Fading glory

October 24, 2021

Hyderabad’s Pucca Qila needs funds for its restoration and conservation

Fading glory

Castles and forts are symbols of power and prestige. In modern times, ancient forts have been reduced to isolated buildings. However, their architecture still reflects their past glory.

Hyderabad’s Pucca Qila was once a power centre where the royalty enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. The tug of war for dynastic power between Kalhoro and Talpur rulers ended in 1783. The Talpur dynasty was established by Mir Fateh Ali Khan.

The Pucca Qila was built by Ghulam Shah Kalhoro in 1768. The fort is located on a hillock near the railway station. It is an oval shaped fort spread over 36 acres. Its walls are 80 feet high.

There were two Dewans (guest rooms) at the fort. The most impressive building here was built by Mir Nasir Khan who used to hold court there. Elaborate artwork decorated the pillars and ceiling of its courtyard. There were also some colourful pictures. Some of them were of traditional Suhrab and Rustam pictures; others were portraits of the Mir’s Darbar (court). The chamber was known as Dewan-i-Khas.

The Diwan-i-Aam was also located in the same building. It was in front of the main gate of Diwan-i-Khas. In his travelogue Narrative of a Visit to Scinde (1830), James Burns writes: “There were beautiful paintings on the walls and the floor was decorated with colourful carpets. On one side there were three arch shaped doors. Green silk curtains were hanging. Baloch sardars used to sit on flowery pillows.”

Richard F Burton, British explorer, describes the fort in his book Sind Revised as:

“The Kila’ah, or fort, stands upon the long narrow ridge which carries the city. Its form is an irregular oval, about three quarters of a mile round and continuing some thirty six acres. The enceinte is composed of tall crumbling revements of ill-baked brick, thick at base, thin in the erect, and resting internally against the earth piled upon the natural rock. No angles, no outworks save engaged round-towers and few embrasures for large guns. The spear-headed battlement of Persia runs along the crest to shelter matchlock men and the ramparts conquests are rendered useless by the surface being broken into half dozen spiky projections. Down the height of the wall are long apertures which our Iranian neighbors call damaghedh (nostrils); they act as drain and loopholes combined, and their peculiarities are the crossbars of whitewashed man story, generally numbering five. The defenses appear as if a few rounds of grape would level them which is the plain: and appearance the reverse of deceitful, this boasted stronghold of the Talpur being one the weakest of the strong looking fortresses in our corner of Asia.”

When Mir Ali Murad became ill in 1824, the British sent Dr James Burns to Hyderabad. He treated Mir Ali Murad. In the days of Mir Noor Mohammad Khan, the British appointed Dr James Burns as a resident. The same year (1824) Sir Charles Napier arrived in Sindh. He was not comfortable with Sindhi rulers. Later, he was accused of killing Mian Khan Mari. In 1839, General Cain, who was heading a detachment of troops headed to Afghanistan to help Shah Shuja Durrani, arrived at Kotri and visited Hyderabad city.

On February 19, 1843, Sindh was conquered by the British Army. A British captain informed the fort’s staff that tomorrow they would hoist the British flag on the fort. On February 20, Col Patil, along with some horsemen, soldiers and two cannons entered the fort and hoisted the Union Jack.

Fading glory

After the Partition, a large number of refugees from various parts of India settled in the fort as a temporary arrangement. However, as time passed, the fort turned into a residential sanctuary for the newcomers. Some efforts were made later to settle the population in other areas of Hyderabad city. However, most of the people refused to settle anywhere else. Now, the fort is their permanent home.

Recently, conservation work carried out on the fort’s wall by the Sindh Culture Department’s Planning and Development Monitoring Implementation Cell (PDMIC). The department says that the labourers had tried to repair the fort. However, they ended up damaging the walls. Repair work in any building that has been declared an archeological monument or heritage site requires the supervision of an archeologist. This is not the first that the fort has suffered damage.

Earlier, the Mir Harem (private chambers) was demolished in a similar fashion. It was one of the many important buildings inside the fort. It had been built during Mir Fateh Ali’s rule. Now, only a square courtyard remains where the Mir Harem used to be located.

“There are certain rules for conservation. If any monument is made of earth then mud must be used. If it is made of lime then lime is essential. You can’t ignore the ancient use of brick. Bricks in every era had a different size and shape. If any part of an ancient building is damaged then we can construct on the same pattern. The structure should be maintained,” says Ishtiaq Ansari, an archeologist and an engineer.

“As far as Pucca Qila is concerned, you can’t restore an ancient building by hiring untrained labourers who start hammering and drilling through walls. This is very sensitive work; only an archaeologist can do this. There are special tools to be used. It is not an unskilled man’s job. This is a great loss. We must realise that if we want to see our heritage prosper then we should assign the work of conversation to the experts,” he says.

The fort walls are crumbling. It has become a residential place instead of a historical heritage.

Culture Department Director General Manzoor Kanasro says: “The report by an investigative committee shows that the damage was done due to carelessness of the contractor. Therefore, a case has been registered against the contractor on a complaint filed by an employee of the Culture Department. We will take action against those who are found responsible. No one from the Archeology Department was involved.”

The writer is a fiction writer, blogger and journalist

Fading glory