Hyderabad and Iran

As (bad) luck would have it, we still don’t have our Iran visa. Now, I don’t really blame the Iranian government for the slowness in processing our visas (we applied in mid-January), given the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, and we will be grateful for being allowed to visit. But we were really hoping to have our approval prior to leaving Hong Kong, so that we could get the visas themselves at the Iranian consulate in Hong Kong, or by now, so that we could get the visas at the Iranian consulate in Hyderabad. Iranian consulate in Hyderabad??

Yup, as I discovered while trying to figure out at what points on our trip we could pick up Iran visas, I learned that there is an Iranian consulate in Hyderabad. I believe it is the only consulate of any country in Hyderabad, and I’m not even sure that there is an Iranian consulate in Bombay. Why one would be in Hyderabad at all relates back, I believe, to important points about the history of Hyderabad. [Now, it’s possible that the history of the consulate itself, which I have made no effort to research, has nothing to do with historical ties between Hyderabad and Iran–but in any event this is an easy intro for a little history lesson.]

The very first clue comes perhaps from the suffix in its name–why does the city have a Persian suffix? And having read my blog entry on parts of India, you may know that Hyderabad, a Muslim bastion of South India and the Deccan, was ruled by a prince (or more precisely “nizam,” which I believe means “minister” in Farsi) who at points wanted to join Pakistan or be independent, and certainly not join Hindu India. But going back in time…

About ten kilometers to the west of Hyderabad lies Golconda, now a fort but also the remains of a significant medieval city, the seat of the Qutb Shahi kings. This dynasty of kings (1518-1687) was started by a “Turkoman from Persia,” as one reference describes Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, who was named a minister of the Muslim Bahmani Sultanate that ruled the Deccan in this period. Originally a minister, Sultan Quli proclaimed himself independent and the founder of a dynasty (a fairly common occurrence in the history of the Islamic world), with a capital at Golconda. Mohammed Quli (1581-1612), who ruled during the height of Golconda’s power, ordered the construction of the new city of Hyderabad nearby. The reign of the Qutb Shahi kings, whose elegant tombs remain just outside the outer walls of Golconda, ended when they were overwhelmed by a greater Muslim power, the Mughals (led by Emperor Aurangzeb, who spent a great deal of time trying to expand his domains southward and whose fortress at Daulatabad near Aurgangabad in Maharashtra we will visit later in our trip). [The conquest of Golconda could have been motivated in part by its famous diamond mines–many of the world’s most famous diamonds, including the Hope and the Koh-i-Noor, can be traced back to Golconda.]

Qutb Shahi Tomb

This history reminds one of some essential facts about Indian and Islamic history, and the history of the Deccan. For one, when one thinks of Muslim rulers of India, the first thought is to the Mughals, whose reign lasted until ended by the British and who left behind the monumental Islamic and martial architecture that forms so much of what a modern-day traveler to India sees. But the Mughals only arrived in India in the 16th century, while the (Islamic) Sultanate of Delhi was founded in the 12th (when the Qutb Minar, near Delhi, was built). Just as the Mughals came to India from Central Asia, the earlier Islamic invaders had come from the Middle East, and saw themselves as a part of the greater Islamic world, stretching from Spain to now India. There was constant interchange and communication within this world, as seen by the arrival of Sultan Quli Qutb Shah from Persia in the 16th century, and Farsi was its lingua franca, at least in its easternmost regions. While the Qutb Shahi kings eventually became patrons of literature in the local Indian languages as well, Farsi was their primary language. The ties between Golconda and the broader, Persian-influenced Islamic world are plainly visible in the architecture as well, including in the remaining tilework of the tombs.

The Mughals ruled the Deccan by way of ministers, the nizams who later considered themselves independent rulers of the state of Hyderabad. At Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad, their seat of power which is said to be based on the Shah’s palace in Tehran, an exhibit shows that the nizams trace their ancestry to the first caliph Abu Bakr and a 13th century philosopher and “renowned saint.” Their more immediate ancestor came to India from Persia in 1655, to be fatally injured in the successful siege of Golconda in 1687, and it is his grandson who became the first nizam and ruler of Hyderabad. The continuing connection between the nizams and the greater Islamic world is shown in displays on their endowments in Mecca, and an exhibit of school attendance records of their ministers shows that Farsi (in addition to English) was the primary language, into the 19th and 20th centuries. In the early twentieth century, the Nizam family married into the family of the last caliph (the caliphate was abolished in Turkey in its secularization mode, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire).

Chowmahalla Palace

The Islamic influence is visible all over Hyderabad, despite the fact that Andhra Pradesh state in which it is located retains an overwhelming Hindu majority. Hyderabad is far more carnivorous than the rest of the Hindu south, its most famous dishes including the meat-oriented biryani, although idlies can still be seen everywhere on the street. [I would like to explore more on the food relationships of the region generally (I was particularly intrigued by an apricot dessert in Hyderabad called qubani ka meetha) but will save it for a later post.] Urdu, written in an Arabic script, is visible in many signs, especially around the old city which remains more Muslim, in addition to the curly swirls of local Telugu.

3 thoughts on “Hyderabad and Iran

  1. That’s very interesting. Speaking of the diamonds from Golconda, it’s funny to hear an Iranian complain about the Koh-i-Noor diamond as being “stolen” from the Persians by the British, when really one could argue the Persians had it only because they stole it from India.

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