Dr. Rahul A. Shastri, President, Samvit Kendra
Hyderabad was founded with the construction of Chārminār in 1591-2 CE by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shāh, then in his mid twenties, and through the good offices of Mir Mumin. But the story of Bhāgyanagar begins far earlier with Muhammad’s father – Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shāh.
Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shāh and the Telugus
Ibrahim Quli spent several years in exile in Vijayanagara (1543-50 CE) while his brother ruled Golkonda. Here he is said to have married Bhagirathi and possibly picked up Telugu. At any rate, he returned to Kovilkonḍa to a welcome by “Karkuns, officers, naikwaris, blacksmiths, ‘oddas’, well-diggers, guards, load-bearers, bandsmen, tenants” and many other Hindus and Muslims of the locality (Sherwani 1967: 8-9). In other words, he was welcomed by the native Telugus as well as many muslims.
In his exile he seems to have learnt to love Telugu and he called to his court several Telugu luminiaries Addanki Gangadhara, Kondukuru Rudra, Ponnaganti Telaganna. Addanki even says that his court was thronged by men learned in Vedas, Puranas and cognate sciences (Sherwani 1968: 75). He gave high posts to Hindus and Telugus poured their affections upon him calling him ‘Malkibhrāma’ and ‘Abhirāma’. They seem to have remained with him, even when he joined the other Sultans in destroying Vijayanagara. Indeed according to Sherwani, the torch of Telugu literature passed on to Ibrahim Quli after the fall and destruction of Vijayanagara (Sherwani 1967: 9). The Qutb Shāhis consciously targeted Telugu speaking areas for suzerainty (ibid: 4 fn 2).
These were the conditions in which Mohammad Quli was born.
Bhāgyanagar – the living foundation of Hyderabad
Mohammed’s father, Ibrahim Quli, built a bridge across the river Mūsi (Purāna Pul) in 1578 CE. Beyond this bridge, lay Chichlam, a “predominantly brahmin” settlement in which a Sufi, Shāh Chirāgh settled (Sherwani 1967: 14).
For a Sufi to settle here and a bridge to be built, there must have been a considerable number of people of other social groups and considerable economic activity in the area. Sherwani himself argues that Mohammad Quli must “have been informed of the increasing population of the area” (ibid), which implies growing economic activity.
In other words, the place in which Charminar was built in 1591-92 CE and which was named Hyderabad, already had a predominantly Brahmin settlement, several social groups and considerable economic activity. Thus Hyderabad, although a city inspired by Persian ideas, was not thrust upon a social and economic vacuum, but was planted in the bed of native soil and culture.
Did this native soil and culture have a sacred place? Why was a “predominantly brahmin” settlement located there? Was a temple there – of ‘Bhāgyalakshmi’? According to local popular traditions, Mohammad Quli fell in love with a temple courtesan – Bhāgyamati who served at a Bhāgyalakshmi temple as a devadāsin. Enamoured of her, and possibly married to her, he named the new city Bhāgyanagar.
Can there be any truth to this ‘legend of Bhāgyamati’? Did Bhāgyalakshmi temple and Bhāgyanagar predate Hyderabad? We discuss at first all the evidence favouring the existence of Bhāgyamati, and pre-existence of Bhāgyalakshmi temple and Bhāgyanagar before the foundation of Hyderabad in CE 1591-2. This is followed by a critical evaluation of the arguments presented against.
Bhāgyamati – devadāsin, concubine or royal consort?
Since early times in the south, girls visited by Devī danced in her honour, a custom that congealed in medieval times in their attachment to temples as devadāsins.(1) Many were women of considerable means. Seven hundred inscriptions attest to their munificent presence in south India (Raman 2009:189). Based on these inscriptions, Sita Anantha Raman notes that the names of devadāsins reflected the name of the temple or town.(2)
Thus if there was a Bhāgyamati, there must have been either a temple (of Bhāgyalakshmi) predating her or a town called Bhāgyanagar. Since all contemporary accounts agree that Mohd. Quli founded a town called Bhāgyanagar, it would seem that a temple of Bhāgyalakshmi existed in the place.
