Art Old and New, in the Nizami City

Art, in its literal sense, is the expression and application of creative human imagination and skills. It gives life to the ideas, thoughts, and emotions of an individual. The theory behind art is to communicate those ideas and thoughts to express strong emotions and to inculcate a sense of beauty. Expressed visually via paintings, sculptures or architecture, the history of art, particularly visual art, is as old as humankind. It is believed that Homo Erectus, a species of archaic humans that lived through most of the ice age geological epoch between 430,000 and 540,000 years, created etched shells. Another classic example of ancient art are the cave paintings of horses from the Lascaux Caves, circa 16,000 BP. From early pre-historic to contemporary, art has always had unique and varied reasons for being created. Centres of early civilisation such as Persia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Rome, China, and India developed distinct styles of art. These civilisations were vast and lasted long enough for their artworks to survive, and have greatly influenced other cultures and later times.

Tracing back to the third millennium BC, Indian art has a strong sense of design and character, and the same can be found in both traditional and modern forms. Owing to its diversity, Indian art reflects a wide mix of culture, tradition, and religion, and is home to a vast variety of art in every form – paintings, sculptures, and architecture.

Deccan Queen of Art

The Indian city of Hyderabad is a melting pot of culture, religion, and tradition. After the decline of the Mughal Empire, it emerged as the foremost centre of art and culture in India. Under the patronage of the ruling Nizams, artists from the North and South migrated to Hyderabad. This migration proved to be fruitful, as it resulted in the mixing of North and South Indian traditions, cultures, and religions.

Established in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Hyderabad is the epitome of art in India. It is a mix of old-world charm and modern-day jazz. Hyderabad remained under the rule of the Qutb Shahi dynasty for almost a century until the Mughals captured it. In 1724, Hyderabad saw Mughal viceroy Asaf Jah I create his own dynasty, popularly known as the Nizami dynasty. While undergoing so many changes, the only constant that remained was art.

The relics of the Qutb Shahi and Nizam rule are evident even today. The Charminar, commissioned by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, stands majestically in the heart of Hyderabad’s Old City, while Golconda Fort is another major piece of architectural grandeur. The city of Nizams is no longer home to just historic art and architecture, and with changing times has adapted and accepted modern art and architecture with open arms. Read on as we take you into the history of Hyderabad’s art and architecture, and how it has perfectly blended into modern times while maintaining its aesthetic values.

The Chowmahalla Palace

Located in the Old City of Hyderabad near Charminar, the Chowmahalla Palace remains the property of Barkath Ali Khan Mukarram Jah – heir of the Nizams. The name of this palace is derived from the Urdu word Char (variation chau), which means four, and Mahal, which means palace – four palaces. It was once the seat of the Asif Jahi dynasty, and was also the official residence of the Nizams during their rule. Built by Nizam Salabat Jung, this palace has witnessed many ceremonial functions and receptions.

The Chowmahalla Palace is known for its unique elegance and style. It is also believed that the palace is modelled on the Shah of Iran’s palace in Tehran. The architecture has traces of Persian and European styles. The oldest part of this palace is the Southern Courtyard, which was built according to the neo-classical style. The Northern Courtyard consists of the Bara Imam, which is a long corridor of rooms that faces the fountain and pool. Located opposite the Bara Imam is the Shishe-Alat (also known as a mirror image). Mughal and Persian elements have influenced the domes and arches that adorn this palace. The ornate works that cover the Khilwat Mubarak are a testimony to these influences. The Khilwat Mubarak is the heart of the palace, as it was where the royal seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty was placed. The Chowmahalla Palace also displays an incredible collection of vintage cars that the Nizams used. The major attraction in the stable of cars is a 100-year-old Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Throne Car. What also attracts tourists to the Chowmahalla Palace is the Clock Tower, above the main gate, which has been ticking away for almost 250 years now. An expert family of clock repairers winds this mechanical clock every week.

The Taj Falaknuma Palace

Spanning 32 acres, The Falaknuma Palace originally belonged to the Paigah family. It was designed by an English architect and built by Nawab Sir Viqar-ul-Umra (then Prime Minister of Hyderabad). He later presented the palace to Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam. Falaknuma is derived from an Urdu word that means Mirror of Sky. The Falaknuma Palace is an example of both historic and contemporary art and architecture under one roof. After a visit to Europe, Sir Viqar-ul-Umrabuilta European-style residence. On March 3, 1884, the foundation stone was laid, and it took nine years to complete and furnish this majestic palace. Built in the shape of a scorpion (said to be the star-sign of Nawab Sir Viqar-ul-Umra) with two stingers spread out as wings towards the north, and made completely with Italian marble and stained-glass windows, the palace structure speaks volumes of its architectural grandeur. The monogram of Nawab Sir Viqar-ul-Umra – “VO” is on the ceilings, walls, and furniture. The palace has traces of Italian and Tudor influences, as the Nawab was an avid traveller and loved to show it in art and architecture.

