On the outskirts of Hyderabad, connected with a secret passage from Golconda Fort, lies the Qutb Shahi city of the dead. Spread over 108 acres, it is the largest necropolis of its kind in India. It contains the tombs of the entire dynasty (1512-1687) of the Deccan Sultans, as well as people they considered important, including Hindu courtesans who were the favourites of one of the rulers.
Like the Qutb Shahis, who have faded from memory, replaced by the Nizams who succeeded them, the tombs are forgotten structures. This sprawling complex, with a composite architectural style drawn from Persia and Deccan, Hindu and Muslim, never quite left the imprint that another Qutb Shahi monument has done—Charminar.
This is set to change. The “Saat Maqbare”, as the tomb complex is locally called, is the site of India’s biggest restoration and conservation venture. It seeks to peel away centuries of neglect and disrepair and to bring back the magnificence now smothered by graffiti and concrete, writes Govind Krishnan V in the cover story, “Bringing life to a necropolis”.
The project sums up the status of conservation in India: There was no documentation of earlier works done, no photographs for reference and there was no list of monuments in the complex—72 historical structures, including several stepwells, a hamaam and walled gardens, as the conservationists found out.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) lists 3,682 monuments as being of national importance, while the real number may be 11 lakh. The ASI has even failed to accurately catalogue what it protects. In audits, some monuments of national importance could not be traced. The Indian attitude to conservation can be summed up by a sight common in Tamil Nadu: Centuries-old temples built and sculpted in the solemn grandeur of stone now cloaked in tacky paint.
Haryana has taken the lead in empowering gau rakshaks, issuing identity cards to the “good ones”. These official gau rakshaks work with the police, patrol the highways, barge inside the homes of Muslims, and in general work towards the RSS ideal. Haryana now sees the most toxic iteration of the gau raksha campaign, writes Arpit Parashar in his ground report, “The knights of the uuder and thier grail quest”.
Do not miss the photo story (“The true colours of India”) by Mahesh Shantaram on Africans living in India.