A kilometer away from the Golconda Fort, off the Banjara Darwaza to the north lie the tombs of the seven Qutub Shahi rulers of Deccan, inside the landscaped gardens of Ibrahim Bagh. Almost everyone who grew up in Hyderabad has been to these tombs, popularly known as the Seven Tombs, at least once with the school excursion, as it is one of the most popular excursion spots for schools. Tourists to the city also make it a point to visit the tombs and it is also quite popular as a location to shoot for Bollywood and Telgu films.
Comparable to the Taj Mahal in terms of importance in India as an Islamic Heritage site, the Qutub Shahi Tombs are said to be the oldest historical monuments in Hyderabad. It is supposed to be the only place in the world that has an entire dynasty buried in one place. The Qutub Shahi rulers, who ruled for 170 years, planned and built these tombs themselves. The monuments bear testimony to the glorious past of the Qutub Shahi dynasty and its arty architechtural accomplishments.
The Qutub Shahi tombs along with the Golconda Fort and Charminar form the oldest layers of the original Qutub Shahi city of Hyderabad. National and State protection has been awarded to them as they possess a high level of authenticity. A Royal necropolis, the Qutub Shahi mausoleum complex, comprises 30 tombs of the Royal family and some faithful officials along with a mortuary bath and mosques. It includes the epigraphically documented sepulchers of five of the dynasty’s seven sultans, as well as those of another four members of the royal family, spanning the 130-year era from 1543 to 1672. All the Qutub Shahi kings, except Abdul Hassan Tana Shah (who died a prisoner in Daulatabad), are buried here.
The Qutb Shahi tombs are the most genuine and regal demonstration of the Qutub Shahi dynasty’s architectural traditions marked by liberal use of minarets, arches, domes, and columns. Grey granite, with stucco embellishment has been used to build most tombs which show a blend of Persian, Pathan and Hindu architectural styles influenced by Deccani structural ideas. Blue and green tiles were originally used on the domes, of which only a few pieces still remain.
The tombs vary in size but all are akin to each other in architectural majesty and splendor. The tombs had carpets, chandeliers and velvet awnings on silver poles. Each stands on a raised platform, surrounded by pointed arches, is quadrangular in shape and goes up from 9 to 15 meters over the terrace. The bigger tombs are two storied while the smaller tombs are single storied. Golden spires on the tombs of the sultans differentiate them from those of other royal family members.
During the reign of the Qutub Shahi kings, these tombs were held in such high regard that criminals who hid there were pardoned. But once their reign was over, the tombs were left uncared for, till Sir Salar Jung III decided to restore them in the early 20th century.
The tombs of Fatima Sultan, Muhammed Qutub Shah’s sister, and sufi saint Husain Shah Wali, the man who built Husain Sagar, are remarkable in their own right though not as impressive as the tombs of the seven main rulers.
The Qutub Shahi dynasty’s founder, Sultan Quli Qutub-ul-Mulk’s tomb is one of the most modest of these tombs. The inscriptions on his tomb, built in 1543 A.D. by the Sultan himself, are in the Naskh and Tauq scripts and refer to Sultan Quli as Bade Malik (Great Master) — the endearing term used for him by his people. Near the tomb of Sultan Quli is that of his son, Jamsheed, the second Qutub Shahi sultan. Constructed in 1550 A.D., this is the only tomb which does not use shining black basalt. Subhan Quli Qutub Shah’s tomb stands mid-way between the tombs of his father and grandfather.
Slightly bigger than Sultan Quli’s tomb is that of Sultan Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah, built in 1580 after his death. The tomb has two graves in the main chamber and 16 on the terrace belonging to his children. There are inscriptions in the Thulth script on the tomb.
The grandest of the tombs is that of Sultan Muhammed Quli Qutub Shah built in 1602 A.D. Inscriptions in Persian and the Naskh scripts decorate it. The sixth sultan, Muhammed Qutub Shah’s mausoleum is also quite striking. It was built in 1626.
Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah’s tomb is the last of the royal tombs. His two favourite hakims Nizamuddin Ahmed Gilani and Abdul Jabbar Gilani also have their own twin-tombs here. Theirs are among the few tombs that do not belong to royalty. Sultan Abdullah Shah’s favourite courtesans Premamati and Taramati, were also laid to rest beside his tomb. The only person remarkable for her absence in this cemetery is Bhagmati or Hyder Mahal, the wife of Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah, after whom the city of Hyderabad has been named. Politics seems to have played a role in her absence from this necropolis.
The mausoleum which Abdul Hasan, the last Qutub Shahi Sultan, began building for himself, actually houses the grave of Mir Ahmed, the son of Sultan Abdullah’s son-in-law. Among other monuments in the garden that are not tombs, the most important are the mortuary bath and the Masjid by the mausoleum of Hayat Bakshi Begum the daughter of the fifth sultan Muhammed Quli Qutub Shah, the wife of Sultan Muhammed Qutub Shah, the sixth sultan and the mother of Abdullah Qutub Shah, the seventh sultan. The inscriptions in the Masjid built in 1666 A.D, are in calligraphic art.
The tomb-garden was also known as Lagar-e-Faiz Athar during the reign of the Qutub Shahi rulers, for free entertainment was staged here for the poor.
The Qutub Shahi tombs are distinct from other Royal Indo-Muslim mausoleums on three counts. First, it is a more inclusive dynastic necropolis than any other in India, as it has the burial places of five of the lineage’s seven rulers in one place. Next, its chronological span of 130 years is more than that of any other documented cemetery in India. Finally, these tombs provide distinctive evidence regarding the dynastic politics within the family.
The Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Andhra Pradesh manages the Qutub Shahi tombs.
Despite constant battering by man and the nature over the centuries, the tombs still retain their original glory, though all of them are in need of urgent of repair. The Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) finally started restoration work last year at the Qutub Shahi tombs and plans to use lime mortar material to get back the original shine. This follows the Wakf Tribunal’s partial permission to take up repair pending final decision on the case. The AKTC will take 10 long years to complete the restoration work. Besides restoration, The State Department of Archaeology and Museums is planning to excavate under the tombs premises to look for old civic systems like pathways, water works and gardens.
A balance between the past, present and future of Hyderabad and the urban developmental pressures are the greatest challenges that face the Qutub Shahi tombs today. We are sure that they will withstand the ravages of time and remain the brand ambassadors of Hyderabad’s glorious past.
You can reach the Qutub Shahi tombs from anywhere in the city by bus, car and auto rickshaws.
Address: Toli Chowki-Golconda Road, Golconda, Hyderabad, TS – 500008.
Phone: (040) – 23513410.
Timings: 9.30 am – 6.30 pm
Entry Fee: Rs. 10-20 for Indian Nationals, Rs. 100 for Foreign Nationals.
Time Needed To Visit: 3-4 Hours