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Architectural assortment

K. VENKATESHWARLU

The Sitaram Bagh Temple is a blend of different architectural styles

Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

A QUESTION that is often raised is about the stance adopted by the Nizams towards Hindu temples, built in and around Hyderabad. First there were not many temples, two centuries ago. The Hindu prime ministers, financiers and bankers were among the few who seemed to have enjoyed the privilege of building temples. Fewer temples were built by commoners of that era.

The attitude of the Nizams was not always consistent, as legends would indicate. If the third Nizam, Sikander Jah penalised his commandant of remount, Jham Singh, for building a Balaji temple (featured in this column earlier) and made him build a mosque nearby, the fourth Nizam, Nasir-ud- Doula proved to be secular by granting a jagir for the upkeep and maintenance of the Sitaram Bagh Temple.

Then there is the legend of the Sixth Nizam, Mir Mahabub Ali Khan, who dressed like a Hindu and sporting a tilak on his forehead offered gold jewellery and a sari to the River Musi, amidst the chanting of hymns, when "she" showed "her" fury in 1908, devastating a large chunk of the city. The river in spate was likened to an upset daughter and the offerings were to "propitiate her".

Folklore, the secular character of the rulers and the Nizams' idiosyncrasies apart, the Sitaram Bagh Temple, built by Puranmal Ganeriwala, a banker, around the 1830s, is a fine example of a mixed style of architecture, where Rajasthani, Mughal and quite curiously, European elements blend to form a melange. It was for these features that the temple precincts has been listed. The temple had also won the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA) - Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Award for the year 2001. "Each time one enters the courtyard, there is a sense of being overwhelmed by the style, scale and grace of the various structures and architectural elements..." says the award citation.

The temple complex stands amidst a sprawling 25-acre garden, all of which is surrounded by a 20 feet high wall, lending it a fort-like appearance, in itself a feature. The gateways, in three directions - East, West and South, are all huge. The imposing main gateway on the Mallepally-Mangalhat road has a gopuram sitting on two walls that have balconies with European features.

The peculiarity of the complex does not end with the compound wall and the facade of the gateway. To enter the complex, you have to pass through a zigzag path onto a series of quadrangular courtyards, one leading to another placed at right angles. This leads to the main sanctum sanctorum where the deities of Sita and Ram and others are consecrated. The idols are in marble and were brought from Jaipur. There are other temples in the complex devoted to Varadarajaswamy, Hanuman, Laxmi and Shiva.

As you walk through the courtyards in the spacious complex, you stumble upon rich and varied architectural styles - a canopied overhanging balcony in Rajasthani style here and a stone mandapa in typical South Indian style there, three step wells, a number of inns and rooms with facades having stucco decorations, for accommodating devotees and temple priests who come from Tamil Nadu. A prominent feature of the complex is the pair of fluted domed pavilions in Indo-European style, constructed in memory of Puranmalji and his son, Premsukh Dasji in the later half of the 19th century. The columns are in European style.

"The compound wall, huge wooden doorways and the meandering passage served as a sound defence system, to ward off attacks by enemies," says Dr. A. K. Ganeriwal, a practising orthopaedic surgeon and great grandson of Puranmalji. Dr. Ganeriwal who stays in the complex says that the location was in a jungle at that time, on the outskirts of Mallepally village.

He disputes the legend of the Nizam gifting away a jagir of two villages in the erstwhile Berar region of Maharashtra for the upkeep of the temple and says it was actually purchased by Puranmalji for 2000 gold coins. Another tale he narrated was how Puranmalji played a key role in recovering land revenue from the Berar region and brought in 130 cartloads of money and presented it to the Nizam. Yet another was on how the walled temple complex proved to be a safe haven for hundreds of local people protecting them against attacks by the Razakars in l948, just before the liberation of the Hyderabad State.

For feedback: email warlu@thehindu.co.in

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