An Exquisite NECROPOLIS

The Paigah Tombs in Hyderabad stand out for the beauty of their delicate and unusual decorative elements

From the spectacular Golconda Fort spread out across a hill to the charming Charminar in the heart of the bustling old city, the regal Chowmahalla Palace, the Salar Jung Museum, which is a string of galleries adorned with prized artefacts, the exquisitely restored hotel Taj Falaknuma Palace and more… the treasures of Hyderabad are a history buffs delight. While these sites are famous, there is the lesser known Paigah Tombs complex, which locals suggest, is worth a visit for its exquisite architectural details, serenity and insight into history.

THE PAIGAHS

The Paigah nobility were regarded as the first among the noble families of Hyderabad, entrusted with the hereditary command of the Paigahs or household troops of the Nizam, the sovereign of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. Marriage of Paigah noblemen with daughters of the Nizams, over generations, further strengthened their bond with the ruling family. The Paigah commanders and troops were deeply loyal and trustworthy, and the head of the Paigah noble family was regarded as next in importance to the Nizam. The Paigahs rendered services to the Nizam, the state and people, and patronised art, literature, sports and built beautiful palaces. They held important positions and enjoyed exclusive privileges within the Nizam’s dominions.

The origins of the Paigah noble family are traced to Abul Fateh Khan, Tegh Jung Bahadur, who in the early 1750s was appointed Commanderin- Chief of 12,000 troops, including cavalry and infantry by Mir Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II (1734-1803) in appreciation of his nobility and loyalty. He was conferred the honorific title Paigah that means pomp and high rank. For the maintenance of the troops, Abul Fateh Khan was granted jagirs in Berar, Hyderabad and Bijapur, covering an area of 4,134 square miles that yielded an annual revenue of about `30 lakhs. He was conferred the title of Shams-ul-Umra or the Sun among the Nobles, which went on to become the family title.

Abul Fateh Khan passed way in 1786, and was succeeded by his son Fakhruddin Khan, Shams-ul-Umra II. The Nizam conferred the title Amir-e-Kabir on him, and married his daughter Sahebzadi Bashirunissa Begum to him (1797); this marriage brought the two families close and forged a kinship between them. Fakhruddin Khan’s descendants upheld their responsibilities and also married daughters of the Nizams, thus strengthening their relations with the Nizam’s family. The Paigah mausoleum complex is home to tombs of thirty-two Paigah nobles and their families spanning eight generations. The beauty of the mausoleums speaks of the graceful life they have lead.

A SERENE COMPLEX

A quiet road winds through a residential neighbourhood in Pisal Banda and leads to a simple gateway-cum-drum house. The interior is dotted with trees and mausoleums, and a metal pointed archway below the apex of which is a motif of the sun with emanating rays flanked by two daggers and the word Paigah below indicates the provenance of the complex. The path leads to a metal board depicting the plan of Paigah tombs. To the far left stands a mosque with a water body on its front side and mausoleums to the right, strategically located for the prayers to spread across the tombs facing the mosque. The oldest tomb, built in the 1780s, located next to the pool, is that of Abul Fateh Khan, the founder of the Paigah dynasty.

Moving right through the complex and along the long passage, graced with stucco decorations, framed by a series of beautiful cusped arches are exquisite tombs and cenotaphs of Paigah nobles, their wives and families across generations. Among them is the cenotaph of Fakhruddin Khan, son of the founder of the Paigah dynasty and son-in-law of Nizam II, set in a marble pavilion that has an ostrich egg hung upon it as a symbol of royalty, and the cenotaph of Rafi-ud-din Kah, grandson of the founder, that bears quotations from the holy Quran.

The cenotaph of Nawab Bashir-ud-Daulah is surmounted by a carved marble block that changes colour according to the seasons. Presenting a different decorative element is the cenotaph of Hussain ul-Nissa Begum, the daughter of the fifth Nizam, embellished with fluid floral pietra dura motifs.

EXQUISITE DETAILS

The presence of pillar and lintel as well as cusped arches; of double columns and pilasters; of stucco decorations, marble jalis and fretted wooden doors; inlaid calligraphy and peitra dura, speak of architectural and decorative elements of different traditions that are crafted exquisitely and seamlessly integrated to create beautiful spaces. The piece-de-resistance are the decorative jalis, in a spectrum of patterns from a galaxy of stars to a sea of waves, a spread of flowers, a stretch of buds, an expanse of honeycomb-like cells and more, that bring in light and breeze whilst cutting out the harsh glare of the Deccan sun with the utmost beauty.

Equally exquisitely created, almost as if they were crafted from a pliable material, are ribbed columns with creepers, and wall decorations like of a vase from which emerges a lush plant. There are subtle touches such as fretted double doors bearing a contiguous motif that completes when the doors meet.

Text: Brinda Gill

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