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The Qutb Shahs

I really like Hyderabad. Perhaps I even love this city. A risk of frequent visits, I suppose. This affection I have developed has led me to read a bit on the history of the place. Much of what I learned up to this point went back no further than the times of the first Nizams. What (who) a Nizam is is outside the scope of this post, but stay tuned. This time I have focused on learning more about the Qutb Shahs, who preceded the Nizams by a century or two.


There were 7 official Qutb Shahs. They are all buried next to Golconda Fort, in massive tombs that must have been quite

a sight when they were first completed. The tombs are all standing, structurally solid, today, but the outsides are faded and poorly maintained.

At the height of Qutb Shahi rule, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah fell in love with a Hindu girl, Bhagmati, married her, converted her to Islam, changed her name to Hyder Mahal, and named the newly built city after her. Upon the end of the plague in Hyderabad in the late 17th century, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah built the Charminar. I often end many of my lectures about the current plague, HIV, with a picture of the Charminar. The era of the Qutb Shahs is known for its religious tolerance, promotion of culture of all kinds, and prosperity.

The Nizams inherited Hyderabad from the Qutb Shahs, and kept tenuous hold over the region through British rule. The Princely State of Hyderabad was the largest in British India, and it remained separate from the new nation for a brief time after independence from Great Britain in 1947. Soon enough, however, the last Nizam had to give up control of the city/state, and Hyderabad and surrounding areas merged with Telugu-speaking parts of the Madras Presidency to form the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Today, we found out that “they” have decided to split the state of AP into two parts. One will continue to be called Andhra Pradesh, and will consist of coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema area. The other, roughly 40% of AP will be a new state called Telangana. This will ultimately include Hyderabad, though for 10 years, the city will serve as capital for both states.

HIV in AP is different in each of the three regions. Coastal Andhra is an important chunk of the major truck route going from Chennai to Kolkata. This is where HIV prevalence is the highest, as one would guess. Telangana overall has the lowest prevalence, but the twin cities – with their joint population upwards of 8 million – are a significant exception. There are thousands upon thousands of Hyderabadis living with HIV infection. In 2004, not having been to India since 1997, I was astounded by the signs/posters openly discussing HIV, condoms, and the like. That was not the India I remembered, but a most welcome development. Subsequent visits continued to show me that HIV was clearly on the consciousness of the people, as red ribbons were visible everywhere. This time, I have yet to see a single poster about HIV or AIDS. My colleagues here assure me that stigma is alive and well. Sounds like we could use some of the tolerance and benevolence the city was known for 500 years ago.

The new state of Telangana corresponds roughly to the territory controlled by the Qutb Shah dynasty. So we are going back to the old borders, more or less. If things continue to proceed in this way, future global health trips to this area will no longer be to AP, which is a strange concept for me, but to Telangana. In any event, as my friend Dr. Naval Chandra from NIMS says, Hyderabad will always be Hyderabad, no matter what is going on around it.

One comment on “The Qutb Shahs

  1. Have not traveled that much in India, but surely the most historically interesting large city in India….

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