1 May 2015

Charminar’s Charm in Hyderabad

I was – intellectually – fooled. But what happened? Let’s go back in time.

In the 16th century, the Qutub Shahi dynasty ruled over the kingdom of Golconda in southern India. They – or their architects and countless numbers of workers, rather – left impressive mausoleums now left mostly unattended in a peaceful setting. But before dying their sometimes brutal death (parricide anyone?!), they also founded cities, like the one of Hyderabad in 1591. Charminar, literally meaning the “four towers” in Urdu, was built soon after, right at the centre and was to become the most recognised and iconic landmark of Hyderabad.

One of the floors of Charminar

It wasn’t initially obvious to me what Charminar represented. With its four grand arches, it gave the impression of a 20-metre wide square fort guarding the entrance of the city. Was each tower a mirador watching the surroundings? The clock was also a confusing element, an almost anachronistic one in fact, since minute-accurate clocks were just getting invented in Europe at the time – and indeed was the clock added to Charminar only at the end of the 19th century.

Charminar’s clock
View towards the inside of Charminar
View of a ceiling

They were no towers: they are 56-metre high minarets crowned by bulbous domes. And you probably guessed it by now, Charminar is actually a mosque, although the praying area was initially well hidden at the western end of the open roof, while the other part of the roof served as a court.

56-metre high minaret
Pigeons making Charminar their home

Of course, I wouldn’t have been fooled if I had known that the monument had been built to commemorate the beginning of the second Islamic millennium year. But here’s the treacherous trickery: Muhammad migrated to Medina in 622, an event known as Hijra, marking the beginning of the Islamic calendar… a calendar which year consists of lunar months, that is 354 days and not 365. So the year 1591 in our Gregorian calendar is indeed a thousand lunar years after the year 622. Argh, somebody help me!

Keep smiling but keep moving too please!

Stuck between hordes of terribly slow families, I took the 149 winding steps up to the upper floor. I calmed my impatience by admiring the stucco decorations all around the balustrades and balconies, as well as the decisively Indo-Persian architecture of the arches of the granite structure.

An Indian family

I then decided to take “revenge”. Since I’m habitually shy, not always daring to take portraits, I planted myself at the intersection of one of the minaret’s inside arches and clicked away anyone who would pass, no permission asked. But then, as the only European around, I didn’t get unnoticed for long... and was instead asked to take pictures of those very same families, hahaha!

PS 1: the answer is 5433.

PS 2: oh, what was the question, you ask? Simply the (Gregorian) sum of all the numbers in this post. I gave a lot of them, I thought it was pretty obvious. I’m a freak.

Bustling activity under Charminar