Where did it all go wrong? Way back, long before electricity was born, long before we had drills and jack hammers and tall cranes, long before we had the myriad man-made materials we have today, we were building stuff that lasted. Stuff that stood the test of time. Stuff that was literally made by hand.
And today? Our apartment buildings and tower blocks are failing us after just ten years (a sore subject in Dublin these days).
In Hyderabad, at the Qutub Shahi Tombs, I was given good reason to curse progress, to grieve for the craftsmen who are watching their trade die out because they have no one to whom they can pass them on. No one who wants to learn. These amazing feats of architecture date back to the sixteenth century, and blend three architectural styles: Persian, Pashtun, and Hindu. The stone is intricately hand carved and even today, during the renovations, the boys were out with their chisels, their only nod to technology being the iPod earphones.
Back in the day, the tombs would have been furnished with carpets and rugs and chandeliers. Readers would recite from the Quran, strategically stationed on lecterns dotted about the place. The tombs of the Sultans would have had golden spires fitted to the top of their domes to show that royalty resided within, but apparently these disappeared along with the British (or so rumour has it). Hard to know who to believe. The chap wearing a vest emblazoned with ‘Tourist Police’ told me that as a single foreign woman I would need a guide to be safe. When I asked ‘safe from what’, he said ominously that someone might run away with me. I figured I was safe enough wandering around on my own.
The seven tombs belong to the seven kings of Hyderabad, each one housing the king and his companions. Plenty of room for all. The grandest of the them all, currently under reconstruction, is that of Muhammed Quli Qutub Shah, dates back to 1602. He built it himself, as was the custom back then. Nothing like taking care of your accommodation after your departure. The tomb of Fatima Sultan (Muhammed’s sister) has been partially renovated and is looking well on it.
My vote, though, would go to the twin tombs – but I couldn’t figure out if they were the tombs of the Sultan’s two favourite hakims (physicians) — Nizamuddin Ahmed Gilani and Abdul Jabbar Gilani — which date back to 165i, or the tombs of Premamati and Taramati, his favourite courtesans built a few years later. Whoever is lying in side, they’re certainly enjoying it. The tomb is exquisite. The carving ornate. And to think it was all done by hand is simply mind-boggling. Why, why, why do we not value these crafts more?
I’m as guilty as anyone for balking at the price of handcrafted items. We’ve become way too conditioned to those mass-produced goods that are so much cheaper. Is it any wonder that crafts like this sort of stone working are dying out – no one wants to pay for it any more.
The gardens are seeing a facelift. Money is dribbling in to restore the tombs and to bring them back to their former glory. Here’s hoping that the reconstruction helps keep these trades alive.
Originally known as Lagar-e-Faiz Athar (a place for bountiful entertainment) in the days of the Qutub Shahi rulers, musical and dance shows would be staged each evening to keep the poor entertained. Now, that one I’m still mulling over …