The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 5, 2001

Damaged Char Minar sets alarm bells ringing

THE graceful granite Char Minar of Hyderabad, perhaps the best-known Indian monument after the Taj Mahal is falling down. On June 12, 2001, following torrential rains, Hyderabadis were shocked to find that a huge chunk from one of the four minars or towers had fallen down.

Alarmed, the Archaeological Survey of India has diverted funds earmarked for another preservation project to repairing the Char Minar. The Rs 15 million fund (about US$ 300 thousand) which was earlier to be used for restoring the historic Golconda Fort in the same state will now be used to repair the Char Minar, which is seen as an intrinsic part of Hyderabad’s history-laden landscape. Already the department has cleared Rs 300,000 (about US$ 60 thousand) for the initial repair work, in which Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu himself is said to be taking a personal interest.

Thanks to a popular band of cigarettes, the Char Minar in Hyderabad is probably one of the most recognised monuments in India, and in pre-Independence days the edifice figures in the Hyderabad state currency and postage. Labelled the "Arc De Triomphe of the East" by one western historian, the golden-hued 16th-century structure soars 25 feet higher than its more modern Parisian counterpart. Built by King Mohammad Kuli Shah of Golconda in 1591, the square building is 186 feet high with four grand arches with towers facing north, south, east and west. Each side of the building measures 100 feet and the pitch of the arches is 50 feet from the ground.


There are no clear historical records telling us why the building was raised. Some historians believe it was built to celebrate the deliverance of the town from an epidemic of plague while others aver that it was probably built as a gateway to a royal palace.

The recent rains have damaged the Char Minar
The recent rains have damaged the Char Minar

French traveller M. Thavenot, who visited Hyderabad in 1667, remarks that "the building which is called Four Towers is a square building. It is vaulted underneath which gives it a sort of dome-like look. Under this dome, there is a platform raised seven or eight feet from the ground, with steps to go up to it".

"Nothing in the town seems so lovely as the outside of this building and nevertheless it is surrounded with ugly shops made of wood and covered with straw, where they sell fruit, and these shops spoil all aspects of it", the Frenchman wrote. Over 300 years have passed and still the same squalid surroundings mar, the beauty of the Char Minar.

Added to the pressure of an exploding urban population count, is the bane of almost every historical monument in India — pollution from heavy vehicular traffic. What factory fumes have done to the pristine marble facade of the Taj Mahal, car exhaust smoke is doing to the warm golden granite of the Char Minar. During the Mughal occupation of Hyderabad in the 17th century, the building was heavily damaged by lightning and even in those halcyon days the rebuilding expenses was Rs 60,000 (four million in today’s money value). In the eighteenth century, the building served as the quarters of the French General Bussy and his troops and for some decades after the French left, it was used as a Muslim theological college.

From the top of the minarets a magnificent, view of the city can be had and prior to the integration of Hyderabad with India, no one was allowed to go up to the minarets, as the edifice overlooked, one of the palaces of the Nizam. More recently, the ban was enforced once again in 1987, after a family of five committed suicide by jumping from the tower. After the incident, aluminum grills were fixed on all its upper windows and the public was once again prohibited from entering the towers. In the pre-Independence days, there was always a strong guard of Rohilla police under the arches and the guard turned out and presented arms when any noble of note passed by. During the Moharrum ceremony, a replica of a symbolic green hand is suspended, from the archway facing the north.

The last full-scale renovation of the Char Minar took place in 1917. After Independence, maintenance has been sketchy at the most. With the recent damage putting the spotlight on the monument’s preservation once again, suggestions for the care of the Char Minar are flowing thick and fast.

As a first step, it would be necessary to isolate the monument from the heavy vehicular traffic around it — as the Char Minar is the hub of Hyderabad. If the conservationists have their way, the area would be made into a no-traffic zone and vehicles would be prohibited from entering the protected area within one kilometer around the famous edifice. The first step would be to make the Char Minar are a one way traffic zone, so that, pending further action, the traffic around it would he halved immediately.

Secondly, its lustrous golden yellow sheen has to be restored by preventing emission of industrial gas output around it, just like it is being done in the case of the Taj Mahal. A fencing 15 foot away from the monument would be erected to protect it from the surroundings hubbud.

Local legend has it that there is a 6-mile-long tunnel, connecting the Char Minar to the audience chamber of the Qutb Shahi Kings in the Golconda Fort nearby. Some sources claim that it extends to the Gosha Mahal, the harem of the Qutb Shahi Kings nearby. Till 1954, the tunnel was considered to be just a story. But that year, the 22-year-old Prince Mukharram Jah (the present titular Nizam of Hyderabad) organised a party to explore the tunnels. A party consisting of the Prince and four others went into the tunnel and had proceeded for a considerable distance till they found further progress blocked by crumbling side walls. The adventurers returned to the Golconda Fort and since then no other attempt has been made to explore the subterranean pathways.—Maharaja Features