What is the proof that Bhāgyamati existed? Four sources obtain:
1. Faizi: Writing two-three years after Charminar was built (c 1594 CE), Faizi wrote to Akbar that:
“Ahmad Quli (sic) is steeped in Shiism, and has built a city Bhagnagar by name, after Bhagmati, the old prostitute (fahisha-i kuhnā) who has been his mistress for a long time (ma’shuqa-i qadimy)” (quot. Sherwani op cit).
When Charminar was built, Mohammad Quli (wrongly called ‘Ahmad’ in the above letter) was aged only 22-25 years. Hence “mistress for a long time” would imply that he would have contracted this liaison when he was just in his teens.
2. Nizamuddin: Writing about the same time as Faizi, the conservative Nizamuddin also testified that
“Muhammad ‘Ali [sic) Qutbu’l-Mulk, son of Ibrahim, succeeded his father. He became so enamoured of a Hindu prostitute (pātare) Bhagmasi (sic) by name that he founded a city which he called Bhagnagar after her …” (Tabqat E Akbar Shāhi quot. Sherwani ibid.).
However, Nizamuddin also added that Muhammad Ali “ordered that one thousand horsemen should always accompany the whore (fahisha).” (ibid).
3. Ferishta: Writing a two decades after Faizi, Ferishta (1610 CE) wrote about Mohd. Quli:
“This prince, on the death of his father, ascended the throne of Golconda in his twelfth year … The air of Golconda not agreeing with his constitution, he founded a city at about eight miles distance, which he called Bhaugnuggur, after his mistress Bhaug, a celebrated courtezan; but being afterwards ashamed of his amour, he changed it to Hyderabad” (Scott 1794: 409).
4. Abdullah Qutb Shah’s painting: The son of Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, Abdullah Qutb Shah (1626-1672) commissioned a painting of the wedding procession of Bhāgyamati with his father.(3) The painting, preserved in the Hodgkin collection, shows an apparently Hindu ceremony with girls carrying Ārati.
Five things are apparent from the near contemporary evidence.
- Faizi calls Bhāgyamati an “old prostitute (fahisha-i kuhnā)”, Nizamuddin “a Hindu prostitute (pātare)” and “whore (fahisha)”, while the more courteous Ferishta calls her “a celebrated courtesan”.
- None of them mentions any wedding which is described in a painting commissioned by the son of Mohammad Quli Qutb.
- Faizi calls her a mistress of the Sultan, while Nizamuddin and Ferishta merely refer to ‘amour’.
- All near contemporary accounts refer to the naming of Bhāgyanagar after Bhāgyamati.
- Ferishta also mentions a sense of ‘shame’ in the liaison of the Sultan with Bhāgyamati, which prompted the change of name from Bhāgyanagar to Hyderabad.
Sifting through the above evidence, the following inferences can be offered.
The epithets used in (i) suggest that Bhāgyamati could indeed have been a devadāsin, an institution inimical to Islam, abhorrent to Abrahamic religions and modern Hindus. Of the three, Ferishta’s account is the most courteous reference to the social position of Bhāgyamati but silent about its religious overtones.
The unanimous silence over any wedding between Bhāgyamati and Mohd. Quli (ii) suggests that the wedding could indeed have been a Hindu ceremony as suggested by the painting commissioned by Abdullah Quli. Such a wedding would be invalid, nugatory ab initio under Islamic law.
This explains why the Muslim accounts accord Bhāgyamati the status of mistress, concubine or amour of the Sultan (iii). Such a view is however implausible for three reasons:
a) If Bhāgyamati was merely a “mistress” (Faizi) of the Sultan, why did he order that she be accompanied by “one thousand horsemen”? Such an arrangement was normally made to indicate a high position, higher than most noblemen. If not a queen, she certainly enjoyed the status of a royal consort.
b) The painting commissioned by his son suggests that Bhāgyamati had at least a non-Islamic marriage with Mohd. Quli.
c) Mohd. Quli’s poems mention many of his amours and concubines sometimes in quite explicit terms. None of them mention Bhāgyamati. This in itself indicates that she enjoyed a higher status in his mind than his concubines. The painting adduced above suggests that his son knew this fact.
