The Seventh Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan was acknowledged as the world’s richest man whose estimated fortune was more than US$ 2 billion. In addition, he was said to have US$ 5 billion worth of gold in bricks and coins in his Treasury and an unspecified number of gems. The Wall Street Journal had reported in March 1931 that two Englishmen spent more than two years just to classify his family jewellery . The Nizam was one of the five rulers from amongst the 565 Princely States in the British India who was given the rank of 21-gun salute apart from the Maharajas of Gwalior, Kashmir and Mysore and the Gaekwad of Baroda.
The initial decade of Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan’s reign was memorable for rallying the resources of Hyderabad to the services of the Empire during the World War when he made generous contributions to the Great Britain’s War Fund. During World War I, the Nizam donated Rs 4 crores (US$ 15 million) to the Fund, including US$ 400,000 grant for anti-submarine warfare. He repeated his largesse during World War II by contributing US$ 400,000 to the British Air Ministry, and another US$45,000 towards supporting the Hyderabad cavalry kept as a standby at the disposal of the Imperial forces , besides his donation of Rs. 5 lakhs to the French Government from his personal funds or “Sarf-e-Khas” .
Justifying the title of “Faithful Ally of the British Government” as the British often used to refer to the Nizam, his overzealous donations could be interpreted as the demonstration of his faithfulness to the Imperial Crown, or a political expediency as he was ruling the Deccan under the guaranteed protection of the British Residency.
However, the Nizam of Hyderabad was known for his philanthropy and support to several charitable causes. There were numerous instances when the Nizam not only took the initiative in supporting social and educational causes, within and outside his Kingdom but also encouraged his Nobles to do so.
Donations to religious places
The Nizam’s generosity transcended religion, region or geographic boundaries of States. The Seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan was known to have showered his generosity for Hindus and Muslims alike. He was generous in giving donations to temples, churches, mosques and Gurudwaras. The Yadgarpally temple at Bhongir received a grant of Rs. 82,825. Sitarambagh temple got Rs. 50,000, Bhadrachalam temple Rs. 29,999 and Balaji temple in Tirupati Rs. 8,000.
The Nizam extended financial assistance for the English translation of the Holy Quran by Mohamed Marmaduke Pickthall, the well-known English Muslim journalist and Islamic scholar, and compilation of ‘Sirat-un-Nabi’ (Life of the Prophet) by Allama Shibli Nomani and his disciple Maulana Syed Suleman Nadvi. At the same time, the Nizam supported the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune with an annual grant of Rs. 1000 for ten years for the publication of the Hindu epic, ‘Mahabharata’, and a lump sum grant of Rs. 25,000 towards the construction of a guest house in 1932, besides supporting the Telugu Academy for bringing out a book on Ancient Hindu buildings of Hyderabad. The Nizam also granted Rs. 1 lakh each to the Andhra and the Benaras Hindu Universities.
The Nizam accorded great importance to honouring Islamic scholars and clerics. In fact, Hyderabad’s reputation for generosity supposedly spread so rapidly and widely that, according to one contemporary source, ulema arrived from Hejaz, Central Asia, Iran, Iraq and northern-eastern Iran (Khurasan) expecting recognition and financial security.
Nizam’s munificence was not only restricted to religious scholars and publications but was extended to education, scientific research, art & music, welfare of citizens and soldiers as well as financial aid for relief from natural disasters. A donation of Rs. 10,000 made to the Indian Music Conference at Lahore in July 1927 reflects Nizam’s active patronage to art and music.
Upon the recommendation of Surgeon Major Edward Lawrie, Superintendent of Afzalgunj Hospital, the Nizam paid for a scientific investigation into the controversy regarding the safety of the use of Chloroform. Further, the Nizam gave a grant of £1,000 to meet the travel expenses of an expert from `Lancet’, the renowned journal of the British Medical Association, to participate as a member in a special Commission set up for this purpose.
The Nizam’s contribution of £500 to the Sheriff of Bombay’s Earthquake Relief Fund in the aftermath of the Messina earthquake of December 1908 in Sicily and Calabria was an expression of profound sympathy to the people of Italy even as Hyderabad suffered huge loss of life and property owing to plague two months earlier.
Silver Jubilee Fund used for development
During February 1937, the Hyderabad State celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the rule of the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, who had ascended the throne on 29 August 1911. A Jubilee Working Committee was set up whose task inter alia was to mobilize contributions to a special ‘Silver Jubilee Fund’.
The Nizam issued a Firman (decree) that a large part of the funds collected be spent on works of public welfare. Some of the schemes identified included constructing a tuberculosis sanatorium and an ophthalmic hospital, a police hospital, four poor houses, three child welfare centres, a public playground under Hussain Sagar Tank Bund, a public park in the bed of the Mirjumala Tank, three child welfare centres, three reading rooms, a model village and a centre for rural reconstruction work at an estimated cost of Rs. 27,75,000, half of which was proposed to be met from the Government funds.
