Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Romance of Public Garden - I

The Romance of Public Garden - I
By Narendra Luther

The City of Hyderabad, originally called Bhagnagar, was founded in 1591. Its founder, Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah had decreed that “it should be unique in the world and a replica of heaven on earth”. The word for heaven in Arabic ‘Jannat’ – also means a garden. Indeed for people in Arabia living amidst vast desert, heaven would mean lush greenery. In the mythical Islamic heaven, as described in the Holy Quran, there are many gardens.

Accordingly, the new city was a virtual garden. It had a habitation of less than 3 square kilometers surrounded by gardens and greenery covering an area of over 23 square kilometers.

Over the years however, with the increase in population, the gardens and greenery fell a prey to increased construction spilling on to the other side of the Musi river.

In 1864, the fifth Nizam, Afzal-ud-Doula on the advice of his prime minister, Salar Jung I, bought a piece of 54 acres of land from Raja Balakrishen. This was opposite the vast open land of Fateh Maidan (Victory Ground) where once the armies of Aurangazeb, had set up their camp during the siege of Golconda in 1687. Hence the name. This side was developed into a garden and was given the name of Bagh-e-Aam – ‘Public Garden’ in Urdu. In a corner of this garden a small zoo was also created.

Queen Victoria of England who was also the Empress of India celebrated the Golden Jubilee of her accession in 1887. To commemorate that, she gifted an iron bunglow to the Nizam which was placed in the Public Garden. It can be seen as soon on the immediate left of the entrance gate. Now it is difficult to recognize its original features. Steel mesh has been added to its frame and wooden partition made to create more rooms. The Public Gardens Department has converted its central portion into a meeting hall. The skeleton, however, is still original. There is no plate or plaque to give the historical background of the building as given above.

The Town Hall

In 1905, to celebrate the fortieth birthday of the Nizam VI, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, the nobles of Hyderabad collected funds for the construction of a suitable building to be gifted to the Nizam. Incorporating the Rajasthani style of architecture, this building was completed in 1912. It was a pity that the Sixth Nizam died a year before that. It was called the Town Hall. Later it was converted into the State Assembly and the first popularly elected members of the Assembly had their session there after the first General Elections in 1952. From 1985, substantial alternations and additions were made to this building to provide adequate facilities to the legislators.

The most well-known superintendent of the Public Garden was a very witty man called Jamaluddin. He added a Chinese section to the Public Garden. His sense of humour and his jokes – and jokes on him became very popular. We wrote about him in the issue of July 1998.

The Doll’s House

A new building was constructed in the Public Gardens sometime later. Originally, the legend goes, that it housed the dolls of the daughter of the Nizam VI and was called the ‘Dolls House’. However, the princess did not like it because she believed that ghosts inhabited it. At the suggestion of the first Director of Archeology of the State, Dr. Ghulam Yazdani, the State Museum was set up in the building in 1930.

It is rather strange that such a good museum should be so little known to the public and to the tourists. That is perhaps because it is over-shadowed by the more popular Salar Jung Museum in the old city.

This museum has the largest collection of coins in the world after the British Museum. These include, besides Indian coins from the earliest ages, some Roman coins also.

This is the only museum in the country, which has facsimiles of Ajanta paintings prepared by Syed Ahmed and Mohammad Jamaluddin -- two artists of Hyderabad under the guidance of Italian artists.

The museum also has a number of sculptures belonging to the Hindu and Buddhist and Jain periods. It has also an impressive collection of bronzes from as early as the 2nd century B.C.

Apart from these, it has a number of manuscripts. Of those, there are three copies of the Holy Quran. One has the autographs of Emperor Shah Jahan, another handwritten by Aurangazeb and the third by his elder brother, Dara Shikoh.
3000-year old ‘mummy’

Out of the five Egyptian mummies in India one is in this museum. It belongs to a princess of Egypt who died during childbirth at the age of 18. Recent x-ray revealed that this 3000-year old mummy is in perfect shape and only one of its teeth has fallen!

The Museum has also a very impressive collection of arms including a jewel-studded sword of the Nizam and a shield belonging to Shah Jahan.
The Shahi Mosque

In 1936 a mosque was constructed in the Public Gardens. It had accommodation for 102 worshippers. The last Nizam used to come here with members of the family on every Friday and on every Eid to offer prayers. It was therefore called Shahi Masjid (The Royal Mosque). Now putting an acrylic shed on the open area has increased the accommodation.

On either side of this mosque there are two Niyaz Khanas –kitchens for feeding the poor.
The Azad Institute

In 1959 they were handed over to the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Oriental Research Institute. One of the buildings contains library and reading room and the other is used as an auditorium for public meetings. This institution has over 12,000 books and is used by a good number of persons including over 50 research scholars in different fields.

The Public Garden had its next landmark when the Silver Jubilee of the last Nizam was celebrated. About that and other developments, wait for the next installment.

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