Monday, October 14, 2013

Sunday with the Shahs

 A tip if you ever find yourself touring around Hyderabad... wear socks. Every site we went to today had at least one section where shoes were prohibited, and I cannot recommend going around in bare feet.
 On Sunday, we took half the day off to tour, and spent it at three sites.
 First was the Birla Temple, a massive creation overlooking all of Hyderabad. Unconscionably, cameras were prohibited, so I can only attempt to briefly describe the floor to ceiling intricately carved solid marble, the breathtaking views of a city of over 8 million people that ranged literally as far as the eye could see, and the alcoves in every corner of the temple, each with its own idol. Devotees line up, place a donation in the lockbox in front of each idol, fold their hands, offer a brief silent prayer, and move on. Shirtless monks sweep up with bundles of sticks, change out any wilted flowers, and lie about the temple. (The sweeping is no mean feat, and apart from my hotel, the temple itself was by far the cleanest place I've been in the country.) There were no guides available in the temple, which made me all the more aware of just how ignorant I am of Hinduism. I was able to take a few pictures of the temple from the parking lot at least.
 We moved on from there to sites associated with the 7 Qutub Shahs who founded Hyderabad and ruled it around 850 years ago. Fortunately there we were able to get guides to explain what we were seeing. Each of our guides at these sites inflated their prices by 10x , but our negotiating brought it back down to close to what was listed in the guide books. At Golconda Fort, we meandered through the archways of what was once a massive seat of government, diamond trading center and home to 5,000 residents including 5,000 slaves. An amazing number of these residents were connected to the Shah's harem of over 350 wives and over a thousand eunuch guards. The four massive wheels which brought water up to the four internal reservoirs were turned all day by twenty slaves each. An innovative Persian engineer created an acoustics scheme that allowed for a signaling system with clapping at the front gate to be heard at the doorway to the throne room. This could be used as an early warning system as well, as an 8 kilometer tunnel large enough for the Shah to ride on horseback led from the throne room to the Charminar at the city center. The massive Kohinoor diamond that graces the British crown was mined near and traded at Golconda Fort. Both a mosque and a Hindu temple are built in various places on the site. The Fort, like so many sites here, was dilapidated and strewn with garbage, but no less fascinating for the mess.
 Next to the Fort were the 7 burial places of the Qutub Shahs who reigned at Golconda. These massive tombs are simply massive empty buildings with a replica tomb on the ground floor and a real tomb underground. Nothing happens in them, they are simply visited by those who wish to commune with these former rulers. Next to the main tombs are some smaller tombs for relatives, court physicians, and even favored courtesans. The massive mortuary bath which put our chevra kadisha facilities to shame.
 Many of the tombs have large mosques built next to them, each of which was used once and once only for the funeral prayers for that Shah. Next to many of these mosques there are smaller mosques, built there by the Sunni Musliims who came later and didn't respect the Shia prayer halls already in place. The preservation of these sites were due to these prayer spaces, as the conquering rulers could not destroy the sites without riling the population.
 My lasting impression from these sites were just how many "former owners" this area has had. These monuments represented a relatively small slice of the historical battles that went on for dominance here. A constant cycle of invasion, subjugation, treaty and invasion again persisted for millenia with most of those rulers conquests wiped away with them.

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