The Nizam of Hyderabad, during whose reign Osmania University, India’s first vernacular university was set up on 17th August, 1917, was an ardent supporter of education. He was instrumental in setting up many schools, libraries and welfare hostels for the poor.
Aligarh Muslim University
Successive Nizams have given generous grants-in-aid for the maintenance of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which was later christened as the Aligarh Muslim University. The Nizam also served as the Chancellor of the University for a long time.
In January 1918, during his visit to the University, the Nizam announced an annual grant of Rs. 1000 for Arabic education and a donation of Rs. 50,000 for the reconstruction of barracks . During his first visit to the Aligarh Muslim University as its Chancellor on the occasion of its convocation in March 1936, the Nizam announced a donation of Rs. 10,000 for the construction of a pavilion . He followed it up with another donation of Rs. 1 lakh in February 1938 for the construction of the University Technical Institute.
Hyderabad’s Connection to Shantiniketan
In July 1927, the Nizam gifted Rs. 100,000 to Visvabharati University or Shantiniketan following an appeal from Rabindranath Tagore, and this turned out to be the largest of all donations received by the University.
Scholarship to Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu, the ‘Nightingale of India’, had a remarkable flair for English poetry. Even at a tender age of thirteen she composed a long poem of 1300 lines in six days and even wrote a drama of 3000 lines and another Persian Play in English called ‘Meher Muneer’. The Nizam was so impressed after receiving a copy of the play that he granted her annual scholarship of £300 to pursue her higher education in England .
Financial Assistance to the last Ottoman Caliph
In June 1924, the Nizam issued a Farman granting a monthly allowance of £300 to Caliph Abdulmejid II, the 29th and last of the Ottoman Caliphate, whose brief rule got curtailed following the abolition of the Caliphate leading to his eventual exile to France. Incidentally, Caliph Abdulmejid II was the father of Princess Durre Shehvar who was married to Azam Jah, the eldest son of the Nizam.
Makkah & Madinah
The Nizam of Hyderabad and other members of his family and the nobility constructed at least eleven Rubats or hospices in the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for the benefit of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrims from Hyderabad. The prominent among such rubats were the Rubat Hussain Bi, Rubat Afzal-ud-Daula, Bagh-e-Shamsia and Rubat of Princess Durre Shehvar in Madinah and Rubats of Dilawarunnissa and Afzal-ud-Daula in the Misfalah and Shamiya areas of Makkah.
In 1924, the Nizam deputed an engineer to undertake the repairs to the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah while another engineer was sent to Makkah in 1926 to estimate the cost of repairs for several buildings that got damaged in the wake of the Wahhabi movement . In 1936, the Nizam of Hyderabad donated Rs. 50,000 to contribute towards installation of electricity in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina following an appeal made by Sir Nizamat Jung Bahadur, an ex-Minister who had accompanied Dulan Pasha, the Nizam’s consort on Hajj a year earlier.
Hyderabad was the headquarters of the Hejaz Railway Central Committee formed to raise funds for the construction of Great Hijaz Railways project. The Nizam donated Turkish Liras 20,000 to the project on the condition that the railway reaches Medina.
Palestine & Al-Aqsa
The Nizam donated over Rs 100,000 for the upkeep of the ‘Zawiyat al-Hindiyyah’ or “Takiya Fariyidiyah” in Jerusalem following its damage during the 1927 earthquake. The main building in the hospice was named as ‘Osman Manzil’ after the Nizam’s name. The Nizam also contributed £7543 for establishing an Islamic University in Palestine as resolved during the first Islamic Conference held in Jerusalem in 1931 .
Donation of five tonnes of gold to the National Development Fund
In the midst of the Indo-Pak War of August 1965 when the Indian stockpile of arms and ammunition was getting diminished, the then Prime Minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri made a fervent nation-wide appeal to general public, business persons, wealthy families and erstwhile kings of the princely states to donate to the National Defence Fund.
When Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri personally visited the last Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan on September 11, 1965, the Nizam pledged to donate 5000 kg of gold to the National Defence Fund with any second thoughts.
In monetary terms, the Nizam’s contribution was about Rs 75 lakh, or about three quarters of the annual Privy Purse he received from the Centre. The current value of the gold would be in the range of Rs 1500 to 1600 crores. This was the biggest ever contribution by any individual or organisation in India to the Defence Fund and remains unsurpassed till today.
It is ironical that many of Nizam’s princely contemporaries from other states regarded him a miser who was inordinately stingy but history would testify that the Nizam was an efficient and progressive potentate who had given Hyderabad a model rule for a quarter of the Century.
(This article was written in May 2016 for a special publication brought out in connection with the Glory of Hyderabad celebrations when I was serving as the Consul General of India in Chicago)