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From majestic to mundane

The magnificent Diwan Devdi which now houses a transport and shopping complex reflects the disregard and apathy of citizens

FROM A magnificent palace complex where one of Hyderabad's best-known prime ministers and art and curios collectors stayed to a transport and shopping complex selling mundane things ranging from tarpaulins to wedding cards, the once grand Diwan Devdi's fall reflects the scant disregard of their descendants, neglect of the powers that be and the general apathy of the citizens.

The indifference has been so comprehensive in its sweep that besides "Diwan Devdi", quaint palace extensions like "Aina Khana", "Lakkad Kotha", "Chini Khana", "Nizam Bagh" and "Noor Mahal" have all been razed to the ground. Barring the facade of the gateways, all you find now is a string of ugly multi-storeyed steel concrete monsters built haphazardly in their places, though some of these names do figure here and there on the gaudy name boards of these shopping complexes.

And by the time authorities woke up belatedly, all the palaces disappeared and they could only list the "gate portions", the northern one along Chatta Bazar and another opposite Madina Hotel, as grade one heritage structures for protection. Spared of the destruction but not encroachments, these majestic gateways stand, even today, to give one a taste of the grandeur of the Devdi and other annexes inside.

The two gateways were built in the later half of the 19th Century, and have been listed not just because they were at the threshold of one of the significant phases of Hyderabad's history but owing to their architecture. Known as "Regional Mughal Variation" (RMV) style, it is typified by cusped arches, canopied and projected balconies over window openings or "jharokas". The double storeyed northern gate meant for visitors from the North, consists of three cusped arches, one inside and the others leading to what was once a huge courtyard. The first floor over the gate was used for playing "Roshan Chowki" and drums thrice a day and on special occasions when there were royal visits to the "Devdi".

The RMV style emerged when the prosperity of the nobles was on the upswing and they started adopting newer styles from other regions of the country but always in combination with local variation. They built wooden pavilions, garden houses and large residential quarters with courtyards in the then walled city and Karwan. But "Diwan Devdi's" gateways are unique, not falling in the category of tombs, pavilions, devdis and other buildings in RMV styles.

In its halcyon days, the "Diwan Devdi", so called as three famous Diwans (Madar-ul-Maham or prime ministers) to the Nizams, the Salar Jung I, II and III lived, played a significant political, administrative and cultural role in the history of the erstwhile Hyderabad State. It was from here that the prime ministers ran the administration of the State during different periods of Asaf Jahi rulers. It was here that the Salar Jungs, especially the first, Mir Turab Ali Khan, and the third, Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, developed a fancy for collecting art objects. It was again in "Diwan Devdi" that the Salar Jung Museum was located once and their vast collection displayed. In 1968, it was shifted to the existing building, facing river Musi. In a way, the Devdi was the meeting place of political administration and arts.

Old timers recall that the "Diwan Devdi" was in the possession of Mubaris Khan, the Subedar (Vicerory) of the Deccan appointed by the Mughal Emperor before the First Nizam took over Hyderabad from him, in 1724. The other famous occupants before the Salar Jungs were Nawab Mir Alam (who built Mir Alam Tank), and his son-in-law, Nawab Muneer-ul-Mulk — both prime ministers during early Asaf Jahi period.

But it was during the tenure of Sir Salar Jung-I as Diwan, between 1853-1883, the Devdi shot into prominence and got its popular name. A dynamic and powerful prime minister, he was instrumental in reforming financial, revenue and judicial administration of the State. It was during his 30-year tenure that the palace played a key role in governance, life-style of nobles and architecture of buildings. He had added several extensions to the main palace.

Elderly Hyderabadis specifically recall the architecture of "Lakkad Koth", made of Burma teak and its exquisite work and the "Aina Khana" (hall of mirrors), full of giant mirrors and chandeliers which is said to be the place where the dance sequence in the song Pyaar kiya to darna kya from the masterpiece Mughal-e-Azam was shot. Some of these mirrors have been shifted to Salar Jung Museum. Then there was this equally marvellous "Chini Khana" (hall of China).

History books trace the Salar Jung family's descent from Shaikh Owais-a-Qarani of Madina, famous in Arabian history. An inhabitant of Yemen, he belonged to the clan of Qarani. The Salar Jungs had a large estate, comprising an area of over 1,400 square miles, having a population of 2,00,000. The estates were provided with ten law courts and three jails. The annual revenue that yielded from these estates was Rs. 15 lakhs. No surprise, then, that the Salar Jungs could buy a vast art treasure of objects of over 50,000 during their visits to Europe and other places.

Salar Jung II, Mir Laiq Ali Khan, (eldest son of Mir Turab Ali Khan) took over as Diwan (1884-87) when he was just 23, but died at the young age of 27. Even in his short tenure, he made a mark specially in controlling with tact the riots that broke out in the city on the last day of Moharrum in 1884, between the Arab followers of Sultan Nawaz Jung and the city police. It reached a stage when Arabs nearly took over the city.

He left behind his only son, a month-old Mir Yousuf Ali Khan (Salar Jung III). The Sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, took little Yousuf under his personal care, till he grew up to be a young man capable of taking over as the next Diwan.

Mir Yousuf Ali Khan emulated his grandfather and worked with "zeal and earnestness and fulfilled his responsibilities with great efficiency", during his tenure of two years (1912-1914) as Diwan under the Seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. A patron of art and learning, his penchant for collecting art objects and curios knew no bounds, as reflected in the Salar Jung Museum's stupendous collection, rated as one of the world largest private collections.

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