The love story of Quli Qutub and Bhagmati, and other tragic endings
For some strange reason, all, or almost all love legends have a tragic end. I cannot recall too many that end with “and they lived happily ever after”. In fact, Romeo-Juliet, Laila-Majnun, Heer-Ranjha, Sohini-Mahiwal, Sassi-Pannun, Dhola-Maru, Saif-ul-Malook-o-Badi-uj-Jamaal – the list of unhappy lovers separated by the cruel hands of society, scheming relatives, jealous rivals, misunderstandings and plain simple divine design is endless.
Amidst such tears and tragedies, poison-tipped swords and daggers, deceit and chicanery, there is a story of love that makes you believe that this world can’t be all bad. The most fascinating and enduring quality of this legend of love is that it is not a legend, it is fact, well mostly. And this is how it goes.
The fifth king in a dynasty that lasted over 170 years, comes to the throne at a very young age. He also falls in love at a very young age. What is not clear is the sequence: did he fall in love first or did he become king first? From all accounts both happened when he was in his teens. If he fell in love before becoming king then he must have had an extremely open minded and level headed father. And the subjects would have had a tolerant king, the story as it is told and retold would seem to suggest that the prince fell in love first and this would also underscore the fact that his father had been a large hearted and tolerant ruler.
It is said that the prince was passing through a village, not far from the capital, when he came across a very beautiful woman and fell head over heels in love with her, the woman also reciprocated the sentiments and they began to meet regularly though surreptitiously. The meetings were surreptitious perhaps because the prince was not sure how this relationship could be utilised against him by his rivals, the woman was not royalty and it is said that she was a dancer and a singer.
Her village was across the river from the palace and at least on one occasion the prince had to risk his life while crossing the river. The river was in spate and seemed intent on drowning the village of his beloved; the prince urged his horse to jump into the raging torrent, somehow made to the other shore and succeeded in rescuing her.
The king was worried at these infantile displays of bravado but being the kind of man he was he knew that he won’t be able to stop his son from crossing the river at the most inappropriate moments and so the king got a bridge built across the river. Were fathers like this in those days? Sounds too much like a fairy tale already, doesn’t it? But wait, there is more.
The prince was born in 1565; he came to the throne after the death of his father in 1580 and ruled till 1611. This made him a contemporary of Akbar for the last 25 years of Akbar’s 49 year rule, and a contemporary of Jahangir for the first 6 of 21 years of Jahangir’s reign. Some say that at the time of his coronation, he prince was only fifteen, others insist he was 17. They got into politics and fell in love early in those days didn’t they?
Shortly after becoming king he married his lady love and built a new capital city that he named after his beloved, now his queen. Almost a decade after their marriage a daughter was born to the royal couple. The daughter was later married to a nephew of the king and eventually became queen when her husband succeeded his uncle to the throne.
The name of the prince was Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah. The name of his beloved queen was Bhagmati and the city that he named after her was initially known as Bhaganagar but was later renamed Hyderabad once Bhagmati was given the title Hyder Mahal.
Hyderabad was a beautiful city with palaces, gardens, religious and secular buioldings and well laid out roads the centre-piece of the city was Charminar.
The Qutub Shahi rulers who earlier ruled from Golconda Fort now shifted their capital to Hyderabad and continued to exist independently of the mighty rulers of the North. The reign of the Qutub Shahi rulers started in 1518, a year after Ibrahim Lodi came to the throne in North India and continued till 1687, till the latter half of the reign of Aurangzeb, who finally conquered the Deccan in that year.
Hyderabad gradually grew into a city that brought together an aesthetic of life that rivalled or even surpassed many other princely states that had grown in the wake of the collapse of the Mughals and the rise of the British.
After Aurangzeb had defeated the last of the Qutub Shahi kings, Abul Hasan Qutub Shah, Hyderabad became one of the provinces of the Mughals that was to break away like Awadh in the early decades of the 18th century to be ruled by the descendents of Qamar-ud-Din Khan who was appointed Nizam-ul Mulk in 1717 by Farrukh Seyar and given the title Asif Jah by Mohammad Shah in 1725.
The rise of Hyderabad had its roots in the emergence of the Bahmani kingdom. The region broke away from the Delhi Sultanate in 1347 when as a consequence of a revolt against Mohammad bin Tughlaq, Al’a-ud-Din Hasan Bahman Shah became the first Sultan of the new kingdom.
The Bahmani kingdom lasted for 171 years, before breaking up, from 1518, into five smaller kingdoms that came to be known as the Deccani Sultanates namely the Qutubshahi of Golconda (Hyderabad), the Nizamshahi of Ahmednagar, the Adilshahi of Bijapur, the Imadshahi of Varhad and the Baridshahi of Bidar.
The kingdoms or their parts were gradually annexed, first into the Mughal empire in the late 17th century and finally, after being nibbled into by the Marathas and the Portuguese, as loyalists of the British.
