Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gateway to history

The calm of this stately gateway is a stark contrast to the bustle at the neighbouring Zam Bazar. There was a time when shehnai artistes would sit in the shade of the gateway, their music lifting the spirits of evening shoppers. Those days are long gone, but music still remains a passion for the residents inside this complex, the Amir Mahal.

At their head is the current Amir-e-Arcot, HH Mohammad Abdul Ali, who is the eighth Prince of Arcot. The first Prince, HH Azim Jah Bahadur, was granted the title in 1868 by Queen Victoria. That was to compensate, in some measure, for the vast properties seized by the British after the last Nawab of Carnatic, Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan, died heirless in 1855. Out of the chaos surrounding the British governement enforcing the 'Doctrine of Lapse', Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse's uncle, who had served as his regent, was created the first Prince of Arcot. Part of that deal was that the family would move from Khalsa (or was it Kalas?) Mahal, where the Nawab's family continued to stay even after it had been taken over in 1859.

Amir Mahal was over 70 years old even at that time and needed a fair amount of renovation. The Royapettah Police Court, which was then functioning in the premises was moved out, and several repairs and modifications made to the buildings before the formal investiture of the title "Prince of Arcot" was made on April 12, 1871. The first Prince, though, never lived at the Amir Mahal - he requested that he be allowed to continue living at Shadi Mahal and so the first occupant was Sir Zahir ud-Daula, who succeeded to the title after his father's death in 1874!

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