What do we actually know about the Nizams of Hyderabad?? Besides the dum biryani and the amazing palaces inspired by Mughal architecture now symbolic of Hyderabad tourism, we don’t really know much about the Nizams or how they acquired the princely state of Hyderabad and ruled it almost independently for two centuries and a half. For example, did you know that in their cover story for February, 1937, TIME Magazine called the last Nizam the wealthiest man in the world?
Nizam is actually the short form for Nizam-ul-Mulk, Urdu for ‘Administrator of the Realm’. Seven Nizams ruled Hyderabad between 1707 and 1948. The accession to power started with the death of the last of the great Mughal emperors, Aurangazeb. As the Mughal empire crumpled, the Nizams seized the opportunity and gained independent control of the state of Hyderabad. At the time of partition, Hyderabd was the largest and most prosperous of the princely states with its own army, airline, telecommunication system, railway network, postal system, currency and radio broadcasting service.
The Nizams all belonged to the Asaf Jah dynasty, whose origins can be traced back to Samarkhand; they came to India from Baghdad in the 17th century. The dynasty was founded by Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqi, a viceroy of the Deccan under the Mughals. Legend has it that during one of his hunting trips, the first Nizam came across a holy man who offered him Kulchas (stuffed Indian flatbread) and asked him to eat as many as he could. The Nizam ate seven and the holy man prophesized seven generations of his family’s rule. Another of their famous traditions required that no Nizam ever left the country under any circumstances and not one of them ever did.
On being asked to choose between India and Pakistan, the Nizam chose to be an independent state. But the newly formed Indian government decided otherwise. The then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Sardar Vallabhai Patel authorized Operation Polo in September 1948; the Indian Armed Forces invaded Hyderabad and overthrew the Nizam, thereby annexing the state into the Indian Union. Till today, you will find traces of the Nizam’s legacy across all places to visit in Hyderabad. And the buzzing bazaars provide a unique experience of shopping in Hyderabad, immortalized in poetry by Sarojini Naidu.