During the rule of Qutub Shahi sultans, when Golconda’s fortunes shone brilliantly, a severe drought ravaged the countryside. People were dying “like flies” in the kingdom. Children were being sold for a handful of grains. An orphanage was then set up by the queen to take care of such girls. One of the girls, “nanni sawli” was very beautiful and intelligent and a great favourite of the queen. One day the prince – the heir apparent spotted the girl while she was taking a bath and promptly fell in love. Their love flourished and the two decided to flee to the neighbouring kingdom of Bijapur on the birthday of the king. However, on the same night the girl committed suicide, leaving behind a note that said she was not fit to be his queen. “But in my memory do construct a place where ladies can take bath, avoiding the eyes of men,” she implored the prince in her note. True to his love, when the prince did ascend the throne he built Goshamahal Baradari in her memory.
Well, this is a legend. Similar romantic legends abound the heritage monuments of Hyderabad which owed its name to Bhagmati – the beautiful heartthrob of the fifth sultan of Golconda, Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah. When he eventually married her she was bestowed with the title, Hyder Mahal and the city of Bhagyanagar came to be known as Hyderabad. The City of Pearls indeed had many architectural gems; some which have been lost over time or simply demolished to make way for roads or new buildings while others are in ruins. Only a handful of the monuments stand with the same grandeur and dignity, befitting their age. And Goshamahal Baradari is one of them – the oldest building in the country to be used as a Masonic temple. As the only surviving example of palace architecture of the Qutub Shahi period the 333-year-old Baradari assumes significance along with other two leitmotifs of Hyderabad – Charminar and Golconda Fort.
Gosha means “veiled” or “secluded,” and thus gives some credence to the legend of the prince and his love. True to its name, it has lived a veiled existence, away from public eye, as a meeting place for the members of Freemasonry for more than a century. However, according to some accounts the name may have been derived from the village, “Gosha” where the palace complex had come up.
Located about a mile north of the city Goshamahal was the most imposing structure among the 20 beautiful palaces constructed by the Qutub Shahi sultans in Hyderabad. It had a large cistern and pleasure grounds for the zenana. It comprised over 100 halls. Work on this vast palace complex is said to have commenced during the reign of Abdullah Qutub Shah but was completed in 1682 towards the end of the rule of his son-in-law and the last Qutub Shahi sultan, Abul Hasan Tana Shah.
The palace was built on the northern side of the huge complex. The gigantic rectangular cistern, spread over more than 38 acres, is said to have been fed by pipes and underground channels carrying water from the Hussain Sagar. The palace at Goshamahal was linked with the citadel at Golconda – the seat of the Qutub Shahi kings by an underground tunnel.
Unfortunately, all traces of this magnificent palace complex were obliterated by the ravages of time. The tank too dried up. Instead, shops of pawn brokers, other commercial establishments, police training schools and a stadium have mushroomed on the surrounding land giving a shabby appearance to this old neighbourhood of the city which retains the name, Goshamahal.
The Ghoshamal Baradari is the only building of the palace complex to survive the onslaught of time – a mute witness to the fall of the Qutub Shahi sultans, the occupation by Mughals and the establishment of the rule of Asaf Jahis or Nizams who were originally the subedars of the Mughal rulers but grew powerful as the empire tottered and the English and the French who schemed to establish their control over the weak Nizam.
The baradari, (a structure with 12 doors) is actually a finely proportioned guest house. During the long siege laid by the Mughals eventually leading to the fall of Golconda Fort Goshamahal Baradari was occupied by Prince Shah Alam, son of Aurangzeb. After a wait of eight long months the Mughal forces could enter Golconda, only because of the treachery committed by a commander of Tana Shah, the last king.
After the fall of the Qutub Shahi dynasty the Baradari served as the imperial headquarters for another two years. Subsequently, it fell to baser use as a mess for Nizam’s army. The troops of the French commander, Mons De Bussy, whose small but effective army was stationed in Hyderabad around 1750 to protect the then Nizam Salabat Jung had also occupied the gardens of Goshamahal which were walled and therefore offered protection to the garrison. From the descriptions recorded in “The unpublished diary of a French officer in Bussy’s army, Hyderabad and Golconda” the neighbourhood of Goshamahal is easily identifiable. In neglect, the Baradari’s “beautiful frontage was masked by an unsightly erection and the arches in the interior were blocked up so that it could serve the purpose of a military store.” Trees and plants grew in the crevices of the walls and roof and the building fell into great decay.
Towards the close of 19th century a part of the structure was rented out to the Freemasons of Lodge Moreland. Freemasonry came to Hyderabad in the first decade of 19th Century with the arrival of the regiments. The first record of Freemasonry in Hyderabad dates back to 1806. Meanwhile, one of the Freemasonry units, Lodge Morland had constructed a building at Fateh Maidan (named so after Aurangzeb celebrated his victory there on the fall of Golconda) and three other Lodges were using it. The Hyderabad Army requested the building committee to rent out the building at Fateh Maidan for its use as a mess for the troops at the monthly rent of Rs 100.
