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Posted on : March 25th, by

Paigah Tombs, Hyderabad.

Paigah Tombs, Hyderabad Paigah Tombs, Hyderabad

 

Sitting between 2 pillars gazing at a profile of geometric patterns on the roof while my sister, Vandana, sketches the scene and my mum and I share the essence of the place ….

It is 22nd Feb 2016 and we are at Paigah Tombs at the outskirts of Hyderabad – tombs from a 150 years ago….

A view of the Paigah Tombs A view of the Paigah Tombs

 

The tamarind tree offers shade, a bluish green Vespa stands underneath and a mother combs the hair of her child. A family lives in between these heritage buildings perhaps mindful of them or as a caretaker of memories past for a few thousand rupees and an education for its children at the local madrassa. I like the Vespa – it reminds me of my childhood in Durgapur when Dad had one of these and I stood on its front clutching the bars for the weekly ride into the local Benachitty market.

Vespa scooter underneath tamarind tree Vespa scooter underneath tamarind tree

In the distance are strains of the call to prayer from loud speakers; high in the sky an eagle majestically glides on.

And there I am taking in the design of Paigah

Stretching lazily Stretching lazily

The minarets soar, the ramparts have little onion bulb design and each main bulb stands on the rampart with four mini bulbs around it – a form I have not seen before in my travels. A form I will remember as being distinctly Paigah

Dinstinctive forms of the Piagah Tombs
Dinstinctive forms of the Piagah Tombs

I come to Hyderabad every year. I have done so for about 10 years now. And then from Hyderabad I travel to someplace in India. When I am here I find myself on travels around this great city. You know recently “Lonely Planet” rated it as one of the top 20 cities in the world to visit. That surprised me. It is surprising how that statement made me look at Hyderabad with new eyes. I have often visited its lesser known graceful palaces like Chowmahalla palace of the Nizams where an evening concert in the gardens takes a sensuous elegance of its own.

Chowmahalla palace
Chowmahalla palace

Or the older tombs of the Qutb Shahi Sultans of the then state of Golconda in the 16th century, home of the famous Kohinoor diamond.

Adil Shahi tombs
Adil Shahi tombs

There is a wonderful skyline in Hyderabad. As you drive around the High courts or the Medical College you see the influence of Islamic architecture. And then there is the wonderful Tankbund road – skirting a graceful lake. I go there often to a place called “Eat Street” and sit at the edge of the lake and have Dosa, or Idli or any of the other “tiffins”. Coming back to Hyderabad creates for me a longing for Eat Street. I always like taking that in on my visit, however brief it may be. This time round, I had a plate of samosas… oh how my mouth waters as I think of the green mint and the brownish sweet(ish) tamarind chutney.

Samosas at "Eat Street"
Samosas at “Eat Street”

But back to the tamarind tree and the distinctive minarets of Paigah Tombs….

Tmamarind tree and minarets
Tmamarind tree and minarets

Though I have seen a lot of Hyderabad and treasure many of its places I have not come here before. I have heard of Paigah Tombs many times in passing – a distant mention. Some say there is nothing there, some have called it a dilapidated place. Last night my mother and sister made plans to come here today. We set off about 9 am or so. Mum had to give some blood for investigating her anaemia. Then we turned the car to Paigah.

Quite on the outskirts of Hyderabad – the google maps had no difficulty pointing the route. It is surprising how easy it is to find the place. Bit when I reached here all I could see was a board.

A side lane was there – perhaps we had to go on it. I turned the little car in and saw a man perched on a veranda with one leg crossed over another basking in the sun. He had a welcome smile. I rolled down the car window and asked him and he said “Just go through there” and gestured. A little stone doorway – just fold your car mirrors he warned. Following his outstretched hand I saw this – a grand old building at the end of a dirty path strewn with bits of cable. A small boy asked me to park the car under the shade of a tree. He offered to show us the place with a winsome smile. Usually there is a process of bargaining – I didn’t. It looked welcoming, the weather was lovely and warm, there were no tourists. Two elderly men sat at the top of the steps. There were friendly smiles. One had a henna coloured orangish rather long beard and was engrossed in his newspaper. Perhaps he was a caretaker of these tombs. He had seen enough curious tourists come and was friendly but nonchalant. I liked it.

