The British Residency vs King Kothi: A Tale of Two Palaces

  • bookmark icon

    BOOKMARK

Earlier this month, Hyderabad celebrated an event that highlighted a bitter irony. At a function celebrated with much fanfare, the former British Residency, a 216-year-old symbol of colonial aristocracy, was thrown open to the public after being restored to its former glory.

British Residency, Hyderabad
The imposing edifice of the British Residency boasts of massive Corinthian pillars 40-feet in height. Sprawled at either end near the entrance are two lions, paws extended, overlooking the marble stairs. The mansion is reminiscent of the White House in Washington DC | Author

The grand British Residency was officially handed back to the Osmania University College for Women, which has been using the premises since 1949, after it was restored. The sprawling Palladian villa stands in a garden near the Musi River in Hyderabad’s Old City. It is one of the Hyderabad’s few remaining large, open spaces with a dense green cover.

While ribbons were cut and speeches made, barely a kilometre away, a royal residence built in the 1880s, the King Kothi Palace, silently languished, a portion of it recently demolished allegedly by a builder.

King Kothi Palace, Hyderabad
The King Kothi palace bears a forlorn look today. It was the home of Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and last Nizam of Hyderabad (erstwhile princely state). He lived there till he passed away on February 24, 1967 | Author

King Kothi Palace, on the northern bank of the Musi River, was the official residence of the seventh and last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan. It was in the news recently, when reports emerged that it was being razed by a builder who had bought it from one of the trusts established by the last Nizam.

This is the tale of two residencies, one aristocratic and the other royal. It is a tale that demonstrates what can be achieved when citizens recognise the richness of our heritage and conserve it, and the tragic consequences when the guardians of our heritage look the other way.

The Hyderabad Residency

James Achilles Kirkpatrick | Wikimedia Commons

The Residency’s first occupant was Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick. He was the representative of the British East India Company, also known as the ‘British Resident’, to the court at Hyderabad, from 1797 to 1805. The main building, commissioned by Kirkpatrick in 1803, was built by Lt Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers.

“Kirkpatrick was the British-appointed ambassador to Hyderabad in the late 18th century, the head of British diplomacy in Hyderabad. Although he commissioned the building, its construction was financed by the Nizam,” says Shibghat Khan, founder of Deccan Archive, an organisation that documents Hyderabad’s history.

View of the British Residency in Hyderabad, a large mansion with a Corinthian portico that is guarded by a female sphinx statue and crowned with a pediment.
View of the British Residency in Hyderabad, a large mansion with a Corinthian portico that is guarded by a female sphinx statue and crowned with a pediment | Getty Museum Collection

The Residency’s imposing edifice boasts massive Corinthian pillars, each one 40 feet tall. At each end, near the entrance, are two lions, paws extended, overlooking 21 marble stairs. “They were not part of the original structure built by Kirkpatrick. Initially, the Residency was guarded by two female sphinx statues. However, they were later deemed inappropriate as these statues were bare-chested, so they were replaced by statue of two lions,” reveals Khan.

British Residency, Hyderabad in the 1900s
British Residency in the 1900s | Wikimedia Commons

A massive circular staircase inside the Residency building
A massive circular staircase inside the Residency building | Author

Among the wonders inside the Residency are chandeliers which, the story goes, were procured from the palace of King William IV. Inside are halls, the most impressive of which is the Durbar Hall, whose painted ceilings, inlaid wood parquet floors, and oval ballrooms flanked by large mirrors area sight to behold.

A magnificent Darbar Hall or the ballroom of the British Residency with its massive chandeliers and papier-mache ceiling panels. The panels with floral pattern and gilded beading had suffered damage and were part of the restoration process.
A magnificent Darbar Hall or the ballroom of the British Residency with its massive chandeliers and papier-mache ceiling panels. The panels with floral pattern and gilded beading had suffered damage and were part of the restoration process | Author

In his book, A Guide to Architecture in Hyderabad (2008), Omer Khalidi writes that the Residency “was conceived on a scale scarcely less ambitious than that of Blenheim, the birthplace of Churchill” (British Prime Minister Winston Churchill).

In 1948, the Residency was handed over to Osmania University. Over time, the structure deteriorated, till it was in such a state of decay that plaster began falling off the ceiling in chunks. It came to a point where, in the ’90s, classes of the women’s college were relocated to the former elephant stables behind the main building!

The Residency is now owned by the Telangana government, with the State Archaeology Department overseeing it.

Restoration Plan

British Residency today
British Residency today | Author

In 2002, the building finally drew some attention when the World Monuments Watch declared it an endangered site. The World Monuments Watch is an initiative of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based organisation that raises awareness of heritage places worldwide in need of protection. With the WMF’s support, the university trustees drew up a plan for the restoration of the building.

“The WMF began renovation in 2013 at a cost of Rs 17 crore. Now the building has got a new lease of life,” says Anuradha Reddy, convenor of the Hyderabad chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), and who was a student of the Koti Women’s College located on the palace premises.

