Charminar - the lasting connection between India, Iran and Pakistan

In the 16th Century, the city of Golconda was dying and there was little anyone could do to stop the decimation of it's population. Europe had just about recovered from the destruction by Black Death which had wiped off up to 200 million (30–60% of Europe's total population then) and destroyed many economies. Black Death, or plague as we know it now, was at it's worst in India and present-day Hyderabad was almost on the verge of annihilation.

On the way to Charminar

Why was Charminar made?
It's not clearly understood how, but miraculously towards the end of 16th Century plague was by and large gone, and to commemorate the eradication of plague, Mumammad Quli Qutab Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, decided build Charminar in 1591 - now often described as the symbol of Hyderabad across the world.

Connection with Isfahan, Iran
But Charminar wasn't just a building - it was the beginning of a fulfilment of a dream. Qutb Shahi dynasty had it's lineage with the Turks but identified the most with the Persian culture. During that time, if there was one city which was an epitome of Persian beauty and culture, it was Isfahan. This was the Golden age of the city and many beautiful boulevards, gardens and fountains were built, apart from some majestic places of worship. Though Qutb Shahi never quite visited Iran, he knew enough about the city to get inspired by it and build it's sister city in India. This is how the idea of the design of Hyderabad, particularly Charminar, was born.

Charminar today

It is believed that Charminar was surrounded by gardens on all sides, then known as Charbagh. This was the most direct connection to it's counterpart in Isfahan. Unfortunately, though the Charbagh in Isfahan still survives and celebrated for it's beauty, it's younger cousin in India was lost centuries ago and replaced by markets, houses, offices and other establishments. It's almost impossible to imagine Charminar with gardens all around, but one can certainly dream :)

It wasn't just the gardens which were drawn as inspiration, but the entire city was also planned on what was known about Isfahan back then. Some of it might be simply folklore, but it's interesting how city planning was drawn those days based on the worlds of travellers who moved in a world which barely had the present day borders.

But Hyderabad's connection with Iran didn't just end with Charminar, but continued even till the beginning of the 20th Century. Nizams were also fond of Iranians, especially their language, art and culture and many Iranians migrated to Hyderabad during their era. Iranian chai and biscuits are almost synonymous with Hyderabad culture now, and the fondness remains even today.

In morning light
Busy life around Charminar

Charminar, Iran and Biryani
However, apart from Charminar, the other strong connection between Hyderabad and Iran, is in it's food, particularly Biryani. It's almost certain that Biryani came to India from Iran, and even the name can be traced to the original Persian "birinj biriyan" - literally, fried rice (source: BBC). So what's the connection with Charminar - well the best Biryani is served in tow iconic food places of Hyderabad, on either side of Charminar, Shadab and Shah Ghouse.

Connection with Pakistan
However, with the partition of India in 1947 and migration of large number of Muslims from Hyderabad to Karachi in newly formed Pakistan, another connection was formed, and the centre piece of this connection was Charminar. Though they left their land, it was impossible to let go of their memories and another scaled down replica was built by them in Karachi - Charminar Chowrangi, much recently in 2007

Oh, what exactly is Charminar?
Oh by the way, I completely forgot to mention that Charminar is actually a mosque, even though it looks more like a gate. The perfectly square shaped building has an open space on the ground floor, and the mosque is on the first floor. However, it's the four minarets which are the most striking feature, and also give it it's name - char (four) minar (minaret). Unlike stone used by Mughals,

Isn't it amazing how this monument connects so many dots? It's the symbol of the city in India and across the world, it's also a connection between India and Iran, and finally it still connects hearts across the border with Pakistan.



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