Paigah Tombs caretaker
Paigah Tombs caretaker

I had not expected this. All the talk so far had not prepared me for this. There in front of me was “Jalli work” – a lattice structure delicately carved with beautiful patterns in hard marble stone!

"Jalli" -- lattice work in Marble
“Jalli” — lattice work in Marble

I was taken aback. The quality of the work was good but really it was the overall effect. The lattice work was everywhere. There seemed to be a profusion of carving like in a Hindu temple but there were no images, only geometric patterns. I have been to many mosques. The last one I went to was the Blue mosque in Istanbul. I like Islamic architecture. There is a lot of simplicity and yet the whole composition comes together and hangs beautifully. And it is arresting. Using geometric patterns and repeating can bring a wholesome togetherness to a structure.

I walked up the steps and turned to the left. It is a habit to circum ambulate a building from the left – the way I have done in countless Hindu temples. In front of me was a little tank of water.

Reflections
Reflections

Water for ablutions. But on that rather warm day just the sight of water was soothing. There were some seats where people could sit and wash their feet etc. or so I thought. The mosque ahead was small and beautiful. It cast shadows on the tank and the trees to its left bathed part of it in shade. The whole play of natural light and shade over the ripples of water enhanced by the small fountain was soothing. The mihrab, as always is a simple and elegant affair, concave and ready to bounce off the sounds of call to prayer. I imagined the local population after its Friday prayers turning around and there in front of them – a building of bygone era standing eloquently expressing a celebration of death and a memory of life. Their prayers of today would wash over the graves of these influential people of centuries ago – a kind of vertical axis of time stretching over the horizontal axis of space. Did the architect of those times visualise this connection of the future?

Horizontal axis between prayers and tombs
Horizontal axis between prayers and tombs

This is a dynastic tomb – clearly an evidence of the esteem the family commanded https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paigah_family . All around is reference to them being great patrons of art; you can see this in the delicacy of carvings here. The blurb at the entrance is brief and uninspiring but tells of connections with the Nizams of Hyderabad.

Brief info on the Paigah family
Brief info on the Paigah family

We turned around and walked into the tombs. They were open to the skies and on this lovely day we wandered in and out. The boy following us was keen to point out photo opportunities and angles. He had obviously watched tourists find good angles and was eager to point them out – to show how he understood the buildings around. What he lacked in detail he made up in enthusiasm. But we wanted to find our own angles. It struck me that the mausoleum did not have any roof. I am reminded of how the last powerful Mughal Aurangzeb’s “Qabr” in Aurangabad too was without a roof. I had read some time ago of the Mughal belief that that a grave not exposed to the rain and dew was ‘unblessed’ – that the winds were a blessing sent by Allah and the rain would give the lands a drink. This philosophy was reflected in the open graves – just as the philosophy of having a mosque next to the mausoleum allowing prayers to wash over the graves for eternity.

Open to skies and rain
Open to skies and rain

This closeness to nature is seen in the many forms too. I found so many that reminded me of tree trunks,

Tree trunks
Tree trunks

palm leaves that I have seen over huts in this region

palm leaves
palm leaves

vines in an endless line..

vines
vines

In addition there was a profusion of geometrical designs – five and even ten pointed stars repeated ad infintum like stars in skies.

10 pointed stars
10 pointed stars

or abstract arabesque art forms showing no suggestion of any tensions in the flowing lines

Abstract Arabesque Art
Abstract Arabesque Art

Oh they did play with light – not just in screen of marble but in their doorways too. I loved the patterns created by this doorway

Doorway
Doorway

Even mundane iron gates with their triangles seemed to form patterns. My mum and I stood by these while my sister locked this scene on her camera.

stars on doorways
stars on doorways

The tomb was on a traditional plinth called a stufa; but my – how beautiful and elegant it is!