All accounts (iv) agree that Bhāgyanagar was named after Bhāgyamati.
There was however a ‘sense of shame’ (Ferishta) that led to the change of its name to Hyderabad (v). In this line of reasoning, Bhāgyamati converted to Islam becoming ‘Hydermahal’, so that Bhāgyanagar changed to Hyderabad in 1591. This is not plausible, since, Constable, in his footnotes to Bernier, cites Khafi Khan to say that the change of the name to Hyderabad took place after her death (Bernier 1916: 19 fn 2). Moreover, if Bhāgyamati had indeed converted to Islam, there would have been no shame in naming the city after her.
From the above discussion it seems plausible that Bhāgyamati married Mohd. Quli in a Hindu ceremony, never converted to Islam, and died a Hindu. Collateral evidence that Bhāgyamati was a devadāsin, comes from a strange custom of Golconda.
A book probably written in 1614, called ‘Relations of Golconda’, describes a strange custom of Golconda two decades after the foundation of Hyderabad. It states:
“Every year in the month of April, the prostitutes of the whole kingdom have to travel to Bagnagar whither they are summoned … to dance in the celebration of the death of the first Moslem King, a thing which seems to me very strange”. (quot. in Luther 2016)
Such a strange custom practiced under a Muslim king would make sense only if Hyderabad had originally been named as Bhāgyanagar after Bhāgyamati, a devadāsin.(5) She herself must have derived her name from Bhāgyalakshmi temple in the area that predated the foundation of Hyderabad and construction of Charminar.
Arguments against Bhāgyamati & Bhāgyanagar
Prof. Sherwani rejects these near contemporary accounts of Muslim historians by attributing their root source to Faizi’s letter to Akbar. His arguments are retraced by Farooqui recently. Prof. Sherwarni laments:
“… much moss was gathered round the small sneering sentence of Faizī” and the sentence grew into chapters ultimately” (Sherwani 1967: 143-4).
Faizi himself is rejected for not being a historian, for being anti Shia and anti Dekkani, and not venturing beyond Ahmadnagar.
What Prof. Sherwani does not explain is why one could not know about Bhāgyanagar while staying in Ahmednagar? Were there no travellers in those time who provided authentic reports? Was a personal visit necessary to ascertain the name of a place and the story behind it? Further why would a letter from Faizi to the Emperor be circulated to Nizamuddin, who also wrote about the matter around the same time? Finally, from where did Nizamuddin get the additional information e.g. about the thousand cavalry escort provided to Bhāgyamati? Did he have independent sources?
Narendra Luther’s masterly assessment of the position of Prof. Sherwani is relevant here:
… “on the question of Bhagmati, Prof. Sherwani seem to be on uncertain grounds. He seems to have overstretched himself. … He questions Firishta on this point while accepting his authority in other matters. Faizi’s testimony is not acceptable to him because he wrote from distant Ahmadnagar and on the basis of hearsay. The French travellers’ chronicles … are suspect because one out of them confused the name of the woman in question and the other misspelt it. Subsequent historians are not original enough for Prof. Sherwani. There is also a feeling … that it wasn’t like a religiously-inclined king to do such an honour to a mere pagan dancer!” (Luther 2016, op. cit.)
Bhāgyanagar to Hyderabad – Cosmetic Change to Sunnification?
The Qutb Shahi transition from Bhāgyanagar to Hyderabad was born of political compulsions. The patronage of arts and force of arms had secured the authority and power of Qutb Shāhis among Telugus. But the western conquests of Akbar broke the landline of Shiite sultanates to Persia. As a counterpoise, the young Muhammad Quli appointed in 1585 CE, Mīr Mumin Astrābādi, recently from Iran, as his peshwa. However, the Persians were unlikely to be impressed by a Sultan whose capital city was named after a Hindu devadāsin.
