Charminar is always on the top of the mind of any tourist visiting Hyderabad . To
say that Charminar is a major landmark in the city is to state the obvious, to repeat
a cliché. The great monument is a synonym for Hyderabad and the pivot around which
the glory and history of the city have developed. To imagine this 400-year-old city
without Charminar is to imagine New York without the Statue of Liberty or Moscow
without the Kremlin. Built by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah in 1591, shortly after he
had shifted his capital from Golkonda to what now is known as Hyderabad , this beautiful
colossus in granite, lime, mortar and, some say, pulverised marble, was at one time
the heart of the city. This great tribute to aesthetics looks sturdy and solid from
a distance but as one moves closer, it emerges as an elegant and romantic edifice
proclaiming its architectural eminence in all its detail and dignity. Apart from
being the core of the city’s cultural milieu, it has become a brand name.
Charminar is a squarish structure with four towers in the four corners of the square,
each of whose sides is 20 metres in length. Every side opens into a plaza through
giant arches, which overlook four major thoroughfares and dwarf other features of
the building except the minarets. Each arch is 11 metres wide and rises 20 metres
to the pinnacle from the plinth. The minarets soar skywards by 24 metres from the
roof of Charminar. Each minaret has four storeys, each looking like a delicately
carved ring around the minaret. Some Anglophiles call Charminar the Arc de Triomphe
of the East. From the ground to the apex, the minarets cover a length of 48.7 metres.
According to Mir Moazzam Husain, a long time official of the UNESCO and a keen student
of this historic city, “these minarets may even symbolise the first four khalifs
of Islam, but I cannot vouch for this interpretation with any degree of certainty.”
At the western end of the roof of Charminar is a beautiful mosque; the oldest in
Hyderabad, and the rest of the roof was used as a court in Qutub Shahi times. Atop
the great monument are 45 prayer spaces for the devout where they can offer worship
in an atmosphere unspoilt by thev bustle of the city. East of this space is a spacious
verandah with small and large arches in the middle. The first floor has beautiful
balconies from where one has a fantastic view of the historic city and its later
These are technical details, of interest only to scholars and scribes. For the tourist,
Charminar disgorges unlimited architectural
wealth exuding from every pore of its masonry surface. The minarets taper off with
a bulbous dome, embellished by petal-like motifs, and crowned by a brass spire.
Though Charminar has a number of features answering to Hindu architectural usage,
the minarets themselves are exclusively an Islamic architectural tradition. Unlike
Taj Mahal, the fluted minarets of Charminar are built into the main structure. Inside
the four-storeyed minarets are spiral stairways of 149 steps leading you to the
top, the highest point one can reach, and providing a panoramic view of the sprawling
and amorphous city. Each minaret has four arcaded balconies helping the tourist
to imbibe the beauty of the city at various levels.
The essence of Islamic architecture
rests in the deployment of arches, minarets and domes in a harmonic whole. This
is very much true of Charminar, where apart from the main arches on the four sides;
above each arch are horizontal arrays of arches. Not only the four balconies of
each minaret have arches but also between the fourth balcony and the crowning dome,
you can see arches playing merry-go-round. Even as the arches and minarets of Charminar
reflect the influence of Islamic architectural schools, the structure as a whole
embodies elements of South Indian temple architecture. Again, flanking each arch
are four arched and trellised windows one above the other. The four main arches
have thus 32 such windows.
But Charminar actually is a galaxy
of prominent landmarks in the city’s history. Its neighbourhood is as interesting
a site of cultural heritage as Charminar itself. Around this architectural axis
are colourful bazaars, bringing to mind the bazaars of ancient
Baghdad and Istanbul, selling pearls, bangles, traditional Muslim gear and Mughlai delicacies. Architecturally
significant are theMecca masjid, Jamay masjid,
Char Kamaan ,and Miya Mishk mosque.
The Nizams too had built
a complex of palaces close to Charminar and beyond Lad Bazaar. Among them, more
well-known are the Chow Mohalla palace (1750), Khilwat Mahal, the Malwala Palace
(1845), the Salarjungs’ Dewan Devdi and Purani Haveli (1803).
The pavilion where the rulers held court was known
as Khilwat, built in the regime of the second Nizam. Some consider its style extremely
baroque. The complex includes Jilu Khana facing Lad bazaar and Daulat Khana-e-Ali,
both built by the first Nizam. The four palaces comprising the Chow Mohalla complex
are Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahriyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. Afzal Mahal is the
most imposing of them all.
Sandwiched between the Chatta bazaar
and Dabirpura main road is Purani Haveli, the home of the first peshwa of Muhammed
Quli Qutub Shah. This complex is in the shape of a horseshoe with a single storeyed
building in European style separating two oblong wings of double-storeyed buildings
tapering off into single storeyed structures with deep arched verandahs. Purani
Haveli architecture combines European facades with Indian courtyards. The Haveli
today houses a college for vocational training and religious education. Of the 11
buildings in the complex, only the Baradari is open to public.
From the Charminar, it is impossible
to miss the Char Kamaan built three years after the grand old edifice was built.
The four arches of Char Kamaan envelop a vast plaza with a tank with an octagonal
enclosure. This is now known as Gulzar Hauz, flanked by shops, which, in the times
of the Qutub Shahis, were antechambers to their palaces. The Mughals destroyed them
Some recent buildings, whose architectural trends were inspired by Charminar and
Golkonda, and built during the last of the Asaf Jahs’ times, are the Unani hospital,
the High Court, and across the Musi the Osmania general hospital. All of them flaunt
features of Indo-Islamic architectural styles. Charminar is very much a part of
the vibrant life of everyone in the city and its cultural life.