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Castle of dreams

Influenced by medieval European castles, the Asman Garh Palace was built for leisure


A MOONLIT night. An "isolated spot" on a hillock overlooking a jungle. The rustle of fallen leaves. The continuous drone of chirping crickets , punctuated by the grunt of a big cat. A cool breeze that blows bringing with it the damp smell of woods .

A perfect setting for hunting big game, a romantic binge or for penning a verse or two. Unfortunately, Sir Asman Jah, the Prime Minister of the erstwhile Hyderabad State, had neither of these inclinations.

So he did the next best thing, something which runs in the Paigah family to which he belongs, he strolled up the hill and chose the "isolated spot" to create a typical European country villa resembling a castle - which is measured poetry in granite.

In accomplishing it, he fulfilled his wish of being close to the sky, something that was part of the title he earned.

The palace was designed by him personally, perhaps influenced by the castles he had seen during his European jaunts. It became so popular that the hill-top villa came to be known as Asman Garh Palace.

Located on an elevated spot on the now busy Malakpet - Dilsukhnagar road, on the right , behind the T.V. tower, the palace was a landmark in the eastern parts of the city, visible even from the highway. Not anymore, residential buildings beseeching the hillock have blocked the view now. A visitor can still get a bird's eye view of the growing urban sprawl from the roof of the palace.

Built in 1885, the palace has some unparalleled architectural features, for which it finds its name in the list of heritage buildings meant for conservation. A staunch believer of making his creations look different, Sir Asman Jah, chose the Gothic style with pointed arches supported by small Corinthian pillars and stretched arrow-slit windows to build this cosy resort. Then he topped the building with castellated battlements. All these features contributed to the illusion of a fortified castle perched atop a hillock at the edge of what was once a large wooded area.

A flight of steps leads to a platform from where the staircase branches off on either side, giving it an interesting wrap - around appearance. Another peculiar feature, the gateway at the entrance, which is in the shape of the royal turban of the Seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was added much later in 1925-26. In the years gone by, this gateway too could be seen from a distance.

The Paigah Nawab ensured that the once well-furnished villa was a perfect place to unwind for the nobles tired from hunting down animals , big and small that came their way. No wonder it was one of the favourite resorts of the Sixth Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan. He never missed staying here, as the castle was strategically located enroute to Saroornagar and its surrounding areas, his chosen place for hunting big game.

After a few stays, he liked the villa and Sir Asman Jah in true Paigah style, could never say no to the ruler who was also his brother-in-law. Thus from the Paigahs the palace passed on to the Nizams. The idyllic setting of the palace, perhaps made the Seventh Nizam, choose it for initially locating the Osmania University campus , much before the present site at what was a village, Adikmet.

The palace remained idle for a long time after the momentous political changes of the past century until the Birlas took over the building for locating the Birla Archaeological Museum and Research Centre. Now the management of St. Joseph's Public School has bought the building in the year 2000 and runs a branch of the main school (at King Kothi). They have not tinkered with the structure but have added a new four-storied building, dwarfing the importance of the villa.

Why did the management choose a palace for the school? "The moment I saw the place, I liked it and decided to buy. It is very spacious and very airy, difficult to find in a city these days. I thought the place was perfectly located for a school, since we did not have any this side of the city", recalls U. Gregory Reddy, principal of the school. How about maintenance? "We are somehow managing but I feel the Government could do more than merely listing buildings, by earmarking funds for maintenance".

Sir Asman Jah, whose original name was Mohammed Mazharuddin Khan, was the grandson of the second Nizam, Sikander Jah. He married Parwarish-un-Nissa Begum, the daughter of the fifth Nizam, Afzal-ud-Doula and sister of the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. He was made a Minister for Justice and later a co-Regent for the Sixth Nizam, (when he was a minor) when Sir Salar Jung I went to England on a visit. He served as Prime Minister between 1887-93.

The Paigah noble is credited with ushering sweeping changes in the administration and revenue departments besides improving the financial condition of the State and giving a boost to indigenous industry. The Irrigation Board was set up and several new projects introduced for the benefit of farmers. He was among the few nobles from Hyderabad to represent the Nizam at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria.

A high point of his visit to London, was the Queen pinning the Jubilee Medal on him and the reception he was given by the Prince of Wales. From London, he proceeded to other major cities of Europe. On the occasion of his receiving the knighthood, A.P. Powell, the then British Resident of Hyderabad, spoke in glowing terms about him.

For feedback:

Email: warlu@thehindu.co.in

K. Venkateshwarlu

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