200-year-old British residence in Hyderabad to reopen as window on Deccan politics
In January, the British Residency building in Hyderabad, a lavish mansion that introduced European architectural style to the region in the early 19th century and one of the city’s most important heritage structures, will come full circle. The launch of an in-house interpretive center will complete the building’s conservation process for the future, although visitors will have to wait a few more months before the campus is open to the public.
Built between 1803 and 1808, this building was not only the seat of the residents of the East India Company at the court of the Nizam, but also a center of power that at times overshadowed the authority of successive monarchs.
The residence, which provided for a permanent station and a full-fledged military base for the British in the princely state of Hyderabad, was also the result of the subsidiary alliance treaty signed by the second Nizam, Mir Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II. with the British East India Company in 1798.
After independence, the historic monument became the Osmania University College for Women (OUCW) until it was closed for restoration in the early 2000s.
Now a protected monument notified by the State Department for Heritage, the building also serves as the backdrop to the famous book by Scottish historian William Dalrymple. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th Century India, the story of the love affair between British resident James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nissa Begum, a Muslim nobleman he married. It was Kirkpatrick who, when he was the 6th resident of Hyderabad between 1798 and 1805, commissioned and supervised the construction of the building.
At present, a small team of laborers are finishing the last coats of limewash and are working on various utilities. Once inaugurated in January, the building will have an interpretation center while the OUCW will retain some rooms to accommodate the offices of the principal, vice-principal and a meeting room.
The story that shaped Deccan politics
The building, designed by Lt. Samuel Russell of Madras Engineers, lasted six years under the supervision of Kirkpatrick and Raja Mudaliar. It was following the Treaty of Subsidiary Alliance in 1798, says Professor Salma Ahmed Farooqui of the HK Sherwani Center for Deccan Studies at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), that the land and garden house of Nawab Shamsher Jung were handed over to the Briton by the Second Nizam for the construction of a permanent residence for the British diplomat.
“After signing the treaty, the British gained a political foothold in the princely state of Hyderabad. A cantonment, the largest in the country at the time, was established in Secunderabad and British troops were stationed permanently. In addition, the Nizam ceded the fertile eastern coastal areas of northern Circars to the British, ”adds Professor Farooqui, who is also director (Indian office of the Association for the Study of Persian Societies).
The residents, beyond being diplomats, were very popular in Hyderabadi’s social circles, she said. They adopted the local culture, dressed as nawabs, attended social gatherings, got used to making casseroles and hookahs, and spoke in Persian and later in Urdu. It was also a time when the influence of the European way of life and of English as a language was immense among the nobles. “Kirkpatrick was so popular that he was awarded the title of Hashmat Jung by the Nizam. He was also called Farzand-e-Dilpasand, which means the favorite son. The bazaar areas near the residence – Hashmat Gunj and Russell Gunj, were named after British residents, ”she adds.
However, with their popularity, their hold on the monarchs increased. Quoting a book, Nizam-British relations 1724-1857 by academic Sarojini Regani, Professor Farooqui says the Nizam chose colonial agents because of threats his kingdom faced from the Maratha rulers and Sultan Tipu of Mysore. It was also during the reign of the Second Nizam that the rulers of Asaf Jah moved the region’s capital to Hyderabad from Aurangabad. Previously, Hyderabad had been the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty between 1591 and 1687, until the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb conquered Golconda and transferred the capital to Aurangabad. While the first Nizam, Mir Qamar-ud-din Khan, Asaf Jah I, declared independence from the Mughals in 1724, it was not until 1763 that the capital was moved from Aurangabad to Hyderabad.
During the reigns of the successive Nizams, the power and influence of British residents grew further, she says, so that even the Prime Minister of the State was the choice of the British who had a lot to say in all fields. . “Mir Farqunda Ali Khan, the fourth Nizam, received the title of Yar-o-Wafadar (staunch ally) by the British. Although the Nizam is the sovereign general, its autonomy has not remained as it would have been if it had not signed the subsidiary alliance treaty ”, declared Professor Farooqui.
