Charminar: The Pride of Hyderabad

Charminar, literally translated as ‘four minarets’, is one of the most important legacies of the Qutub Shahi dynasty. Built in the Indo-Islamic style, this monument holds immense historical significance and is hailed as the architectural icon of Hyderabad.

Charminar is named the Arc de Triomphe of the East for its brilliant architectural style. Image Source: Mesmerizing India

Charminar is an undeniably important part of Hyderabad’s rich history. It was built by Sultan Quli Qutub Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, who is also credited with the foundation of Old Hyderabad. The monument is called Charminar because it has four (char) towers (minar) facing the cardinal directions. It was built right at the intersection of the historical trade route connecting Golconda to international markets through the port city, Masulipatnam. Its strategic location places it at the heart of what now constitutes the Old Hyderabad city.

Historically, there has been no consensus on why the Charminar was constructed. All we have are myths and conjectures.

The most popular myth regarding the origin of Charminar is that the sultan ordered its construction following the end of a terrible plague. The Sultan had apparently prayed for the plague to end and had decided to offer his gratitude to the gods in the form of a mosque.

According to another version, the Charminar was built at the exact spot where Qutub Shah first met his wife, Baghmati. Yet another legend, put forward by the French traveler Jean de Thevenot and corroborated by some Persian texts, argues the building of the monument in 1591  coincided with the beginning of the second Islamic millennium, 1000 AH.

None of these stories have been fully accepted by historians as the authentic one. However, this has hardly affected the importance of this historical monument. The fine architectural elements, the details and the ornamentation make it a sight to behold.

The designer of this monument is Mir Momin Astrawadi, an Iranian architect. The architecture of Charminar strongly resembles the Shia Tazia or the mausoleums, which are built in the memory of Hussain, the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad who was martyred at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. The most prominent aspects of the Charminar are of course the four minarets, from which the monument derives its name. These minarets are built according to the four cardinal directions. Some say that the sultan dedicated them to the first four caliphs of Islam who succeeded Muhammad.

These four minarets are believed to be exactly 20 meters apart on each side and are connected by grand arches, profuse with balustrades and stucco decorations. At the time when it was built, the arches were aligned in a way that gave a view of all four corners of Hyderabad.

Following the completion of the Charminar, the nizam built the Char Kaman in 1592. These are four lofty arches located some 75 meters to the north of Charminar. In present times, the Char Kaman faces a serious threat of neglect and decay.

Over the years, many other historical structures came up around the Charminar, which enhanced the importance of the site. The Makkah Masjid, for instance, was added to the Charminar complex. It is believed that the bricks of the mosque were made from the soil bought from Mecca.

Nearly three centuries later, in 1889, during the reign of the sixth nizam of the princely state of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, four clocks in the middle of each arch were added. It is believed that these clocks were brought from London. After the end of princely rule in Hyderabad in 1948, the clocks on this monument fell prey to neglect and stopped ticking. It was in the 1960s, that a clockmaker, Rasool Khan of the Wahid Watch Co, took on the responsibility of maintaining these clocks. To this date, the responsibility of keeping the clocks ticking lies with Rasool Khan’s family.

The entire complex today stands at the centre of bazaars like the Laad Bazaar and Pathar Gatti, and busy roads, attract the gazes of passersby and tourists alike. The Charminar complex to date remains one of the finest architectural productions of Islamic rule in the Deccan region.


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