Cremated in style

Cremated in style

The Paigah nobles led elegant lives and their tombs bear the testimony that they chose to die in style.

Those who are familiar with devdis (mansions) and havelis of Hyderabad will not be enchanted by the double-storey gateway at the fag end of the labyrinthine street coursing through indistinguishable dwellings, auto workshops and rusty, rickety skeletons of lorries. Stray goats, tick-tock of the auto sheds, the laundry lines, nothing on the street bears any hint of the architectural marvels, the gateway obscures. Once ushered through the portals, the arched gallery of the tombs set in sylvan estate of the famous Paigah family casts a spell, smacking a preview of paradise.

Herbal scent hangs on, the silence breached only by the twitter of birds. Tucked in the Phisalbanda village (now part of the urban sprawl), four kilometres south-east of Charminar, the tombs had lain in obscurity for most part of the last century. It was only in the middle of the 1990s that the Department of Archaeology of Andhra Pradesh rediscovered the architectural worth of the tombs and began restoring them.

The stunning tombs, built in marble and mortar, blending Asafjahi and Rajput styles of architecture, have been added as one more ‘must-see’ item to the itinerary of the visitors to Hyderabad in recent years. Lying entombed in the stylish necropolis are 27 nobles and their consorts and countless others from the famous aristocratic Paigah family, which shared close kinship with the Nizams all through their rule (1724-1948).

Paigah (meaning footstool or right-hand man in Persian) were of noble lineage and traced their origin from Hazrat Omar, the second caliph of Islam. The family was founded by Abul Fateh Ali Khan who was given the title of Nawab Taig Jung Bahadur, by the second Asaf Jahi ruler Nizam Ali Khan.

Nizam is said to have offered him the prime ministership of the state. But he declined and preferred to remain a soldier. Thus began a longstanding relationship between the purpled royalty and erudite nobility. The Nizams depended upon their steadfast loyalty and never thought twice in assigning them the affairs of defence and security. Several matrimonial alliances through the next century further cemented the bonds between them.

From the start, the Paigah cemetery was planned as a sepulchral estate never to be replicated. Huge trees shaded the lawns. The long arched gallery overlooking the elegantly built mosque and a large ablution pool, has 27 mausoleums, several of them under canopies.

First among these is that of founder Nawab Taig Jung Bahadur. Insatiable appetite for aesthetics is evident from the superb craftsmanship of stucco panels and in the carving of marble lattices of mausoleum enclosures. Even the doors depict extremely graceful filigree work. Parapets carry a series of cupolas resting over bases patterned after pineapple motifs and encircled by Grecian horns.

Some of the tombs stand out from the rest. Taig Jung Bahadur’s tomb is skirted by a vast pool. The open to sky mausoleum of Aasman Jah Bahadur translates the nomenclatural significance of the noble man known for his swordsmanship. Tomb of Hussain un-nissa Begum, one of the daughters of Nizam married to historian Sir Khursheed Jah Bahadur, had extraordinary pietra-dura inlay work in semiprecious stones, typical to funeral embellishments of Mughal mausoleums.

Paigah nobles were known for their fine tastes and elegant lifestyles. Their wealth is said to have surpassed some of the maharajahs of their time. Some of them travelled to distant places to gather books and antiques or to explore history. One among them was sent to Aligarh and enrolled in the Muslim Anglo Oriental College (now Aligarh Muslim University) founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

Two of them are known to have been knighted by the British royals, having been deputed to represent the Nizam at the crowing ceremony in Buckingham Palace. The splendid Paigah Tombs testify to the fact that even in death, they chose to rest in style.

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