Arched beauty

Photo: Mohd Yousuf

Photo: Mohd Yousuf  

OVERAWED BY the imposing signature buildings of heritage, Charminar and Mecca Masjid, a visitor taking a stroll back in time through the historic swathe of Hyderabad, often misses out on what have been euphemistically categorised as "monuments of lesser importance". One of these has a typically Hyderabadi self-explanatory tang, "Manjli Begum-Ki-Haveli".

Tucked away in a corner on the right side of the Charminar-Shah Ali Banda road, you have to wade through chaotic traffic, a burgeoning fruit market, shops selling `naan' and the ubiquitous Irani cafes offering `chai' even while your ear is unobtrusively treated to the rhythmic beats of makers of warq (silver foil used for decorating sweet dishes) to reach this quaint little palace. Well, the two-furlong journey from Charminar may look like an obstacle race but it's worth it, for you are sure to experience first hand, the oriental charm of the Old City.

The late 18th Century haveli, per se, may not appear opulent, standing as it is in the rear part of the spectacular Chow Mohalla palace complex, but it is one of those few Indo-European individual buildings left in the area, to carve out a niche for itself in the history of Hyderabad. Architecturally, the palace can be described as "arched beauty", from the way the Moghul and European arches merge to form a symphony. Built by Mir Nizam Ali Khan (1762-1803), the second Nizam, for the favourite of his 12 daughters, Fakhr-ul-nisa alias Manjli Begum, after he shifted the capital of Asaf Jahi rule from Aurangabad to Hyderabad, the haveli is remembered for diverse reasons.

First, it is named after a Royal Begum, a rarity in the built heritage of Hyderabad. Names of most of such palaces take after the princes, some of who took over the exalted masnad (throne) of Hyderabad State and not the princesses. This haveli being an exception, unusual for the time, it shows the importance and respect enjoyed by the Begum, also known for her piety, in the nobility of Hyderabad.

Another interesting nugget is the way this little palace became home to a rebellious son of the royalty. This was the palace where the third Nizam, Sikander Jah's son, Mubaraz-ud-doula, the "rebel prince" was born. In what could be the first-of-its- kind event in the Nizamian era, Mubaraz deserted the riches of royalty, to don the role of a rebel in theMutiny of 1857. Mubaraz formed a defiant trio with Turrebaz Khan and Shah Khamosh to raise the banner of revolt against the British Residency here. Quite surprising, considering the fact that the later Nizams took pride in being described as " the most faithful ally of the British". The three went on to demolish many a myth surrounding the participation of the minority community of Hyderabad in the freedom struggle.

Not surprisingly it is a Grade I heritage building listed for protection. The top grade is given to buildings for "national or historical importance, embodying excellence in architectural style, design, technology and material usage". They may be associated with a great historical event, personality, movement or institution and are prime landmarks of the city.

For the discerning type knowing a bit of old Hyderabad, it may not be difficult, but for the uninitiated, locating the haveli would be quite a task.

There is no signboard to guide you and second, the palace itself has now been converted into a function hall, deceptively hiding it behind a huge wall. A grand ornate arch that used to welcome the visitors to the palace has been decimated by an unimaginative road widening project and a cement concrete arch, a poor imitation of the original, has come up in its place.

Make no mistake of entering this arch for you will be lost in a maze of new structures that have sprouted on what was once a sprawling courtyard. Aap shahed bahut din key bad aa rahe saab yeh taraf. Woh shaan abhi kahan hai? Woh chotey mahal ko chod kar, ab kuch bhi nahi hai, lamented Abdus Salam, an 80-year-old resident of the area. (You must be coming this side after a long time. Where is that pride left? All that remains is a modest palace).

The palace owes its existence now to the present owners, who have re-adapted it for use as a marriage hall. But for their effort in carrying out regular repair and maintenance works, even if it means changing the original colour scheme, the palace would have met the fate of many others in the area.

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