Hence in 1591, the Charminar was built and the official name of Hyderabad was declared. As yet, this was still a cosmetic change. The chronogrammatic name given to the city was “Farkhunda Buniyād”, which means “foundation of fortune”, where the Persian farkhunda corresponds to “bhāgya” in Sanskrit (Luther 2016).(6) Nor was there any official denial of the name “Bhāgyanagar” since an official denial would alienate the affections of indigenous people whose support would be sorely needed to confront the growing power of Akbar. In the same year, Akbar sent emissaries to the Deccan sultanates seeking their submission to Delhi.
The change of names was not yet taken seriously. Writing in mid nineties, Abul Fazl notes in the Akbarnama that
“Ali Quli, the son of Muhammad Quli, Kalb Ali, Shah Beg Nakdari and other good servants fought a battle at Phāknagar (Bhāgnagar) and were victorious.” (Akbarnama tr. Beveridge 1939: 1160)
The Moghals moved fast. By the turn of the century, Ahmadnagar was reduced, Chand Bibi was dead and Malik Ambar was defeated. The support of orthodox muslims as well as the Persians was now sorely need by the Qutb Shahis.
Possibly Mīr Mumin’s good offices secured an embassy from King Abbas of Iran. Hence, coins were struck by Qutb Shāhis in 1603 CE as issued from “Darus Saltanat Hyderabad”. This was the year when the Iranian embassy came to Golconda. With this Bhāgyanagar and Bhāgyamati receded into official silence.
Tradition holds that Mīr Mumin suppressed the story of Bhāgyamati. Political developments after the reduction of Ahmadnagar, explain why Mir Mumin took almost a decade to use the name Hyderabad and suppress the name associated with the Hindu devadāsin Bhāgyamati. Bhāgyanagar was no longer politically convenient. Coinage, firmans and official missives ignored her. Even in the odes of the Sultan that mentioned so many unmentionables, she found no place.
Bhāgyanagar – the people’s reality
The natives however continued to call the city Bhāgyanagar. This commonly happens with renamed cities as is mentioned by Ferishta (Luther 2016). The contradiction between official practice and popular parlance confused many. Hence, Abdu’l-Baqi Nihawandi spoke of two separate cities: One – “Bhāgmati” founded in the youth of the Sultan and the other – “Hyderabad” founded towards the end of reign through the good offices of Mīr Mumin (quot in Sherwani 1967: 140).
Truth, even when politic, cannot be suppressed wholly. Thus, a document of succession dated 1637 CE in the state archives, is found to have been issued by one ‘Zaheeruddin, Qazi of Bhagnagar’ (Luther 2016). In 1672, Abbe Carre called the city Bagnagar (ibid). Also in his travelogue of 1656-1668, Francois Bernier translates a letter by Mir Jumla aimed at betraying the Sultan to Aurangzeb, where he refers to the King’s residence “at Bagnaguer … in as much as his palace of Bagnaguer where he usually lives is unwalled, and without a ditch or fortifications of any sort” (Bernier 1916: 19-20).
Finally, a Ghorpade letter which is considered to be authentic (Kruijtzer 2008: 289), refers to ‘Bhagnuggur”. Since it is suggestive of negotiations between Shivāji and Qutb Shāhis, it may be dated c. 1670 CE.
The duality of Hyderabad and the visit of Shivāji Maharaj
All this goes to show that Bhāgyanagar continued to be a name of Hyderabad, especially popular among the people even though it was absent from official usage, possibly for political reasons. It is this duality of the Golconda Sultanate that explains the negotiations between Chatrapati Shivāji Maharaj and the ministers of the Qutb Shāh, the hospitality extended to him during his passage to the south. Shivāji’s visit to Bhāgyanagar, by then officially Hyderabad, is worth recalling.
Shivāji Maharaj visited Hyderabad and had a “very friendly” interview with the badshāh Abul-Hasan on March 14, 1677 according to Dutch sources (Kruijtzer 2008: 173). The visit unveiled the duality of Hyderabad, the cleavage between Bhāgyanagar and Hyderabad as it were.
