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In the late 16th century Muhammad Quli shifted the Qutb Shahi capital from Golconda to Hyderabad, a newly planned city across the Musi River. Muhammad Quli's impassioned patronage of the arts ensured that the city became a centre for painting, poetry, and architecture. This tradition of artistic activity continued at the Hyderabad court through the decline of the Qutb Shahis into the early 18th century, under Mughal and Asaf Jahi patronage. Charminar, an ornamental gateway to the Qutb Shahi palace, was built by Muhammad Quli at the intersection of the two principal streets of his new capital. Its imposing arched portals are flanked by columns of arched recesses. A complex cornice and parapet contain arcaded stories and geometrical screens. At the corners are high polygonal minarets each with four arcaded balconies and flattish domes.

Mecca Masjid
This mosque was a major Qutb Shahi project, begun by Muhammad Qutb Shah but not completed until the Mughal conquest. Its prayer chamber, the largest in Hyderabad, is entered through five lofty arches, the central arch slightly higher than the rest. Above this simple facade is a projecting eave supported on lotus brackets and a crenellated parapet. The massive corner minarets have octagonal arcaded balconies at the parapet level and Mughal-style domes.

Mecca Masjid: Nizami Pavilion
The arcaded pavilion at the south end of the Mecca Masjid's courtyard is the resting place of the Nizams. Octagonal minarets positioned at the corners and the middle of the wall replicate the Mecca Masjid's minarets, on a reduced scale. Inside the pavilion are the tombs of all except the earliest Asaf Jahi rulers who were buried at Khuldabad.

Badshahi Ashurkhana
Following Shia tradition the Qutb Shahis built Ashurkhanas, mourning halls for the annual Muharram celebrations. This Ashurkhana built by Muhammad Quli and located near the Charminar is the finest. In the early 17th century its walls were decorated with multicoloured tiles. This panel on the south wall has a high arch containing a mosaic of staggered hexagons with jewel-like shapes. The space between the hexagons as well as around the arch is filled with swirls of flowers, leaves, and vines.

Ashurkhana: West wall
In addition to the Middle-Eastern hues of blue and white, typically Indian colours like mustard-yellow and brown are used in this panel making it more vibrant. The inner rectangle below contains three decorated hexagons within a cusped arch. The spandrels of both the inner and outer arches have verse-filled medallions surrounded by arabesque swirls. A flaming alam is positioned above the apex of the outer recessed arch. A wide rectangular frame surrounds the composition. This frame contains five panels connected by medallions. A single row of large calligraphy is contained in the panel above the arch.

Ashurkhana: Northwest wall
These side panels on the west wall are perhaps the most exuberant. At the centre of each is a large, flaming alam containing Arabic script written in the round. It is flanked below by two smaller alams emanating flame-like fountains. The composition is surrounded by a circling swirl of flowers and leaves.

Ashurkhana: North wall
Each panel on the side walls is flanked by three rectangular panels arranged vertically. They contain purnaghatas overflowing with many twisting, turning branches, flowers and leaves bordered by a band connected flowers. Verse panels flanking the top half of the arch have four rows of Arabic calligraphy with floral patterns in between. The panels flanking the bottom half of the arch contain only arabesques. Connecting medallions contain more calligraphy.

This mosque near the Musi River is probably Asaf Jahi. Its elegant facade has three double-recessed arches, the outer arches defined by a cusped border. All arches have ribbed-fruit motif at the apex and tassels on either side. The central arch is on a slight projection that continues onto the parapet, where it is flanked by a pair of minarets. The parapet consists of a row of open arches with a band of cut-out flowers above. Its circular crenellations have a row of miniature domed finials behind it. The parapet with all its decorative elements wraps around the octagonal corner minarets.

State Museum
Constructed in the 1920s to house a collection of dolls of the Nizam's daughter, this building was converted into a Museum in 1930. It is built in the Mughal style with domed chhatries, high arched entrances, and projecting windows.

Museum: Mahisamardhini
Placed in the outdoor gallery, this Mahisamardhini in red sandstone is probably Rashtrakuta. In this striking, though neglected, sculpture a youthful Devi stands gracefully as she slays Mahisha emerging from his disguise. Both she and her vahana seem to look away from this violent act and she also gently turns Mahisha's head away.

Museum: Vishnu
Vishnu is shown seated as a Yogi, an unusual posture. Surrounding him on the prabhavali are images of the Dashavataras. On the next slab is a crisply cut relief image of a hunter, probably from a Veeragal.

Museum: Wooden chariot
Dating from the late-Vijayanagara period, this ratha was brought from the Madanagopala Temple in Mahboobnagar. Its lowest projecting eave has ornate brackets composed of rearing horses with diminutive riders and attendants. Smiling monkeys peer out above a parapet bordered with a row inverted lotuses.

Museum: Buddhist Gallery
Prominent in this gallery are architectural fragments from railings of the Amaravati stupa. These include the large lotus medallions seen here, as well as figural and narrative panels placed along the wall.

Museum: Siva
This faded Rashtrakuta sculpture shows Siva as Nataraja. While his body and arms sway in a frenzied dance his face remains serene.

Museum: Mahakali
This is an image of Mahakali a feminine aspect of Siva. She sits in the lalitasana posture, wears a garland of skulls and holds the khadga, damaru, trishul, and patra. Her severe expression is accentuated by flowing hair and large earrings.

Venkatesvara Temple
Located on the nearby Naubat Pahad, overlooking Husain Sagar, this temple was reconsecrated in the late 20th century by the Birla Family. It combines elements from North and South Indian temple architecture. The barrel-vaulted entrance gopuram on the right it typical of South Indian architecture, while the sanctuary and mandapas on the left have latina and phamsana sikharas typical of the North Indian style.

Khairati Begum
This mosque, partly hidden by recent construction, is located in Khairatabad, a locality close to Hussain Sagar. It is the finest Qutb Shahi monument in new Hyderabad, built in 1633 by the daughter of Muhammad Qutb Shah for her tutor, Akhund Mullah Abdul Malik. The facade of the prayer hall, now whitewashed, is triple arched with taselled roundels in the spandrels. Above this is a cornice of lotus buds raised on petals. An arcade above this stretches between elaborate minarets and wraps around them as a 12-sided gallery surmounted by crenellation. A similar gallery, carried on double layers of petals forms a second tier on the minaret which is completed with a domical finial at the top. Deep and varied geometric patterns cover the minaret shafts. Above the cornice arcade is a parapet of interlocking battlements, punctuated by four small minarets.

Akhund Mullah
Located next to Khairati Begum's mosque, this overgrown structure marks the empty tomb of Akhund Mullah, Khairati Begum's tutor, who died while on a visit to Mecca.

Photos and Text © Amit Guha