It’s interesting to live in a campus whose grounds were once owned by an influential lady, who didn’t live long but made the most of her life. She was born as Chanda bibi, a poet, Courtesan and later went on to be a noblewoman in the Nizam’s Hyderabad, and was given the title Mah Laqa Bai Chanda. (Mah Laqa: visage of the Moon).
The Nizam took her as a close companion (musahiba) and she accompanied him on battles and hunting expeditions, in the attire of men. In 1803, when the Nizam returned victorious from battle, Chanda Bibi’s performance was the major attraction in the celebrations that followed. On that occasion he gave her the formal court title of Mah Laqa Bai, the name by which she would be known afterwards. He also granted her a jagirdari over large areas of land, with the right to collect revenues. This allowed her to exercise independent influence in a way no woman of her generation could, even those belonging to the royal family.
The present day Osmania University campus is located in an area that used to belong to her jagirdari (estate). Less than half a kilometre from the campus is a huge ‘bowdi’ constructed by Chanda bibi. Two centuries ago when the bowdi was built, a highway ran from what is now the old city area of Hyderabad where the Nizam and the nobility had their palaces, to Maula Ali on the outskirts of the city. The bowdi stood at a half-way point for pilgrims. ‘bowdi’ is the colloquial term for a step well. All forms of step-wells are examples of the many types of storage and irrigation tanks that were developed in India, mainly to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. The purpose of them being made with steps was to make it easier for people to reach the ground water, and to maintain and manage the well.
This heritage architecture lies in the womb of EFLU known as The Mah Laqa Bai Chanda Well. It is a three-storeyed structure which has five flights of steps, two on each storey and one that leads to the water, it’s not just a well but also a historical edifice with beautifully laid out corridors, platforms and decks that bear some semblance of an amphitheatre, for cultural events like mushairas and other performances.
|Myth: Mah Laqa bai was an outstanding javelin thrower; they say that while she was dancing alone in the edifice, if she found someone watching her without her permission she would pull out her dagger and aim it to kill the person!!!!