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Bhagyanagar & Bhagyalakshmi — a 16th-century tale that’s found focus in Hyderabad’s 2020 poll

The lore surrounding Bhagyanagar and Bhagyalakshmi temple — which emerged as campaign pitches in the GHMC poll — dates back to the century Hyderabad was founded.

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Hyderabad: During the campaign for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, which took place Tuesday, an unverified, widely-questioned chapter of the city’s history came up again as the BJP promised to rechristen it as ‘Bhagyanagar’, which the party claims is Hyderabad’s original name. 

Much symbolism was also attached to the visits made by BJP leaders — including Union Home Minister Amit Shah — to the ‘Bhagyalakshmi temple’, which abuts the 16th-century Char Minar but is itself of uncertain vintage.

The lore surrounding both Bhagyanagar and the Bhagyalakshmi temple dates back to the century Hyderabad was founded. However, they occupy a realm between folklore and history, and historians are split about their exact space in Hyderabad’s story.

The claim of Hyderabad once being known as ‘Bhagyanagar’ stems from the love Hyderabad founder and ruler Quli Qutub Shah is believed to have had for a dancer named Bhagamati. It is said that he named the city he founded after Bhagmati. The name Hyderabad, it is said, emerged when Bhagmati married the king and took on the name ‘Hyder Mahal’ after converting to Islam.

The temple, meanwhile, has been flagged as an unauthorised construction by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for decades.

While historians note the lack of conclusive evidence to prove the claims surrounding both Bhagyanagar and the Bhagyalakshmi temple, they point out that Hyderabad is a melting pot that brooks no one label. 

Analysts say the BJP’s bid to make the two a part of its campaign is a clear attempt to polarise the electorate, adding that the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) of Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi is guilty of communalising the campaign as well.

Also Read: Yogi is wrong. There’s not a shred of evidence to prove Hyderabad was called Bhagyanagar

Historians speak

Asked about the Bhagyanagar theory, historian and author Narendra Luther told ThePrint for a 2018 report that there is documental evidence to prove “she existed”. The lore of Bhagmati, he added, has been chronicled by several visitors, specifically three European travellers — Thevenot De Vernier, Manucci and Methwold — who, he says, wrote extensively about the danseuse. 

Others say there is no conclusive evidence of Bhagmati’s existence and Hyderabad was never called Bhagyanagar.

“There is no conclusive evidence of her — there is no grave, many historical records do not have any mention of her. For instance, the graves of two other courtesans Premmati and Taramati are there in the necropolis of Qutubshahi tombs,” said Prof Salma Ahmed Farooqui of the Centre for Deccan Studies at the Hyderabad-based Maulana Azad National Urdu University.

Even so, Bhagmati cannot be dismissed as a “figment of imagination”, she added, pointing out that several French traveller accounts and Mughal records have mentioned her.

The Bhagyalakshmi temple is a small shrine in the Old City area, which is the bastion of the AIMIM.

The temple has been stuck in controversy for decades due to a land dispute. The ASI has termed the temple unauthorised, and has reportedly been sending letters to the local administration since 1960 to remove it.

There is also much uncertainly about when exactly the temple was built. While many Hindu groups argue that the temple is as old as the Charminar, several researchers discount the claim. 

“If we look at old pictures dating back six decades — there is no temple in the picture. Also, there is no link to Bhagyalakshmi temple and Hyderabad being claimed as Bhagyanagar,” a historian who didn’t wish to be named said.

Also Read: Why Hyderabad’s municipal polls are key to decoding BJP’s approach to politics

‘A composite culture’

When BJP MP Tejasvi Surya visited Hyderabad as part of the GHMC campaign, he addressed the city as Bhagyanagar in all of his speeches.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who was in the city Saturday, said renaming Hyderabad was a demand of the people.  

“Some people were asking me if Hyderabad can be renamed Bhagyanagar. I said, ‘Why not?’ I told them that we renamed Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj after the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh?” Adityanath said at his road show in the city.

