Miyan Mishk Masjid on the other side of the Purana Pul.

Amidst the honky-tonky noise of autorickshaws and buses, the jostle of shoppers and shopkeepers it is difficult to imagine that within this masjid, hamam, madrassah and serai complex there is an oasis of peace that harks back to a different era. The masjid has two entrances one that opens on the Karvan road and the other that opens towards the Begum Baazar side. The serai has a separate entrance that leads to a long wide avenue with planted trees in the middle and rows of rooms on either side and in the middle of the serai is a fountain. Students of the madrassah and businessmen from across the world would stay and retreat to these rooms after the day's work at the Golconda fort.

One of the most interesting features of the masjid was the hamam in the rear and adjoining the serai where people could have a hot water bath after a long day.

Miyan Mishk was an Abyssinian guard of the last Golconda king Abul Muzaffar Sultan Muhammad Qutbshah and had the title of commander of Carnatic troops. A lot of light is shed on the functioning of the masjid/serai by the Firman that's engraved on the entrance. Beside the king's grant, the income from the shops surrounding the masjid complex was to be used for maintaining the hamam/serai and masjid. The nitty-gritty of maintaining the masjid down to the salary of the two shampooers attached to the bath, the mason tasked to repairing the steps, to the two sweepers and the Brahmin clerk to maintain the accounts. The Qutb Shahi currency was gold hons each of which was 4.5 times the value of Mughal rupee.

The firman ends with a dire note that “Whoever will disobey this order or encourage deviation, whether he be a Muslim or a Hindu shall be overtaken by divine wrath and displeasure… He (disobeyer) shall be stricken with misfortune and shall be crestfallen.”

Miyan Mishk passed away on April 18, 1681

The only serai that's nearly intact and gives a glimpse of its glory days is the one that's attached to the Miyan Mishk Masjid on the other side of the Purana Pul.