The Paigahs & Pietra Dura

The enthusiasm to navigate a labyrinth of lanes in the scorching 40-degree summer heat, was only to explore a cluster of the forgotten tombs belonging to the influential Paigah family.

The Paigahs was very close to the Nizams of Hyderabad and were important decision makers and advisors to the royal court. They were held in high esteem and were powerful enough to have their own armies, palaces and even a private burial site.

As I struggled to navigate Google maps, the auto driver rolled his eyes with misgiving. Tucked into a quiet locality of old Hyderabad, the tombs are undeniably a well-kept secret.

A crumbling entrance opens to an outstretched courtyard.

A dargah (shrine) stands to my left its reflection shimmering in the ablution pool. The tombs face the dargah, running across the length of the property. 

Bird songs pierce the stillness and dry leaves rustle in the hot air.

Dust is a guest that has overstayed their welcome. Its presence seen in every crevice of the old limestone structures. Sunlight streams through the filigree work in the Burma teak doors.

Rehmat chacha silently appears in the midst of the snaking heat waves that rise from the floor.  

He welcomes me and is happy to have a visitor for the day. Chacha is old and weathered, just like the tombs he has been caring for. He has an immense knowledge of the history of the place and its dwellers. For him this is a sacred sanctuary. 

If you spend a couple of hours here chacha will let you in on some fascinating facts and trivia about the lesser known but prominent Paigah family and its forgotten tombs.

The family of the Nizams are buried in the gardens of Qutub Shahi Read Here , while the final resting place of the Paigah family is a few kms away.

The Qutub Shahi tombs are architecturally monumental and minimalistic. They are spread across acres of green gardens.

The Paigahs picked a smaller site in comparison.

However, the tombs are adorned with the finest intricate carvings done on limestone. Some tombs were lavishly inlayed with the most precious stones and jade. A testament to the family’s power and importance.

The arching passages lead to the tombs, which are possibly sectioned as per rank or family.

As my lens zoomed in on getting the best shots, chacha looked keenly at my camera and wished to hold it. He had been a photographer himself in his younger days and shared his experiences to me.

As we walked around, chacha explained the detailing and carvings seen on the limestone shelters encompassing the tombs.  

Every burial section has wooden doors made of Burma teak, limestone pillars, jali windows and ceilings which open to a blue canopy of the sky.

The tombs are encased in marble with carving patterns unique for each family member. The designs and carvings in each section from the doors to the ceiling are also unique and not repeated in the other sections.

Some of the marble tombstones belonging to close family members were inlayed with semi-precious stones, lost today.

A jade ornamentation with the most stunning detailing gives a glimpse of the extravagance and respect bestowed upon the dead.

The family ensured that their near ones are laid to rest surrounded in opulence, a timeless practice followed world over from the Egyptians to the Mughals in India.

Chacha wanted me to stay for some more time. Unfortunately, this was a quick stopover as I had a flight to catch.

A visit to this underrated architectural and historical place, should be slowly savored and experienced. It should not be done in a rush like me.

For photographers, as you know, golden hour (5pm to 6pm) is the best time to visit when the sun filters through the limestone lattices and does its magic. Unfortunately, the visiting hours are from 9am to 5pm, so it is best to plan your visit.

The place could be closed on Fridays, so best to skip that day of the week.

My reflection from the visit to the tombs –

Pietra dura meaning inlay is an ornamental art similar to the mosaic works.

Known as Parchin Kari, in India, colored stones or semi-precious stones are cut into a predesigned shape and stuck into marble.

The Paigah family were like Pietra Dura to the Nizams, precious stones inlayed in marble.

How to travel –

The Paigah tombs are located approx. 20 mins away from the iconic Charminar, in the old city of Hyderabad.

Hire a cab / auto for the visit and back, as you may not find transport for the return.

If Google maps is confused, ask around for directions.

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