He had made the same claim in 2018 as he hit the campaign trail in Telangana ahead of the assembly elections.

The remarks led to a face-off between the BJP and the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the AIMIM. 

“What is the point of changing the name? It does not make any difference if you change name or do any better. Allahabad became Prayagraj, Faizabad became Ayodhya — how did it help them?” said TRS leader and Municipal Administration Minister K.T. Rama Rao, adding that Adityanath should look at his own state “before giving sermons to others”.

“What happened in Hathras?” he said, referring to the alleged rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman in September. “UP is the worst state in maintaining law and order in the entire country and Yogi is lecturing us here. We have a better government here, don’t need to learn it from Yogi.”

Owaisi, meanwhile, made the BJP’s demand a part of his poll pitch, telling the voters to choose the AIMIM if they do not want Hyderabad to be renamed.

“Your entire generation will end but Hyderabad’s name will remain Hyderabad, the elections are between Hyderabad and Bhagyanagar, and if you want Hyderabad not to be renamed then vote for Majlis,” Owaisi said in a campaign address Saturday following Yogi’s rally.

The BJP insists “Bhagyanagar was the original name of Hyderabad”. “So, we want to change it back. What’s wrong in that? Everywhere, they’re going back to their old names. Why should there be a specific reason for wanting to change a city’s name back to its original?” BJP leader Vivek Venkat Swamy told ThePrint.

The Bhagyalakshmi temple came under the election spotlight following a face-off between the TRS and the BJP earlier this month. Last week, the State Election Commission (SEC) stopped the Telangana government’s Rs 10,000 aid for each household affected by the October floods, citing the model code of conduct. 

The TRS blamed the move on an alleged letter written by Telangana BJP chief Bandi Sanjay to the SEC. Sanjay denied the allegation and challenged Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to make the allegation on oath at the Bhagyalakshmi temple. Then, he himself visited the temple with hundreds of followers to defend himself under oath.

Police security was beefed up ahead of Sanjay’s visit to the temple in the communally sensitive area, and his supporters carried out bike rallies at the time of his visit.

It’s from the same temple that Shah started his campaign Sunday. Four days ago, on Thursday, Prime Minister Modi’s brother Prahlad Modi also visited the temple. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat visited the temple last year, before addressing a gathering nearby.

Asked about the BJP’s campaign, analysts said it reeked of a polarisation bid, adding that the AIMIM is equally guilty. 

“Several times, BJP’s state president Bandi Sanjay has addressed the city as Bhagyanagar in his rallies… the party is using it as a symbol. The BJP has been using ‘Hindu names’ for all the Muslim names (of cities etc) and has been doing politics with it,” said senior political analyst Nageshwar Rao.

“But, neither is Hyderabad a Muslim name nor Bhagyanagar a Hindu name. So, they are trying to gain a particular community’s vote by painting a communal colour to the names of the city.”

He said there was “nothing wrong in Shah visiting the temple as long as it does not raise political temperatures”. “But, is that not happening? Is there no discussion over Shah’s visit to the same temple especially after the local BJP president made it an issue?” Rao added.

The AIMIM is carrying out the BJP’s agenda, he said, adding that both parties are trying to gain their community’s votes by showing the other party in a bad light.

“What Owaisi must first tell his voters before this ‘Bhagyanagar vs Hyderabad’ pitch is, what did his party MLAs and MP do for their constituencies in Old City? Did they manage to give drinking water, provide skill development to Muslim youth, better roads, or housing? Instead, the focus is on gaining votes via religion,” Rao added.

According to Prof Salma Ahmed Farooqui, Hyderabad has had a history of a “composite culture” and was an embodiment of “pluralism”.

“This whole place had quintessential Deccani culture. There was no religion, race or any kind of discrimination. There is evidence of Persians, Turks, Arabs, and Africans settling down here. And, it also has the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb,” she said.

Also Read: Behind BJP’s grand Hyderabad campaign is a 2017 plan by Amit Shah


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