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Structure so pure

The Paigah Palace, which houses the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority now, has all the pure European architectural features


WHAT DOES a Prime Minister do when His Exalted Highness, the ruler of the day, likes a breathtaking hill-top palace painstakingly built by him, chunk by chunk of lime and mortar for years? He would graciously "gift" it away to the ruler virtually on a platter, without batting an eyelid and build an equally magnificent palace, 20 km away.

That's what Sir Vicar-ul-Umra, the Paigah noble did in 1895 by presenting Falaknuma, easily one of the opulent palaces in the country to the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. "Ji, Huzoor, it is all yours," the magnanimous nobleman might have told the Nizam, who set his eyes on the palace. He went on to build "Paigah Palace", or Devdi Iqbal-ud- Daula (so named after one of his several titles) at Begumpet (lane opposite to the police lines).

"Paigah Palace", the palatial heritage building now housing the office of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA), is one of the cluster of palaces, standing amid what was a vast wooded area spread over 150 acres (a century ago, all owned by the Paigahs). It is appropriate because, HUDA has pioneered addition of Regulation 13 to the zoning regulations, listing and throwing a protective ring round 138 heritage buildings and nine natural precincts. Apart from "Paigah Palace", Devdi Nasir Nawaz Jung (part of it leased to Chiraan Fort Club) and Vikhar Manzil located on a hillock nearby, are the other two palaces listed for historical and architectural values.

All three were built in 1880s, considered a golden period when a large number of palaces in European and Indo-European style of architecture came up in Hyderabad. The trend perhaps had something to do with the intermittent European jaunts of the highly-placed officials of the Nizam during that period. They simply emulated what was in vogue there, some of them lending an Indian touch to these buildings.

"Paigah", meaning pomp and high rank was conferred as a honourable title by the second Nizam, Nizam Ali Khan, on the estates held by Abul Fateh Khan, Taig Jung Bahadur in appreciation of his loyal service. The title stuck and among the nobles the "Paigahs" were ranked second to the Nizams to whom they were allied by matrimony. The builder of this beautiful palace, Sir Vicar- ul Umra, was grandson of the third Nizam, Nawab Sikander Jah and married Jahandarunnissa, daughter of the fifth Nizam, Nawab Afzal-ud Dowla. Besides having this artistic bend of mind in building magnificent palaces, as Prime Minister for eight years in 1890s, he is credited with carrying out reforms in administration and starting education department, the engineering college, the law college and the Asafia Library (State Central Library at Afzalgunj). A double-storeyed building, the "Paigah Palace" standing on a four-acre site has all the pure European architectural features that one could ask for -- a neo-classical facade, a grand portico with entablature, semi-circular arches, Corinthian columns and deep, arcaded verandas on all four sides and more.

Step into the building and you are sure to be wonderstruck by the high ceiling (22 ft in the ground floor and 26 ft in the first floor), four huge halls and over 20 spacious rooms. The elevated central portion (56 ft) of the building with rectangular vents at the top is like a chimney not only working as exhaust but letting in sunlight and fresh air. Thick 24-inch walls insulate the building from extreme weather conditions outside. Apse like projections with beautiful windows not one but three from where one can have a full view of the greenery around punctuate the building.

Entrance to each room has a pair of huge doors (7 to 10 feet high) with stucco work resembling the facade of the building marked by entablature. Pediments atop the doors have intricate work. Floral patterns decorate the top most borders of the four walls of the high ceiling both in ground and first floors. A quaint, carved wooden spiral staircase leads you to the first floor. It's excellent craftsmanship all over this well-maintained building. Just to give you an idea of the dimensions of rooms, there is a bathroom in first floor (now modified and occupied by a key official of planning department), which measures 300 sq ft! Though the structure remains untouched, wooden partitions, haphazardly arranged cupboards and almirahs now mar what would have been fantastic interior space.

Yet this building can be cited as one of the finest examples of adaptive re-use in the Government sector, accommodating 300 employees. The beauty of the building complex is that a four-storeyed modern annexe building (two floors each matching with the ground and first floors of the old one) has been added in 1999 in the rear side but you will not get an inkling of its existence from the front yard. This new building was added after taking permission from the Heritage Conservation Committee. Blending of the old and the new has been done perfectly and sensitively, without affecting the old European features in any manner. Landscaping done a few years ago, preserving the old trees, one of which still attracts migratory birds, looks good. An ancient well continues to supply water.

HUDA shifted to this palace in 1981 from much smaller rented premises at Hyderguda. Credit should go to the then vice- chairperson, Ramesh Grover who selected this palace, acquired by the Government from the Court of Wards, after paying compensation to the Paigahs. There was a bit of problem initially with employees threatening to go on strike, for shifting the office to a "godforsaken place". Two decades ago, there were not many buildings in the area and employees felt insecure.

There are many who adore the place. "I deem it a privilege working in a building with such grandeur. It is never too hot in summer. There is no need for air conditioner or air cooler. High roof and thick walls take care of extreme conditions. The best part is we are away from the noise and vehicular pollution, the building located a little distance away from the main road", sums up Krishna Baji, Manager, Public Relations of HUDA.

For feedback: warlu@thehindu.co.in

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