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Neolithic to nizam

Hyderabad, it turns out, has a 4,000-year history. A new museum aims to acquaint people with the rich heritage of the city

Itishree Samal  |  Hyderabad 

Hau (yes), nakko (no) and kaiku (why), are words still widely used by Hyderabadis. The words may sound like Bambaiyya Hindi but they are in fact Deccani Urdu. Not many locals will know the story of their own tongue. Deccani Urdu is a mix of Persian, Turkish Arabic, Khari Boli, Sanskrit and Punjabi, later influenced by Marathi. You would know this if you visited Hyderabad’s new City Museum.

It is an initiative of the Nizam’s Jubilee Pavilion Trust, a non-profit formed in 1957. “The Trust came up with the idea of a City Museum for tourists to acquaint themselves with the history and cultural heritage of the city,” says chairman (Prince) Muffakham Jah.

Documented history says a city first arose here when Golconda fort was built by the Kakatiya kings (11th-14th centuries CE). Modern Hyderabad began as a garden suburb outside Golconda, built by a Qutb Shahi sultan in 1591. A century later the Mughals took over, and after them the Asaf Jahs ruled Hyderabad until Independence. Under the Asaf Jahs the city grew rich trading diamonds, pearls and handicrafts.

But Hyderabad is much older than this history suggests. In 2004, ancient objects were dug up in the IT suburb of Gachibowli. “Few Hyderabadis may know that 4,000 years ago the entire area of the city was inhabited,” says Jah. Jah is the grandson of the last Nizam. “The Museum is all about the city, its people, their creations, achievements and lifestyle.”

This museum is an extension of the Nizam’s Museum, which was set up in 2000 by the Trust to showcase the royal collections and gifts, in Purani Haveli, once the Nizam’s official residence. The City Museum was thought up in 2010 and took two years to organise, says museum architect Anuradha Naik. It was a challenge, she says, to research 4,000 years of history and tell the story in just 2,000 sq ft.

In an earlier commission Naik had worked on the successful restoration of the Chowmahalla Palace in the city. Jah hired her to do this museum. “We took the help of historians, archaeologists and local people to source the objects and information,” she says. “We took the tourist’s perspective in shaping the museum to make it more interesting.”

Within its 2,000 sq ft, the museum retraces the stages of Hyderabad’s story from the Megalithic period into recorded times. Archaeological evidence begins with Neolithic pottery (2,500-1,000 BCE) and items from megalithic sites (2,000-300 BCE) and goes on to European-style terracotta figurines and Satavahana coins. Photographs and paraphernalia to portray the city’s trade, commerce, transport, education, architecture and cuisine.

Some of the oldest pottery items, including measuring pots, were found in a 2004 excavation by the University of Hyderabad’s Department of History, on the campus. These pots date to 2,505-1,995 BCE, making the area the earliest megalithic site in India, according to the National Geophysical Research Institute.

Golconda was famous for diamonds. It attracted traders and travellers from other continents and controlled, until the 18th century, the oldest diamond mines in the world. From those mines came the Koh-i-noor and the Hope Diamond.

Other than gems, the Deccan was known for gold, iron and steel, weapons and fabrics. These items are on display. There are also diamond-studded qahwa cups, pearl-studded perfume bottles, ivory walking sticks, old stamps, coins and silver filigreed objects. “The objects are sourced from across the city, some are donated and some are on loan,” says Naik. The museum also makes space for the sixth Nizam’s wardrobe. Mir Mahbub Ali Khan (1869-1911) owned the world’s longest wardrobe. It is 176 ft long and built on two levels, and now displays historic clothing and accessories.

Seven large maps trace Hyderabad’s journey from the 13th century to the present. A touch-screen kiosk offers information about 50 city mohallas in four languages: Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, English. About 200-250 tourists a day visit the museum.

Museums of this kind, Jah says, require continuous research, fresh objects and new studies. “As history evolves,” he says, “the story evolves, so we will expand the museum in phases.”


The City Museum is open 11 am-8 pm. The entry fee is Rs 70 for adults, Rs 15 for children

First Published: Sun, March 25 2012. 00:21 IST
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