Agreeing to this arrangement Lodge Morland shifted to Goshamahal in 1898. Then two other Lodges, Hyderabad and Deccan followed suit. In the meantime Freemasons had received a donation of Rs 10,000 from Nizam VII, when he ascended the throne in 1912 for constructing their own building and the Masons of the three Lodges had collected a sum of Rs 60,000. By 1831 the Fraternity was able to convince the Nizam to handover the building to them for the practice of their Craft. Terrence Keyes, the then resident of Hyderabad and a Freemason himself singularly played a role in getting the petition granted. The Masons spent around Rs 2 lakhs to renovate the building.
The original plans were drawn up by architects, Nawab Zain Yar Jung and Syed Ali Raza. The unsightly additions to the exterior of the building and the mud-brick partitions inside were cleared away; the roof and walls were repaired, the whole building floored and an internal stairway was constructed. It was further beautified by the filling of the three great arches of the facade with tracery and doors. This tracery and the doors were inspired by the “incomparable” work of the tomb of Salim Chisti at Fathepur Sikri. They added great beauty to the splendid simplicity of the design, and completed the Masonic symbolism of the historic palace by putting up a ‘blazing star’ at the centre. All the work of restoration and adaptation were done under the supervision of Meher Ali Fazil, superintending engineer of the City Improvement Board and ably assisted by Chandulal Dangoria, the assistant architect, both of whom were members of the Freemasonry.
In the past chronograms were issued during the opening of new and important buildings. A chronogram is a sentence or inscription in which specific letters, interpreted as numerals, stand for a particular date when rearranged. Even the great Charminar had one issued during its opening. But Goshamahal Baradari surpassed it by having two chronograms issued – once during the rule of Abul Hasan Tana Shah when its construction was completed and the other during 1933 when the Nizam handed over the building to Freemasonry.
In his speech on the occasion of handing over the property the Nizam observed: “The entire world knows that Freemasons are a charitable brotherhood, but it comes as a surprise to me at least to find that you have so much architectural talent, sense of beauty and appreciation of history among you.”
The Nizam’s observation was apt since Freemasonry’s connection with architecture dates back to antiquity. Medieval stonemasons were called “freemasons” since they were not bound to a guild in any specific city but were forced to wander from place to place where churches were erected. It was through this that the movement acquired the character of an international society. So, it is apt that a building with such beautiful architecture would be home to Freemasons and house the Masonic Temple.
The double-storeyed structure displays the typical features of Qutub Shahi architecture. The pointed Qutub Shahi arches are enframed by multi-cusped arches in the interiors. The exteriors are dominated by intricate jaalis designed for the arched and rectangular openings. A part of the structure facing the road side has shops on the ground floor while the main entrance is used by the masons to access their Masonic Temple.
Crossing the courtyard as you walk up a short flight of stairs you are amazed by the sheer beauty of the tracery filling up the three arches. Inside, two smaller halls, bound by arches and fused by pillars lead you to a four- way beautiful staircase – an addition made during the Nizam’s era. The ornamental balustrade adds to the beauty of the imposing interiors. As you climb up the stairs Mir Osman Ali Khan, Nizam VII beams condescendingly at you from a huge portrait. The painting was actually a gift from the Nizam himself. On the diagonally opposite wall is a portrait of Terrence Keyes, resident of Hyderabad who was instrumental in convincing the Nizam to grant their petition. Other portraits adorning the walls include Sir Salar Jung, the premier of Hyderabad, Maharajah Kishen Pershad and other nobles who were also Freemasons. The staircase opens into the huge banquet hall which once served as a Durbar Hall of the Mughals. Today you will find long rows of chairs bearing the masonic symbol of square and the compass used during a banquet. On the left there is a huge terrace, with a narrow flight of stairs leading to the roof.
On the other end after a few rooms used for a variety of purpose one finds his way to the Masonic Temple with a heavy wooden door and a mallet to observe the various rites of the fraternity. A glass closet outside the temple displays the different jewels, worn by the masons according to their rank. A total of nine Lodges use this temple for their meetings under the veil of secrecy maintained by the brotherhood. A section of the temple has beautiful inlay work done in black and ivory, indicating its past connection with royalty. Perhaps it was an inner council chamber during Mughal occupation. The sun, moon, stars, chequered black and white floor, chairs of different size and shape but bearing the masonic symbol – they do fire up your imagination as you visualize the freemasons in their full regalia and carrying out their rites in sombre voices.
As I walk back I wonder what is that which makes Goshamahal, a three-century-old edifice so alive. And then it dawned upon me. To borrow words from a recent film, after a point of time buildings, just like men, cannot live on their own and they have to be adored, nurtured and taken care of. And because it is lived in, the damp of its walls is dispelled by the warmth of human touch, the musty odours are dissipated by human breath; loved and cared for, Goshamahal Baradari is today actually living history.