The Paigah Tombs are among the to-visit landmarks of Hyderabad. Hidden behind the naqqar khana (welcome arch where drums used to be played) is the path that leads to a discovery of ornate craftsmanship on the tombs, the intricate karigari on the marble sarcophagus, and funerary practices of one family closely linked to the Nizams.
This story is not about the Paigah tombs but how they came about to be in the location they are in. “Abul Fateh Khan who hailed from Burhanpur came here along with the Nizam’s Army. He came under the influence of a Sufi Burhane Shah who lived in this area called Hasnabad. Burhane Shah came from Iraq and his real name was Syed Hasan. He became the spiritual perceptor of Abdullah Qutb Shah. A grateful Abdullah built a massive dome for the Sufi. But once the dome was finished, Burhane Shah told his followers that he would be buried in an open enclosure and that’s what happened,” says Rahmatullah, the caretaker of Paigah tombs.
After he passed away on February 12, 1655 the Sufi was buried in an open enclosure in the foreground of the tomb built by Abdullah Qutb Shah. Later, the Paigah nobles added a marble chowkhandi (small pavillion) over the grave of Sufi master.
Once the Sufi was buried here, families jostled to get their loved ones buried in the surrounding areas. When Abul Fateh Khan passed away, he was buried here and in the course of time, his descendents too were laid to rest here. A massive necropolis developed around the small dargah of Hyder Khaza Hasan Burhane Shah. Today, the dargah is no longer an open enclosure but a domed structure with brilliant mirrorwork and hundreds of people thronging there for getting their prayers answered.
“Burhane Shah was a disciple of Shaikh Sarmad the Sufi master in Delhi. It was at his behest that he came to Hyderabad about 1626. Just like Shaik Sarmad, Burhane Shah wore ‘noorani libas’ and his fame spread far and wide due to the simplicity of his life and the miracles he worked on people,” says Naeem Akhtar, the khadim at the dargah. ‘Noorani Libas’ can be translated as ‘enlightened clothing’ or is a euphimism for going about in a state of nature. In her Ministry of Utmost Happiness , Arundhati Roy writes about the Sufi master Shaikh Sarmad, known as the naked qalandar, and how welcoming is his dargah on the footsteps of Jama Masjid in Delhi for the spiritually troubled. Burhane Shah has a similar legend about him. For the Urs celebrated over four days on 14 to 17 of the fifth month of Islamic lunar calendar, the Dargah is transformed into a spiritual playground with thousands of people coming from all parts of the country for the festivities.
Though the dargah is the heart of the necropolis, the area is being slowly transformed into a densely populated area as graves are being moved aside and rooms are being built by the homeless. “Partition dealt a big blow to the area as many of the families left the area. People from the surrounding regions moved in and the change is visible now,” says Anant Maringanti of Hyderabad Urban Labs during a recent walk in the area.
Now, roads criss cross the area. Walls for rooms are being raised over the grave boundaries. Bakeries, meat shops, schools, flower shops, multi-coloured and multi-storied homes are reclaiming grave spaces. Rumbustious children play and run about around the graves. Sepulcharal silence: What’s that?