The one outstanding feature of the kingdoms of this region was their contribution to literature and culture and a certain sensitivity to religious plurality and encouragement to cultural fusion, influenced no doubt by the message of tolerance preached by Khwaja Banda Nawaz Gesu Daraz who had shifted from Delhi to Gulbarga, the early Capital of the Bahmani Sultans.
Khawaja Banda Nawaz, disciple and successor of Khwaja Naseer-ud-Din Roshan Chraagh-e-Dehli was the first major Chishti Sufi to go and settle south of the Vindhyas.
While breaking away from the Delhi Sultanate the Bahmani kings were keen to develop their own identity and chose not Persian but the locally spoken Deccani as the court language. “Deccani” was a language that had arrived in this region as “Hindavi” at the time of Al’a-ud-Din Khilji and had over the decades borrowed heavily from Telugu, Kannada and Marathi- languages spoken in the territories controlled by Bahman Shah. The language of the streets was lifted to the status of court language and it unleashed an upsurge of creativity.
The earliest works of literature to come out of this region was the first Masnavi-ballad- of Urdu called Kadam Rao-Padam Rao, The story of the valour of two princes who were brothers. Was written by Fakhr-e-Deen Nizami of Bidar between 1421-1434. Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah is credited to be the first poet with a complete Anthology in Deccani.
The Bahmanis had adopted habits, cultural practices and languages of their subjects and it was this trait that eventually led to the emergence of the tolerant traditions of this entire region, testimony to the fact till the beginning of communalisation of politics in the 1920s and 30s there is no record of any communal riot or tension in the region. In fact 1938 was the first time that a communal riot took place in Hyderabad.
It is in the backdrop of a scenario such as this that one needs to view the current bout of communal tension around Charminar. Charminar that has over the last four centuries become as much of an icon for Hyderabad as the Arc de Triomphe is for Paris.
The entire trajectory of the dispute about locating the temple of Bhagyalakshmi on one of the pillars of Charminar seems clearly designed to strike at the very roots of the syncretic tradition of Hyderabad.
Historical references, traditions, popular beliefs and literary creations belonging to the time of Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah and Bhagmati like Qutub Mushtari written by Mullah Wajahi are all mixed up in the story of Hyderabad and this is the narration that you would popularly hear.
Bhagmati came from a village called Chichlam, the village was located on the south bank of the River Musi about 10 kilometre from Golconda -the capital city and fort of the Qutub Shahi Kings. It was at Chichlam that Quli Qutub Shah built the City of Bhaganagr, named after his queen and when she converted to Islam and was given the title Hyder Mahal, the city was given the name Hyderabad.
This is the story that is popular and has been popular among the people of Hyderabad, not only the city but the erstwhile state of Hyderabd, the story of two lovers who did not care about religious orthodoxy, about court intrigues, about the ill that people spoke about women who danced and sang, they faced all that and eventually conquered all opposition and proved the truth of the Latin adage by Virgil “Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori” “love Conquers all let us all yield to love”.
From then till the early 1970s there is no mention of any goddess Bhagyalakshmi. In fact there is no history anywhere of the worship of Bhagyalakshmi. Bhaganagar was named after Bhagmati and not a goddess called Bhagyalakshmi. Bhaganagar itself had a rather ephemeral existence it was fashioned out of Chichlam and a few years later turned into Hyderabad, just as soon as the Lady, after whom the city was named, decided to accept a new title.
And so the myth of goddess Bhagyalaksh was created, a shallow tradition with no antiquity, the temple was devised to invent this tradition as within this tradition lay the seeds of dissension and strife. The annual processions that began soon thereafter and the ploy of resting the idol on one of the pillars in mid 70s and coming back the next day to claim that once the goddess had rested at the site a temple had to come up at that exact spot was designed to irrigate and nurture the seeds into a harvest of hatred.
And this is precisely what has happened. What takes the cake is the fact that the local administration, the state Archaeology department and the state government no one said a word no one tried to stop the encroachment and year after year the encroachment continues to grow the ASI and the Government of India too seem to look the other way.
One reason, the basic reason, for this unconcern is our attitude to heritage, we do not view heritage as something that the past has bequeathed us, we have divided our heritage in denominational hues and in terms of our and theirs. What is ours needs to be saved, what is theirs needs to be encroached, removed or obliterated.
This is a game that two sides can play endlessly, there is one group, claiming the same faith as did Bhagmati, that wants to change the name of Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar, after a deity that they have created after distorting the name of a courtesan/singer that they would not treat as an equal. And through this distortion of History they want to obliterate the name of this brave woman who married for love.
And then there is this group, not a large group as yet, but is exists and claims to belong to the same faith as Quli Qutub Shah and this group has been denying the existence of Bhagmati altogether, insisting that these are baseless myths and tales spread by the ignorant.
All this obviously inflicts irreparable damage upon our heritage and yet unmindful of the goings on or perhaps fully aware of the consequences upholders of our constitution calculate complicated algorithms of victory come the next hustings.
And so this is another love story that has been vitiated by those who thrive on hate.
(First published in Terrascape.)