Living Hyderabad History & Culture

Banjara Hills charmed Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore  

Rabindranath Tagore immortalised the places he stayed in even for short durations, by writing a poem or creating a cultural facet around that place. As a young man when he visited Karwar in the west coast close to Goa, it is said that he conceptualised the theme for his Gitanjali that brought him the coveted Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. The pristine beach at Karwar that is known as ‘Tagore Beach’ for having inspired him similarly. It was at a guest house he stayed in Tripura as the guest of its king that Tagore evolved a separate dance form, now known as Manipuri Dance.

His visit to Madanapalle in Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh in early 1919 resulted in the creation of literary history when the poet translated his Janaganamana song into English as The Morning Song of India. It was during the same time that the present musical tunes for the National Anthem were also composed in his presence by Margaret Cousins, the wife of James H. Cousins, the then Principal of the Theosophical College there.

Tagore’s visit to Hyderabad also became memorable for the poem he wrote as an ode to Banjara Hills, the beautiful place he stayed. Tagore had great admiration for the Nizam of Hyderabad for the bold step his administration has taken in 1917 to establish the Osmania University, with Urdu as the medium of instruction. He always enjoyed a close friendship with the Nizam.

In 1933, Gurudev Tagore visited Hyderabad at the invitation of the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, and stayed as a guest of Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung. He was put up in Banjara Hills in a cottage belonging to Maharaja Kishen Pershad, the then Prime Minister of the Nizam. Tagore was so mesmerised by the beauty of the place that he made the hills memorable when he wrote a poem, captioned ‘Kohsar’ meaning pure or fresh, thus:

From the distance thou didst appear

Barricaded in rocky aloofness.

Timidly I crossed the rugged path

To find here all of a sudden

An open invitation in the sky

And friend’s embrace in the air.

In an unknown land, the voice

That seemed even known

Revealed to me a shelter of living intimacy.

The fascinating Banjara hills tempted Tagore so much that he even thought of building himself a home here, but his commitment to Shanthiniketan held him back.

Banjara Hills as a residential locality

Banjara Hills, with its Roman villas and Gothic castle-like bungalows and palatial houses exhibiting a refined and effete ambience, is among the most fashionable residential areas in Hyderabad today. It is a name well known all over the world, a locality where the rich, powerful and the elite of Hyderabad would live. For many, living in this posh Banjara Hills has been a status symbol and a mark of envy for the rest of the citizens. But not many knew that the posh Banjara Hills was a huge, unending stretch of wilderness with large trees and big boulders until about a century ago. In the 1920s it became a residential locality.

Banjara Hills as an upmarket locality, owes its existence to Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung, the then secretary to the Nizam’s Executive Council. It is said that once when he was riding on his horse in the nearby hills, he was thrilled at the beautiful landscape with large magnificent boulders, cool and salubrious breeze that wafted, and the enchanting panoramic view it commanded of the entire city. He imagined how it would be to live in such a beautiful place and make the arid terrain bloom with human activity.

He decided to pursue what his heart longed for. In 1929 he bought about 200 acres of land there from a friend, Moin Nawaz, and built a beautiful house. He personally drew the plans for the house and decided never to disturb a single rock or a boulder. He was very particular not to dislodge the original settlers, the Banjara tribals and their thandas (settlements) that dotted these hills. As a matter of fact he later helped these Banjaras to form into cooperative societies to sell their ethnic artefacts like the mirror-work costumes and chunky silver jewellery through Lepakshi emporiums that he established when he became a minister in Andhra Pradesh. He popularised the locality as ‘Banjara Hill’ by putting boards in a few places. His house itself was named Banjara Bhavan.

His numerous friends, who by then had a feel of the hills and got enchanted by the beauty of the hills, were offered small plots of land parcelled out by Nawaz Jung and they were only delighted to build mansions and quickly move to live there. These first settlers built houses without any compound walls separating their houses to express their camaraderie. The water for all these early houses came from the open tank built by Nawaz Jung in the upper reaches of his estate.

With European residents setting up their homes here in 1930s, Banjara Hills grew rapidly. Many British, besides a few German settlers, also built houses on the slopes of the hills facing the city. All the rich and powerful moved in, making Banjara Hills the most sought after and the most prestigious locality. The Nizam’s grandson Mukharam Jah himself built a palace here for his residence.

The name of Mehdi Nawaz Jung, the founder of Banjara Hills, is irrevocably associated with numerous developmental activities. As the first commissioner of Hyderabad municipality, he got the first ever cement roads in the country and also the public lighting system in Hyderabad. Some of the important thoroughfares in those days, as per his instructions, were washed with water everyday. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Salar Jung Museum by prevailing on the family of Salar Jung.

Mehdi Nawaz Jung was the first governor of Gujarat state after its formation in 1960. Earlier he served as a minister for Public Works department in the newly formed Andhra Pradesh after getting elected to the state legislature. It was at that time that he initiated steps to develop Horsley Hills in Chittoor District as a beautiful summer resort for the governor. He was the founder of the Hyderabad Art Society and also the founder-President of the National Lalitha Kala Akademy. Nawaz Jung was the managing trustee of the Nizam’s Trust when he passed away in 1967 at the age of 74.

Banjara Hills, the pride of Hyderabad, is a testimony to the foresight of the great visionary, meticulous urban planner, legendary civic administrator and a keen nature conservator, Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung.

Mehdipatnam, a thriving residential locality in the western fringes of Hyderabad, named after him, is the only memorial that exists as a tribute to him in the city, the growth of which he had contributed to so much.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:56:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/banjara-hills-charmed-tagore/article19093769.ece

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