Did Bhagmati really exist?

The Purana Pul, the oldest bridge on the Musi. A 1908 photo from the collection of Mohd. Safiullah of Hyderabad.

The Purana Pul, the oldest bridge on the Musi. A 1908 photo from the collection of Mohd. Safiullah of Hyderabad.

True love never grows old. So is the legend of Bhagmati. Hers was love made up of stolen moments – bitter, sweet and poignant. She was the damsel in distress and he the knight in shining armour.

Nothing could stop the star-crossed lovers, not even the turbulent Musi. In comes the doting father, Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah, and constructs the Puranapul bridge to facilitate his son Mohd. Quli Qutb Shah cross the river to meet his lady love.

A generation of Hyderabadis has been brought up on this lore. But, was it all real or a figment of the imagination?

“Nothing but fiction. There is no substantial evidence to prove that Bhagmati ever existed,” says heritage enthusiast Mohd. Safiullah.

In an interesting talk on Bhagmati – Fact or Fiction here on Saturday, Mr. Safiullah sought to demolish the myth of the legendary nautch girl, with whom the city’s founder was believed to have fallen in love head over heels.

“There is no inscription, miniature or coin of that period mentioning her name. There is no trace of her grave either. Even Chichalam, the place where she was supposedly born, has not been identified yet,” Mr. Safiullah said.

The talk organised under the auspices of Historical Society of Hyderabad at the Salar Jung Museum drew many historians and scholars.

While a big question mark hung on the very existence of Bhagmati, there were no doubts about other courtesans like Premamati and Taramati, since material evidence was available about them. Moreover, their graves could be found in the royal necropolis at Golconda.

“Why Bhagmati was not buried there if she was so important?” asked Mr. Safiullah of Deccan Heritage Trust.

With the help of slides, he explained how a romance between Quli Qutb Shah and Bhagmati could not have taken place, since the king was barely 10 years then. He was born in April 1566, while the Puranapul was completed in 1578 after more than two years of construction.

“That made Quli Qutb Shah just nine-and-a-half years. Imagine a youngster romancing at that age,” Mr. Safiullah wondered.

There was also no evidence to show that Hyderabad was named after Hyder Mahal, the title conferred on Bhagmati. Referring to an extract from the book, ‘Landmarks of Deccan’, Mr. Safiullah said the name Hyder Mahal was mentioned along with other palaces such as Dad Mahal and Nadi Mahal. “You build a palace and then honour someone you love with its name. How illogical?” he asked.

Moreover, the word ‘Hyder’ was an attribute of Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam, and it could not have been conferred on a nautch girl, he argued to prove that Bhagmati was not the inspiration for the city’s name.

Travel writer Ferishta’s account about the dalliance of Quli Qutb Shah with Bhagmati could not be attached credence, as he had written about the royal affair sitting in Bijapur without visiting Hyderabad.

“At best, Bhagmati is a popular but unfounded myth,” Mr. Safiullah maintained. He referred to historians such as Haroon Khan Sherwani, Habib Nisar and David Mathew to support his argument.

But, some in the audience did not buy his argument. “There is no smoke without fire,” a participant remarked.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2022 2:55:40 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad//article60402626.ece