Qutub Shahi tombs along with Golconda fort are the epitome of the architectural heritage of Deccan and Hyderabad. Though it is known as a complex with tombs of the seven Qutub Shahi kings, the complex has many more tombs from the royal family. Making it a family burial place. Located just outside the Golconda fort, the tombs can be seen from the top of the fort. And it is possible that it was meant to be able to look at your ancestors and also the place where you may finally rest.
Qutub Shahi Tombs, Hyderabad
General architecture plan of these tombs includes a raised square base. An arched corridor running around the main building. Single or double storey main building with the tomb and a huge bulbous dome built on a cylinder. A Chhaja or a small latticed wall all around the cylinder not only covers it but also gives an ornamental look to the dome as if it is wearing a necklace. Only one tomb stands like a Minar and has no surrounding corridor. Some domes of smaller tombs are different and look experimental. All the buildings are perfectly symmetrical, a distinct feature of Islamic architecture. Only in one tomb, instead of arches, there is beam and lintel structure.
The actual grave lies underground below the ornate grave in the main hall. The internal ceiling of the dome is painted with the motifs of the time. Sometimes a small open window brings in the light. And lightens up the usually dark tomb insides and makes you see some truths of life and death.
There is one tomb just outside the complex gate that is unfinished. To me, this was the most beautiful tomb – bare, minimalistic and giving an insight into how tombs were built. A huge bath meant to bath the dead bodies before laying them to rest. This is a curiously designed structure and I wish someone could explain to me how it was used.
Baoli or Stepwell
There is a fairly large baoli or step well that must have meant for providing water to the area. There is a small on-site museum in the complex that is very basic and houses items found during excavations in the complex. And there are water channels and gardens between various tombs.
Last month when I was there, it was the beginning of the flowering of Gulmohar and the complex was dotted with bright orange trees providing a perfect background or foreground for the grey-brown structures.
Today this complex is being pitched for the status of world heritage site. I think that would require a lot more work in terms of maintenance and documentation of its heritage value. It really needs world-class maintenance. I could see that some restoration work has been done, but some more may be required. The step well is in bad condition. Not only the structure looks crumbling but also the filth makes it very unattractive. The bath looks interesting but there is no explanation. There were no guides or brochures available for the visitor to know about the place. Only a board at the entrance provides the sketches of the structures.
What I liked about Qutub Shahi tomb complex is that it is a living place, though meant for the dead. There were large family and friends groups who were here for a picnic. People were sitting on the floor on a sheet they brought with them under a tree or in a corridor. Children were playing on the ground and in the corridors. The complex has limited facilities for food and water. But that did not bother these families, as they were carrying their own food. I felt as if they were here to breathe the fresh air, out of their claustrophobic surroundings. Heritage makes more sense to me when it is living heritage for the people whom it really belongs to rather than when it is isolated for the tourists.
If you live in Hyderabad and have yet not seen the tombs, please visit them. They are right in the city, cannot be too far from wherever you live.
Another hidden gem of Hyderabad is Paigah tombs.