The mystery embedded in the structures design and architecture to depict the historical evidence of Charminar. The architects of the structure were intelligent to show the secrets to get decoded in all eras. Let’s find the answers from the hidden images of Charminar which is gaining momentum over historical evidences.
The most proportionate and balanced monument built by the Qutb Shahis in the late sixteenth century, the Charminar, is beautifully embellished both from the outside and the inside. Like all Qutb Shahi structures, it is built in stone and strong lime plaster with mind boggling floral and geometric patterns in stucco and truly enjoys the status of being a master piece.
The imagery of animal and bird figurines in stucco that seamlessly blend with the floral designs on the monument have not yet received analytical attention. It is the relationship of these figurines with a monument that has pronounced Shiite symbols that we will try to understand here.
The uppermost Storey where a mosque was located facing the West has finely geometrically decorated latticed arches on all sides of the open verandah with a canopy for a muezzin to give the azaan or prayer call. Delicate plaster work of floral and creeper designs generally used in Islamic architectural decorations are seen on the first and second floors. These designs in stucco also include those of the parrot, peacock, pigeon, squirrel, griffin and cat found in the Charminar.
An interesting article by Khalid Sindawi The Role of Birds in Shiite Thought discusses the belief that in Shiism, Allah utilized birds to help the Shia Imams and the Shiite community: “There are birds which have on their wings an inscription saying that people of Prophet Muḥammad’s family are the best people; there are birds who know of God’s love for the Shiites and their imams; birds who cry when an imam is killed and express their mourning; birds who announced the martyrdom of the imams in the battle of Karbala and birds who pray for the welfare of the Prophet’s family.”
These stories identify birds of different kinds with Shiism. If this logic is applied to the Charminar to understand the presence of the parrot, peacock, and pigeon in stray stucco decorations without adhering to any uniform design, then these birds appear as symbols closely associated with Shiite beliefs that Khalid Sindawi and many others talk about.
While hardly any book carries photographs of the stucco reliefs of the birds and animals depicted on the Charminar, it is only Dr. M A Qaiyum’s book Charminar in Replica of Paradise that contains the close up photographs of the parrot, peacock, and pigeon in a flower vase that are there on the Charminar. A monument like Charminar which is based on the concept of geometry, uniformity or symmetry surprisingly does not have these birds replicated in more than one place in the stucco designs.
Now coming to the animal figurines of the squirrel, and the griffin on the Charminar, medieval art and architecture and various designs used in the Coats of Arms have always shown a fascination for animals and reflect the belief that God made the creatures of the Earth as symbols of a divine plan. The squirrel like the peacock, parrot and pigeon is found in a singular digit on the Charminar.
But the griffin known as a fantastic beast sporting the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle is found at eight places in the tughra in the shape of an alam on the first floor circular balcony of the Charminar that reads in the name of Allah, Muhammad and Ya Ali inscribed in Arabic. It is believed that the three blades of the alam represent Hazrat Imam Hussain.
The griffin is not just an artisan’s imagination depicting creatures of the unknown, in Shiism the griffin is known as the Shirdal. Janab Murtuza Moosvi, the mujawar of the Badshahi ashurkhana is of the view that the Shirdal is a creature from the Iranian mythology and was considered to be the king of all creatures and the guardian of priceless possessions and treasures during the ancient period.
It should be noted that in medieval times the symbols of the fantastic beasts were often incorporated into family heraldry. Keeping up with this tradition, in the case of the Charminar, there is every possibility that the Shirdal represented the Ahl-e-Bayt in public space.
Very curious is the image of just one cat’s face as a design on a pinnacle of an interior arch in the Charminar. The cat’s head is said to be a symbol of the monument’s identity as illustrated in a drawing by Khwaja Owais Qarni in his book Sketches of Hyderabad. According to medieval bestiary, the cat is swift, pliant, and merry, and leaps on everything. The cat is considered a nocturnal animal that can see in the dark and has the reputation for being an excellent hunter. The cat does not fit into the matrix of Shiite symbols on the Charminar and its presence there is yet to be deciphered.
Thus, the animals and birds depicted on the Charminar denote religious symbols of Shiite Islam and form an essential aspect of the complicated and mysterious decorations in rare combinations used in the stucco work of the Charminar.
(About the author: Prof Salma Ahmed Farooqui is working as director of H K Sherwani Centre for Deccan Studies, Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad. She is the author of A Comprehensive History of Medieval India and several other books.)