The Falaknuma houses 60 rooms filled with Nizami artefacts such as statutes, rare paintings, explicit furniture, Venetian chandeliers, an extensive jade collection, and a two-ton manually operated organ. The palace also has a library that is a replica of the one at Windsor Castle. It houses over five thousand books and features a carved walnut roof. The chairs in the dining hall are made of carved rosewood with green leather upholstery and can accommodate 101 guests. There are two identical billiards tables – one of which is placed in the palace’s billiards room and the other in Buckingham Palace.

The ceiling of the grand reception hall in the main building is a marvel in its own right. It’s decorated with frescoes (derived from the Italian word – affresco) – a technique of mural painting that is done upon the freshly laid lime plaster. Here, water is used as the vehicle for the dry-powder pigment to help merge with the plaster and settle into it. The painting is that of a blue sky with clouds and birds. The major attraction is the eagle in the centre of the painting. The uniqueness of this frescoe’s eagle is that no matter which part of the room one stands in, it seems like the eagle is looking directly at that person. This painting attracts visitors from all over the world. The palace is now leased by the Taj Group of Hotels and is a major tourist attraction.

Street Art
For all its old-world charm, it has come as a pleasant surprise that Hyderabad is slowly but steadily emerging as the street art capital of South India. The City of Nawabs is passionately accepting and embracing this urban trend. The streets are vibrantly coming to life with modern street art. Enthusiastic artists of the city are coming together to make Hyderabad look even more colourful. Street art is nothing but visual art – text or iconic graphics that are created in public locations such as streets, buildings, empty walls, trains, and other visible areas. Spray paint, LED art, graffiti, mosaic tiling, and stencil graffiti, etc, are used to bring to life empty walls and aesthetic corners on the streets.

Street art was once considered vandalism, and did not receive the appreciation that it deserved.  But nowadays street art is booming, and is considered a creative and innovative way to bringing out social messages, create awareness on political or social issues, or to simply add beauty to the surroundings. Hyderabad is now booming with street art, giving its residents a new world with a splash of colour. The already scenic Necklace Road has now become even more eye-catching, due to the street art that adorns its walls. The artwork here is dedicated to women empowerment and creates awareness about a cleaner Hyderabad. There is also a painting of Chakali Ailamma, a famous revolutionary leader of the Telangana rebellion.

It’s not surprising that street art would be a feature in HITEC City. But what is surprising is the fact that the street art here was created not by locals, but instead by a French artist – Delphine Delas. She has been giving the financial district of Hyderabad a very creative and artistic touch. The four pillars in HITEC City display her creativity, a result of being heavily influenced by the rich culture, heritage and colours of India that she has encountered.

Talking about painting the town not just red, but every colour on the palette, the Begumpet metro rail pillars deserve special mention. After the installation of the rail system, the plain grey concrete pillars became monotonous. But thanks to street art, these pillars now tell stories of the local traditions and display the city’s rich history. Colourful birds and animals also adorn these pillars and walls, like a breath of fresh air. These walls are giving our city a new, Instagram-worthy look. Shutterbugs, fire up your cameras and click away.

Structure Art
The origin of this art form dates to the early 1950s, when Jean Dubuffet, a French artist and sculptor, made butterfly wings using a series of collages. He named this creation “Assemblages d’empreintes”. Assemblage is an art form that is a three-dimensional structure, and has found its way into the art culture of Hyderabad. Artists in the city are working really hard to beautify the city. But this time they’re not just using a canvas and paints, but are taking things up a notch; they’re not just beautifying the city, but also cleaning it up. Structure and sculptor artists are collecting scrap and turning it into something that is adding to the attractions of this city. They are turning scrap metal into amazing sculptures. We can see examples of this in parts of the city like Jubilee Hills and HITEC City.

It would be unfair to talk about structure and sculptor art and not mention the Kalakriti Art Gallery. This amazing space has been around since 2002 and has hosted landmark exhibitions of budding as well as pioneering artists.

In 2016, the famous and unique typographical structure, namely the “Love Hyderabad” structure, was installed at Tank Bund. What makes this structure unique is the way it’s depicted. Incorporating a heart into the Devanagari script instead of using the usual Latin script adds a fun and a multilingual element to the whole structure. This art installation now attracts hundreds everyday and is one of the city’s many artistic tourist attractions.

Be it historical or contemporary, Hyderabad’s art-beat continues to thrum with fervour and passion, and is kept alive by the inspired artists and a community of art lovers who everything they can to support the scene.