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In Search of Promised Lands: Hyderabad and the Garden of Paradise

Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah
"Make my city full of people, Like you keep the river full of fish."

These were the couplets said by Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah whilst laying the foundation of the City of Haider (Caliph Ali). Quli Qutub Shah was building Jannat on Earth.

Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah


Feristha, the chronicler, mentions this account on the foundation of Hyderabad in Tarikh-Ferishtha that “when the moon was in the constellation of Leo and Jupiter was in its own mansion, Sultan Quli Qutub Shah ordered architects and masons to prepare the plan of a city which would be unequalled the world over and should be the replica of Paradise itself”. The mention of “replica of Paradise”, one assumes it is just a poetic quotation to a benchmark of beauty, peace and splendour but several texts explain the Quranic verses as the basis of the layout of the city like that of the gardens and rivers Paradise.

Qutub Shah's Paradise, A sketch the surrounds of Charminar and Qutub Shahi Palaces, Qarni's Sketches of Hyderabad. SJM Library


Some of the features of this promised paradise as seen in the Holy Quran and its commentaries, which have a bearing on our discussion and influence gardens, should now be mentioned briefly:

1. In paradise flow streams and canals with golden banks and beds of pearls and rubies, toiled soil of which has a smell sweeter than musk.

2. There is perpetual shade which is tamed to move according to the will of man.

3. There is no extreme heat from the sun or bitter cold.

4. There are trees which are so green that they appear to be black.

5. Trees such as the thornless lotus, tangled myrtle, palm and pomegranate have been mentioned.

6. There are high buildings unique in the world.

7. The dimensions of paradise may be likened to the width of the sky and the earth.

8. There is an extraordinary abundance of unforbidden and perennial fruit which may be freely eaten.

A map of the palaces of the city of Hyderabad by HK Sherwani.

He laid the foundation in 1591, with the conception of developing a world-class crossroad for trade across Surat and Machilipatnam, which previously was Orugallu (Warangal). Golconda was one of the five Deccani sultanates formed after the fall of the Bahmani Sultanate. When Ibrahim’s Golconda fort was not enough for his people, he looked to build a city from scratch, with the help of Mir Momin Astarabadi from Isfahan, Iran who is credited to be the planner of Hyderabad. A magnificent Charminar would adorn the main boulevard. The whole city would form a natural basin to the Musi river flowing to the north, along with its yellow banks. The landscape outside of the city was extensive dry plains with grooves of Babool trees spreading through-out whereas the city enjoyed the cool breeze of the Musi under dark shades of Qur’anic trees mentioned in the context of Paradise. Hyderabad was unlike any other city in India at that time, it had broad main boulevards, the abundance of water and fresh air, high rise buildings and otherworldly palaces. The four arches that are seen when going to Charminar were doorways to the royal palaces of Qutub Shah like the Dad Mahal, Khudadad Mahal, Nadi Mahal, Jamay Mahal, the Julu Khana, Kohe Tur Palace to mention a few. Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah wrote about Khudadad Mahal in this poem of his.

May Khudadad Mahal be blessed by Muhammad (PBUH) May it be adorned like a replica of heaven The domes of the Mahal that touch the skies It is adorned with the sun the moon and the stars No one in this world has seen such a palace For it has been brought down to earth by angels themselves Its eight balconies are like the eight heavens The springs of heaven flow through it Houris, dancers, and heavenly maidens, All of them lighter than the breeze, live there Thanks to the Prophet and the twelve Imams Enjoy yourself there with your twelve beloveds

A sketch of the facade of Khudadad Mahal, Qarni's Sketches of Hyderabad, SJM Library.

Haider Mahal was the palace on the fifth floor of Khudadad Mahal. One tends to relate Haider Mahal to the mythical dancer Bhagmati, who supposedly wed Qutub Shah and then changed her name to Haider Mahal according to some historians. When you go through the works of Qutub Shah where he talked about his twelve-favourite people, there was no mention of Bhagmati neither Haider Mahal. If this sweetheart of his was so precious that he would establish a city after her, why would Qutub Shah never mention Bhagmati in any works? If she was so important to the Sultan then why isn’t Bhagmati’s tomb inside the Quli Qutub Shah Necropolis? There is plenty mention of Bhagirathi, Qutub Shah’s mother of the Vijayanagara Kingdom, but not of the mythical damsel. The existence of Bhagmati could never be proved by poets, politicians and authors who romanticize the founding of Hyderabad to kindle interest in the hearts of a population that is hungry for romantic stories, thanks to the Indian Film Industry.

Lad Bazar, the principal street from Puranapul to Charminar.

There would be Gardens all around the city and everyone was free to eat from them, just like how Qur’an describes Jannat. Qutub Shah would go on planting plum trees in huge numbers as it is considered as a fruit of the paradise, this plantation would later be called as Beerban (Indian plum forest). The crystal clear Musi would have huge lush fruit gardens like pomegranates, on both sides, the fruits believed to be found in paradise. The Charminar was completed just in time for the thousandth year of the Islamic Hijri calendar (1592 AD). The royal palace was built inside the four arches, with a freshwater fountain at its centre, now known as Gulzar Houz. One of Asia’s first hospitals, Darulshifa (the house of health), was constructed in 1595. Baadshahi Ashoorkhana built during the same time to house Alams (Battle Standards) still exists but in a fragile condition.

Lad Bazaar in early 21st century

Puranapul, with the City Wall of Hyderabad at the end

All these palaces were razed to dust after Aurangzeb’s siege of Golconda in 1687, luckily for Hyderabadis, the Charminar was spared while the Makkah Masjid was still under construction at that time. The debris of the palaces was used to build slums in the same places to house the population of Golconda. After Aurangzeb plundered Qutub Shah’s heaven, the seat of power in the Deccan was held by Aurangabad. Even though Hyderabad didn’t remain a capital it continued to grow in population because it was still the trade capital of the East, linking the most important ports in the Indian subcontinent. The city was the centre for world trade for a significant amount of time thanks to the unmatched infrastructure and a strategically planned city. Hyderabad was born out of love, not for a dancer, but a King’s love for his people. We carry the love in us, in our Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb. A gift for our ancestors that we have now inherited, to pass it down to the ones to come. It is a city that is alive, that makes us feel itself, that tells its story at each corner. It has seen empires rise and fall, it witnessed the wrath of the Alamgir, it floated in the Tughyani, it defended itself against the Maratha menace, it lived through the Operation Polo. It will continue to live forever, for it is blessed by prayers, and its dwellers are blessed. Hyderabad has never been under oppression, and never will be.

Si O Se Pol, Esfahan, the contemporary of Purana Pul in Hyderabad.

Golestan Palace, Tehran. A reference for what the Qutub Shahi palaces in Hyderabad, might have looked like.

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