One reaction was hostile and panic ridden. A report coming through the Dutchman Havart says that Shivāji was “stuffed” with gold to avert plunder. Since the Dutchman found it easier to interact with the “the Moors”, i.e. muslims, than with Brahmins, this must have been the reaction of his muslim interlocutors (ibid: 42), possibly largely non-Shia.
Shias may have had reasons to join hands with Hindus against the Moghuls. Moghul diktat had forced them to replace the twelve imams with the four Caliphs in the khutbas in mosques. The result was a literal desertion of mosques. In contrast to orthodox sunnis, Hindus joined Muslims observing the Muharram in rural areas (ibid passim).(7)
Hence the general populace received Shivāji jubiliantly and the bādshāh went along. One account of the reception says:
“the Badshah had adorned the whole city. Streets and lanes were all around coloured with a thin layer of kunkum powder and saffron. Festive poles and triumphal arches were erected and flags and standards hoisted in the city. Krors [literally: tens of millions] of citizens stood to have a look at the Raja [Shivāji]. The ladies welcomed him by waving innumerable lamps around him. Gold and silver flowers were showered upon the Raja.” (Kruijtzer ibid)
Why did Abul Hasan receive Shivāji so favourably? According to a Sabhasad bakhar, it was Shivāji’s idea to pay a visit to Abul Hasan. Received by the Sultan personally, he charmed him sufficiently to induce him into financing his Karnatak campaign and got a message from Abul Hasan saying “you are honest”. Frenchman François Martin’s says that Madanna induced Abul-Hasan to invite Shivāji to conquer part of the Karnatak for him and surrender to Golkonda, the fortresses thus captured excepting Vellore. While Golkonda delayed paying the second portion of the contracted amount of 450,000 hons, Shivāji held on to Gingee as well Vellore so that relations soured after the campaign.
After Shivāji died, when Aurangzeb’s army approached under Shāh Alam, Akkanna and Madanna were imprisoned and Muslim rioters attacked Hindus, targeting Brahmins especially, many of whom lost life and lodge. The magnificent Shiva complex of Maheshwaram 27 km from Hyderabad was destroyed. Subsequently, “Deccan was sunnified” under the Mughals (Kruijtzer 2008 passim).
From this time onward, every twist of fate and fortune revealed that there were two cities in one place – the Bhāgyanagar of the people and the Hyderabad of the rulers.
Bhāgyanagar – a slip of tongue?
Even Sherwani who is so strongly opposed to the Bhāgyamati “legend”, admits in light of evidence from European travellers, that “while the common people called the city ‘Bāgnagar’, the ruling aristocracy and government officers … called it Haiderabad” (Sherwani 1967: 145). However, in order to exorcise Bhāgyanagar from our minds, relying upon Thėvenot and Tavernier he advances the “slip of tongue theory”.
Thėvenot said in 1665-66 CE,
“The capital city of this kingdom [Golconda] is called Bāgnagar; the Persians called it Aider Abad”.
Decades later, Tavernier added
“Bagnagar was founded by the grandfather of the present king. Here the king had very fair gardens — Bagnagar or the Garden of Nagar’’.
From the above testimonies, Sherwani concludes that Bagnagar merely meant a city of gardens or bāġs, while both Bhāgyanagar and Bhāgyamati were merely legend born of an inability to pronounce ‘bāġ’ – a slip of the tongue as it were causing its confusion with ‘bhāg’.
Several arguments may be advanced against this ‘slip of tongue’ theory.
First, Tavernier was writing well after the period of shame in which the name Bhāgyanagar was bypassed in favour of Hyderabad and the story of Bhāgyamati was suppressed. It would be natural in such circumstances to explain away the name Bhāgyanagar by word play. Gardens would have been preferable to the memory of a Hindu devadāsin Bhāgyamati.
