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Palaces of the Nizam: Asaf Jahi Style (mainly in and around Hyderabad city)


The Asaf Jahis who succeeded the Qutb Shahis were prolific builders. Several palace complexes of HEH the Nizam, landmarks like the Andhra Pradesh High Court, the Osmania Arts College and the Osmania Medical College building are among their well-known contributions. Asaf Jahi rulers also experimented with European styles and attempted a synthesis of European traditions with Hindu and Islamic forms and motifs.

Chow Mahalla Palace

Among two intervening rulers, Salabat Jung spent a greater part of his time in Hyderabad (Salabat Jung, the officially un-crowned Nizam ruled for a short period during the power struggle between the British and the French, compounded by the interference of the Marathas). By some accounts, he is credited with the building of the first Asaf Jahi Palace in Hyderabad i.e. the Chow Mahalla palace. The Asaf Jahis deserted the former Qutb Shahi palace quarter lying north west of Charminar and decided to construct a new palace complex for themselves to the south west of Charminar. In ‘The Unpublished Diary of a French Officer of Bussy’s Army’, the Officer describes Salabat Jung’s palace with its approach from Chowk (later known as Mahboob Chowk) as follows:

" the other or second building is the mansion of the Nawab, which is made up of three blocks of residences....... We here see a reservoir, the garden and the reservoir lead up to a large courtyard.... in the midst of this court is the first apartment, which is a large carpeted hall, one storeyed; its ceiling is supported by a number of small wooden pillars .....the second block of houses is also a great hall of which the ceiling is supported by a number of wooden pillars, each of a single piece, it is carpeted and one-storeyed. In the centre of the hall is the Nawab’s throne between four pillars, where he receives the ambassadors.....as for the third block of houses, it lies to the left as you enter the preceding hall. Here are two houses facing each other, between which is a fruit garden with a square medium sized reservoir and a small fountain. In the house on the right is a large screen, and it is here that the Nawab dines and sleeps with his concubines. ....such is the apartment of Nawab Salabat Jung ."

The above account is vague and does not clearly correspond to the buildings in Chow Mahalla as they stand now. This however confirms that Salabat Jung selected the site and created the nucleus of perhaps modest structures laid along a series of inter-linked courtyards, the old structures being later replaced by grander ones. The Chow Mahalla Palace complex in fact extends from the Lad Bazaar on the north to the Aspan Chowk road on the south. During different phases of Asaf Jahi rule, portions of Chow Mahalla were built. The durbar was held in the hall or pavilion called the Khilwat. This was built around 1780 during the reign of Nawab Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II but later extensively renovated in 1911. Khilwat has a composite architectural style with Mughal as well as Qutb Shahi arches, topped by twin octagonal pavilions on the parapet. It is an over decorated building with huge proportions with a curious Asaf Jahi Baroque.

Jilu Khana facing the Lad Bazaar and Daulat Khana e Ali was built during the reign of Asaf Jah I (1724-1748). South of Khilwat one enters the next courtyard around which the main four palaces are located lending the Chow Mahalla name. It is believed that this complex was built during the reign of Nawab Afzal -ud Doula Bahadur, the Nizam or Asaf Jah V (1857-1869). The palaces are named Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. Of these, Afzal Mahal is the most imposing and a two storeyed building with a European facade of Corinthian columns and a parapet without pediment. Other three buildings are single storeyed structures with relatively modest scale and facades of Corinthian columns. All the four buildings are laid around a large courtyard garden with a marble cistern at the centre.

There are later additions to the complex in late Mughal style with facades of cusped arches, made between 1912 and 1926 when the older buildings were also renovated.

Chow Mahalla was used even by subsequent Nizams and state banquets were held here. Well known among those is the banquet held in honour of T.R.H the Prince and the Princes of Wales on 10th February 1906. For several decades, the sprawling Chow Mahalla Complex has been lying vacant.

Purani Haveli Palace

Asaf Jah II apparently lived in the Chow Mahalla complex buildings built by his predecessors, since the main palaces were built by Asaf Jah V nearly hundred years later. In 1777, between Chatta Bazaar and Dabirpura Main road, towards north east of Charminar, he started construction of the first buildings of Purani Haveli for his son, Sikandar Jah. But Sikandar Jah, on becoming the third Nizam (1803-1829) went to live in the Khilwat palace in Chow Mahalla. The buildings built by Asaf Jah II therefore came to be known as Purani Haveli. Purani Haveli regained its glory only when the sixth Nizam, Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Khan made it his official residence.