A conservation project that took 15 years to take off
While conservation and restoration work only started in 2015, it was in the early 2000s that the then university director, Pramada Devi, and the heritage conservation architect Vasanta Shobha Turaga explored ways to preserve the building for the future from structural disintegration. In 2002 and 2004, the building was listed as a Distressed Historic Monument under the World Monuments Watch program of the World Monuments Fund, New York.
The college prepared a conservation management plan in collaboration with the WMF in 2010. A project implementation committee, comprising the OU, the Heritage Department, the National Culture Fund and the WMF, is working was then assembled to raise funds and work started in 2015. About Rs 13 crore of the total project cost Rs 17 crore has been spent on restoration so far and donations continue to be collected, said a member of the project team.
First, the model of the Residence building destroyed in 1978 by a fall from a tree branch was restored. The dollhouse, a tradition in English manor houses, located in the gardens of Rang Mahal, has been remodeled with the help of the Deccan Heritage Foundation, in London. The adjoining cemetery has been restored with the support of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BASCA)
Early 1800s: The original dollhouse, model of the former British residence, Hyderabad in 1973 with a student from Koti Women’s College @Ilovehyderabad inside. Consensus says it wasn’t a toy but so Kirkpatrick who lived in purdah to see his entire house.
– Dr Andrew Fleming (@ Andrew007Uk) May 4, 2020
Considering the size of the building and the multiple layers of history, the conservation project was difficult, argued the conservation team led by chief conservation architects, conservation architects GN Heritage Matters and the restaurateur, Jeernodhar Conservators. The work was undertaken in six phases depending on the priority of conservation needs and the availability of funds. “The first task to be done was a threat to the structural integrity of the building. The ceiling of the west oval room (ball) had disintegrated. We had to take it apart and redo it. In addition, the wooden beams were damaged due to water infiltration. “Getting a huge 30-foot-long piece of teak wood to redo an entire beam was also a challenge. “
At the time of the start of the works, only eight ceiling fans in the Darbar Hall, three chandeliers and 12 large mirrors from the British era were present, with the exception of the original Burmese teak wood doors and windows. The conservation team believe the building, although one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture, was not designed by an architect.
“While we had literature and pictures for reference, the building began to reveal layers of history on its own. This is because they continued to renovate the building as new residents took over. The designs, probably taken from model books, were translated into the building by Indian artisans. Oval ballrooms were originally not oval but rectangular. The circular staircase was not present.
The building has, in addition to the Darbar Hall, seven rooms on the ground floor and nine rooms on the first in addition to a basement (originally designed to be the ground floor). Although the classical facade on the north side with massive columns, marble stairs and two lions as guards on either side, forms a rich portico, the original entrance to the building was through the basement on the south side with a circular portico that faced the old town beyond the river Musi. The conservation team added, “For a long time we thought the dome was masonry, but when we looked at it we found there was a wooden frame inside. The revelation of the historical layers occurred even after four years. Once when we opened a wall we found a wooden staircase behind it.
Another unique feature of the building is the papier-mâché ceiling of the Darbar Hall, possibly the only one of its kind surviving in India. This was nearly 60 percent damaged and its restoration alone took a few years. Each challenge led to a change in the decision-making process for an appropriate conservation intervention with the future of the building in mind, the team said.
Still work to do
In addition to 150 years of colonial history and its influence on the region, the interpretive center would also exhibit the role of the OUCW in educating women in the state during the seven decades following independence.
Conservation architect Anuradha Naik, who will be the curator of the center, explains that the concept is to disseminate information about the building, its history and the Deccan policy at the time, the conservation project, etc. using archival images, photographs and old maps.
According to OUCW head teacher Vijjulatha Manga, the building and center are slated to open in January. “But we also need to restore the Rang Mahal gate, the side wings and the gardens. It will take a few more months. HMDA has expressed its willingness to support the restoration of the side wings while the Pleach India Foundation has offered to restore the Rang Mahal gate and gardens, ”said the director.
Naik is currently the author of a book on the life and history of British Residence. “The building itself is the gem we have,” she says.