Tales of the Old Residency

Kirkpatrick, the original occupant of the Residency, was an interesting man. He had arrived in India with high hopes, determined to make a name for himself. However, his personal life drew a lot of attention. He fell in love with a Hyderabadi noblewoman named Khairunnisa Begum and stirred a hornet’s nest by marrying her. The love story of Kirkpatrick and Khairunnisa is the focal point of historian William Dalrymple’s book, White Mughals (2002).

“Kirkpatrick even converted to Islam and adopted Mughal clothing and lifestyle. He was given the name Hashmat Jung by the Nizam,” says Khan. “Kirkpatrick designed a garden for Khairunnisa called Begum’s Garden. Rang Mahal, a separate palace, was also built for her, but it is currently in a poor state. Khairunnisa lived her entire life in strict purdah and used to live at Rang Mahal,” he adds.

During the Revolt of 1857, the British Residency came under attack. “Maulvi Allauddin, the imam of the Mecca Masjid, and Turrebaz Khan, a freedom fighter, spearheaded the charge. However, the attack failed. While Turrebaz Khan was caught and imprisoned, Maulvi Allauddin was sent to Kala Pani,” Khan says. “To safeguard the Residency after the Revolt, the British built a fortified wall and the massive Martello Towers. However, in the 1950s, the towers were demolished by the government, allegedly to improve traffic in the area.”

Mir Osman Ali Khan
Mir Osman Ali Khan | Wikimedia Commons

Till the British left India in 1947, the Residency was the seat of authority of British officers in Hyderabad. In September 1948, the building was taken over by the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, and handed over to Osmania University. The Osmania University College for Women, also known as Koti Women’s College, has been operating on the campus since 1949.

King Kothi: The Dispute

The King Kothi palace
The King Kothi palace | Author

Ironically, the story is quite the opposite for the King Kothi palace complex. A notified heritage structure, the former palace is now the subject of a civil dispute between Mumbai-based Neeharika Infrastructure and Kashmir-based Iris Hospitality.

A signboard outside one of the gates of King Kothi palace states that the property belongs to Neeharika Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, one of the companies claiming ownership of the property.
A signboard outside one of the gates of King Kothi palace states that the property belongs to Neeharika Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, one of the companies claiming ownership of the property | Author

On Twitter, Municipal Administration and Urban Development Secretary Arvind Kumar said, “The King Kothi palace is a notified heritage structure and can’t be altered, modified, demolished without prior permission from the GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation). It’s in civil dispute. All said owners are served notices not to alter, level or do anything. Police are asked to maintain vigil.”

Expressing concern over the fight for ownership of the King Kothi palace, Mir Osman Ali Khan’s great-grandson Himayat Ali Mirza has approached the courts, seeking a stay order on all construction and renovation on the premises.

He would also like to know what happened to the royal treasure that his great-grandfather is believed to have kept in his palace. “The seventh Nizam, my great-grandfather, was the richest man in the world. He used to keep all that was precious to him, including his jewellery, antiques, expensive furniture and rare documents, in a basement or a cellar in the palace,” says Mirza.

“There were even rumours that my great-grandfather had preserved priceless jewellery in King Kothi palace, before merging with the Indian government. The Archaeological Survey of India needs to conduct a thorough investigation of the estate. Occurrences of treasure being found are not uncommon in Hyderabad,” says Mirza.

Palace Complex: A Blueprint

Treasure or no treasure, the palace is an archaeological gem and there is no doubt that it can be restored and preserved.

The sprawling palace complex is divided into three buildings. The Nizam’s commercial and official engagements were held in the eastern sector, which housed the Osman Mansion. The main King Kothi building and the Nazri Bagh or Mubarak Mansion were located on the western side. The three combined to form the King Kothi Palace complex.

While King Kothi was converted into a hospital, Osman Mansion was demolished between 1985 and 1990 and replaced with another hospital building. Nazri Bagh has survived and it is this structure that is in the news now for being demolished.

King Kothi Palace
King Kothi Palace | Author

The King Kothi palace was built by Kamal Khan, a noble, in the 1880s for his personal use. When a young Mir Osman Ali Khan expressed an interest in acquiring it, his father, Mir Mahbub Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam, purchased it from Kamal Khan.

Following his accession to the throne in 1911, Mir Osman Ali Khan moved into the estate. It became his home, and he lived there until his death in 1967.

Mir Osman Ali Khan even changed the abbreviation ‘KK’, which originally stood for ‘Kamal Khan’ inscribed on the palace, to ‘King Kothi’. The initials ‘KK’ appeared on all the furniture, window panes, and other items.

Legend has it that Nazri Bagh was built on five acres gifted to him by two sisters who were always clad in white. Construction took place between 1907 and 1909. The King Kothi complex was the centre of all activities until September 1948, when Hyderabad merged with the Indian Union. Today, it is in limbo as the courts deliberate its fate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aveek Bhowmik is an independent journalist with 20 years’ experience. He is an avid traveller and passionate storyteller, who likes to write about heritage, lost traditions and local communities.


If you enjoyed this article, you will love LHI Circle - your Digital Gateway to the Best of India's history and heritage. You can enjoy our virtual tours to the must-see sites across India, meet leading historians and best-selling authors, and enjoy tours of the top museums across the world. Join LHI Circle here