Purina Haveli Complex is U shaped with a single storeyed central building in European style flanked by two double storeyed oblong wings (nearly 1000 feet) of which the western one has the famous wooden wardrobe. Both the wings are wider towards the southern end where these are only single storeyed and have two extremely well proportioned courtyards surrounded by rooms and deep verandahs with semicircular European arches. Purani Haveli is one of the most important architectural landmarks of Hyderabad combining European facades with traditional Indian courtyards. The complex also includes two annexes attached to the northern ends of the parallel wings. Purani Haveli on the whole is under- used. A training institute runs in parts of the building beside the offices of the Muffakham Jah Trust. Nearby there is another beautiful courtyard house now used as the Princes Esin Women’s Education Centre.

King Kothi Palace

Of the three principal buildings of the King Kothi Complex, the main King Kothi building now housing a hospital and the Mubarak Mansion (Nazri Bagh) accommodating the offices of the Nizam’s Private Estates (Sarf E Khas) only survive. The third building, Usman Mansion was demolished in the early eighties and in its place a new hospital building is constructed by the State Government. Originally built by one Kamal Khan, the complex was acquired by the Nizam VII. Both the surviving buildings in King Kothi are in European style. Nizam VII, the last ruling Nizam (1911-1948) lived here and passed away in this building on February 24th 1967.

The northern and the main road-facing gateway of Mubarak Mansion is called the Purdah Gate where always a big purdah or curtain hung. When Nizam went out of the Palace, the purdah was lifted up which showed that he was not present. The gate was guarded by Maisaram Regiment, police and Sarf E Khas Army with lances in their hands. To the east of Mubarak Mansion, stands the Ghadial Gate: the gate with a clock. King Kothi complex has various European styles incorporated in it. The canopies over windows, the intricate woodwork, the sloping tiled roofs in octagonal pyramid shapes of the Ghadial Gate complex, and the classical semicircular arches are among the characteristic features of King Kothi. As mentioned earlier, the King Kochi Complex has remained in use for offices and Hospital.

Falaknuma Palace

Falaknuma palace mainly served as a royal guesthouse for the Nizams. The palace was built by Nawab Vikarul Umra Bahadur, a noble from the Paigah family, who later became Prime Minister of Hyderabad (1894-1901). The main buildings were completed in 1884. Nizam VI, Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Bahadur purchased it in 1897 and later added other structures like the Coronation building. The sixth Nizam occasionally lived here and died in this building in 1911.

Falaknuma palace complex is dramatically located on top of a hill about four km south of the Charminar. The main palace was designed by English architects in 1872. The central building is placed over a large terrace accessed through two levels of basements. The building is in classical style with a two storeyed deep and colonnaded verandah carrying a pediment. Though basically Palladian, the columns are thicker in proportion. The facade has Ionic columns at the ground floor and Corinthian columns at the first floor. A wide staircase leads to the ground floor. On both sides of the main central palace are two identical crescent shaped blocks with classical facade and pediments.

At the rear, there is a long and imposing courtyard, nearly 600 feet long, surrounded on all sides by rooms and corridors. At the southern end, there is a round shaped hall with deep verandas faced by colonnade in Ionic style called Gol Bungla and an interesting glass roofed large verandah overlooking the vast expanse down below. Parts of the side wings are older structures incorporating Islamic features. The Coronation building and a few ancillary structures are in late Mughal or Rajasthani style.

The interior of the main building has a marble entrance hall and fountain, and an Italian marble staircase supporting marble figures, lined with portraits of British Governors General. The reception room is in Louis XIV style. Elsewhere there are French tapestries, beautiful inlaid furniture from Kashmir, and Victorian artefacts.

Dignitaries who stayed at Falaknuma as guests include the future King George V and Queen Mary, Prince of Wales, and Viceroy Lord Wavell. Falaknuma is one of the largest and most important palaces of India

After years of neglect and non-use Falaknuma Palace is now being given a major face-lift by the Taj Group for a Heritage Hotel.

Mahboob Mansion

This palace, presently in disuse and poor condition, is named after Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, the VIth Nizam who used to occasionally live here though his permanent residence was the Purani Haveli described earlier. Built in the late nineteenth century, this is a very interesting and large palace in a combination of classical European and Mughal style. It has roofs somewhat similar to the eastern blocks of Mubarak Mansion (Nazri Bagh) in King Kothi.