Tomb
Paigah Tomb

The calligraphy was discrete and my eyes went to the flowers and leaves first. The colours are a bit faded..

Faded colours
Faded colours

and of course it is sad to see the precious stones gouged out..

missing inlay stones
missing inlay stones

The whole effect was serene. The calligraphy is so discrete and aesthetically and conceptually this is a beautiful tomb. Even the motifs at the stufa (plinth) are so exact and measured in their placement I find myself letting my eyes wander a while longer…

Tomb
Tomb

I wish I could read Arabic… and understand Islamic calligraphy

Calligraphy
Calligraphy

I know it isn’t Kufic, but is it Naskh or some regional variation. I must find out more….

We came out into the light again and there in the courtyard turned around to see these wooden doors.

Wooden doors 1
Wooden doors 1
Wooden doors 2
Wooden doors 2

The use of negative space by the carpenter catches the eye. One day I hope the second door gets restored to its former glory.
The buildings on the outside draw your eye to the skyline. There Paigah has unique onion bulb designs. I have never seen this form. Just opposite the tombs we have come out of is another building.

Opposite tomb
Opposite tomb

Standing there it is clear there is a vantage point with arches through which the Paigah unique roof onion domes are visible. A scene catches my sister’s eye and she decides to sketch it.

Paigah tombs
Paigah tombs

My mother sits next to her as she starts sketching and I squat on the floor taking in the various scenes. The little boy has got us some Cola bottles and we settle in.

Sketching time Sketching time

There are so many vistas. My eyes wander all around

More views
More views

After an hour or so I decide to walk around. This turns out to be an even larger complex of tombs set amidst a whole variety of trees. Someone waters them all regularly. While these gardens are not laid out as funerary gardens in similar tombs elsewhere , here there is a cosy look. Much like an informal orchard rather than formal Islamic gardens. A number of trees are all around.

Orchards
Orchards

Walking amidst all these trees I come across some new graves and some old ones in need of restoration.

 

More tombs
More tombs

They all have a charm of their own, each unique in its own little way. I spent a lot of time wandering around soaking it all in.

I bumped into some drawing of the plans

Paigha tombs plans
Paigha tombs plans

See the pale pink and green glass chandeliers in the jutting roof. I notice them and went to take a closer look. They added colour to the buildings.
When I come back it was already 3 PM. We know we have to go back as Father is returning to Hyderabad soon. He has gone away to his ancestral place and was returning later that evening.
Vandana too had finished her sketching. The cola bottle was empty.

Vandana sketching
Vandana sketching

We got into our car for one last look. The Paigah crest started disappearing from our view.

Paigah crest
Paigah crest

The visit has been a discovery and I was intensely pleased. We were happy in our own way. Each one had found something different that gave them pleasure. This feeling of finding something beautiful that will last for awhile and each time I think of Paigah my mind will wander to the experience of discovery of something beautiful in the backyards of Hyderabad. I hope to return – to savour all this another day, another time…. till then we have –

Paigah Tombs, Hyderabad
Paigah Tombs, Hyderabad

P.S. I asked an Iranian friend of mine, Dr Aghahoseini, who works with me to translate the calligraphy I mentioned above and he tells me the writing is n Arabic and says “God’s most blessed greetings to our prophet Mohammad and his family, I declare that there is no God but Allah and he is the one and only and I declare that Mohammad is true prophet of Allah. the holy and divine line is Allah, Mohammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussein, Abubakr, Omar and Osman.  And also God’s mercy and blessing to the man who is buried in this grave.” He felt that “in these days of division and hostility between Shiaas and Sunnis, an old script like this one, demonstrates unity, respect and tolerance which are true values of Islamic thinking, by putting the names all main characters together with respect for all of them.”