Second, as Luther (2016) ably points out, the Frenchman Thėvecot missed ‘H’ in Hyderabad as well as Bhāgnagar. European travellers had many difficulties with native names. For instance, Qutbshāh became Cotebixa with a Dutch merchant, Pulicat became Paleacattee and Mir Jumla became Mir Sumela in the writings of Floris. Thus, the accuracy of the word forms used or explained by them cannot be assumed.
Third, unlike Europeans, speakers of indigenous languages as well as persian know the difference between ‘bha’ and ‘ba’. There is no way that native speakers or “common people” could have confused ‘bhāg’ with ‘bāġ’.
Fourth, the ‘slip of tongue’ theory also does not explain the annual event described in the ‘Relations of Golkonda’ c 1614 CE.
Revival of Bhāgyanagar in public memory
The story of Bhāgyanagar and Bhāgyamati revived in Asif Jāhi times.
Syed Hossain Bilgrami and Willmott writing in 1884 say that the city was “styled Bhagnagar after one of the king’s Hindu mistresses …” and that “After her death Muhammad Quli changed the name to Haiderabad, although to the present day many natives, especially Hindus, stile the city Bhagnagar” (quot Luther 2016).
Likewise, Gribble (1896: 209) also testifies that Bhagnagar was the old name of Hyderabad, named by Mahomed Kutb Shāh at the end of the century after his favourite wife or mistress, Bhagmati.
Sherwani’s rejection of these and other historians on the ground that “the erotic part of the story came to have special appeal to the chroniclers” (Sherwani 1967: 143) is unfair to the historians and does not carry much conviction.
Our study suggests that Bhāgyamati was probably a Hindu devadāsin attached to Bhāgyalakshmi temple, who married Mohammad Quli in a Hindu ceremony, and never converted to Islam. She may have died before the name of Hyderabad was used by officialdom to refer to the city that was once named after her as Bhāgyanagar.
The study also reveals that Bhāgyanagar lived on in the minds of the people and continues to live as the heart of Hyderabad. Although much suppressed over centuries of rule by those inspired by foreign models, it continues to resist oblivion, springing back to manifest life and liberty at every opportune twist and turn of history.
Bhāgyanagar is the people’s Hyderabad that refuses to die.
I am grateful to Pradakshina ji, a Sr Associate at Centre for South Indian Studies, for drawing my attention to the many shortcomings of an earlier version of this paper and supplying materials to overcome them.
(1) Sangam era Tamil poems refer to women in mystical possession dancing in folk rituals, a custom that merged into the medieval tradition of female servants of the temple deity (Teyvādiyal in Tamil, Devadāsin in Sankrit) (Raman 2009: 188).
(2) Sita Anantha Raman cites the examples of Kanchipura-nankai (woman at Kanchipuram), Tillavanam-utaiyal (woman at Tillaivanam temple near Chidambaram) (Raman, p 189)
(3) Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2nd February-22nd April 2012, Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin, Andrew Topsfield, ed. (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2012), no. 39 on p. 100, illus. p. 101 http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/ object/LI118.15
(4) A paramour, highly and explicitly praised in Mohd. Quli’s poems. By the time he died, this Sultan is believed to have nineteen paramours or concubines. The editor of the kulliyat is said to have suggested that this, Mushtari or some other, may be the name adopted by Bhāgyamati after conversion.
(5) The jogin system of dedicating girls to gods and a life of devadāsin was widely prevalent in the region. It was banned by the last nizam in 1920s, but is said to be practiced even to this day. A foreigner would perceive jogins as ‘prostitutes’ and describe them as such.
(6) Bhāgyamati means “the conviction-determination of fortune” in Sanskrit.
(7) Shias of Golkonda had considerable reason to bear grudge against the Mughals since the terms on which Golkonda submitted to Delhi required replacement of the twelve Shi‘i imams by the four Caliphs in the khutba in mosques. The resentment was so strong that according to Havart “there were no longer any services at all except in the mosque of the Mughal ambassador in Hyderabad”. The Dutchman also noted that mosques stood empty at the time due to this (c 1680) and that Hindus and Muslim joined in observing the Muharram in rural areas. (Kruijtser 2008 passim
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