Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Paigah Tombs: Marvel in Marble

The Paigah tombs, though a recent discovery, date back to the late eighteenth century and embody unparalleled grace and elegance in marble. Though these stunning tombs are strewn over 30-40 acres, tombs of the Paigahas who had married daughters of the Nizams and their spouses are confined to a two-acre site. It is this enclosure which is now known as Paigah tombs. The Paigah nobles were very close to the Nizams and very powerful and influential, taking care of the security and defence of the state.

The bonds between the Nizams and the Paigah nobility strengthened with the marriage of Fakhr-ud- din Khan with the daughter of the second Nizam. Fakr-ud-din’s descendants married daughters of other Nizams and consequently, in protocol, the Paigahs were considered next only to the Nizams. The tombs are a series of mausoleums built for these Paigahs and immediate members of their families. These structures are specimens of remarkable artistry showing itself off in exquisite inlaid msaic work. Local people claim that the geometrical patterns of the sculptural features of these tombs are unique and not found anywhere in the world.

Abdul Fateh Khan Tegh Jung founded the Paigah nobility and was rendering service to the second Nizam, who ruled between 1760 and 1803. The Nizam conferred on him the title of Shams-ul-umra, meaning the sun among the masses. Tegh Jung was buried in 1786 at the entrance of the complex, now known as Paiga tombs. An iron plaque at the entrance of the complex traces the Paigah lineage and eulogises the marble magnificence of the mausoleums. The Paigahs were also great patrons of arts, literature and sports and commanded the respect of the rulers and the people.

The delicately carved mausoleums, enclosed in pierced marble facades, commemorate generations of Paigah nobles and are regarded as the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture, imbibimg at the same time features of the Asaf Jah and Rajputani styles. A majestic and stately gateway, a double storeyed structure, heralds the tourist’s journey of the mausoleum complex. Above the cornices of the building rise imposingly bulbous turrets embodying sculptural grace and gaiety.

Only classical poetry can do justice to the breathtakingly beautiful structures of the Paigah mausoleums, some of which have elaborate canopies which again rivet the tourist’s attention to the dazzling craftsmanship they embody. Outstanding among them is the canopy of the tomb of the Amir-e-Kabir. Some of the tombs have a rectangular marble fence done in trellis-work made up of a variety of geometrical and floral designs. Each of the four flanks forming the rectangular fence has different motifs. The canopy is supported by pillars which recall images of Hindu temple pillars.

Between the entabulature supporting the canopy and the pillars are several arches fringed again by smaller semicircular arches, a feature unique to Indian arches. The tourist can also find an ostrich egg suspended over Amir-e-Kabir’s tomb, a sign believed to be associated with royalty. On the sides of the tombs are inscriptions in Arabic, likely to be excerpts from Islamic scriptures. The architecture of all the tombs is rich in flowerage and foliage motifs, characteristic of Mughal architecture.

Another tomb which has a magnetic impact on the tourist is that of Sir Asman Jah, on which the sculptor has mounted intricately etched semi-precious stone imported from Italy. The stone is presumed to change colours according to the vagaries of seasons, green when it rains, white in winter and yellow in the sun. Its green resembles jade. The tombs manifest a stunning fusion of Turkish, Greek, Islamic and Rajaputana schools of architecture. The primacy given to detail and embellishment is striking to the extreme.

A series of courtyards houses these tombs enclosed by walls sporting a wealth of lattice work and exotic designs, floral and geometric. Competing with each other to catch the eye of the tourist are geometrical designs done in stucco work on the entrances, the great rosewood doors enriched by intricate lattice work and the details on the tombs. Each wall has different designs in carved marble, some resembling pineapples, drums and serpents, not to mention arched alcoves. Several of the walls flaunt designs of flower vases out of which emerge a variety of flowers.

Another feast for the tourists’ eyes is Begum Khurshid Jah’s tomb, done in marble and inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones, several of them gouged by vandals. Set against the milk-white of the marble, the stones shine in blue, green, yellow and orange. Knowledgeable people compare this tom to the tomb of Shah Jehan in Taj Mahal. It is surprising how these superb treasures remained undiscovered till recently.

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