Indian history is long and full of diverse pageants. Many kings and emperors, conquerors and adventurers, tyrants and despots, dictators and duces have strutted across its stage and then passed into oblivion. Our history has largely been a narration of their achievements and failures, a record of their crusades and enterprises, a catalogue of their passions and prejudices, a tale of their pride, cruelty, eccentricities and ambition.
On a different plane, there have been poets and writers, artists and sculptors, teachers and thinkers, saints and scholars, educators and reformers-people who eschewed power as such and pursued virtue and made a far more valuable contribution to the social and cultural history of the land.
The paths of these two sets of people seldom crossed. Yet, together they interwove a tapestry unique in its pattern and colour scheme.
There was yet another band-a very small number-of people who defied either category. Their versatile personalities transcended the two boundaries.
Those names stand out. Asoka, Akbar, Nehru-to name just a few. Even when history of kings and wielders of political power is cleansed of warmongering, conquest-making, cruelty-inflicting tyrants, those names will remain. They sought glory in fulfilling a larger destiny. They had visions of a happier, lasting future for the vast masses. They struggled to impart a meaning to the mystery of life as it is lived by the common man.
There were some others also, like them elsewhere in the country, not projected on the national screen but at the regional level. Their names too endure.
One such man was Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah who ruled over that part of the Deccan which broadly constitutes the State of Andhra Pradesh today. He lived from 1565 to 1611 and ruled over the kingdom of Golconda for 31 years out of a life span of 46.
After the passage of nearly 400 years, his name is still enshrined in the hearts of the people today. They remember him with affection. They pay homage to him every year by celebrating his birthday. This book is an essay on him; it is an inquiry into the reasons for the abiding popularity of this versatile person. He did not have a mission. He lived life in its fulness as is given only to a prince to do. He did not seek to wage wars. He fought only those battles which were thrust upon him. His conquests were of a different sort. He drank, made merry and wrote poetry. He fell in love with a commoner with an intensity and sincerity rare among princes. He founded the capital city of Hyderabad and built its architectural centrepiece, the Char Minar. He was a many-faceted personality, a prince, a lover, a poet, a builder. It was the sum of all these which made the man whose legend lives.
It is the story of this man that we are going to tell in the pages that follow. Why has his name survived so long? And is he relevant today? An earnest attempt has been made to answer such queries.
A word of caution. This is not a history of a king for scholars. It is a story by a layman for the millions. With the passage of four centuries, many facts have got blurred, over-laid with myths or even supplanted by legends. Partial observers, expedient contemporary chroniclers, biased historians, prejudiced commentators have all contributed their share to the haze of confusion. But there are enough data to set the record straight. So, while sticking to factual accuracy based on considerable research, we have avoided giving footnotes and references to authorities which detract from the flow of a running narrative. However, for those who may like to delve deeper into a particular aspect of the story or check some sources, a bibliography is given at the end.
The story has relevance today. I hope the relevance will be obvious as the story unfolds.
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