The imposing Khurshed Jah Devdi with its lofty Ionic columns and the barrel vault roof is a sight to behold
AS YOU probe Hyderabad's rich architectural past , a distinct feature that emerges is the adoption of the European style of architecture by the nobility in the middle and late 19th century. Going by the sheer number of palaces existing even today , most of them in fairly immaculate condition, the Nawabs of the bygone era were clearly smitten by the European bug.
They splashed their European creations, classical and in combination with other styles, across Hyderabad, from the then walled parts of the city to the new, crossing the Musi, and then on to the outskirts. To appreciate them, all you require is a keen eye andthe willingness to take tortuous routes to where they stand. In some of them, a lot of experimentation can be seen with the Nawabs' leaving their distinctive personal touch.
Khurshed Jah Devdi straddling the now densely populated Shah Gunj and Hussaini Alam areas of the old city is one such example. Flanked by the Asman Jah and the Iqbal-ud-daula Palaces, you have to manoeuvre your way through Byzantine lanes, from the Hussaini Alam side, to reach the palace, one among the many built by the Paigahs.
A prominent baradari (palace) of the city built in 1880, it is said that Fakhruddin Khan, grandfather of Sir Khurshed Jah Bahadur, personally designed it. During Khurshed Jah's time, a lot of extensions were added and improvements carried out. As you enter the vast foreground (huge enough to play cricket as it still happens on Sundays) of the building, an amazing sight greets you, as you move your eyes from the arched base to the top. Constructed over a high plinth, brick by brick, the palace appears as if rising into the blue sky from the ground. The imposing facade, lofty Ionic columns, the flight of steps, the double colonnade height, the side flanks with overhanging windows, all set to scale and the typical barrel vault roof catch your eye. It was listed as a Grade II building for conservation, both for its architectural and historical value. The Devdi is one of the finest examples of palaces reflecting the personalities of their builders. It is said Sir Khurshed Jah's persona was as imposing as the palace. When the fifth Nizam, Afzal-ud-Daula, ascended the masnad (throne), young Khurshed Jah became his favourite and soon the Nizam gave his eldest daughter, Hussain-un-Nissa in marriage to him. He was a member of the Council of Regency, took a deep interest in administrative matters and played a key role in getting the approval for the Hyderabad Godavari Valley Railway project. His most important advice to the Nizam was to induct Sir Salarjung II as the prime minister.
Jah was made the Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order, in the year 1887, on the occasion of the Queen Empress' Golden Jubilee. The then British Resident, A.P. Powell, who presented the insignia of the Order, praised him as a "historian, traveller and a great advisor..." His interest in history made him write the Tahreekh-e-Khurshed Jahi in Urdu, a popular book on Indian history. Famous for the patronage of scholars and philanthropy, many institutions thrived because of his support. It was to preserve his legacy that the building was handed over for the running of an educational institution.
The high roofed double storied palace has spacious rooms, vast corridors and woodwork all over the ceiling. In the good old days, its inner courtyard had a star-like cistern called tara houz with a beautiful fountain, which sadly has disappeared now. Symbolising the cosmopolitan culture of the place, a grand mela used to be held at the palace compound on the occasion of nagpanchami, the snake festival of the Hindus, and it was presided over by the Nawab. The building, now housing the Government Junior College for Girls, is in a bad shape, with cracks at some places, plaster peeling off at others, columns vandalised, doors and windows removed and pigeons building nests in ventilation grooves. Obviously the Government is to be blamed, as ever since it was allotted to the college in 1969, it has not shown any interest in taking up regular maintenance work. The building having been declared "unsafe", by the Quli Qutub Shah Urban Development Authority, the girl students have shifted to the adjoining Government High School and the Government Degree College. The principal and the staff continue to function from the old building. If the Government spares a few lakhs , as planned under the mega city project, the palace can be restored to its past glory and put to effective use.
"When I was posted here, I was reluctant to join, it being in the old city. But when I saw the fabulous building, I changed my mind. It is so nice to work here, the breeze blows across and the sunlight streams in. My only grouse is lack of funds and the building being declared unsafe. When it can be rented out for shooting films with all the heavy equipment involved, why not allow us to use it after carrying repairs", says the principal, Kamala Govind Rao.
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